Joel Schumacher Interview
Joel Schumacher was born August 29, 1939, in New York, NY; son of Francis and Marian (Kantor) Schumacher. He attended Parsons School of Design,and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
After more than three decades in the film industry, Joel Schumacher has earned a reputation as one of the most respected and well–liked mainstream filmmakers around. Schumacher's films are glossy; he delights moviegoers with his staggering sense of style. Movie companies love Schumacher as well because he completes his films on time and on budget. Over the years, the costume designer–turned–director has generated a long list of credits to his name, including the 1985 hit St. Elmo's Fire, which helped launch the careers of the "brat pack" kids, including Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Emilio Estevez. His biggest blockbuster was 1995's Batman Forever, starring Val Kilmer in the feature role and Jim Carrey as his nemesis, The Riddler. That movie grossed $184 million at the box office. For Schumacher, it is a dream come true. "I'm very lucky to be here," he told the Age. "I have a career beyond my wildest dreams. I've wanted to make movies since I was seven. I have my health, I conquered drugs and alcohol.… I've survived an awful lot."
Schumacher was born on August 29, 1939, in New York, New York, and grew up an only child in the working–class neighborhood of Long Island City in Queens, New York. Speaking to the New York Times Schumacher referred to himself as an "American mongrel." Said Schumacher: "My mother was a Jew from Sweden; my father was a Baptist from Knoxville, Tennessee."
When Schumacher was four, his father died. To make ends meet, his mother went to work selling dresses. She worked six days a week and also some nights. "She was a wonderful woman, but, in a sense, I lost my mother when I lost my father," Schumacher told Newsweek. By the time he was eight, the unsupervised Schumacher was on the street taking care of and entertaining himself. He found comfort reading Batman comics and spent long afternoons in darkened movie theaters watching Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant on the big screen. "Those were my two biggest obsessions before I discovered alcohol, cigarettes, and sex. Then my obsessions changed a little bit. I started drinking when I was nine. I started sex when I was eleven. I started drugs in my early teens. And I left home the summer I turned 16. I went right into the beautiful–people fast lane in New York at the speed of sound. I've made every mistake in the book."
As a child, Schumacher also dabbled in entertainment. He built his own puppet theater and performed at parties. To help his mother make money, he also delivered meat for a local butcher. Walking the streets, Schumacher became interested in window displays and volunteered to dress the store windows in his neighborhood.
After he left home at 16, Schumacher lied about his age and landed a job at Macy's selling gloves in the menswear department. From there, he became a window dresser for Macy's, as well as Lord & Taylor and Saks. Later, Schumacher worked as a window dresser at Henri Bendel's and earned a scholarship to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. He also attended that city's Fashion Institute of Technology. Next, he worked as a fashion designer and helped manage a trendy boutique called Paraphernalia, long associated with Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick. In time, Schumacher found work with Revlon, designing packaging.
With a keen eye for style, Schumacher became a big star in the fashion world, but sunk lower into drugs. He favored speed, acid, and heroin. Schumacher refered to this period of his life—the 1960s—as his "vampire" years, according to Newsweek. He stayed inside all day, covering his windows with blankets. He only went out at night. One day in 1970, something snapped, and Schumacher quit the hard–core drugs. "I guess it was the survivor in me," he told Weinraub in the New York Times. "I just knew I had to stop." He did, however, continue drinking, a problem that plagued him for two more decades.
In 1971, Schumacher relocated to Los Angeles, California, and got his foot in the film industry door when he landed a trial job as a costume designer for Play It As It Lays, which was released in 1972. From there, he picked up jobs as a costume designer for movies like Woody Allen's Sleeper and Blume in Love, both released in 1973. Through these movies, Schumacher made contacts and landed his first directing job for the 1974 NBC–TV drama The Virginia Hill Story. He also began writing screenplays, including 1976's Car Wash, and the 1978 musical, The Wiz. Finally, in 1981, he got his first shot at filmmaking, directing Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Reviewers frequently commented on the atypical color scheme he chose for this film.
One of Schumacher's early successes was a 1983 film about a metropolitan cab company run by a group of misfits. Called D.C. Cab, the film featured Mr. T. Other early hits included 1985's St. Elmo's Fire, and 1987's The Lost Boys. The latter film, a vampire flick, helped launch the careers of Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland; it was a hit with the teen audience. He followed up with the 1990 thriller Flatliners, and the psychological drama Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas, in 1993.
