In contemporary Hollywood, it’s quite rare for writers and directors to collaborate on more than one film, but Goldsman has worked with director Joel Schumacher on his past four films. He shared credit with Robert Getchell on “The Client,” with Lee and Janet Scott Batchler on “Batman Forever,” and was the sole screenwriter on “A Time to Kill” and the upcoming “Batman and Robin.”
A former therapist specializing in autistic and schizophrenic children, Goldsman had just sold his first script — eventually produced as “Silent Fall” — when a Warner Bros. exec introduced him to Schumacher. “‘The Client’ was a month and a half from shooting, and they felt the script wasn’t what they wanted. I read the script and (John) Grisham’s novel, and we talked about it. Then Joel said, ‘I think this would be really fun to do together.’ And I thought it couldn’t be this easy.
“Literally four days later I was flying to New York to meet with Susan Sarandon. Two weeks later I was in Memphis, and I stayed there for the course of the movie. I was on the set every day of ‘The Client,’ which was a fantastic learning experience. Joel is unparalleled in his willingness to include others in the process of filmmaking. He is one of the most collaborative people I’ve ever known.
“It comes from a tremendous persistence of vision. He is not really threatened by other opinions. Because he is clear on what he wants, he can only be informed. He can’t be knocked off course.
“He has a tremendous visual flair, but he is a writer himself — a screenwriter before he was a director — so you really get to work with a peer-slash-mentor who has done what you do. And he encourages creativity on the set. He really likes the writer to be part of the process of making the movie. So moviemaking with Joel is hugely fun.
“It is the director’s vision that ultimately goes on the film. If you want it to be exactly your vision as a writer, you should write novels, or you should direct your own movies.
“When Joel had been offered ‘Batman Forever,’ I had salivated loudly, because I had been a Batman fan since I was little.” The original writers, Lee and Janet Scott Batchler, had written “Batman” between scripts of a two-pic pact with Disney, who wanted them back. “Again, Joel invited me to be part of the production,” recalls Goldsman. “And during that show, John Grisham called him about ‘A Time to Kill.’
“I had had one meeting with John on ‘The Client,’ a couple of meetings with John and Joel on ‘A Time to Kill.’ And I wrote ‘A Time to Kill’ during the last couple of months of shooting ‘Batman Forever.’
“‘Batman and Robin’ was a totally original script that came from ideas Joel and I had on the plane ride back from a location scout in Mississippi for ‘A Time to Kill.'”
Goldsman has the sole story and screenplay credit on “Batman and Robin.” “But the truth is, Joel and I made up the story together. It’s not like I went away and came back with a script. We talked about it all the way through the shooting of ‘A Time to Kill,’ until together we came up with the rhythm of the piece, what was happening where, when, and to whom.”
Goldsman is currently writing and producing “Lost in Space” at New Line, directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Gary Oldman and William Hurt, and has a production deal at WB. “There’s no question in my mind that I would not be where I am today if it were not for Joel. As a writer you couldn’t be luckier than to work with him. He’s unbelievably supportive and generous. You grow and understand your writing better, because you get to be part of the filmmaking process. And that’s rare in Hollywood — it shouldn’t be, but it is.”
LEE AND JANET SCOTT BATCHLER
The Batchlers wrote the story and original scripts for “Batman Forever.” When they received the coveted assignment — “We’re offering you Warner Brothers’ biggest corporate asset,” a studio exec informed their agent — they had just sold their first spec script to Disney, which is still unproduced. “But Joel was looking for a tone, and he read our script and said, ‘These are the writers,’ ” relates Lee.
“My wife and I work as a team. We met with Tim Burton and Joel. There was a sort of handing over the reins of power. During the conversation, Tim said, ‘How do you see Batman?’ And Jan made the comment, ‘Batman is all about duality. In the world of Batman, everyone has another identity.’ And Tim just said, ‘Yes.’
“We worked out the essentials of the story, and Tim signed off on it. Then we flew to New Orleans, where Joel was finishing up on ‘The Client.’ He wanted us to see him at work and see his directing style. When he wasn’t directing a scene, we were brain-storming ‘Batman.’ It was a lot of fun.
“We started with a blank slate and a production start date — a very interesting situation. There was just a general idea — no story, no script. That’s what we had to provide them in 11 weeks. A lot of what we were writing was for stuff that was going to be designed.”
Because Schumacher began in movies as a costume and production designer, “Visuals are very important to him,” Batchler notes. “Joel wanted to do a ‘Thunderball’ moment. We wrote him some underwater shots. He was very excited by the visuals. At one point he said, ‘All I want is this one shot of Batman coming through a wall of flame. You can do anything else you want, but get me that one shot.’ So we wrote a whole sequence setting up and built around that one visual.
“Our way of writing is very structured. That was what we brought to the process. Joel sees the moment in the movie that he wants. Visuals were what really turned him on. It’s the writer’s job, in a sense, to work backwards, and make that organic to the story.
“So it went backwards and forwards. He said, ‘I want this,’ and we gave it to him. Or we said, ‘This is what we want,’ and he dreamt from there.
