Once again sitting down with Joel Schumacher (do I make that sound like there’s not a few hundred people in the room?) to look over some of the scripts he’s directed. For a number of Joel’s varied projects we looked at a cold reading of the screenplay performed by actors then compare them to the finished excerpt of the film to see what gets added and taken away during production.
In Falling Down for instance, sound and score had been used to great advantage to create pressure in the opening sequence of the film, the car on the highway which had been filmed in a style to imitate Fellini’s 8 1/2. Something that only a couple of critics picked up on after the film’s release. There are many little visual clues in the finished segment that enhance the depth of what the screenplay offered. The tableau in total took eight hours to shoot. A little later we take a look a the Whammy Burger scene, where Joel gives great credit to his actors and to production design. The flirty Whammy Burger employee had cheekily picked up a ringing phone inside Joel’s office answering it as if it were Wendy’s (US burger chain) and as she handed Joel the phone with an ‘it’s for you’ he told her she was hired. These casting decisions informed how the characters on the page played out on screen, 90% of directing is casting.
Looking at The Lost Boys train scene (which we’d covered yesterday somewhat) the most obvious change from the screenplay was that instead of falling through darkness into David’s arms the character falls through fog and lands on his own bed the next day. One major change that had happened from the spec screenplay was that the characters ages had been raised from 8-10 year olds (a film that Joel didn’t want to make) to being teens, that and a couple of other ideas made the project which he’d initially wanted to turn down, more worthwhile to him and the studio loved his ideas for it.
It’s incredible sometimes how at the Screenwriters festival many sessions reinforce something you learned in another session. The visual writing, enhanced by even greater visual detail added in direction reminded me of many of the subtext elements in Ludo’s seminar the day before. Joel tells us that as an audience we see only what they want us to see on screen. This is so we can feel it.
Phone Booth was a 12 day shoot on a street so they rehearsed first for two weeks. Again the actors get credit from Joel for a lot of the enhancement from script to screen as do the camera angles. A lot of impro came out because of the tight schedule and location shoot. In fact many reactions of people in the film are the real reactions of people on the street. Colin didn’t have much experience but the studio had let Joel use an unknown and he feels the film would have been a totally different movie with stars in it. Due to the need to keep rolling they shot using ‘French hours’ where food was passed around all day instead of stopping for scheduled breaks. The didn’t even know if they could make the first day in terms of needing to get a certain amount done (I believe 13 pages) but they had to get finished before the Christmas break as holding over till after the holidays would have been too expensive. Everyone worked their asses off but it wasn’t until the first screening that they knew whether they had a hit on their hands or not.
All the in depth reminded me that there’s never enough time or enough budget. It’s evident in how the scripts are brought into the finished film and when in good hands it matters less if there’s less, in not so good hands it wouldn’t matter if there were more. Fortunately Joel is good hands to put a film in. A pleasure to look at some more of his work today.