Tag Archives: Joel Schumacher

The London Screenwriters’ Festival: 10 amazing seminars in one handy guide

10 Dec
London Screenwriters' Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

London Screenwriters’ Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

The London Screenwriters’ Festival is the largest of its kind in the world. That’s right, the biggest and best event for screenwriters happens not in LA, not in New York, but right here. London, Hollywood indeed. I’ve written up all the best talks, screenings and seminars I attended at this year’s: that’s ten blog posts. Read ’em, one by one. You’ll laugh! You’ll learn!

Behind The Scenes

The Silence of the Lambs, with screenwriter Ted Tally. Discover the secrets of the famous jail scene between Clarice and Hannibal, how Jodie Foster got the part, and whose head is really in the jar. Part one, click here; part two, click here.

Finding Nemo, with co-writer David Reynolds. Find out: Why is the vegetarian shark called “Bruce”? How did Sean Penn narrowly miss being in the film? And why did Pixar have to make their animation, in parts, deliberately bad?

The Lost Boys, with director Joel Schumacher. Find out: How was Rambo an influence on the movie? How you do you get maggots to act? Why must Surf Nazis die? Where did Kiefer Sutherland go in full vampire make-up?

Great talkers

Joel Schumacher. The veteran director explains how Woody Allen changed his life, how the studio took fright at Falling Down with Michael Douglas, and how “if I can do this, you can do this too”.

Lynda La Plante. The writer of Prime Suspect, who is currently working on the prequel, tells how she made it as a screenwriter. Find out why her key tip is to “write like a transvestite trucker”.

Tony Jordan. The creator of Life on Mars and the forthcoming Dickensian talks about his long, illustrious and surprisingly accidental career. He explains how he nearly gave up after just a few episodes of EastEnders (he went on to write 250), and how Life on Mars came about.

Charlie Brooker. The sweet, avuncular, cuddly uncle of screenwriting – just kidding! – trains his bile on blockbusters (“like staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together”) and writing itself (“I love having written, but I hate the process of writing”), and talks about the Black Mirror Christmas special.

Writers’ guides

Beyond The Chick Flick: Writing The Female-Driven Screenplay, with Pilar Alessandra. Sigourney Weaver’s part in Alien was originally written for a man. But though it can be useful to ask yourself “what would a man typically do?” when writing for women, you’re missing out on a whole lot of depth if that’s all you do…

The Art & Craft of Dialogue, with Claudia Myers. She outlines the five pillars of what makes a good scene, and the four pillars of what makes good dialogue within that scene. Learn how even the way you address someone can matter: “In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft are sleeping together, but he’s still calling her ‘Mrs.Robinson’.”

Bonus section: last year’s highlights

A whole lotta Joe Eszterhas: The straight-talking author of The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, who used to be paid $4 million for a script, was so entertaining and larger-than-life he could not possibly fit into one blog. So I posted several, including a, ahem, blow-by-blow account of Basic Instinct, his troubles with Mel Gibson, and his tips on writing.

Creating Character, with Pilar Alessandra. How to brainstorm a film structure from scratch, based solely on character (fascinating!); plus the three dimensions to character, and how to introduce a character in a script.

The Epic Spec: How To Explode Onto The Hollywood Scene, with Stuart Hazeldine. “Sometimes, to get noticed, you have to take your clothes off and run in the traffic.”

Steve Pemberton. One of the League Of Gentlemen team gives a local talk for local people. Discover, too, how a director he didn’t previously know persuaded him to act, for free, in his short film, as a cannibalistic serial killer with agoraphobia.

Graham Linehan. Absolutely one of the top TV comedy writers working today: the man behind Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd reveals how Robert McKee screwed him up, and what the Three Moments rule is for TV comedy.

The London Screenwriters’ Festival 2015 is pre-registering now, and already 37% sold out. Find out more here.

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“Woody Allen changed my life”: Joel Schumacher Q&A

3 Nov

Joel Schumacher

One of the nicest surprises of the London Screenwriters’ Festival was Joel Schumacher. He’s no film critic’s idea of an august auteur, and yet he has often written as well as directed his movies. He is forever remembered as the guy who nearly killed off the Batman franchise with his luridly camp and brightly coloured take on the otherwise Dark Knight, yet he has had a number of commercial successes: St Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Falling Down, The Client, A Time To Kill. He even made a hit out of Phone Booth, a film which took place entirely inside a phone booth, and starred a then unknown actor. That was Colin Farrell, of course. Good call.

