Big Fish in the Hollywood Pond: Oscar-Winning Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen Have Netted a Holiday Must-See with Tim Burton's Latest Fantasia

By Giltz, Michael | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), December 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Big Fish in the Hollywood Pond: Oscar-Winning Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen Have Netted a Holiday Must-See with Tim Burton's Latest Fantasia


Giltz, Michael, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


"Whether you're part of the "Here comes Santa Claus" crowd or you lean more toward "Bah, humbug," 'tis the season to head to the multiplex .for those A-list movies we adore. Gay content is slim this year, but The Advocate has combed the holiday blockbusters and indies for queer sensibility, behind-the-scenes talents--and our favorite eye candy.

In Big Fish--the latest movie from out producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks---Ewan McGregor stars as Edward Bloom, a charming young man who exists in a fantasy tinged world where he can befriend any animal tame giants, tell great jokes, woo the woman he loves away from her fiance, and generally glide from success to success. Cohen and Jinks are enjoying Careers almost as charmed as Bloom's life. Their first credit as producers was the Oscar-winning blockbuster American Beauty.

"I think we all knew it was a once in-a-life-time experience," says Cohen of that Cinderella-story triumph. "We "all knew this doesn't happen all the time." Now they're following this summer's Rock Hudson-Doris Day send-up Down With Love (which might very" well snag Oscar nominations for its clever production design and costumes) with another Oscar hopeful, Big Fish--perhaps director Tim Burton's most imaginatively sweeping movie since Edward Scissorhands--which opens Christmas Day in limited release before going nationwide in January.

It's a bit of magic realism dipped in American, thanks to a cult novel by Daniel Wallace that was adapted by gay screenwriter John August ((Go). The film also stars Albert Finney playing Bloom as an old man, Jessica Lange as his wife, and Billy Crudup as his son.

For Cohen and Jinks, working with talented people on small, adventurous projects has been a career hallmark from the very beginning. Jinks began in New York theater--his first job after graduating from New York University was on an early workshop of the musical Jelly's Last Jam. Cohen was mentored by, among others, Steven Spielberg: His first internship was on the legendary TV show Hill Street Blues; his second The Color purple.

Cohen, a Yale graduate, is a longtime political activist, so it was fitting that the two friends would serve on the steering committee for Out There, a Hollywood group focused on gay and lesbian issues that Cohen helped form with top Disney executive Nina Jacobson.

August has known the two for a few year--well enough to entrust Big Fish to their care. "I was in a weird situation in that. I had a project at a studio [Columbia Pictures] that didn't have producers," recalls August. "I had one shot to get producers. I felt I could trust them and that they had good taste. With American Beauty, they had just made a very difficult comedy-drama for a major studio. And that's what Big Fish was going to be, even though the scale of Big Fish was a lot different."

Jinks has been out since his days in the theater (where, he notes laughingly, everyone was gay), though appearing in Out magazine for a story on Out There was still a big step. Cohen began to come out professionally when Spielberg offered him a job on The Flintstones in 1992, and Cohen felt he needed to make clear who he was before accepting it. "He was completely wonderful and said, 'Why would you think I'd care?'" says Cohen. They dismiss the idea of a "gay mafia" but agree there is an advantage to being queer in Tinseltown.

"I do find that gay people are always very open and accepting of meeting other gay people," says Jinks. "We will go to parties where there will be heads of studios and top writers and top directors mid top producers who are gay, and they'll be mixing with somebody who is an assistant or just out of college or a creative executive. The [straight] heads of studios won't mix with the assistants in the stone way."

Just finding gay people while filming Big Fish in Alabama was a challenge, although happily, Cohen notes, the gay people found them. "They brought us into a world of their friends that was a very progressive, racially mixed, mixed-by-sexual-orientation group of people," says Cohen. "It was as nice and fun and interesting a crowd as you'd find anywhere. Now, that's not the norm, but there are pockets everywhere. I was the only gay Jew I could find in Montgomery, Ala. I found other gays and other Jews, and I was looking for another gay Jew, but I never did find one."

It's hard to find other producers who've enjoyed such distinguished success right out of the box. They don't dwell in the past, but American Beauty did change their priorities: Both insist they pulled back from some more commercial, less interesting projects to focus on the movies that really excite them.

One project in development, The Rivals, is about the bitter competition between the legendary stage actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. Another, The Forgotten, has just started filming in New York starring Cohen's high school buddy Julianne Moore--so the two Los Angeles-based men are in New York for a while.

The unattached Jinks is staying in the loft of his friend Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek), while Cohen is renting an apartment "at the corner of Bleecker mad Christopher, which is the most fantastic street in the world." Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has found a boyfriend, says Cohen, "adding to the list of things I love about New York."

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom

December 17

What's in it for us: The story so far: Hobbit couple Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) have run away together to tropical Mordor, accompanied by bitter ex-hobbit Gollum. After exchanging the One Ring early in Return, the duo wind up in each other's arms on the slopes of scenic Mount Doom. Unfortunately, the volcano is erupting at that moment. Will the magic of white wizard Gandalf (McKellen) save them in time?

