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Montgomery Advertiser

Lifestyle-Jan. 24, 2003

By Rick Harmon
Montgomery Advertiser

There is hardly a ripple on the surface of the Coosa River as it flows about 30 yards from the three men, but compared to them the calm water might as well be white-water rapids.

By all rights, Richard Zanuck, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen should not be calm.

Even as the three producers of "Big Fish" sit casually between the Coosa and the old Collier house in Wetumpka where the Tim Burton-directed movie has begun filming, they are juggling multimillion-dollar payrolls, endless schedules, weather reports, the time of some of Hollywood's best and most expensive talents, and hundreds of daily problems.

The fact that each of these men also has an Oscar to juggle helps keep others on the film calm.

It is fitting that the men sit near the Coosa. It helped bring them and the production -- which stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito and Alison Lohman -- to Alabama.

"The story is set in a Southern town, and it goes back and forth in time," said Zanuck, who has produced some of Hollywood's greatest movies, from "Jaws," "Cocoon," and "The Verdict" to "Driving Miss Daisy," for which he won the Oscar.

"We didn't have to do much here. We loved the situation of the house. It's almost a character in the piece. But what we needed was the river. The river plays a major role in the picture. We traveled many weeks throughout the South, looking at small towns and rivers."

Cohen and Jinks began working together as producers on "American Beauty," which won the Oscar for best picture.

While many reasons have been cited for "Big Fish" coming to central Alabama, from legislative tax incentives to members of the company with Alabama connections, the pair say the secret to getting movies is much like the secret of buying a house -- location, location, location.

"The book was set in Alabama, but that didn't really affect our decision to shoot the movie here," Cohen said. "We were looking at locations throughout the South. What sold us on Alabama was simply that after looking at other states, we decided that this one would be the best setting for the story.

"It is almost always the setting that determines where a film like this will be shot. States think that if we offer them this or we offer them that a movie will come there to shoot. But for most movies like this one, the only thing that determines where a movie will be shot is where the best locations are."

Producers have an all-encompassing job, dealing with everything from financing and casting to set constructions. They also deal with a lot of problems.

"If everything went perfectly once a film started shooting, than there wouldn't be much for a producer to do, since most of the planning is done before the film starts shooting," Jinks said. "But that never happens. Every day there are problems to deal with."

But all three producers said they expected no more problems shooting in central Alabama than they would if they were shooting in Los Angeles or New York.

"In some ways it would have been much, much easier to have shot this in New York or Los Angeles because that's where so many people involved with shooting movies live," Jinks said. "But we would have had different problems if we shot there. It may have been harder finding locations or getting the same degree of cooperation. It all balances out."

Shooting the entire movie in Alabama, with the help of sound stages specially constructed here, makes filming cost-effective, the producers said.

"The more you shoot outside, the more you need covered sets nearby where you can shoot in case it rains," Cohen said. "Rain can cost you a fortune, but only if you aren't prepared. It costs money to build sound stages here, but it also means that if there is bad weather, we can simply shoot interior scenes instead of losing time."


"Big Fish" producers, from left, Richard Zanuck, Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks all are Oscar winners for their work on previous films.


Producers Dan Jinks, left, and Bruce Cohen collaborated on the film "American Beauty."

-- Photos by Lloyd Gallman, Advertiser