Joel Schumacher is also, it was evident from watching him in action over the weekend, one of the nicest, sweetest, humblest, funniest men in Hollywood. He cheerfully admitted “I’m not a genius as you all know, I’m not the greatest director in the world,” and at the end of his talk on The Lost Boys (click here for that), he sounded extraordinarily sincere when he said, “You’re so kind to have come, I really appreciate it; I know you have many other things to do with your life.”

In the Q&A afterwards, he told us more about how he got started:

“I lived behind a movie theatre, and I was always skipping school. When I was seven I saw Great Expectations, and I didn’t know who Dickens was, or David Lean, but when I saw the image of the child in a graveyard, I saw an image that related to me, because of my own father’s death. That image haunted me for three weeks. And I just wanted to be part of that.”

He didn’t get his chance until his thirties. “I was just turning 30, I had just got off intravenous drugs, and I had screwed my life up badly. I realised I had done everything wrong, that what I had always wanted to do with my life was to be a director. So through my only sober friend, I stalked a director, who gave me my first job at $200 a week to do the costumes on a low-budget film.

Woody Allen in Sleeper. Costume design by Joel Schumacher.

Woody Allen in Sleeper. Costume design by Joel Schumacher.

“It was Woody Allen who changed my life. In Christmas of 1971 he hired me to do the costumes on Sleeper. We happened to be in the Rocky Mountains, which was very unusual for Woody to leave New York, and he encouraged me to be a director, but said that first I had to write. He said ‘you’re clever and funny, I think you can do it’.

“And he gave some very good advice. He said the most important thing about writing is that you must finish it, and people must read it! My first two spec scripts sold, and one was Car Wash, which was one of those little movies that just hit the zeitgeist.”

The second movie he both wrote and directed, Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979), gave him a respect for actors that he has maintained ever since. “Candy Clark was having trouble with some dialogue where someone calls her crazy, and she says something like, ‘People who the world calls crazy, we don’t think we’re crazy’. Something like that, but longer. She kept getting it wrong, and getting upset because she was failing me. It was the last take before lunch, or there would be meal penalties that would be expensive, so I said ‘Just so it any way you’d like.’ We shot it, and she just replied [when the guy called her crazy], ‘Dingaling’. That was brilliant.”

"I'm the bad guy??" Michael Douglas in Falling Down

“I’m the bad guy??” Michael Douglas in Falling Down

One of the films of which Joel Schumacher is, justifiably, most proud is Falling Down, in which Michael Douglas goes gradually bat-shit crazy during a nightmare walk across LA. “I had to fight for it,” says Joel. He also had to fight to get Michael Douglas on board. “Michael had promised his family he’d take a year off, but I showed him the script, and it was so good that even his wife said he just had to do it.

“It’s the most politically incorrect film I’ve ever done. It wouldn’t get made today. Half the critics thought it was genius, the other half thought we should all be murdered in the street. Michael plays, basically, the first Tea Partyer. He’s basically like, ‘Where is my job? Who are all these strange people living in my neighbourhood? And where’s my gun?’

“When the bosses at Warner Bros saw the movie, the blood drained from their faces. It’s one thing to read and approve a script, and another to see it on film. Michael and I would have this question: is he the bad guy, or the good guy? And our answer was, ‘yes’. [laughs] God forbid that there should be a grey area in a movie!

“People thought I was being some kind of fascist, but I wasn’t suggesting people should be like him. I was showing him as a tragedy.”

Schumacher is 75 now, and still working. In 2011 he made Trespass, with Nicole Kidman and Nicolas Cage. Last year he directed two episodes of House of Cards. My takeaway from this: sometimes it pays to be the nice guy, the one people actually enjoy working with and would gladly work with again.

“If I can do this,” he summed up to the audience of aspirant screenwriters with typical modesty, “you can do this. And you can do it better.”

10 great scenes from The Lost Boys, with commentary from director Joel Schumacher

30 Oct

The Page To Screen events at the London Screenwriters’ Festival are always great. This year, they screened Silence of the Lambs, Finding Nemo AND The Lost Boys. As it’s Halloween today, of course I’m kicking off with The Lost Boys. Joel Schumacher dishes some inside info on the top 10 scenes:A Opening shot1. The camera swoops in over the sea to a boardwalk by night: This long shot onto the boardwalk was meant to come in all the way onto Kiefer Sutherland’s face, but there’s a law that you can only bring a helicopter in so far, so we had to cut. Santa Cruz was the murder capital of the US at the time. A lot of runaways, prostitutes and murders. We had to change the name to Santa Carla, because Santa Cruz didn’t want to be known for that. Even though three of the most famous serial killers were discovered near here around this time.

