Let's face it: Joel Schumacher is probably not the kind of director you expect to find at an independent film festival, and yet it makes perfect sense to host the regional premiere for his latest film, Phone Booth, at SXSW. Whether it's a matter of penance or a newfound artistic compulsion, Schumacher has taken a recent about-face in his career. Now the man responsible for such megabudget turkeys as Batman Forever and Bad Company is something of a born-again independent filmmaker, turning down sure-thing studio paychecks to direct more personal projects. Ironically, when Schumacher first passed on Phone Booth to direct a screenplay of his own (Flawless), Mel Gibson was attached to play the lead, a self-absorbed Gotham publicist who spends the entire movie trapped at a public pay phone, caught in the sights of a vengeful sniper. When he returned to the project in 2000, Schumacher had managed to transform the high-concept picture -- a positively Hitchcockian setup that screenwriter Larry Cohen actually discussed with the master before he died -- into a low-budget exercise starring then-unknown Colin Farrell (who has since co-starred in Daredevil and Minority Report). At the Tuesday night Paramount screening, Schumacher described the project, with its hectic 10-day shoot, as "a dirty old man's student film." Of course, since shooting finished, terrorist strikes and real-life sniper attacks have delayed the film's release, giving Farrell's star time to rise. Schumacher laughs at his luck in insisting on the randy Irish actor, who was quoted last summer in Vanity Fair as saying, "I stayed in Austin. Might have been three weeks. Might have been six weeks. But each week was a very drunk one and a very good one. Beautiful women. So many of them. It's like an ant farm." Schumacher knew he was working with a star when he first cast Farrell in Tigerland, but "I didn't know he was going to become an international slut!"
Phone Booth opens in theatres April 4.
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