Film Scouts Interviews

Joel Schumacher Press Conference
at the 2003 Taormina BNL FilmFest

by Philipp Hoschka
In a press conference on his movie "Phone Booth", "Batman & Robin" director Joel Schumacher outs himself as an old hippie, and muses about the relation between telecommunication and privacy.

I see this movie as sequel to "Falling Down". However, it has a more intimate relation with fear. Looking back ten years after "Falling Down", what are your personal thoughts about violence ?

Joel Schumacher: I said to Kiefer Sutherland: "You're playing the son of Michael Douglas in 'Falling Down' as far as the rage of an invisible man is concerned". - Back then, Michael Douglas was really surprised to discover that he was a violent man - Kiefer has crossed the line a long time ago.

We have a lot of moralists in the US today who seem to believe that God has put them on the earth to be the sword of vengeance. Kiefer's character represents that spirit. The other character represents the lies that people dealing with the public create to cover the truth. The movie also deals with urban paranoia brought to a higher state, and the lack of privacy - we understand now that there is no privacy.

Your film seems to portray a pessimistic view of reality in modern society. What is your view of communication among people ?

Joel Schumacher: I am an optimist - if I was not I would kill myself. I do see the problem you brought up about communication. I think of text messaging, cell phones, e-mail, pagers, car phones ... the many ways that we have to communicate now that have many advantages also distance us. It is much easier for me to give bad news in business via e-mail rather than talking to someone. There is lots of hate going on on the Internet.

When I studied for "Phone Booth", it was interesting to me to see that in the past, people valued privacy so much that they went into booth to do a call, so that nobody would hear them. Today, people conduct their personal and business life shouting into a cell phone on the street in public. We don't seem to contribute to privacy, although we claim that we want it.

I think that when a pendulum swings too far one way, it has to swing back at some point. I am an ex-hippie, and the children of our generation became very conservative. I hope that future children will become more humane.

I can't speak for another country than the US, but I think we have a major problem right now. Colin represents spin - what politicians, people in media, advertisers, everybody who is talking to public are spinning - they are making up stories, thinking that we have to be lied to or to cover their own crimes

Forest Whitaker is in the movie - how did you direct this very good actor ?

Joel Schumacher: I am very glad that your are asking this question. Forest Whitacker is like Yoda in "Star Wars" a very big Yoda. He is a Zen spiritual presence. If you were in Colin's situation, and Forest Whitacker got out of a police car you might think that there may be hope here.

We see New York cops portrayed on TV every day. Forest manages to portray an original New York cop who is sensitive, self-analytical and very compassionate. Yet, he has to deal with a situation that when mishandled can lead to the death of many people, including his own. He determined that he will not be a New York cop that shoots first and asks questions later.

Again, I am happy that you bring up this question. In "Falling Down", the story is actually about two characters, but Michael Douglas gets all the attention. Robert Duvall did a great job playing an ordinary man in this movie.

It is difficult to explain how you direct any actor. In Forest's case, he is not only a great actor, but also a director. He is also very paternal and generous to other actors. So directing him is a joy. You don't have to take care of him, since he can take care of himself. You can talk to him about nuances of character rather than doing the work you have to do with younger actors.

The character of Stu is a coward, but he changes through threat and fear. Do violence is the only way to change people ?

Joel Schumacher: I am not sure I hope not. I think that when people are in life and death situations, their best or worst can come out. Most of us have fantasized about what to do in a building on fire - are you going to save woman in a wheelchair, or get out yourself ?

Colin's character is spinning so much he doesn't know what the truth is anymore - he doesn't even know who he is anymore. For most of us it is hard to expose themselves in front of others that is our worst fear. By the time Stu makes his confession, he has realized that he is never going to get out of the booth, Kiefer asks why did he make the confession knowing this Stu answers that he "didn't do it for you" - he is being honest for the first time of his life. This is kind of a relief for him - he is just a scared kid.

The man who started "alcoholics anonymous" said you're as sick as the number of secrets you carry. When you tell your worst secret, you have nothing more to hide. I had a friend who had her deepest secret exposed. She was very upset, but I told her: "You're free now, you don't have to worry about anything anymore."

Is the growing lack of privacy a general trend or a consequence of Sept 11 ? The fear of terrorism has resulted in compromising privacy.

Joel Schumacher: There is no privacy. Terrorism is just an excuse for less privacy. If you're on the Internet, have cell phone, do bank transactions, there is no privacy.

Do you think that it is possible to change Hollywood from within ?

Joel Schumacher: If you want to work in the Hollywood system without being a victim of it, you have to fight for casting and for material. You have to be very bold with the studio when they try to impose very conservative elements in your films.

When you take a lot of money from them it is not fair for you to be very personal. That's why we did "Phone Booth" for one million dollars with an unknown actor. Then, they let you take risk. Everything frightens them, they are business people. Studios are run by corporations, and people are afraid of loosing their job. Movie executives can be exchanged very quickly. Overall, they have a very condescending view of the American public.

The young woman at Fox that I did this film for was the only person that when the movie turned out to be a success called me and said: "Thank God you didn't follow any of my advice". If you take their money, you have to play their game.

I heard that the opening of the film was delayed due to the sniper events in Washington is that right ?

Joel Schumacher: Actually, it was delayed two times. The movie was ready in 2000, its opening was first delayed due to Sept 2001, and then due to the Washington sniper attacks.

What did you think of these delays ?

Joel Schumacher: It was not released because of consideration for the people who lost someone in these events. I think that human beings should come first and movies should come second.

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