When Bruce Cohen ’83 got the offer of a lifetime from Steven Spielberg to produce for Amblin Entertainment, he could not sleep that night.
“I woke up in a cold sweat,” Cohen said. “I knew I had to ‘come out’ to Steven.”
“Coming out” in Hollywood was the topic of discussion at the Berkeley Master’s Tea on Tuesday, where Cohen addressed a tightly packed audience. Cohen recounted the struggles of succeeding in the film industry as well as being openly gay within the Hollywood community, and he discussed how the industry has evolved to become more accepting of alternative lifestyles.
Cohen, a Baker’s Dozen boy and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Organization called Out There, has been in the movie biz since his 20s. He started out as a lowly production assistant on the Spielberg set of “The Color Purple” and has since climbed the ranks from assistant director of “Hook,” to producer of several films, including “American Beauty,” for which he won the Academy Award in 1999. His latest film, “Big Fish,” directed by Tim Burton, is scheduled for release in December.
After the tea, Cohen met with scene film critic Sandra Chwialkowska to answer a few more questions.
scene: How do you feel about attending conferences like these?
Bruce Cohen: It’s thrill for me to get a chance to come back to Yale, and to talk to the students. So, I’m just really excited.
When “American Beauty” came out it was met with a lot of controversy. Why do you think the film did as well as it did?
I think it touched a chord because people really related to it. Everyone related to something in it. A lot of America had those similar issues of, they knew someone who was an alcoholic or they knew someone who was sexually abused or they knew someone who was having a midlife crisis. It just seemed real to people in a way that they weren’t used to seeing in movies. And plus, it was wildly entertaining which I think is really important. And people forget, you know, when you’re preaching about anything, the main audience turns off. You’ve got to entertain them.
What was the hardest part about getting it made?
Getting enough money to get enough time to shoot it. Dreamworks was very supportive. They loved the project and they wanted us to make it, but they thought it wouldn’t make any money either, so they kept wanting us to make it for a very small amount of money, and we kept having to fight to have enough money to get it made as well as we thought it should be made.
What’s the best film you’ve seen recently?
I just saw “Lost in Translation,” which I just loved. I thought it was really exquisitely rendered, and very unique and very moody and it really stayed with me. I love when, like, four days later you’re still really affected by the mood of the film.
Are you voting in the California election?
Yes. I’m voting against the recall, and then voting for Bruce Demonte should the recall succeed.
What is your advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Hang in there. It gets harder and more difficult every year because there are so many people who want to do it, to succeed, but, if you believe in yourself, I think it’s really worth sticking with it.