Interview: Lord Joel Silver
by Worshippin' Jack Ruby
In a letter to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, Groucho Marx wrote in closing, "Regards, affection, admiration and, if you want to toss in a few superlatives of your own, I have no objection. Yours, Groucho." In writing up my umpteenth interview with Hollywood action super-producer Joel Silver (who I've been lucky enough to speak to three times in the past 8 days - this interview, the press conference for Revolutions at the Disney Concert Hall and the Gothika junket), I find that I am running low on superlatives that I haven't used in the past (one can only refer to a producer so many times as a "god" on one website before religious Google searching starts freaking the Christians). It's taken me about half an hour to write this one paragraph because, like a moron, I popped in The Matrix to watch in the background as I wrote it up and, of course, got completely sucked into the thing.
That's a Joel Silver film for you.
This interview is a little bittersweet, at least for me, and it's hard to hide that. There's no franchise I've covered with more verve than The Matrix (I have to admit, I have never taken a locations walking-tour of a city to take pictures of a movie's previous exterior sets as I did with The Matrix in Sydney and as with never hearing the number "42" without thinking of Douglas Adams, no one can say "deja vu" without me thinking, "there's a glitch in the Matrix") and no filmmaker I've seen run with a project more than Silver. The first time I met Silver - for the Swordfish junket - he enthusiastically spoke of the Matrix sequels that were about to start shooting. Beyond a couple of, 'So, are you going to make Matrix prequels/sequels?'-type questions that will inevitably pop up at future junkets, this is the last time, really, that I'll be talking Matrix with Silver as future junkets will be about "what's now and next?" and not, "Hey, remember when you made your Star Wars/Lord of the Rings trilogy?"
But that's Hollywood, so whatever. Onwards and upwards. Without further ado, here's the legendary Lord Joel Silver, the greatest action producer of all time and the man whose The Matrix Revolutions, every last damn one of you will be seeing this week as we sat down for an interview on Stage 22 of the Warners lot two Sundays ago chatting about his latest film.
We started chatting about this or that beforehand and I mentioned my love of Demon Knight ...
Lord Joel: That was a good one. Jada [Pinkett-Smith] was in that.
S.J.R.: True. Like with Jada and people like Halle Berry who you're on number four with, you work with a number of talented folks time and time again. Have you discussed working with the Wachowski Brothers again post-Matrix?
Lord Joel: Well, they wrote a script for me for V for Vendetta, which is this great Alan Moore comic book - years ago - and they've talked about producing it with me and bringing somebody in to direct it that they like. I mean, they're fantastic guys. They're going to take some time off now. I lived with the movie for seven years - they lived with it for ten, so they beat me by three. But, they're pretty burned out from the whole process, but whatever they want to do it'll be great. They're passionate about their art, but their art is commercial, so it's a miracle that you have two people there that have a chance to make something so special for themselves that is in touch with so many people. I'd love to work with them forever, whatever they want to do.
S.J.R.: How do you feel Reloaded and Revolutions will change the way films are made? Kill Bill was cut in half, Lord of the Rings was made all at once - do you think we're going to see more of a serial type of filmmaking and release where franchises are made this way?
Lord Joel: Well, it's always been that way. I remember when I was a kid, Richard Lester made those two Three Musketeer movies together and then Donner actually did shoot Superman I and II together - he didn't finish the second one and they put in Lester. Bob Zemeckis did those two Back to the Future's back to back. I tried to do Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 together, but I couldn't pull it together in time. I really think that New Line was ballsier than we were because they actually went out and made all three movies. But they did have a piece of material that people knew about. If you look at what we did, the guys had the story, but it was a miracle enough getting the first one made - forget trying to make three at the same time. But making two at the same time just makes sense. I mean, financially there was just no way. It would've cost too much to make one and then another one after that.
S.J.R.: I re-watched the first two movies just before going in to see the third and as much talk as there was of Reloaded and Revolutions going together, the way it's cut, they are three radically different movies that tackle very different things. What was the tone you were going for here on the third one?
Lord Joel: [The Wachowski Brothers] were very clear from the beginning that they were going to be three very different movies. The first movie is about discovery, it's about his introduction to a new idea, a new world, a new way of seeing things. The second picture was very philosophical. It had a great discussion inside it about the paths that one can take to follow the journey that one must pursue to reach a final event of some sort, but it's left completely open. Also, they made a big point in the second one of debunking the first movie. In the second movie, they pretty much negate the prophecy, they negate the Oracle and they end up negating everything that you've seen up until then, so you're starting almost with a clean slate. And then the third movie is resolution. It's a war movie. It's a giant comic book. The fight between Smith and Neo is the classic comic book fight we've seen or read about our whole lives. So, they wanted a much cleaner path in the last picture. I've always felt, even at the beginning when we started the process of making two movies, I always thought that the first one could come out with tremendous hype because it was the first Matrix movie that had come out in four years. But I always felt that Revolutions was a much more satisfying movie because it really resolved the story.
