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Go for more 'Broke'? Maybe

The critical success of 'Mountain' may help other gay-themed projects. As usual, it's all about the box office.

January 09, 2006|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

After the runaway success of "Wedding Crashers" and "40 Year-Old Virgin," Hollywood scrambled to make R-rated comedies. Now that "Brokeback Mountain" is drawing acclaim and audiences, some in Hollywood are pushing to get new gay- and lesbian-themed projects off the drawing board and into production.

Screenwriters and producers across Hollywood have been dusting off old scripts and brainstorming about new ones ever since the Ang Lee film about a love affair between two cowboys began collecting critics awards and nominations, including seven Golden Globe nominations, four Screen Actors Guild nominations and one Directors Guild of America nomination.

A survey of the six major studios plus DreamWorks, New Line Cinema and Miramax Films reveals that their development slates are virtually devoid of such projects. And although there are no shortages of gay characters in films today, studios say that what little they have on their development or release slates does not fall into the category of "Brokeback Mountain," with its portrayal of romantic gay love.

Nonetheless, this dearth of gay-themed projects hasn't dimmed hopes that "Brokeback Mountain" will usher in a sea change in the attitudes of audiences, which will cause studios to make more gay-themed films that aren't consigned to art house venues.

At Warner Bros., producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron express confidence that their long-languishing project "The Mayor of Castro Street," which now has Bryan Singer ("Superman Returns") attached to direct, will get made in the coming year. The project is based on Randy Shilts' 1982 book about the assassination of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay city supervisor in San Francisco.

Zadan and Meron, who were executive producers on 2002's Academy Award-winning film "Chicago," say they have spent 15 years developing "The Mayor of Castro Street" and now believe "Brokeback Mountain" has given the project new life.

"We believe, for the first time, this project is viable," Zadan said. "We are getting nothing but enthusiasm from Warner Bros. They are excited by it. Bryan is excited by it. Big actors all over town are wanting to make this movie. Our timing couldn't be better.... Then 'Brokeback Mountain' comes out of the blue, and that only fuels the enthusiasm."

A studio spokeswoman who declined to be identified stressed that, just like any other project in development at Warner Bros., a decision to greenlight the project would be based on the script and other key elements, like casting.

Since its release a few weeks ago, "Brokeback Mountain," starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, has grossed $22.5 million, and Hollywood is watching to see if it becomes a hit with mainstream "crossover" audiences as it continues its steady expansion into theaters nationwide.

Even if it does, some industry insiders say, "Brokeback" won't necessarily result in a flood of similarly themed movies.

Alan Gasmer, a literary agent at the William Morris Agency, said he isn't aware yet of a groundswell for gay-themed scripts at the studios.

"I have not seen or heard from any [studio] executive who says that is what they are looking for," said Gasmer.

"I don't think people are going to look at 'Brokeback Mountain,' with its modest business, and say, 'If we want to get rich, let's make movies about gay cowboys,' " said entertainment attorney Stan Coleman. "But what it does say is you need not be prohibited from making those movies, if they are made for a price and marketed in good taste."

Off the shelf

To be sure, there have been studio movies over the years featuring gay characters, from "Philadelphia" to "The Birdcage," but "Brokeback Mountain" has taken the genre further with its high-end production values and the frank way the men express love for each other.

The film is prompting renewed interest in projects that have kicked around Hollywood for years.

One is Peter Lefcourt's 1992 novel "The Dreyfus Affair," about two gay baseball players, the World Series and how organized baseball deals with the public relations fallout from their relationship.

Lefcourt said the book, in its 15th printing as a paperback, was twice optioned by Disney, then went to 20th Century Fox in 1997 for director Betty Thomas, then to New Line Cinema. Lefcourt said he had gotten the film rights back.

"We actually got close to [casting] Ben Affleck" at New Line, Lefcourt said, but Affleck did the big-budget "Pearl Harbor" for director Michael Bay instead. Lefcourt said he had heard that actor Don Cheadle had been interested in the project.

"We had a budget and were ready to go," Lefcourt said, then quipped: "I guess [Affleck] decided he'd rather kiss Kate Beckinsale in 'Pearl Harbor' than Don Cheadle in Burbank."

Lefcourt said that he believed studio bean counters were not so much homophobic as they were "risk-phobic" when it came to greenlighting gay-themed films. But he added that "Brokeback Mountain" has now "paved the way for these types of movies to be made."

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