In today’s world the biggest franchises many know of and some fear is overtaking the Hollywood market are superhero and comic book based films and soon we will have more than we have ever seen on-screen.
In the 1990’s WB was the only studio bringing us these costumed heroes, mainly Batman with occasional TV Series and movies from them and other studios. Batman and Batman Returns proved to be a critical and financial success, but the dark nature of the films at the time and parent groups complaining about it, it forced Warner Brothers to decide a lighter tone was needed for what would become Batman Forever and because of this Tim Burton was brought down to Producer and Michael Keaton declined returning. However, before Tim Burton stepped down he was the one who told Joel Schumacher, a director known back than for films like The Lost Boys and Falling Down to go on and direct the new film and Warner Brothers decided to hire him for a 3 picture deal. For years many fans tend to blame him for the problems for Batman and Robin, a film he had very little control over. When Joel Schumacher came onboard he was bringing with him a desire to film Batman: Year One, but was told because they wanted to go lighter they did not want many of those darker scenes involved and his original script was toned down to what we see today. In fact, if you watch the deleted footage that has been released you can see the darker tone and there was a release called Batman Forever: The Red Book Edition which perfectly edits the film to its original tone. Warner Brother promised he can make that film on his third go around, unfortunately that never happened as Batman and Robin almost killed the genre of comic book films in 1997.
Recently as part of the 20th Anniversary of the release of Batman Forever, Forbes sat down with Joel Schumacher to discuss the films legacy.
Q: I remember how in the aftermath of Batman Returns – which some people as kind of a letdown in some ways, particularly a lot of the Batman fans – Batman Forever really hit the spot. It was what audiences were hoping the series could come back and do.
JS: Well the one thing I did find out about– when you dig deep into the Batman franchise, which has been as you know successful since 1939, then you know there are so many different kinds of Batman. I got the sense that there was absolutely no desire to allow me to do anything darker than what I did, but you can’t please every fan. It’s the same with I think any franchise. I think Tim’s first movie and my first movie– I think they were hoping [to win over] a big percentage of fans and even people who aren’t fans.
People go to those movies who may not be chapter and verse [fans], and the one thing I’ve learned from four to five decades in the movie business, and having worked for so many directors and having so many friends who make films… I was lucky enough to learn that you either hit it or you don’t.
You either hit it or you don’t. A lot of my early movies like St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys, the studios were so skeptical about those movies. They had a lot of unknowns in them. There wasn’t a big push for them until the research screenings and then they hit the audience in a certain way. It isn’t really even the studio promoting it, you just get lucky. I mean, I don’t know how it happens, but it’s like a virus — you either catch it or you don’t. We see movies every year that are supposed to be blockbusters but they’re not, or they’re big selling books and they get huge stars in them and it doesn’t work. Then some movie will come out of nowhere and just hit it.
And thank God for that, because film needs to be a menu, it can’t just be Big Macs or little cozy Thai food, it’s got to be everything. It’s got to be arthouse all the way up to mammoth blockbusters and everything in between, and hopefully it will always stay that way.
Q: Right. And you end up not making the film you really wanted, or it’s not what you expected or had hoped it would be.
JS: Well we’re never really making what we think we’re making. I can’t speak for other directors, but as far as I’m concerned, but if you keep your eyes open and your ears open then the movie will teach you what you’re making. I did costumes and sets for Woody Allan when I was starting in the business, and I remember with Annie Hall… I remember his great editor Ralph Rosenblum. Originally the movie was called Anhedonia which means the ability to enjoy anything anyplace at anytime and it was about Woody with different women in a person’s lifetime. Ralph when he put together the rough cut said, “This movie is about you and Dianne.” And then Woody reshot a lot and the rest is history.
I think Woody set out to make a movie where how he never had a perfect relationship with the women for all different reasons, and what it turned out to be was this love story, this funny and touching love story which most people consider a great film. So those things do happen, and I only just add it as an example of you’re not making what you think you’re making sometimes.
Q: When you came onto the Batman Forever project, what sort of preconceptions and feelings about Batman and the character do you bring into that film at the start, and what sort of things changed for you as you were making that film as far as those preconceptions and feelings about the character and the film?
JS: At first it was kind of a shock because I was in the 11th hour of preproduction on The Client down in Memphis, Tennessee. We were about a week away from filming and I got a call that my great bosses at Warner Brothers Bob Daly and Terry Semel were sending one of the Warner planes and wanted to have a meeting with me in their office. I thought maybe I was being fired or maybe something is up, I just didn’t know and no one told me. I flew there, I went to their office, and they asked me if I would be interested in doing what Bobby Daly called their most successful franchise or most profitable franchise. This must have been 1993 or 1994, and I hadn’t shot The Clientyet.
I grew up on Batman comics. I was never a Superman fan, I was always since childhood a little on the dark side. And of course I grew up before television, so comic books were like storyboards, as you know. I grew up behind the movie theatre and I always liked darker movies. I was into the adults’ movies, I never liked kids’ movies. So to me it was kind of, “Oh my God, I could get to make a Batman comic. Are you kidding me? This is so cool.” What they also explained to me is that, unfortunately with Batman Returns as you mentioned, I think families complained, I think one of the characters scared the kids. They had gotten some flack about it and no one wanted another Batman movie at that time.
So it was kind of, “Would you be interested?” and I said, “Well Tim Burton is a friend of mine, so I have to go and ask Tim first.” Because if he doesn’t want me to do it I’m not going to do it, because this is his franchise. I had lunch with Tim and he said, “Oh take it, take it please!” And I understand what happened on the sequel, because it happened to me on Batman and Robin. When Tim said yes, I was stoked of course. I was going to make it with Michael Keaton, and then Robin Williams — I met with him a few times, he wanted to play the Riddler. But I don’t know, for some reason just wouldn’t commit. I don’t know, we would meet and it would be a great meeting, and then he wouldn’t commit yet.
And then I think Michael was very dissatisfied with me as the director. I think he didn’t like the way it was going… Anyway, I think the renegotiation things going on that I had nothing to do with. But eventually it was decided to replace Michael. I had seem Tomb Stone like the week before, and Val Kilmer is so great in it. I thought, “Wouldn’t Val Kilmer make a good Batman,” and the studio was open to that. And I got Jim Carey and Tommy Lee Jones to be in the movie, and Nicole Kidman was my choice for the heroine and Drew Barrymore was so great… There are a lot of good people in it.
I also had to go around the world, because no one wanted another Batman movie. So I has to meet with all these distributors in Asia, I also a lot of the toys and merchandise had been returned, it was a loss or something on that. I had to go to toy fairs and toy conventions in Las Vegas, and I had to get up in front of all these people who didn’t want it and talk about how great this is going to be. I believed in it, I really did…
We had plenty of money to do what we wanted and we had wonderful people working on it. I thought the chemistry between Val and Nicole was great, and I thought Jim was just brilliant as Riddler. And Tommy Lee Jones, of course all you had to do was turn on the camera and you’re going to get a great performance. It was fun, it was so much fun and not a lot of expectation because of what had happened before and so many people didn’t want it. But the toy manufacturers, they were so great to me, they climbed on board. And then the head of Walmart came into the editing room with his entourage. They were dead serious. I showed them some cut-together scenes and some with Jim being hilarious, but they did not respond to anything. They just looked. And I thought, Well we didn’t make that sale,” but they went to Bob Daly’s office and ordered like $75 million worth of merchandise or something.
To read the full interview head on over to Forbes.com.
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