Lost Boys saxguy

2. We meet the family, then it’s back to the boardwalk with a topless sax machine. This was Tim Capella, who was Tina Turner’s sax player. Harry Knowles who runs Ain’t It Cool News told me that on certain anniversaries of The Lost Boys they have a free concert on the beach and a big movie screen. I said why don’t you invite me? It sounds great.

Lost Boys comic store

3. Our young hero Sam meets two pint-sized vampire hunters in a comic store: This is the first time the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman) were together on screen. I told them to watch Rambo a couple of times (to get a handle on their characters). That’s where the headband comes in.

Lost Boys the cave

4. Sam’s elder brother Michael ends up in the Lost Boys’ cave: My concept for this was you could have this amazing baroque hotel, and during the earthquake of 1906 why couldn’t it have fallen into the San Andreas Fault, so you get this great stuff underground. Then they took a million dollars out of our budget. They kept asking me, are you making a comedy or a horror movie? I said, yes! They said, it won’t work. I said, pray. So what the production designer did was brilliant: the caves were all “flats” on rollers, so they could be shifted around wherever the camera was pointing. There’s always a way.

Lost Boys maggots

5. The vampires make Michael hallucinate that his Chinese rice has turned into maggots: You need wranglers for the maggots. Here’s a little tip: to get them to move, you squeeze lemon on them, then yell “Action”.

Lost Boys bridge

6. Having drunk vampire blood, Michael and the other Lost Boys hang from a railway bridge. This is a bridge maybe 15 feet at most over a small gulley. To make it seem dangerously high, we used a piece of the bridge and suspended it over a whole sound stage filled with fog. The boys are wired – that’s the cheapest thing to take out with visual effects. When they drop, that’s a stuntman, falling the whole depth of the soundstage into cardboard boxes.

Lost Boys Campfire

7. Finding some Surf Nazis at a campfire, the Lost Boys feed. Run DMC gave us the song Walk This Way to use, and we just decided we’d kill Surf Nazis to it. It just seemed fun. The Lost Boys was viewed with some trepidation by the studio, but at our first test screening there were lines around the block. The theatre held about 750 people, and it was like a rock concert, it was fantastic. There were nine or ten Surf Nazis in the fourth row, and during the killing scene they got so excited that they tore the stuffing out of their seats and threw it everywhere. You’ve never seen so many happy executives.

Lost Boys Kiefer Sutherland

8. The young vampire-killers find the Lost Boys hanging upside down, asleep. They drive a stake through Alex Winter’s heart. Kiefer Sutherland is understandably upset. They had these hard lenses in, they hurt. We blow smoke at them. They’re hanging upside down. Actors are amazing! I’m not a genius as you all know, I’m not the greatest director in the world, but I’ll match my casts with anyone. Kiefer used to go to lunch in full make-up, and enjoy people’s reactions.

Lost Boys reversing car

9. The vampire-killers escape into the light, nearly reversing a car over a cliff in their panic. The kids were furious with me that I got stuntmen to do it. They didn’t speak to me all day. Corey said to me after, “The only reason we decided to do this movie was so we could drive backwards! It says it in the script!” He was 13.

Lost Boys death by stereo

10. The hilariously gory showdown. One vampire is electrocuted on the record player and his head explodes, after which Sam says triumphantly, “Death by stereo.” There was just so much cheering and screaming in the audience when his head blew up, they missed that line. And it’s a great line. So we had to put an extra-long pause in there. [Laughing] I want you to know that these fine actors, including the Academy-Award-winning Dianne Wiest, sat in this thick black smoke for all these takes. I had to go to one of those facials that cleans out your pores for the next three weeks!

For Joel Schumacher on how Woody Allen changed his life, click here. More from the London Screenwriters’ Festival: click to read tips from Tony “Life on Mars” Jordan and Lynda “Prime Suspect” La Plante. Or enjoy the Joe Eszterhas live commentary on Basic Instinct, from last year’s LSF.