“There wasn’t one time when they said, ‘Oh, this is too expensive. Forget that.’ It was a case of, ‘Have fun! Go wild!’ It was carte blanche as to what you could imagine. And then it was up to the designers to figure out how to do it.”
“Joel says his main job is to remind talented people how talented they are. That’s very true.” The Batchlers are now at Paramount, writing “The Cardinal of the Kremlin,” the latest epic thriller based on a Tom Clancy tome. But the experience of working with Schumacher still influences them.
“My wife, Jan, just directed her first short film in the AFI women director’s program,” explains Lee, “and it went very, very well. A lot of people were astonished just how smoothly Jan ran a set. She told people, ‘I learned it from watching Joel.'”
“Flatliners” — written on spec — was the first feature script for the ex-adman from Boston. Producer Michael Douglas bought it. “Joel was on right from the get-go. He and I worked side-by-side on polishing the script to his and the actors’ tastes, as the project evolved,” Filardi recalls.
“He was a gracious collaborator, really — someone who defended me. There was talk at one point that the studio was looking to replace me, because I was young and it was my first script. But Joel, to my eternal gratitude, stuck by me. ‘No, we’re going to stick with this kid.’
“When the shooting started, he encouraged me to be on the set every day, to sit in on rehearsals. He was my film school. It was definitely a mentor relationship.
“He was extremely generous throughout the whole process. For a writer, when your script begins changing or evolving, it’s painful. It always is, and it always will be. But Joel helped me to understand the process, really. He made it a lot easier. And we had a good time.
“He was really cool. If I ever tired of the polishes or production schedule, he’d remind me — ‘It’s a privilege to entertain. You have to remember that.’ I remember him saying, ‘Those guards at the studio gate are not there to keep us in — any of us.’ And when he points it out for you, you get that second wind, or the third or fourth wind. And you get swept along, and it’s really fun. He has this enthusiasm. That’s the way he attacks each day and the whole process.”
Filardi went on to write other features, the most recent being the thriller “The Craft.” “I was very fortunate to work with Joel.”
“St. Elmo’s Fire” was originally a short story Kurlander had written at Duke University. “It was really about my obsession with this girl who was a waitress at the St. Elmo’s Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, but she was then living in Georgetown (the locale of the eventual film).”
Kurlander came West on a Universal studio scholarship as an intern. “There was a meeting on ‘D.C. Cab,’ and I had to get them all lunch. During dailies, Joel said, ‘Who’s that in the corner?’
“‘I’m Carl. I got you a gazpacho with no croutons, no sour cream, and chopped egg on the side.’
“‘Get me a Perrier.’ Hence my collaboration began.”
Filardi became Schumacher’s assistant. “But there was always a dialogue of curiosity with Joel. He’s a pop-culture sponge, and we’d spend hours on the set of ‘D.C. Cab’ discussing generational differences, who were the best musicians, meanwhile waiting for Mr. T to burst into a house.
“I had turned ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ into a screenplay, which really didn’t have a lot to do with the final movie. Everyone was encouraging, but it was Joel who took that real special interest. After ‘D.C. Cab’ came out, Joel was looking for a new project. Somebody pitched him a movie about people hanging out in a bar in Washington. He came back to me and said we should do a movie about young people who are going through that time in their lives when they don’t know who they are, and they’re always getting into this drama. Joel wanted to do an ensemble to really explore this area.
“He said, ‘We’re going to do this together.’ And we drove around all over L.A. in his big black car for three days talking about it. We kept driving and driving and talking and talking. It was about life, and every friend I ever had, every emotion I ever felt, about being in my early twenties. Joel got it all out of me. I love that. It’s so much more organically the way you tell stories than if you sat down at a meeting and said, ‘Okay, let me sell you.’
“We’d talk about the scenes ad infinitum. Then we’d both write the same scenes. Joel is a very fast writer. And it would only take him about an hour to write the scenes we talked about. And I am very slow and ponderous. I would spend all day and all night trying to write the same scene. And then at 9 o’clock, I would have the scenes on the wet bar in his office at Universal. He would read them and combine the scenes.
“I’ve never loved the writing process as much as I did as when Joel and I were doing it together. It felt like part of a dialogue. It was really magical.”
“I wrote better than I’ve ever written, then or since. I cannot tell you how exciting this is. Joel gave me a sense of belief in myself and my wackiness — even this obsession with this waitress — that I was able to do super, immortal things. I was on the ‘St. Elmo’s’ set every day. It was really one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Kurlander also collaborated with Schumacher on a short-lived TV series, “Codename: Foxfire.” The writer is currently writing and producing episodic TV — “Saved By the Bell” and the upcoming “U.S.A. High.”
“With other directors, it’s ‘I’m in the film business, and I’m doing a project, and I’ll do the best I can on it,’ which is different than when I talk about Joel. The word ‘passion’ should be in your article a lot.
“I miss that in my life now. I was really lucky, and unlucky, with having ‘St. Elmo’s’ be my first thing. I knew that it would never be as easy as that, and indeed it wasn’t. But every time I write something that’s really from the heart, I invoke Joel and all those lessons.”