LARRY COHEN: MAN IN A PHONE BOOTH

Stuart, the hero of Phone Booth, realizes a similarly terrifying dilemma as soon as he picks up that damn phone, partly through the appearance of a red riflescope dot that moves over his head. Predictably, other people soon converge on the infamous phone booth: A hooker and her pimp, desperate to get in their office, not to mention lots of pesky New Yorkers just wanting to use the phone. Since Stuart can’t leave, the other people who arrive on the scene inevitably begin to get killed. A huge crowd forms; police are everywhere. They think Stuart’s a killer. For Cohen, creating these obstacles for the protagonist was the most fun he had in writing the Phone Booth script.
“‘Cellular’ and Phone Booth are both like ‘High Noon’ or ‘Rear Window’ in terms of minute by minute tension,” Cohen beams. “With Phone Booth, the whole movie is one big horrific episode; it’s a masterpiece of suspense. The whole movie is shot in real time and it all takes place around the protagonist, through his eyes, except when we move around to see other characters arrive outside the phone booth, but for the most part it’s all Stuart, all the time. So if you’re going to spend all that time with a guy in a phone booth, you’ve got to do something pretty exciting with him.” Explaining the action around the phone booth, Cohen says, “Well, like I said, ironically, Stuart becomes the most famous man in New York, what with the cops and the TV cameras circling around him. He’s scared out of his mind. The Caller (played by the voice of Sutherland who replaced Ron Eldard during post-production) wants to wring every possible emotion out of Stuart. He literally wants to break Stuart down and my test, as the writer, was to carry this for an hour and forty minutes. So, for example, Stuart’s wife (played by Radha Mitchell) and mistress (Katie Holmes) both arrive on the scene at the same time and talk to each other, which causes lots of dramatic tension. The Caller sees them of course and he tells Stuart, ‘Hey, I’m going to kill one of them. Which one of them do you want me to kill, your wife or your mistress?’ Of course, when characters like the hooker and pimp start getting blown away, Stuart realizes how totally helpless he is.” In Cohen’s original script for “Phone Booth,” the character of The Caller was originally called The Sniper.
Adding to the already unbearable suspense is the appearance of the cops, led by Forest Whitaker who plays Captain Ramey. “All of the cops want to blow Stuart away,” Cohen explains adding, “but Ramey, he’s a very humane, sensitive cop and he knows deep down that Stuart’s not a killer and that basically something really sick is going on. Eventually, he’s able to figure it out. But then guess what happens? The Caller tells Stuart that he’s going to kill Captain Ramey. So Stuart has to find a way to warn Ramey, but what can he do? He can’t get off the damn phone,” Cohen says with a laugh.
Cohen views the unconventional storytelling approach of Phone Booth as a model for a new kind of bare bones filmmaking. Phone Booth cost a mere $10 Million to make and was filmed in roughly two weeks, in and around the famed Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City in December of 2000, although post-production and numerous reshoots done in Los Angeles pushed the completion of the film well into 2001. Cohen also feels that fans today, especially genre fans, know too much about films before they arrive in theaters. “I hate what the Internet has done to the movie business,” Cohen quips, adding, “there was a lot of speculation and rumors about Phone Booth, about how Stuart was going to be killed off and none of the rumors were true. The last thing I wanted was for this story to end like “Seven.” Colin Farrell’s such a good looking guy and if we killed him off, I think the audience would want their money back.”
Elaborating on the “Rear Window” inspiration upon his recent work, Cohen remarks, “‘Cellular’ and Phone Booth both take place in the character’s heads, just like in “Rear Window.” Everything in “Rear Window” took place from Jimmy Stewart’s point of view. Everything in Phone Booth is from Colin Farrell’s point of view, but with ‘Cellular’ I put a neat twist on it where it’s from the point of view of two characters talking on cellular phones. With Phone Booth, I intended the camera to be on Stuart the whole time, except at the beginning when he’s walking to the phone. That’s what the movie’s about, nothing else. I mean, I’m sure the studio executives said to Hitchcock, ‘Hey, let’s see what’s inside Raymond Burr’s apartment.’ That would’ve been stupid. We should never see The Caller. It’s so much more suspenseful when you’re inside Jimmy Stewart’s head, just like when you’re inside Stuart Shepard’s head.”
The interview continues in part three of LARRY COHEN: MAN IN A PHONE BOOTH>>>




Posted on April 4, 2003 in Interviews by
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