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From song to storybook to independent film

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

For the last three years, John Robert Holbrook, a fashion designer by trade, has been enjoying a burgeoning second career as a children’s songwriter and book author; and now he can add filmmaker to that list.

Recently Holbrook, along with his book’s original Utah illustrators Martin Stensaas and Sunny Strasburg, submitted a three-minute animated short to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, "Gingerbread Jimmi." The animation is based on his song and book about the adventures of a Park City boy named Blake and his companion, a gingerbread man named Jimmi, who comes alive beneath a Christmas tree.

In addition to the short, Holbrook has ambitions for a longer animated film. This week, he met with the Utah Film Commission about collaborating on a 30-minute animated Christmas special that he hopes to release in 2009. He’s angling for Dick Van Dyke as the voice of the narrator.

Holbrook decided from the outset of the "Gingerbread Jimmi" concept to deviate from the traditional route. He self-distributed his song to radio stations across the country in 2000, self-published his book in 2004 and has thus far experienced a modest amount of success. He says his friends have heard his song on radio stations in New York City and his book, now sold at Barnes and Noble as well as independent bookstores, has sold roughly 10,000 copies. Friday, Nov. 23, he will host his third bookstore signing at Dolly’s Bookstore on Main Street. the day after Thanksgiving, the beginning of his third book tour.

"Gingerbread Jimmi: Magical Storybook" is dedicated to London, 13, Sahara, 11, Paris, 9, and Roman, 7 Holbrook’s four sons whom he credits with inspiring him to write the original song.

"I wrote the song for them," he explains. "The same songs always seem to play at Christmas every year, so I wrote a song for them while singing in the car, recorded it."

Holbrook says he embraces the challenge of making his own good luck with his "Gingerbread Jimmi" iterations, in part because he refuses to compromise his artistic integrity. Larger publishers demanded he change the storyline and the setting of his book, but the changes would have been inconsistent with his vision, he says, so he withdrew from the process to go it alone.

"Big publishers told me they would not publish this book if it was set in Park City children’s books are usually set in an imaginary town," he says. "It was important for me that this story be set here, because this is a special, magical place It’s really the closest place the United States has to a North Pole."

The glossy images in the "Gingerbread Jimmi: Magical Storybook" are computer generated as well as hand-painted, and depict Blake, the young and lonesome protagonist, and Gingerbread Jimmi, in snow-covered hills that resemble the Wasatch Mountains, and a chase scene set on Old Town’s Main Street.

In fact, Holbrook argues his independence has opened doors for him. Currently, his book is sold at Millcreek Coffee Roasters cafes in Salt Lake International Airport, and Delta Air Lines current issue of its in-flight magazine, Sky Magazine, is running an article about "Gingerbread Jimmi."

This year, the book has inspired a local promotion for Millcreek, enticing customers to "Recapture Your Childhood with a Gingerbread Jimmi Latte and Cookie." The concept was in collaboration Stacy Brewster, a 1999 Park City High School graduate, who manages both cafes in the airport’s D concourse. "We like to support local artists and we have local products here," she says. "We’ve sold probably 10 books since we started the promotion, but it’s not Christmas season quite yet."

In the adult world, Holbrook has designed his own eponymous cologne and fashion line since living in Los Angeles in 1994. He acknowledges the fast-paced, fashion world contrasts greatly with his second career in children entertainment, but he says he enjoys both sides of his life. "Fashion is a hard-core business, jaded, cutting-edged and racy," he says. "I love the rated-G project of ‘Gingerbread Jimmi.’"

"I’ve been to the Oscars and parties at the Playboy Mansion, with some of the most successful and celebrated people, but there’s no one there I admire Within that world, I admire children, who don’t sweat the small stuff."

Since launching his book in 2004, Holbrook has discussed further plans for a winter theme park based in Park City and a clothing line. He’d like to spread the positive message of "Gingerbread Jimmi," which he has seen touch children and their parents alike.

"I want to send this message year-round, that the most important thing to realize is to be happy and feel good the journey needs to be happy for adults as well as children," Holbrook explains.

This Friday, Nov. 23, Dolly’s Bookstore, located at 510 Main Street, will host a book signing featuring Holbrook and his book, "Gingerbread Jimmi." The book is $20 and includes sheet music to "Gingerbread Jimmi," the song, a CD featuring the song, and a recipe for gingerbread cookies. The book signing will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.gingerbreadjimmi.com .


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