Plus Camerimage: Head of Jury Joel Schumacher


As Plus Camerimage wound down this past weekend in the city of Bydgoszcz, Poland, had the opportunity to speak with this year’s head of the jury, filmmaker Joel Schumacher, known for a diverse selection of projects like The Lost Boys, Falling Down, Phone Booth and two Batman films, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Most recently, Schumacher directed Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman in the crime thriller Trespass and will be taking a turn at episodic directing with two episodes of the upcoming Netflix series, “House of Cards,” developed by David Fincher, Kevin Spacey and Beau Willimon.

In the below interview, Schumacher reminisces about his career, particularly focusing on the unique situation he stepped into with The Lost Boys, and shares his thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman following his two franchise entries. Although details are few, Schumacher also teases that he may soon be headed overseas to helm, for the first time, a Chinese production.

CS: How has your festival been so far?
Joel Schumacher:
(Laughs) Does anyone ever say, “Terrible! Horrible!”

CS: What is it about Camerimage that intrigues you?
Well, it’s the only one that celebrates the art of cinematography. Where would we be without it? And then there was light! It’s wonderful. It’s very much for and by the people. It isn’t vulgar or drenched in marketing or craziness. I love all the students. I love all the young people. Certainly, Bydgoszcz is a charming, charming town. The people have been great to us. This is my third year. I’m always glad, if I’m free, to do it. For years, Marek [Zydowicz] and Kazik [Suwala] tried to get me here and I was always working and couldn’t come. I love them. I think they really are the heart and soul of the festival and they’re why it is what it is. I think everybody senses that. I also see a lot of my friends. I see a lot of cinematographers I’ve worked with, which is great. One of the things about filmmaking is that you’re a part of this great family. It gets very intense and very close, even if it’s difficult. Sometimes, if it’s difficult, you get closer, even. Then you all kiss and hug and say, “I love you,” and then you may not see each other. We all go off and do other films with other people. It’s really nice when you reconnect. I love that. And I also meet people I don’t know from all over the world. Great cinematographer, directors. I see films that I know I would never see in the United States, ever. Unfortunately, I don’t think they ever get a release and, usually, the international films that you get in the United States are the ones that have won awards at Cannes or wherever the festival is. We don’t get some of the great ones I’ve seen here.

CS: Looking at your filmography, there’s an incredible mix of different genres and filmmaking approaches. When a project comes your way, what is it that gets you excited?
I can’t think of anything else that I would do. I’ve wanted to do this since I was seven. I got my dream and I got it much bigger than I ever dreamed. I started in Hollywood as a $200 a week costume designer in Christmas of 1971. That was 41 years ago. The majority of my life has been in Hollywood. I got there when I was 30. I’ve had no other professional life except film. Even when I do it for public service or charity or anything, it’s still film. I don’t know what else I would do. Maybe there are some critics who wish I would do something else, but I think they feel that way about everybody.

CS: How important is change when it comes to your work? You seem to enjoy having very, very different types of projects.
Well, sometimes I just needed the job. I often think of “Lost Boys.” I had done “St. Elmo’s Fire” and, even though it was a hit, the movies that were offered to me, I didn’t want to do. Most of all was “Lost Boys” because it was all children. It was all cutesy. It was sort of “Goonies” go vampire. Not that I didn’t love “The Goonies.” I loved “The Goonies,” but I’m not “The Goonies” guy. That was my fabulous friend who I adore and love who produced “Lost Boys,” Dick Donner. I didn’t want to do “Lost Boys” and I remember saying to the president of Warner Bros., Mark Canton, after he had taken me for Bloody Marys at a restaurant in Beverly Hills on a Saturday to tell me about the movie, I said — very arrogantly, because I had only made three movies — “Wait a minute, Mark. Is this some little kid vampire movie?” I remember him swallowing back his anger. He was such a gentleman. He said, very softly, “Would you please do me the courtesy of reading it?” I said, “Oh, of course. I’m so sorry. That was very rude.” I remember reading it and going, “I’m never going to do this. I’m never going to do this. I’m never going to do this. This is not for me.” I called Dick Donner and I called my agent at CAA and I called Mark. None of them were available and I left messages for everybody. Then I went out running. I was a runner for 30 years. I went out for a run and there was a cave in it. A vampire cave. I thought, “I bet Warner Bros. is going to use one of those big polyester caves they build on the lot. They’re going to use that thing again.” I thought, “How unimaginative.” If it’s in Santa Cruz, California, there was the great earthquake on the San Andreas fault in 1905 which almost destroyed San Francisco. Why couldn’t there be this sort of “Death in Venice” hotel that had fallen into the fault and created this cave. That would then have all the remnants of this old, great hotel in it. Then, while I was running, I thought, “Why do the Lost Boys have to be children? Why can’t they be teenagers? Why can’t they ride motorcycles? Why can’t they look like English Gypsies or a rock band? Why does Star have to be a boy? Why can’t it be a girl? Why can’t she be sexy and beautiful?” By the time everyone called back, I said, “I’d like to come in and talk.” I went into Mark’s office first and said all those things to him. He said, “Just go do it! Go do it! Go do it!” Then there was the late, great Jeffrey Boam — he died way too young — who came in. A lot of what’s great in “Lost Boys,” Jeffrey brought to it. Michael Chapman, the great cinematographer elevated the film fantastically. I think the cast was phenomenal. I did a little bit myself, but the cast did so great. A lot of it was improvisation. It seems like it’s written, but we just made it up as we went along.

