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
"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
"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
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
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.