Phone Booth : Production Notes


A phone call can change your life, but for one man it can also end it. Set entirely within and around the confines of a New York City phone booth, PHONE BOOTH follows Stu Shepherd (Colin Farrell), a low-rent media consultant who is trapped after being told by a caller - a serial killer with a sniper rifle - that he'll be shot dead if he hangs up.

What do you do when you hear a ringing public phone? You know it's a wrong number, but instinct forces you to pick it up. A ringing phone demands to be answered, but when Stu Shepard takes the call, he finds himself hurtled into a tortuous game. Hang up, says the caller (Kiefer Sutherland), and Stu's a dead man.

A sudden and shocking act of violence near the booth draws the attention of the police, who arrive backed with a small army of sharpshooters. They believe that Stu, not the unseen caller of whom they remain unaware, is the dangerous man with a gun.

The senior officer on the scene, Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker), tries to talk Stu out of the booth. But unbeknownst to Ramey, his team, the media circus that has flocked to the site - and Stu's wife, Kelly, and his client /prospective girlfriend, Pamela - the caller has them all in his high-powered rifle sights.

As afternoon turns into evening, Stu, the embodiment of an unethical, self-serving existence, must now undertake a sudden and unexpected moral evolution. He is emotionally stripped naked by the caller. Stu's lies, half-truths, and obfuscation no longer matter. Instead, he must dig deep into his soul, find his strength and attempt to outwit the caller, taking the game to an even more dangerous level.

Fox 2000 Pictures presents a Zucker/Netter production, a Joel Schumacher film, starring Colin Farrell in PHONE BOOTH, also starring Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell and Kiefer Sutherland. The film is directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Larry Cohen, and produced by Gil Netter and David Zucker. The director of photography is Matthew Libatique, the film editor is Mark Stevens, and the costume designer is Daniel Orlandi. Music is composed by Harry Gregson-Williams.

"I've been trying to figure out how to do a movie inside a phone booth for twenty years," says Larry Cohen, an accomplished director of contemporary independent films as well as a successful screenwriter. "It's a unique place to be trapped - right in the middle of the city, surrounded by thousands of people. I imagined a scenario in which you couldn't get out of the phone booth, that it would become like a glass coffin. You're in plain view of everybody else and no one knows that you're being terrorized inside this phone booth. The ultimate trap. "

In between film directing and screenwriting projects, Cohen continued to revisit the idea before finally cracking it just over three years ago. "It just came to me one day," Cohen remembers. "I thought to put a sniper up in a window, put the guy in the booth, bring his wife and girlfriend to the scene, have a murder, add the police. All these ideas just cascaded, and I ended up writing the screenplay in less than a week. "

After Fox 2000 Pictures acquired the rights to Cohen's screenplay, several of the industry's top filmmakers vied for the opportunity to tackle its novel concept. Fox initially approached director Joel Schumacher, but a previous commitment precluded the "Tigerland" helmer's involvement at that time. Subsequently, filmmakers such as Mel Gibson, the Hughes Brothers, Michael Bay, Will Smith and Jim Carrey, expressed interest in the project. However, when Schumacher finally did become available, he and the studio eagerly joined forces. "PHONE BOOTH had a fresh and unique story," he notes. "I was particularly interested in its exploration of a fundamental fear - that someone is watching you - and the loss of privacy in today's world. The most frightening part of the story is that it could happen to anyone. It's a strong tale of urban paranoia. "

"Joel is the perfect director for this film," says Cohen. "He has a great camera eye - a great eye for design. And he is an actor's director, which is critical because the role of Stu Shepard is a great acting challenge for any actor because he must sustain our interest and the action for the entire movie. "

Schumacher hand-picked Colin Farrell to portray Stu Shepherd, the low-rent publicist who becomes the final occupant of one of New York City's last working phone booths. PHONE BOOTH would mark their second collaboration, following Schumacher's critically hailed Vietnam-era drama "Tigerland," which propelled Farrell to worldwide acclaim and stardom. "In 'Tigerland', Colin played a very reluctant hero," Schumacher points out. "In PHONE BOOTH, he plays a very reluctant victim.

"Colin, who's Irish, can do anything, including any accent - Southern in 'Tigerland', a neutral American inflection in 'Minority Report' and a Bronx accent as Stu" - adds Schumacher. "And PHONE BOOTH is a tour de force for him; he's in every second of the movie.

"Farrell was pleased to reunite with Schumacher, while tackling such a meaty script and role. "The story really moved, it was a real page-turner," says the actor. "But it's more than a big thriller; it explores a complex character's life-and-death struggle for redemption while undergoing this terrifying ordeal. "

Stu is introduced as a man at the top of his game - or so he thinks. In his late twenties, Stu sports styled hair, manicured nails, an expensive suit and a great gift of gab. Juggling calls on two cell phones as he strides confidently down Broadway, his hapless assistant futilely trying to keep up, Stu cuts an impressive figure. "He has a great ability to con people," says Farrell. "But underneath the shiny exterior he's pretty superficial. He spins lies constantly, not realizing the effects those life lies have on people. And he's so used to spinning, he doesn't see the truth anymore.

"Stu's placed too much importance on things that have little value," Farrell continues. "He's full of himself and wears blinkers, living in a life of his own. He thinks the world revolves around him. "

But on one fateful day, as Stu instinctively picks up a ringing phone, his attitude is about to be "adjusted" by an unseen caller who somehow knows everything about Stu and is ready to pass a final judgment on his various transgressions. The caller's first, chilling words to Stu - "Isn't it funny - you hear a phone ringing and it could be anybody. A ringing phone has to be answered, doesn't it?" - hurtle Stu into a life-and-death struggle while forcing him to reexamine his life and priorities.