CS: How often do you get the opportunity to just run creatively with a studio film like that?
It depends on how much the film is. In those days — and still to this day — a lot of my films are very inexpensive in a Hollywood sense. Not so much in an international sense. If you were making a film for six or seven million dollars in those days for a studio, there were so many runaway movies that were way over budget and cost a lot. Everyone’s attention is over there. If you’re working with totally unknown actors, they’ve taken a chance already. They believe in you to some extent or they wouldn’t let you put unknowns in a movie or you have to fight very, very hard. They’re not as crazed about what you’re doing. Though I do have to say, the big bosses at Warners, Bob Daly and Terry Semel, are the greatest bosses I’ve ever had. I made many, many films for them when they were heads of Warner Bros. and we had a lot of successes, fortunately. Their only problem with “Lost Boys” was the question, “Are you making a horror movie or a comedy?” I would say, “Yes.” and they would say, “Well, they don’t work together, Joel.” I don’t know. We believed in it. The first research screening was like a rock concert. The audience went insane and then everyone was smiling and happy. It’s still one of my films I get asked about the most. Sometimes you get lucky.

CS: Do you actively avoid repeating a certain style? That is to say, “The Client” is nothing like “Lost Boys” is nothing like “Batman” is nothing like “Phone Booth.”
How can you use the same style for every story? A lot of directors are geniuses at similar subject matter. For years and years and years, I did costumes and some sets for Woody Allen. He’s the one who encouraged me to write, actually. We’re still very close friends. I didn’t ever think about writing and Woody told me to. He was right and it sold and eventually led to me directing. But he very much, for years and years, made similar films about himself as a neurotic New Yorker and the women in his life. He was very self-deprecating. You knew the style of a Woody Allen movie. Since then, he’s opened up and made other films. Alfred Hitchcock really had a Hitchcock style. One of my idols, though, and that of many people, is Billy Wilder. If you look at Billy Wilder films, “Some Like It Hot” has nothing to do with “Double Indemnity” and nothing in the world has anything to do with “Sunset Blvd.” They’re totally unique and have nothing to do with one another.

CS: As someone who directed two of the major comic book films of the day, I’m curious to know what you think about what has become of the genre.
I think what’s very interesting about Batman and how brilliant Chris Nolan is is, if you look at the last Batman, ours were at a much simpler time. Our job was to entertain the whole family. To make it fun and sell a lot of toys. It was a franchise. The last one is really about what we’re going through, the extraordinary gap between the haves and the have-nots.

CS: When you look back at the history of the character, there are certainly campy iterations and serious ones. Do you think it’s important to have both?
I think it is. Except, I think right now the last Batman is very reflective of the times we’re living in, which are scary times. I’m not a predictor of revolutions and I don’t think there will be one in the United States, but there are the seeds of it. When you have too many poor and too many rich, those are the seeds of revolution.

CS: At this point in your career, what’s a dream project?
Well, I’m going for my second meeting in China after this because there’s a very strong possibility [of a project there]. They brought there once in September and now they want me to come back again. I may make a Chinese film and that’s a whole new frontier for me. That’s what I like. This summer, my good friend David Fincher — we’ve been friends since he was the wunderkind of commercials. It was the ’80s and I think I had a couple of films by then and we became really good friends. We both, I would say, delight in mischief making and telling people, “no” and doing what we want to do. He’s brilliant. He’s far more talented than I am. He called me and asked me to do his new show, “House of Cards.” This is Netflix. Netflix is attempting to do their own product. That’s a new frontier, too. I had never done episodes like that. It’s a whole new ballgame. But I had worked with Kevin Spacey on “A Time to Kill.” I adore him and, of course, he’s a phenomenal actor. Robin Wright and I have known each other for years and I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s great and still so beautiful. Every actor in it is superb. It’s wicked and malicious and delicious and interesting. Beau Willimon wrote it and it’s just great fun. There’s 13 episodes this year and then, next year, they do the last 13. It’s a limited series of 26.

(Photo Credit: WENN)