S.J.R.: Do you have a favorite of the three or can you even so close after finishing the trilogy?
Lord Joel: We just finished Revolutions last Thursday. I mean, the last shots for Reel 4 went in last Thursday, so it's literally been ten days. I've only seen it once since it's been finished. But when you analyze the three movies, I love the war movie aesthetic of Revolutions. I love the siege sequence. I just love how they did that. Throughout the publicity of the first picture, I talked about raising the bar on the visual effects and I was really talking about both movies. People, of course, localized and said, 'What are you talking about?' While there are some phenomenal things in Reloaded, the things we did in Revolutions, I mean that siege sequence is amazing.
S.J.R.: I was talking to some of the guys who have seen it and we agreed - it's the best science fiction war sequence since the Hoth assault in Empire.
Lord Joel: It's really funny how things come together. When we hired Square to do The Final Flight of the Osiris and they did their first sketches for it, they had this idea that when the Osiris comes up on the crater and it sees the Sentinels, what they did is they had them swarm in this rope-type movements. I remember Larry said, 'That's a really cool idea!' Again, these guys are very collaborative. They're very clear about their ideas, but they're very collaborative. They take ideas from a lot of people and put it together. They said, 'That's a really cool idea!' I just love the image they call the 'Hand of God' shot where all the hundreds of thousands of sentinels form these tentacles. It's a pretty spectacular image. I love that. But when you look back and see the three movies, I hope that we get a chance - we're going to put a DVD out of Revolutions in the spring - and I hope that next fall, our intention is to put out a really monumental three-disc set.
S.J.R.: Was that what happened with the first Matrix? There was a big special edition of that coming out that then got pulled.
Lord Joel: Yeah, we decided to do it now. The boys always wanted to re-transfer the first film. They weren't really happy with it. They always thought it was too light. They didn't really have the time then. They want to re-transfer 1 and they want to connect all of the scenes that they shot for the videogame with the DVD. There'll be some kind of an icon that you'll go to that go right to the scenes from the videogame that will continue and then you can go back to the movie. You'll be able to follow all of that and then do a lot of stuff that they want to do, so there'll be a big three-part next fall. That's our intention. But the thing is, when you watch all three of them together, I really feel...after I saw Two Towers, I went out right away and got a print of Fellowship of the Ring and I watched it again. I wanted to see how it tracked and it was very effective. It worked very well. But I really believe, not having seen all three of these together yet, that when you watch all three of them it will be a really excellent experience.
S.J.R.: With the final fight between Smith and Neo, it's been talked about for some time that Warner Brothers is coming out with a new Superman movie. How are they intending to one-up that?
Lord Joel: I don't know!
S.J.R.: I don't mean that just as a superlative, it's pretty incredible.
Lord Joel: I agree. I mean, I'm doing Wonder Woman now and I have been tortured on how to do it in a fresh, unique way. I knew what was there in Revolutions, I knew what we had done - and yes, she flies on air currents, but how do you deal with that? Some of those moments when those two forces come together, it's pretty spectacular?
S.J.R.: How much of that was boarded out before and how much was about "finding something" on set or in post-?
Lord Joel: All boarded out. This was exactly in the script. They're very precise in their writing. They write their scripts not so much for presentation, but for the cast and crew people who are going to work on the movie so they can see what they need. They're very clear and then with Geoff Darrow and Steve Skroce, they really can show what they mean. So, it's a combination of writing it and storyboarding it. It's right there. We talked a little about the various franchises that compete with The Matrix, but then went back into on-the-record fun.
Lord Joel: I think spontaneity doesn't just come from being spontaneous. It comes from the spark of invention and the Wachowski Brothers are very passionate about what they're doing, but they're very original. I remember the first day they showed me the APU. When I read it, I thought it would be like the loader. We're in the same boat, we know the same movies and I said, 'Is this like the loader from Aliens?' They said, 'Well, not really.' And I said, 'Well, what's different?' They said, 'When we have a drawing of it, we'll show you.' And then they called and said, 'I'm going to fax you something we want you to see' and when I saw Geoff Darrow's drawing of the APU, it wasn't the loader. It was a very different thing. They described it in the script as it was, but in my mind's eye, I saw it as the thing I'd seen before with Ripley sitting in it. But they really crafted this thing that has muscles and gets up and does all that. They did all that and when you see it standing there moving and firing, it's really a very unique thing.
