Producer honoree Silver agonizes over ‘the process’

The 'gyroscopic force of inertia' in films make filmmaking difficult

HOLLYWOOD — On the face of it, Joel Silver would seem to have little to complain about.

He’s produced a slew of blockbusters (“Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Matrix”); he’s worked with some of the biggest names in the biz, from Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts to Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone; and, no small feat, he can probably get just about anyone in Hollywood on the phone.

And yet Silver paints his job as an ordeal, as an almost overwhelming chore to be endured. Making movies, he says, is unbelievably aggravating and agonizing.

“It’s very, very hard to will these movies into reality — you practically have to will it (onto) the celluloid,” Silver says, warming to the subject while sitting under an antique tapestry in his office on the Warner Bros. lot. “It’s very hard to go against the gyroscopic force of inertia, to get people to say yes to develop these movies, to say yes to direct these movies, to say yes to star in ’em — it’s a hard, hard process. It involves tremendous tenacity, and tremendous forcefulness and willpower, and an unbelievable ability to not let things bother you, to not let the disappointments tear you down.”

Silver may get a break from his demons when he is honored this week at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema, where his current pic, “Swordfish,” is skedded as the event’s opener. Also screening as part of Silver’s homage section are “Lethal Weapon” (1987), “Conspiracy Theory” (1997), “Predator” (1988), “Die Hard” (1988), “The Matrix” (1999) and “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1993). He joins the ranks of such other producer fest honorees as Arnold Milchan, the Weinstein brothers, Arnold Kopelson, Irwin Winkler and Dino De Laurentiis.

For Silver and other action-adventure specialists, however, respect usually comes in small doses.

“There’s kind of a reverse snobbism, particularly in the media, that action movies really aren’t any good, so that if people go see ’em, then there’s something wrong with those people,” he says. “The media has this notion that the good movies are the ones that people don’t see. But the movies people go see, those are the bad ones.”

Still, “Matrix” won four Academy Awards, earning Silver and his collaborators a measure of regard that had previously eluded them. Unsurprisingly, Silver has embarked on a set of sequels. The project — shot as one movie, to be later spliced into two — is on hiatus but resumes filming in September in Australia, for 10 months.

Silver acknowledges that his movies may not leave the same legacy as the classics he watched growing up in South Orange, N.J., like “The Guns of Navarone,” “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Dirty Dozen.” But he ticks off a few of his own, calling them “really important kind of trend-setting movies that helped to reinvent or at least re-energize the action genre.”

Directors who have worked with Silver, specifically Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon,” “Conspiracy Theory”) and John McTiernan (“Predator,” “Die Hard”), did not respond to requests for interviews.

Silver, who wastes little time on charm, spoke for them:

“Our job is not to make the same old shit. We need to make things that are unique and original. The curse is predictability. Audiences want to see things that get ’em, that surprise ’em, that trick ’em.”

But long before that can happen, Silver tortures himself through the filmmaking process.

“You try to make ’em good and sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t,” he says, “and then you go through the horrible process of finishing it in a tremendously short period of time, and you’re always trying to spend less money, and then comes marketing and tracking, and you’re dealing with whether people want to see the movie or if they’re getting it, and there are TV spots and trailers and print ads, and then on a Friday night the film opens, and on Saturday morning you get the reaction and — after one night — you know if you want to blow your brains out or go to the boat show.”

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