For the role of the caller, Schumacher turned to Kiefer Sutherland, with whom he had worked three times previously (on "Lost Boys," "Flatliners" and "A Time to Kill"). "Kiefer's a superb actor, with a staggeringly compelling voice necessary for the character of the caller," notes Schumacher.

Schumacher terms the character a "moral adjuster," meting out his own brand of urban justice with the help of a high-powered rifle. "The caller sees himself as invincible," explains Schumacher. "He has decided he has the right to decide who is ethical and moral, and who is not. And he decides the appropriate punishment. The caller is an observer, a voyeur, and extremely intelligent person with a dark sense of humor and strong touch of sadism. "

The caller has more than just terror in mind for Stu. "He has a master plan, and he's chosen Stu for many reasons," says Schumacher. Adds Colin Farrell: "Stu's the puppet, and the caller is the puppeteer. He's pulling the strings. He strips Stu of everything, for reasons that Stu cannot initially comprehend. "

Stu and his journey form the vortex of the story, but PHONE BOOTH also is an ensemble piece. Dozens of characters, both major and background, populate the story, and action is always swirling on the periphery of Stu's immediate universe: the phone booth. Schumacher fills the frame with police, strippers, panhandlers, vehicles and the expected sound and fury of a big city street.

Chief among the characters who become enmeshed in Stu's ordeal are Capt. Ramey, the tough but sympathetic police officer who takes full command of the scene and in the process reveals his own back story; Pamela McFadden, a nave, aspiring actress whom Stu wants to bed; and Kelly, Stu's loyal wife who is unaware of the circumstances that brought her husband to this phone booth.

The actors taking on these roles all were attracted to the story's freshness and drama. "It is very intense," says Katie Holmes, who portrays Pamela. "I loved its psychological aspects and twisted humor. It kind of makes you enjoy seeing Stu's life fall apart. " Adds Radha Mitchell, who plays Kelly: "I liked the fact that while the caller is changing Stu's life, he's also changing hers. She's in the middle of this crisis - but she doesn't even realize how or why. "

Forest Whitaker, who plays Capt. Ramey, notes that in addition to the humor and action, there's a universality to the story's themes. "What Stu comes to realize in the film is something I think everyone, at some point in their lives, comes to understand: that they have to take a look in the mirror from time to time and re-examine their lives. "

PHONE BOOTH is set in New York City, and much of the action, characters and surroundings are intrinsic to the Big Apple. "It's very much a New York story," claims Larry Cohen, himself a Gotham native. "I set the story in Manhattan because there is so much activity there. I wanted the setting to be a walking-around city, the more congested, the better, so that you're only a pane of glass away from help -yet help is not to be found. "

While Schumacher and a small crew filmed Colin Farrell for one day in the middle of Times Square, logistical complexities led to most of PHONE BOOTH being shot in an historic section of downtown Los Angeles. The area's architecture was similar to Manhattan's buildings, but Schumacher relied heavily on the formidable talents of director of photography Matthew Libatique and production designer Andrew Laws to transform an L. A. block into Manhattan's 53rd Street. Libatique and Laws previously teamed with Schumacher to give a stark, documentary feel to "Tigerland. "

For PHONE BOOTH, Libatique created a remarkable balance of positioned lights and buildings draped with reflective curtains to protect the consistency of light established during the one-day New York shoot. He elaborates: "In New York, there's a lot of light bouncing off of the tops of buildings, so the streets have a dark, cavernous feel, which we had to recreate with Los Angeles' smaller skyline. "

Production designer Laws similarly worked to recreate the unique look and feel of Times Square. "We wanted an intense, consumer-oriented environment," he explains. "Everywhere you look there's something that catches the eye, that's recognizable as being part of New York. " The acid-electric color palette adds to the dynamic New York feel, as do the billboards, marquees and other signage brought in by the production.

To simultaneously capture disparate action, Libatique choreographed a "camera ballet," utilizing up to four thirty-five millimeter cameras at a time. The multiple cameras also provided Schumacher with editorial options not possible with traditional single-camera lensing. One camera might be on Farrell, another on Whitaker, and a third and fourth on Mitchell and Holmes. With so much on-camera(s) activity, Schumacher had the actors wear earpieces so they could hear each other's cues. "Everybody was on all the time," he says.

To maintain a uniform look captured by the four cameras, Libatique had to make his lighting as accommodating as possible. "To choreograph one or two cameras is difficult," Schumacher notes. "To do three or four is nearly impossible, yet Matty did it. It is very challenging to maintain the quality control of the lighting when you have multiple cameras going. " Libatique also employs varying camera angles and points of view to ratchet up the tension.

Choreographing multiple cameras, recreating a New York City block on the other side of the country, and shooting ten or more pages of dialogue a day, were all in a day's work for Schumacher and the PHONE BOOTH cast and crew. As he puts the finishing touches on one of the most challenging films of his distinguished career, Schumacher comments, "I really see PHONE BOOTH as a total entertainment, a big movie in scale and ambition. I think audiences will experience a real roller-coaster ride. " Adds screenwriter Larry Cohen. This is one of those movies where you can't get up for popcorn and soda. Joel really makes you feel that you're trapped right there with Colin, that you're right there with him for the entire ride. There just aren't too many movies like it. "

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