Interview: Lord Joel Silver
by Smilin' Jack Ruby
Okay, so yeah, we've talked to His Holiness, Lord Joel Silver, Genius of All Hollywood Filmmaking and Savior of the Action Genre before about the new Animatrix short film, Final Flight of the Osiris, but that was before I saw the film, so here we are BACK with Lord Silver and the director, Andy Jones (not the E! Online super-genius/super-sexy columnist, Anderson Jones, by the way, for those of you who know him as "Andy," too, but the animation director from Square who did the work on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) from the Dreamcatcher roundtables at the Park Hyatt today.
One can never interview Lord Joel enough, particularly when he's in a scoop-y mood. I mean, he said he was toying with the idea of remaking Superfly!!! HOW FUCKING COOL IS THAT??? After the semi-aborted Scott Rudin-produced attempt to bring back Shaft (Hey, Rudin – stick to lining famous American authors' pockets with option money for their great books that you'll subsequently never turn into movies and keep away from action movies), finally, someone with sense may turn one of the classics of seventies black-hero cinema (Pam Grier told me once to not call them "blaxploitation films" as she never felt exploited – you don't say "no" to Pam Grier) into a decent modern remake.
Though typically I'm against remakes, after what Silver did with House on Haunted Hill (it's ironic as Kasdan talked about how much he liked the John Carpenter-directed Thing remake today and how it got no respect when it came out and I couldn't help but think of HOHH), I think his sensibilities behind a Superfly remake would far surpass the John Singleton-directed Shaft remake. And yes, I think DMX would kick ass as Priest if that was Who Lord Silver Wanted To Have In That Role.
Anyway, Lord Joel will abide - oh yes, he will - and yes, admittedly, some of this roundtable I chopped up into bits for a future E! column and for Fangoria.com, so it's not complete (whatev), - but here he is with Jones talking about the kick-ass animated short film, Final Flight of the Osiris. And if you're keeping a scorecard, Lord Joel was wearing a black silk shirt with what looked like grinning serpentine devils all over it.
Question: Was there a bid out on doing The Animatrix? How did you come to work with the Wachowski Brothers on this?
Andy: Actually, the Wachowski Brothers sought us out. They looked for a lot of Japanese anime companies that were doing very creative animation work. They went to Japan and got all these great directors and they also liked what we had been doing as far as like Final Fantasy – the look of it – and thought it would be a good medium to tell the story in.
Question: Did you consciously do Final Flight of the Osiris in two parts? Was it ever going to be shorter or a two-part thing?
Andy: There's kind of a first and second act and it was planned out that way. The first act is setting up the feeling and emotion and a little bit of the characters and who they are. Then you get into the whole idea of what the story is about and what the Wachowskis wanted to tell, which is about the sentinel army and the existence of that and the fact that they need to get the information to Zion and that's the last thing they can possibly do. They can't possibly take out all these sentinels that are after him.
Question: Did they come to you specifically and say that they wanted to use you as the one working on the theatrical one?
Andy: Yeah. (to Lord Joel) You want to handle that?
Lord Joel: Yeah, when the whole thing started, we went to Japan in September of 1999 after the first movie opened for a promotional junket. The boys always had this scheme that they wanted to – being big fans of Japanese anime anyway – they wanted to find a way to incorporate their story in this process. Again, the key is to be clear that they wanted to tell the story in multiple mediums. So, the anime was one of the mediums which was available to them to tell the story. So, when the notion came up to do these and Warner Home Video got on board and we said, okay, we're going to do these stories, the plan was always to have this one story – Final Flight – which really sets up the entire saga, which really begins Reloaded. I say it's Matrix 1.5. It really starts the story from here on. The plan was always to do that in the most sophisticated and most spectacular animation fashion and that's what led them to Square and to Andy. At that time, we had other hopes and plans for Square. However, Square didn't last much longer after we finished this movie. They wrote this one and they wanted this one to be really incredible. It worked out that Dreamcatcher was coming out and it was coming out on March 21st and Larry Kasdan was a giant fan of The Matrix. We wanted to get it up on the screen. We felt that the fans should be able to watch this on the big screen. I mean, look, what is it? Is it a double-feature? It's not a trailer. It's not promotional. This is part of the story. We really felt that if we could get this out and up before the movie opened and give the people a chance to see it and understand it, it would lead them right into Reloaded.
