Memories of director Joel Schumacher who has died at 80

(Photo by Warner Bros)

Acclaimed Hollywood director Joel Shumacher who hit the big time after directing a string of successful movies including Flatliners (1990), The Lost Boys (1987) and St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) has passed of cancer at age 80.

He famously took over the Batman franchise from director Tim Burton with the two box-office smashes Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) and then went on to direct the feature adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera, which scored three Oscar nominations. 

A spokesperson confirmed in a statement that read:

Filmmaker Joel Schumacher, director of such films as ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, ‘A Time to Kill’, ‘The Client’, and ‘Tigerland’, passed away quietly from cancer this morning after a year-long battle. He will be fondly remembered by his friends and collaborators.

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to get to know and work with Joel years ago on the original Flatliners when my business partner Cathie Holzer and I were the young pups running Holzer Roche Casting. We supplied the minor speaking roles, the freakish actors in the afterlife. and the extras in the movie.

Working with Joel was a joy because he had a clear vision of the scene, and who he wanted in it. We had great fun filling his requests and Flatliners is one of the movies that I am most proud to have been a part of.

Joel Schumacher

A bit of a seventeen year old at heart and more than a bit cynical, Joel was handsome, long and lean with a boyish grin. He physically towered over most, but was kind and soft spoken and wise beyond his years, if you were fortunate enough to catch him in conversation. And always supportive on set and willing to give advice to the young filmmakers on the crew.

We were working with the youthful Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Pratt, Billy Baldwin, and a young upcoming actress, Julia Roberts (who sat talking with me in her underwear.) Pretty Woman had just been released and she was having a hard time dealing with her sudden superstardom and the tabloid stories.

Joel Schumacher

Saddened at the news of Joel’s death, Cathie Holzer spoke of her memories of him, “I remember having a beautiful discussion on the Flatliners Loyola campus set. Joel told me he loved theater and loved to direct theater. He told me he does motion pictures for the money but his heart was in theater.”

When asked in a 1999 interview if he had any advice for young filmmakers, Schumacher said: ‘Be bold, take risks, follow your own instincts, listen to other people only when you really believe in your gut that they’re right.’

‘Get a great cast. Get a cinematographer that isn’t jealous that you’re the director. Get an editor that’s not jealous you’re the director. You can do it.’

After wrapping Flatliners, I stopped in to see Joel on the Warner lot. He was excited about moving on to direct Phantom of the Opera so I brought him a poster of the original Phantom. He was so appreciative but sadly said the production had been postponed. Fourteen years later he would get his wish and direct the three time Oscar nominated Phantom of the Opera.

Tributes from the A-list in Hollywood poured in expressing their love for Joel and sorrow at his passing.

Joel was openly gay throughout most of his career and this fact was purposely reflected as a statement in many of his films. 

When asked by the BBC if he believed in God, Schumacher said:

I’m sort of in that school of that quote from Hamlet. ‘There’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio.’

If you live long enough you will definitely get to understand that the universe is a profound mystery and I didn’t create it. We’re on this mud ball rolling around and I don’t know where we are, and nobody knows where we are. I definitely believe that I’m not the highest form of intelligence in the universe. But I don’t like to use the word God because it’s so overused in the United States—not so much in Europe—but it’s become politicized and has this ugly meaning now. Like asking someone if they believe in God has become an attack—like if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re not one of us!

I loathe the use of God or any kind of spirituality as a form of discrimination or separation because that’s a total misuse of it.

Politically, Schumacher donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates.

Joel Schumacher died from cancer on June 22, 2020, in New York City; he was 80.

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