Watching one of my favourite films, The Lost Boys as Joel Schumacher himself sits in the room talking about it’s making was for me a huge treat, not least of all because it was evident from the first second Joel walked in the room that he was, despite his great success and long career, a down to earth, kind and giving person with a great sense of humour.
The fourth of his distributed films and following on the heels of St. Elmo’s Fire, the success of The Lost Boys cemented Joel’s early directing career. It’s easy with hindsight to view the film as a Hollywood classic and indeed it is, but as it was being made it was an inexpensive project where budgets were tight from the beginning and were slashed further during production with $1M being cut from the production design. However, making the most of the limitations Joel worked to include low budget fixes to make up for what the film could have had on a higher budget and the movie is perhaps better because of the innovation required. For instance, with no money do do elaborate flight scenes for the boys Joel took a note from Jaws where the shark doesn’t appear until late in the movie and instead of flying used pov camera shots and other tricks to create fantastical illusion every bit as effective.
Santa Monica at the time was really the murder capital of the world, the boardwalk scenes at the beginning of the move contained no extras, only the colourful locals and the buff dancing musician was a chap called Tim Cappello who was Tina Turner’s sax player. They needed to create a cool but weird vibe which fit in with the tone of the story. Most of the cast were at that point unknown. Much of the fantastical vibe was created with smoke, a very effective inexpensive tool to give an atmosphere and mystic veil to surreal/fantasy scenes. Joel says that it’s hard to explain these scenes sometimes using a script so you have to fight for them. Lighting was used to effect with devices like an arc light on Kiefer that picked him out and highlighted his already strong screen presence. Nothing was stinted on for the animals though with actual wranglers on set for the worms and maggots and two dogs, one nice one and an attack dog. As attack dogs can’t be played with they needed two. Lemon juice was used to get worms and maggots to wriggle and squirm instead of their rather dormant normal state. The train bridge idea was another economic stunt, the bridge being low (it’s actual height hidden by smoke underneath) and the stunts in the studio replica proving simple, with wires on the actors being easy to remove virtually even at that time and a stunt double falling into empty cardboard boxes, a good way to break a fall. Though the train illusion was inexpensive it was very original and a great idea. Stock footage from Top Gun was provided by Jerry Bruckheimer for a later sky scene of flying through clouds. Many solutions to budget restrictions proved to only enhance the magic of the film. The role of the director, Joel says, is to elevate the material.
Music too served to elevate, the Cry Little Sister track came in on a demo and found it’s way to Joel’s desk, on hearing it he felt it fitted the movie like a missing piece. Similarly a track by Run DMC, Walk this Way, was provided and Joel not sure what he was doing with one scene of the film where the vampires kill decided it would be a great idea to kill surf Nazis in conjunction with the song. You build tension any way you can, says Joel, with music, with shots.
Prosthetics had been overused in the 80s and they decided in changing regular to vampire faces on the boys that only a little change was necessary so that we could see the boys not the makeup. Joel blessed with amazing casts wanted to use them to advantage. He credits his actors and amazing screenwriter for everything they gave him to work with saying that when we can be most destructive is when we don’t realise it’s a collaboration.
Speaking of his career a little, Joel points out that he began poor, had no TV and grew up with comic books and movie theatres for his entertainment. It was just him and his mother in an industrial town across the bridge from Manhattan and he got into trouble a lot. When he found his first sober friend, that person was able to introduce him to contacts who eventually facilitated his move to California to work on the movies he loved, at first as a costume designer as he was known for his own style. Joel credits Woody Allen for being influential to his career. Woody had an openness to his set and though he didn’t always act he listened to what people had to say. It was he who encouraged Joel to write his own stuff resulting in Joel finally getting to direct two of his scripts for movies of the week which got picked up for TV. Hires to direct distributed pictures followed. When you do early films and get lucky you just hope you’ll get another job Joel tells us. Thankfully for us, he did.