Question: When looking at something like this with near photo-realistic actors, you wonder why spend $25 million on actors when you could just create the actors with computers and do a whole series.
Lord Joel: Nah, I don't know if it's so easy. Look, it's not easy. We are – and all the wonderful work that Andy has done in Final Flight, which is spectacular – we are far beyond it in the movie in Reloaded. We've gone far further than this. I just think that the notion of creating virtual actors is a fantasy of...
Question: Animation directors?
Lord Joel: (laughs) No. Look, I think you can use animation, in my opinion, as a tool to aid you to do things that you can't do with real actors. I mean, there are certain parts of this opening scene – the fight scene, the sparring program – which...the boys said, "What's sex like in the Matrix?" What can you do in the Matrix if you can have sex and that's just where the sparring program came from. There's things in that you just can't do with real actors and you can't pull something like that off or it would be extremely expensive. Even in the first Matrix, there was no Nebuchadnezzar ship – it was all done in computer animation. When it was over, me and the Wachowskis, we wanted the ship so we had to actually have it made after the movie was over because it didn't exist as a model. So, there are things that you can do with animation that you can't do. The notion of replacing the actor isn't a good idea.
Question: Will there be other Animatrix shorts appearing behind other Warner Brothers films?
Lord Joel: No. There's two that are already on the 'net. The first one – Second Renaissance – we had four million downloads in the first month and some of the hardware companies were pretty shocked that there was that much memory out there so that people were able to accept all this download. The second one went up which was called Program and we had 250,000 downloads in the first hour. That's the wonderful thing about AOL is that they do have this gigantic server.
Question: Is there any fear that people will come to watch the short film and not stay for Dreamcatcher?
Lord Joel: I hope that doesn't happen. I think that Larry made a wonderful movie and I think it's scary. I like those kinds of movies. I hope that they work together.
Question: They used to do that sort of thing all the time – with a cartoon before a feature – why do you think that doesn't happen anymore?
Lord Joel: I think Warners is doing it again with Looney Tunes. The problem is that exhibition is always so disturbed by it. I guess the theater owners think that the audiences won't want it. They just sat and watched 25 trailers! I remember there was a Mike Judge short a couple of years ago. Office Space was a short first that I saw in the theater that I thought was great. It works great for us.
Question: Do you think the exhibitors want to keep the time down and make sure they can show movies a certain number of times in a day?
Lord Joel: I just think...well, exhibition has their own problems now because of the proliferation of too many theaters. That's a whole 'nother conversation. The whole idea of The Matrix is about change. We maintain that change is inevitable, so maybe when we go to digital cinema it may be easier to just slam a short up. I don't know. Exhibition is concerned about it. One of the reasons we have it is because Larry Kasdan said, "Let's do it!" I mean, he's a filmmaker and said, "I love The Matrix – let's do it!" Other filmmakers may say, "I don't want a short on my movie. Fuck 'em! No way!" It all has to work together.
Question: With the first movie coming in May, what kind of business is this movie going to have to do to rival Star Wars and Lord of the Rings?
Lord Joel: I mean, look. It's an R-rated movie. I can't speak to that. I don't know what it's going to do. I'm telling you that the movie is sensational. It's going to blow people away. The ideas behind the visual effects are staggering. You're not going to believe what you're going to see.
Question: Can you tell us a couple of those things?
Lord Joel: Absolutely not.
Question: Is it over two hours?
Lord Joel: Just a little over two hours.
Question: With the sequels shrouded in secrecy, how do you decide what you can show?
Lord Joel: Well, look, the reason we ended up with this Newsweek cover in December was because we really haven't had that much out there. We have been careful. We don't want to bang our fans over the heads with it. We had one teaser that was out last May. We had a Super Bowl spot. We have a trailer coming out the beginning of April.
Question: With just how photo-realistic the ship-work is in Final Flight of the Osiris, was there ever a chance that Square was going to work on the Matrix sequels?
