Big Fish went from limited to wide release on Jan. 9, 2004. Below is an interview with Big Fish producer, Bruce Cohen, conducted on Jan. 9 by Greg Shull, editor of Preview.
Greg: What do you think Big Fish has to say about the power of storytelling?
Bruce: The fact that it’s about storytelling is definitely one of the things that drew Dan Jinks [producer] and me to the film. In the movie business, we’re all storytellers. You get to share your life and deliver a message through stories. And director Tim Burton is one of the great storytellers of our time.
Greg: In what way do you think stories, whether told or shown, influence the hearers and viewers?
Bruce: In Big Fish specifically, what I think is wonderful is that Edward Bloom and his son, Will, have two very different views of events. Will hears the stories of his father and comes to believe, “You’re making these up. They’re not true.” But the storyteller says, “I wasn’t telling them as factual recreations of life. I was telling them as a way to show you how you should lead your life.” From the beginning of time when men would gather around the fire and tell stories, it was to recount how to best live your life.
Greg: What do you think are the essential components of a good story?
Bruce: When you’re talking about a film, people go to be entertained and taken somewhere they can’t go in their real lives. In Big Fish, you sit down and you’re transported to somewhere other than the theater you’re in, and you’re taken on an amazing journey.
Greg: Big Fish opened last month as a limited release and is going wide this weekend. What’s the marketing philosophy behind starting a film as limited and then expanding?
Bruce: In the case of Big Fish, it’s not your average, ordinary movie. It’s very hard to describe even after you’ve seen it because it has so many elements. We didn’t want to give away the whole movie in the trailer. So in such a case, your best weapon is word of mouth. You start in a few theaters, and friends tell friends, and then those friends tell their friends. When it goes wide, everyone has heard about it even though they may not know what it’s all about.
Greg: Your last film Down with Love also starred Ewan McGregor. Why’d you decided to go with him again in Big Fish.
Bruce: Dan [Jinks] and I loved working with Ewan McGregor in Down with Love. That movie, along with many others, shows what a tremendous range he has. When we talked about who would play the role of young Edward, Ewan was the one. Tim Burton completely agreed when we mentioned his name. It was another great moment when we got to go back and say to him, “Ewan, the part is yours.”
Greg: Preview not only addresses the plot and acting of a film but also comments on the morality.
Greg: What part do you think religion or morality should play in films?
Bruce: Generally, I think it’s the choice of the filmmakers to decide if they care about that and if they want to include it. Sometimes they want to, and I think that’s wonderful. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s fine. But it’s the choice of the audience what movie they want to support. We set out to make a movie that the whole family can see with Big Fish.
Greg: A film that opens next month seems to be stirring up some controversy. Do you have any thoughts on The Passion of theChrist.
Bruce: The problem with these kinds of situations is that most people yelling on both sides of that fence have not seen the movie. To judge art, in this case a movie, before you’ve seen it is a huge mistake. It’s up to the audience to choose whether to see this or any movie. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.