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany

Now showing

What's in it for us: Well, it's no Billy Budd, but it does have hobbit Billy Boyd, so that's some compensation. No matter: Every all-hands-on-deck, ahoy-matey movie is inherently homoerotic, from Clark Gable sparring with Charles Laughton to Anthony Hopkins throwing a jealous fit over Mel Gibson. Crowe is no Johnny Depp, plumbing the depths of seaworthy androgyny, but his gladiator-of-the-high-seas machismo will certainly make the midshipmen stand up and salute.

Stuck on You

Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes, Cher

December 12

What's in it for us: Those glorious lowlifes the Farrelly brothers (There's Something About Mary, etc.) are back with a story that casts Damon mid Kinnear as conjoined twins. We can smell the gay jokes from here, can't you? To offset the picture's guaranteed god-awfulness, the Farrellys have sensibly secured one class act: Cher.

Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Sean Hayes

Now showing

What's in it for us: There's always been something a little bit queer about the titular cat, who sweeps into a dull suburban home to make things more fabulous, if only for one afternoon. Add a "Miss" to Thing One and Thing Two--plus some anal-retentive drollery from Hayes as the voice of the goldfish--and you've got what looks like a perfect kids' movie for children and their funny uncles to enjoy together.

The Last Samurai

Tom Cruise, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn

December 5

What's in it for us: Tom Cruise flexes the "white man goes-native and learns life lessons" shtick popularized by Kevin Costner ha Dances With Wolves, but this time it's Japan in the late 19th century. If you've always wanted to see Cruise put on a skirt and some cool sandals, this is the movie for you.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martha

Now showing

What's in it for us: Five will get you 10 that Bugs Bunny will do some drag before this thing is over. And since director Joe Dante made the closest thing to a live-action Looney Tunes movie with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, here's hoping he comes up with something better for the venerably anarchic cartoon franchise than 1996's soul-draining Space Jam.

The Company

Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell

December 25 (limited)

What's in it for us: The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, in the awesome modern dances that dominate this plotless behind-the-toe-shoes movie. What's not in it? Even a hint that someone in the ballet world might be gay. For that you'll have to return to out director Nicholas Hytner's delicious Center Stage. Or the ballet company of your choice.

Peter Pan

Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter

December 25

What's in it for us: Do you believe in fairies? More important, do you believe director P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding, My Best Friend's Wedding) can get his career back after the gay-themed direct-to-cable flop Unconditional Love? Then clap your hands for this new adaptation of the J.M. Barrie perennial.

Gothika

Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr.

Now showing

What's in it for us: Thrills, chills, and Halle Berry--as if there were a difference. Apparently, Berry gets herself committed to a mental hospital or, to judge from the poster, locked in a car wash. It doesn't matter'; she's the most beautiful woman of the age, and we'd watch her floss. Also starring Robert Downey Jr., who's quite a bit hotter clean than he was loaded.

Cold Mountain

Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger

December 25

What's in it for us: Jude Law, Jude Law, and more Jude Law. Director Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) will no doubt bring lots of prestige-movie oomph to this adaptation of the best-selling novel about a Civil War soldier (did we mention that the film stars Jude Law?) on a treacherous trek home to his sweetheart (Kidman, whose offscreen friendship with Law had the British tabloids buzzing).

Monster

Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

December 26 (limited]

What's in it for us: Theron plays real-life serial killer and roadside prostitute Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida last year after having been convicted of murdering several would-be johns, largely on the testimony of her longtime lover, Selby (Ricci). Remarkably, the film--grounded by Theron's mesmerizing, transformative performance--makes us understand Wuornos as no news account ever has. Of course, it's a huge downer, and Ricci is woefully miscast, but Theron's work is not to be missed.

The Haunted Mansion

Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Tilly, Terence Stamp

November 26

What's in it for us: Given the gay-wink quotient of the previous Disney rides-into-films Pirates of the Caribbean (Johnny Depp's delightfully poncy seaman) and The Country Bears (no comment), any movie that features Jennifer Tilly as a disembodied head sounds right up our alley. We expect the visual effects from out movie magician Jay Redd will have us screaming with laughter when we're not just screaming.

The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares)

Remy Girard, Dorothee Berryman, Yves Jacques

Now showing

What's in it for us: Jacques returns as Claude, the one 'mo in the circle of friends first seen in 1986's The Decline of the American Empire. (But relax, you don't have to have seen the first film to get this one.) This time around, the chatty chums gather round the deathbed of dying intellectual Girard and talk about life, death, lust, and international politics. It's sweet, moving--and, honestly, much more fun than it sounds.

Japanese Story

Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima

Love, death, and landscapes interact in out director Sue Brooke's tale of a shutdown Aussie geologist (Collette), a closed-off Japanese businessman (Tsunashima), and their journey through Australia's spectacular Pilbara region.

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