Joel Schumacher And Keanu Reeves Talk The Future Of Film
The Side By Side director and the CamerImage festival jury president discuss the digital revolution
With the Keanu Reeves documentary Side By Side, exploring the digital revolution and the impending death of celluloid, setting the unofficial theme of the festival, Empire sat in on a lively discussion on the future of film between Reeves and Joel Schumacher, this year’s main competition jury president.
Joel Schumacher: When we talked two years ago (for Side By Side), we talked about something I’ve always believed in. I started out as a costume designer in 1971, so the world and cinema have changed dramatically, but I’ve always believed in the future and that everything, including digital technology, is a tool and it’s all about how people use it. I grew up before television...
Schumacher: Yeah, your grandparents weren’t born yet! But I remember when television came in, movies were over. That’s what everyone said: they’re done. But the truth was, people became inventive. They opened up the movie screen so you saw 70mm and Cinerama, which lead to CinemaScope. Lawrence Of Arabia would not look like Lawrence Of Arabia without television. All these things brought people back to the movie theater. Plus, of course, movie theaters had air conditioning. Things keep happening. And it’s interesting to watch your film and hear people debating over whether they should [use digital technology] or not. It already happened! That boat has sailed. You can’t bring the boat back. People who want to shoot in a classic way will, and there’ll always be room for that. But some of us use everything.
But before that boat sailed, it was at the dock for a long time. And while it was at the dock, producers would say, "We are not going to use film to tell this story because it’s too expensive." And back then, digital had not reached the photochemical gold standard in terms of latitude, resolution, colour, all of those considerations. So there was a push-back. Some directors were forced to use a medium that wasn’t as good [as film]. And people were losing their jobs.
Schumacher: That I didn’t know.
Reeves: Yeah, people who did colour timing, all of the things involved in post on traditional film. Technicolor’s business has changed, Fuji isn’t making film any more, they’re not making film cameras any more. In the early days [of digital], or rather then end of the early days, 2010, we were looking at the end of film, the death of something we’ve used for over a hundred years to tell a story.
Schumacher: But that will lead to greater inventions. There always will be artists. There will always be product to put in theaters. And you know what’s going to happen? In ten or twenty years time, someone will rediscover 35mm or 70mm and make a film and it will be Jesus coming off the cross. It’ll be like, "‘Someone made a film in 35mm!" and there’ll be a renaissance. But also, at some point, there will be an historic film made on someone’s cell phone. And there are some people in your film who would see that and go, "The world is ending!" You know, some people thought the world was ending when natural acting came in, it was the end of...
Reeves: (theatrically) Acting!
Schumacher: Right. And in the '60s, when Easy Rider came along, and certainly with Taxi Driver in the '70s and many of those breakthrough films, it was "The world is ending, the world is ending, the world is ending!" And it didn’t.
Reeves: The world began.
Schumacher: It did.
Reeves: Okay, so the storytelling is not ending, but the medium is. And the [communal] experience of watching a film, whatever emotional attachment we have to that, you have no nostalgia for? It’s like, ‘Thanks for being here for a hundred years. See ya later.’ It doesn’t matter if people never get to experience that?
Reeves: So you have no nostalgia for emulsion?
Schumacher: Oh I do. I grew up living behind a movie theater. I grew up in the golden age of Hollywood.
Schumacher: Well, I love to watch film from many eras. But when I watch something I saw as a kid in black and white, especially film noir, there’s no way I can see that movie except on DVD or Blu-Ray. People watch movies on the internet and on their computers, and a lot of people don’t have the time or money to go to a movie theater. My point of view as a director is, we all know how hard it is to make a movie - I think anyone who even finishes a movie should get an Academy Award - and I want people to see what we did. Of course, you want people to see The Matrix exactly the way the Wachowskis intended it to be seen. But for a lot of people, that’s just not possible.
Reeves: So this is an exciting time - the means of production are open to everyone; the quality you can get for the money now, you can shoot a movie with a 2K camera, you can download it, upload it, share it...
Schumacher: I think so. We’re always moving forward, at least with technology. I’m not sure, as long as people are still killing people, that we’re out of the dark ages. But certainly with technology, we’re always moving forward. I mean, there are people who miss talking on the phone all day...
Reeves: What are you talking about!? You can not only talk on the phone now, you can talk, text, tweet, email...
Schumacher: Exactly! It’s great. I’m sure you have this with your agent same as I do, we don’t have to play phone tag any more.
Reeves: Right, you just text it and send it.
Schumacher: And thank god for my godchildren because I can’t spell. Now I can abbreviate anything and people still understand me.
Reeves: So how has storytelling changed? Now we have the big screen, the small screen; we have webisodes, shorter stories, serialization; gaming is taking on a whole other [aspect] with multiple endings, multiple role-playing...
Schumacher: And yet there are still really good movies every year. One of the problems in our business is that it’s easier to make a film that could be a blockbuster, or an independent for two, three million dollars, than it is to make what used to be the mainstay of Hollywood: really good adult fare, dramas, thrillers; four people in a room talking. Once Mark Canton paid Jim Carrey twenty million dollars to do Cable Guy, it changed our entire industry. We all started to make much more money. Not just the stars but also the directors and the writers and everyone else. So suddenly, four people in a rom talking was a seventy million dollar movie. That’s not a good business to be in, so it started shrinking, and it’s still shrinking.
Reeves: Does the new technology serve that middle ground?
Schumacher: I think it does. I remember when we made Tigerland, we wanted to shoot it on Bolex cameras to give it that seventies look. And the studio went crazy, we had to fight them every day because it wasn’t a 35mm film. You know, it was about teenagers drafted into Vietnam, so it was appropriate for that subject matter (most of the combat footage from Vietnam was shot on Bolex cameras). But we had to fight very, very hard…
Reeves: You know there’s a button on digital cameras now - it’s called the Bolex button.