S.J.R.: The way the APU's cock and load, it feels like you're inside a gun instead of a clunky, dual purpose device.
Lord Joel: Exactly. And there are things you don't even see. For example, they made one for my office and you don't really see it, but some of the ones had another gun module in their backs so that if the gun jammed, they could eject it and [mimes putting his hand behind his back] pull another gun module from behind their back. The one that they made me actually has the gun module in the back. That didn't get into the movie, but that was one of the ideas the boys had.
S.J.R.: Is that a new addition to your lobby menagerie? [S.J.R. Note: The lobby of Silver Pictures is the greatest in Hollywood - framed posters of dozens of films, the Predator in a glass case, a rail gun, a pinball machine, you name it]
Lord Joel: Oh, no, it's too big. But the whole idea of how that thing fires - 'knuckle up,' that was the phrase that they said when pulling the new gun.
S.J.R.: You said you've been working on this for seven years - is it a little bittersweet to know that after the next couple of weeks when Revolutions comes out, you'll be moving away from the franchise and won't be working on it, living with it or getting to talk about it anymore?
Lord Joel: I really felt tortured during the whole period of reading the bad press about Reloaded because I told everybody that would listen to me that it was half a movie. I said that at every screening - 'This is half a movie,' 'You're seeing only the first half,' 'It's half a movie.' But it didn't matter. Everybody - they write what they want to write. They said, 'Well, it's not even a whole movie!' Yeah, well, we said that. I got beaten up personally. I was like, 'Let them see the sequel.' When they see Revolutions, I hope it will all make sense. The visual effects are there and the story ends. I was anxious for people to see it, but I don't really want to talk about it. I didn't do the kind of press for Revolutions that we did for Reloaded. I knew that Reloaded could have all this hype and this excitement, but I wanted Revolutions to just come out. I wanted people to see it. I didn't really want to have to talk and explain it, though the talented executives at the studio may disagree with me in some ways. They said, 'People want to ask questions and they want to do this,' so I said, 'Okay, then we'll do a much smaller version of what we did last time.' It was really a global, worldwide thing. But I really felt that once this movie came out, it would quiet the naysayers, it would quiet the people that were disgruntled. They would say, 'Oh, now we see!' They now understand what it is. But it is going to be sad. I'm going to be sad. I feel proud of the achievement that they did and that I was able to help them do it. Lord of the Rings was a book! Batman was a comic book. Like Star Wars, these guys came up with by themselves and crafted it themselves - all the ideas, all the images came from them. It's really an original creation. Of course, I'm sad. We lived through this experience and now it's done. It's going to have other lives. I mean, there's discussion about an online game that they're talking about that will hit, but this story is over. They're talking about doing another videogame that the boys might do with Atari and that would focus more on a prequel story.
S.J.R.: Gothika is hitting next month, you already mentioned Wonder Woman and there are others that come up, but what really are you looking to do next? Another giant, epic trilogy or something in a different direction?
Lord Joel: I'm really happy with Gothika. It is the best of these Dark Castle movies. It is a little more sophisticated...I mean, I like Ghost Ship, I like Thirteen Ghosts...
S.J.R.: I love House on Haunted Hill.
Lord Joel: Yeah, I like that one, too. I like them all, but this is a little different than those and I'm really happy with it. I just realized how good these movies did this weekend with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and next with Scary Movie 3 and I'm glad we moved it because it needed more work and it really came out great. I don't know what I'm going to do next. I have a lot of things that are percolating.
And that's His Holiness, Lord Joel Silver, the producer of the Matrix franchise. We'll have more from Silver in a write-up of the press conference he and the Matrix Revolutions cast participated in on the day of the film's premiere at the brand new Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. On top of that, we'll also have Silver a little later in the month talking all about Gothika.
Tune in tomorrow for our one-on-one with Trinity herself, Carrie-Anne Moss. The Matrix Revolutions opens on Wednesday, November 5th, in theaters pretty much everywhere around the globe.
Oh, and an open note to Entertainment Weekly. Any so-called "power list" that places Jerry Bruckheimer at #1 over Silver at #29 is a fucking joke. Remember Kangaroo Jack? Remember Bad Company? Remember Pearl Harbor? Remember that the Skin premiere came in at #5 in the Nielsen's? I'll take any five Joel Silver movies over a Bruckheimer flick any day of the week. But hell, the same list suggested Reese Witherspoon, Eminem and J.K. Rowling were more "powerful" than Silver, so they can go...um...fuck a squirrel to death or something. And then not remember.
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