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Joel Silver is a producer of big films. At last count, 32 of them, including four Lethal Weapons and three Die Hards. He is master of the filmmaking ‘process’. When Silver visited The Matrix set at Fox Studios in Sydney (on the eve of Lethal Weapon 4 opening here), he told ANDREW L. URBAN that in the 1990s, that these days, the Hollywood studios are the ‘auteurs’.

While Joel Silver is a major force in Hollywood, he bows his head in respect for the directors he works with, like Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) and the Wicholsky brothers (The Matrix). "They’re great talents…they have an ability that is magical . . . chemical – I don’t know what it is. What we do," he says slipping into the humble ‘we’, "is have a drive, a desire, I guess, for some form of fulfillment. And that allows us to make these things happen; practically WILL them to happen."

"The writer is first... the director finishes it. "

And his respect for the creators begins with the writer. "It’s all a process, and I mean the writer is first. You have to have a good piece of material that will attract a cast, that will attract financing, that will attract the stars – and at the end, the audience."

The writer begins the process, he says, and the director finishes it.

But Silver holds that in the 90s, the real ‘auteur’ is the studio. "The studio is the auteur, particularly with these big movies. They say what they want – and they get it. They allow those of us who they either respect or fear or want to work with to have a hand in it – but they tell us what they want to spend their money on, if you’re going to make an entertaining movie that’s supposed to gross a lot of money and pay for itself. If you are making a little film with nobody (well known) in it, a small story that’s very personal, that’s possible to do in a fashion that is less expensive. But if you’re going to hire a big star and make a big movie, the studio is going to have a lot to say."

However, Silver is just as certain that "every movie needs a producer – a good producer. And it’s not easy to do that, but everybody feels that’s the job they want."

"How do you BECOME a good producer?"

But how do you BECOME a good producer? In Silver’s case, it seemed to be a destiny thing. "As a kid I read a lot about the moguls; the Goldwyns and the Louis Mayers and the Thalbergs…then I got to Hollywood and saw how things were. The thing I learnt was the process." That’s Silver’s key word for movie making, his mantra, perhaps: PROCESS. "I learnt from the process –from making movies."

He also learned from Larry Gordon, where Silver began his career and soon became President of Motion Pictures, working on films like The Warriors, 48 Hours, Streets of Fire and Brewster’s Millions.

"I learnt from Gordon," he admits. Truth is, Silver probably learnt a bit from everybody and added his own intuitive, charismatic schutzpah to the mix, his bulk and his passion for filmmaking – as a sort of organiser come fixer come troubleshooter.

"I’ve now made enough movies to know what it’s about."

"Silver likes to ‘get lost’ in the movie experience"

When he is asked whether he has the taste for anything under megabucks and megastars, he points to a film like The Hudsucker proxy for the Coen brothers, which hardly anyone liked (except me – I liked it).

As an audience, Silver likes to ‘get lost’ in the movie experience. When he ran into Armageddon director Michael Bay in sydney (as their schedules crossed paths), I said to him, ‘I look at your movie and I feel like Lethal Weapon was a half hour situation comedy…. a bunch of people in car driving around and talking. You have a space station blowing up and two space shuttles whizzing through space and crash landing on an asteroid…saving the world. I can’t even dream how he did all that stuff. But above all it’s a wonderful fun time and I got lost in the movie. He did a great job on that."

As for The Matrix, it was the cost benefit that brought the film to Sydney. Even though it takes place in some western world city, much of the shooting is inside a sound stage, with "created reality". Warner Bros, which is financing and distributing The Matrix, does have an interest in a film studio Down Under, the Warner Bros Roadshow Movie World Studio on the Gold Coast. But it was Sydney’s special mix of architecture that clinhed it for the new Fox studio in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

"And let me tell you," says Silver, "it would not have been made without the Australian option."

"It’s fantastic to work in"

Studio 2, the biggest of the Fox sound stages, is the first brand new purpose built sound stage that Silver has ever worked in. "And it’s beautiful…we were the first crew in there and it’s fantastic to work in. And beyond that, the city is so helpful to us – we’re not used to it. In California they are smug. It’s nice to feel welcome and have a great place to work in, and have great crew – in every department."

After our interview (in one of those mysterious little office rooms that all studios, even new ones, seem to have) Silver returned to the noisy, wind-blown, exploding set, where Keanu Reeves was taking a breather, muttering darkly to himself.

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Silver at Fox Studios, Sydney
Joel Silver gets his phone calls returned in Hollywood. His films have a combined global gross to date of over US$2 billion. Last year'’ Executive Decision, starring Kurt Russell and Steven Segal, was the 11th Silver-produced film to take more than US$100 million world wide.

At Lawrence Gordon Productions, he associate produced The Warriors, and with Gordon produced 48 Hours, Streets Of Fire, Brewsters Millions.

He launched Silver Pictures with Commando, and followed it with Jumpin Jack Flash, Predator; then began the Lethal Weapon (x4) franchise, and the Die Hard (x3) franchise; The Last Boy Scout, Demolition Man, The Hudsucker Proxy, Richie Rich, Assassins, and Fair Game.

Silver Pictures also produced Fathers Day, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.

Father's Day

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Lethal Weapon 4

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