Lord Joel: Yeah.
Question: Because it looks very real – good enough to be in the feature.
Andy: Thank you.
Lord Joel: No, we wanted them to. I mean, that was one of the things we wanted. We loved the work Square did. The whole machine city – you don't see the machine city until...
Andy: We helped develop it and the Wachowskis liked what they saw.
Question: So, there's stuff that you did that's in Reloaded?
Andy: Well, the concepts of how [the sentinels] move and stuff like that. They liked it.
Question: So, the Wachowskis aren't going to be doing press for these movies? They're going to be reclusive?
Lord Joel: It's not reclusive. Look, I'm not trying to make a Kubrickian connection here, but I don't think Kubrick ever explained what the Monolith meant. He didn't want to and he didn't have to. The boys just don't feel that if they sit and make themselves available to discuss the elements of the story, it's a finite response. They really want the audience to take from the movie what you take from it. They don't want to say what they are. I'm going to help the process because I can speak 800 words in one breath according to Newsweek, but they don't want to talk about it and they also don't feel comfortable talking about it and it's the only part of the process that they are [like that about]. Believe me, they are involved in everything. They wrote four of these episodes. They wrote the two movies. They wrote 600 pages of game material. They write everything, but they don't want to be involved in this part of the process, so they don't have to be.
Question: Are they both finished – or at least the first one?
Lord Joel: The first one's not finished. We're finishing it as we speak. The second one is not as close as the first one. They're finished shooting, but they're not finished yet. They have a lot of work to do.
Question: With Square gone, what are you doing now?
Andy: Square closed. I'm actually at Digital Domain again. I'm an animation director there. Animation directing in live-action films.
Question: How hands-on are you with all your films?
Lord Joel: Look, it depends on the picture...
Question: How many movies will you have out this year?
Lord Joel: Four. I have...Cradle came out last weekend, I have Reloaded in May, then I have a picture I'm doing, my Dark Castle movie with Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz and Robert Downey called Gothika, which will come out next Halloween. And then that will be followed up a week or so later by Revolutions.
Question: Do you think we're burned out on comic book movies?
Lord Joel: I don't know. I loved last weekend. Cradle 2 The Grave was a fun movie. It made a lot of money. It was number one. It's nice to hear that. It's a very different kind of movie than The Matrix. It's a different experience.
Question: But you know how to make those and keep the budgets down...
Lord Joel: I try. That movie is far less than The Matrix and our Dark Castle are far less than that. So, it just allows us to have all these different genres of movies.
Question: Which is your next Bartkowiak movie?
Lord Joel: I'm not doing [his next]. He's doing a picture called Pathfinder for Paramount.
Question: So, which is the next mid-level [budget] one for you? (S.J.R. Note: Yeah, okay, so I get a little crazy looking for scoops – sue me)
Lord Joel: I don't know. I always was fascinated by an old movie called Superfly, which I kind of wanted to play with again. So, we have a plan of making a kind of different kind of version of that.
Question: Laurence Fishburne was saying the production had a real hard time with the death of Gloria Foster as she was so great, but was also a major part of the third Matrix movie – what was done about that?
Lord Joel: We had a terrible thing happen with Aaliyah, too. Well, the boys had always planned on the Oracle changing form, so this was a possibility they had talked about. But she is very well-featured in Reloaded. She has a really great, cool scene in Reloaded. We had not done the Revolutions sequence yet and it ended up being another actor.
Question: So, is Westworld for next summer?
Lord Joel: I don't even know. There's a lot of stuff we're working on.
Question: With the Oscars right around the corner, do you see the two Matrix movies competing against each other for Best Picture? (S.J.R. Note: For the record, no, this was not my question – though it sounds like me)
Lord Joel: Oh, please. I don't know. I never think about that.
And that's Lord Joel and Andy Jones. Look for schloads more coverage from the Dreamcatcher junket as the movie nears. Final Flight of the Osiris opens in front of Dreamcatcher on March 21st everywhere.
Joel Silver is God and deserves a Thalberg or two. Praise Him on the message boards.