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Morality tale in a 'Phone Booth'

Director Joel Schumacher on making his film

By Andy Culpepper

Director Joel Schumacher

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The thriller "Phone Booth" jumped out of the gate quickly, topping the weekend box office with a $15 million haul.

That was welcome news for 20th Century Fox executives. "Phone Booth" was originally scheduled to open last fall, when a series of sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area created a climate of fear. The plot of "Phone Booth" concerns a sleazy publicist named Stu, played by Colin Farrell, held captive in a phone booth by an unseen sniper who threatens to shoot him if he hangs up the phone.

But director Joel Schumacher wasn't thinking of timing when he made the film. Instead, there's a more general morality tale at work, with the publicist faced with judgment from an unseen voice (supplied by the creepy Kiefer Sutherland). And there's another theme, involving technology, Schumacher tips the audience to with shots of satellites.

CNN entertainment correspondent Andy Culpepper sat down with Schumacher recently to talk about the film.

CNN: This really is a morality tale that could have been set on the stage.

SCHUMACHER: It wouldn't quite have the visceral amphetamine drive to it because you know a lot of the camera and the cutting and the music is helping a lot. ... Some people can enjoy the movie just as a roller coaster ride. This is a cat-and-mouse game. ... You can see this just as a thriller and that's fine with me. ... But there are so many other layers. If you want them.

CNN: I didn't like Stu at the beginning.

SCHUMACHER: You're not supposed to.

CNN: Well, he's a publicist.

SCHUMACHER: (Laughs and claps his hands) Yes! We had fun with that one. A low-rent one, too. A sleazeball on his way to becoming a big-time sleazeball.

CNN: The only thing worse would have been if you had made him an agent.

Colin Farrell deals with an unseen sniper in "Phone Booth."

SCHUMACHER: (Throws back his head and laughs) Well, I have to say there is a certain agent that actually Colin's personality is based on, but he shall remain nameless. And, um, we had a lot of fun poking fun at PR. There's also some real shots at the [news] media here and the way the media exploits violence and then blames Hollywood. ...

And, of course, there is the paranoia of a phone that rings. You pick it up. There's a disembodied voice -- that is a stranger -- that knows more about you than you would care to know and it is frightening.

CNN: That's not unrealistic.

SCHUMACHER: We used to live in a world where we were afraid Big Brother knew everything about us. We now know there are so many Big Brothers and we don't even know who they are -- that know too much about us. ...

And I think underneath it all, strangely enough, the worst fear of all, is that you will be stripped bare emotionally and have to bare your soul publicly, because we will do anything to avoid public humiliation. Anything in this world.

CNN: And yet everyone wants his 15 minutes.

SCHUMACHER: Yes. And what Colin Farrell does in this film ... is enter that phone booth as one human being and come out totally as a different person [in the 10 days we had to shoot]. That is pretty amazing. I don't know a lot of actors who could do that under the conditions we had to do this film in.

CNN: Let me ask about something else you do at the beginning and the end. You bookend the action with some technology. Maybe I'm reaching here, but I got the impression that one of the themes -- it's almost like an ethics dilemma.

SCHUMACHER: (smiles)

Katie Holmes plays a starlet Farrell's unscrupulous publicist is pursuing.

CNN: We have so superceded anything we've been capable of in the technological realm. Yet our moral fiber -- whatever you want to call it -- hasn't kept pace.

SCHUMACHER: That's exactly the point. The point is technologically we have broken all barriers, and there's no end to it. Because if we're this far now, imagine where we'll be 20 years from now with technology. [But] as humanity, we still have not gotten past killing each other. ...

That satellite in the beginning and the end, has almost become a religion for us, because our Internet connections, our cell phone connections, our technological connections, our hundreds of channels on television. Our ability to have in a small box with a keyboard the world of intelligentsia or smut, depending on what you want to choose -- and everything in between -- I don't know if it's made us better human beings.

CNN: And don't we see, on that box right now, that we have become more efficient at being able to kill people?

SCHUMACHER: We have. And I also think that the anonymity of the Internet has allowed people great hatred. Because when you go on the Internet and you get in some of the chatrooms and see what's going on there, there's a lot of evil.

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