‘Milk’ men talk shop at screening

Filmmakers chat about bringing story to bigscreen

What: Variety screening of “Milk”

Where: ArcLight Theater in Hollywood

Who: Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and producers Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen and Michael London

The story of Harvey Milk is one that has been floating around Hollywood for the past few decades as filmmakers, writers and activities have been struggling for years to bring the tale of California’s first openly gay elected official to the bigscreen. At the Variety screening of “Milk,” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and producers Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen and Michael London chatted about the making of the pic, which is opening in the midst of political and social upheaval following the election.

“The story has been around for a while. It’s tough because there is so much story,” said Black. “I focused on the man in the moment of the movement.”

After months of diligent interviews, Black’s script was sent to director Gus Van Sant, who jumped aboard. Then it was just a matter of casting and finding producers.

“There was a piece in Variety that Lance wrote this script and that Gus Van Sant was attached. I called to congratulate him, and he said, ‘Well, you know we don’t have a producer,'” recalled Jinks.

As for casting, Sean Penn was an immediate choice.

“We were creating a list of movie stars who could do the role beautifully and when we came to Sean Penn, we just stopped,” said Cohen.

Added London: “Once Sean was on board, the movie was a magnet for actors who wanted to do the story. It felt like people were coming to us rather than the other way around.”

The release of the film is especially timely given recent events surrounding the passing of Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in California.

“Right now, those who have seen the movie are friends, politicos, glitterati, and you industry folk. Who hasn’t seen this movie? The new generation of activists,” said Cohen.

“It’s not the last fight,” said Black.

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