By the early 1990s, Schumacher was coming into his own. Legendary author John Grisham asked Schumacher to adapt his best–selling legal thriller, The Client, for the big screen. Schumacher cast Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon in lead roles in the film that told the story of a street–savvy kid in danger because he had information about a mob killing. The movie, released in 1994, was well–received and Sarandon received an Oscar nomination for best actress.
Next, Schumacher earned directorial rights to Batman Forever, released in 1995. The first two installments of the series were directed by Tim Burton, but were thought to be too dark and serious. Schumacher was charged with brightening the series. Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as Batman, and Jim Carrey joined the cast as The Riddler. Under Schumacher's direction, the movie became the blockbuster of the summer, raking in $184 million. Batman & Robin followed in 1997 but was terribly unsuccessful, putting an end to the Batman series.
Over the years, Schumacher has become known for his perceptive ability to cast unknown actors and turn them into hotshots. His films have given rise to the careers of the "brat packers," as well as Matthew McConaughey, cast in Schumacher's 1996 adaptation of another Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. Schumacher also "discovered" Irish actor Colin Farrell, giving him the lead in the 2000 Vietnam drama Tigerland, which proved to be Farrell's breakthrough performance. Schumacher later cast Farrell in his 2003 suspense thriller Phone Booth, which was shot in an amazing 12 days.
Another actor who gained prominence under Schumacher is comedian Chris Rock, who starred in 2002's Bad Company. Like many actors, Rock enjoyed working with Schumacher and was amazed by Schumacher's ability to handle the whole operation of movie–making. As Rock told Film Journal International, "Joel is like a general, like Patton or something. He really knows how to whip up the troops. Doing a big movie is a lot of directing. It's coordinating a whole town. It's like being a mayor, and he's totally up to the task—of being a general and making it artistic."
What makes Schumacher stand apart from other directors is his eye for style. Characters in his films appear polished and classy, yet sexy. According to a Movieline article once proclaimed, "Why Don't People Look in Other Movies Like They Look in Joel Schumacher Movies?" For that, Schumacher credits his childhood spent in movie theaters where he inhaled a steady diet of films with stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Cary Grant, and Marilyn Monroe. As Schumacher explained "You went to the movies and saw—Grace Kelly—these staggering images on the screen, so I think my early film influences are these archetypes—Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper. It's very much how I see film."
With about 20 films under his belt, Schumacher has had nearly every kind of review possible but says, for the most part, that he ignores them. Speaking with Film Journal International, Schumacher said he does not read reviews. "Woody Allen taught me a long time ago, 'Don't read them. If you believe the good, you'll believe the bad.' When they think you're a genius it's an exaggeration also, so somewhere between genius and scum is the reality of life."
After his foray into the blockbuster, high–budget world of the Batman series, Schumacher pulled back from big–name titles and returned to making grittier, chancier films. In 2003, he branched out into true crime, directing the film Veronica Guerin, which starred Cate Blanchett as the Irish journalist of the title. Guerin was killed by a heroin kingpin in 1996, who was angered by her investigative reporting. Schumacher made the movie in Ireland on a budget of $14 million—whereas $70 million is the average cost for a studio film. Once again, Schumacher was like a general. He kept everyone focused, shooting at 93 locations in 50 days.
The film won praise for its straightforward approach to the topic. Schumacher refused to glorify Guerin post–mortem, a trap many directors fall into. Speaking to the Age 's Schembri, Schumacher spoke about true stories this way: "You want to be sure that you're approaching the subject matter with integrity and not just trying to glorify the person, but trying to be honest with the facts, even if it upsets some people." Schumacher has also tried his hand at producing a musical. His film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera, was set for release in 2004.
Schumacher is also openly gay but refuses to get into discussions about how his sexuality affects him in the movie business. "It never was an issue," he told Film Journal International, noting he does not believe in labels. "I think we're all villains and victims, as long as we live in a culture which keeps defining people as African–American lesbian judge, gay congressman, Jewish vice–presidential candidate, etc. You would never say that Bill Clinton was a Caucasian heterosexual WASP president, you just say he's Bill Clinton. That means the only norm is white WASP male, because everyone else must be defined. I'm totally against that."
Despite his success, Schumacher has no plans to rest on his laurels. Though he is considered a veteran filmmaker by many, Schumacher still sees himself as a student. As he told the Guardian, "I hope I haven't made my best one yet, I'm still trying to learn on the job. So I keep stretching and hopefully I keep making better and better films. I hope the good ones aren't behind me."