Steven graduated Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications, focusing on film studies, journalism and theatre arts. Dubbed a "prolific" writer by Hollywood icon Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk, V, The Bionic Woman, Alien Nation), Steven has been honored by the Arkansas College Media Association for his story writing prowess. He has also received recognition for his dramatic writing from the Eerie, Shriekfest and Screamfest horror film festivals. Publications include: Carroll County News, Saline Courier, Forum, Echo and Moroch.
Forged from the pages of an American Agatha Christie: 'The Joker'
Posted Saturday, August 31, 2019, at 12:01 PM
(Left to right) Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and Zazie Beetz at the press conference for the "Joker" at the Venice Film Festival with the panel's moderator.
VENICE, Italy — Batman's most infamous villain takes the Venice Film Festival by storm this morning with press and pass holder screenings for "Joker" starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. And in prime time, the Clown Prince of Crime can be seen by the public with a pair of showings. "The Joker" screens in the Sala Grande cinema at 7:15 p.m. GMT+2 and at 10:30 p.m. in the Palabiennale.
The "Joker" is by filmmaker Todd Phillips (Starsky & Hutch, Old School, The Hangover) and is set in the late 1970s and early '80s. Phillips revealed he found inspiration in the cinema of that bygone time which is so richly tied to pop culture.
"I was definitely influenced by the movies that I grew up on: kind of these great character studies of the '70s," Phillips said during today's press conference. "I kept thinking 'why can't you do a genre film in the comic book world like that, and really do a deep dive on a character like Joker, and to get a great actor and great people behind it?' And we could do something really special."
Phillips also admitted that he wasn't sure what kind of effect his "Joker" film would have on the rivalry between DC and Marvel because Phillips himself hadn't made movies in the realm of comic books before. Phillips did praise DC for allowing him and his team — the studio had to be persuaded that this sort of storyline would work in the comic book universe — to make the movie they wanted to produce.
Phillips was driven to create a true and original origin story for the Batman's nemesis after reading a snippet once in the comics where the Joker referred to his past as "multiple choice." And Phillips' film is nothing like the origin provided in the narrative by writer Alan Moore in 1988's "The Killing Joke." The only similarity is the Joker was a failed comedian in "TKJ," too.
Phoenix was drawn to the part of this interpretation of the Joker because he and Phillips were promised they could make the character and story their own.
"I didn't refer to any past iterations of the character," Phoenix said. "It was just something that felt like it was our creation in some ways. That's what was really important for me and the key to it."
"We pushed ourselves to come up with something totally insane," Phillips said of penning the screenplay with co-writer Scott Silver as they endeavored to enkindle something new and different in regards to the character of the Joker.
Phillips also revealed whether "The Joker" carried any untoward themes speaking to today's political climate. Writers, especially those with any significant amount of talent, know that creativity is not always enough to carry a feature length film. As astute cinephiles understand and expect, subtext can make or break movies at the box office.
"Movies are often times mirrors of society, but they're never molders," Phillips explained. "Even though the movie takes place in late '70s/early '80s, we wrote it in 2017. So, inevitably, certain themes find their way into the movie that may exist now. Not everybody sees that. Some people just see it as a new take on a Joker origin story, so you hate to define it for people. And it's certainly not a political film. It just really depends, I think, on the lens which you view it through."
Phillips also acknowledged that some small nods to past "Batman" and "Detective Comics" books may have found their way into the new movie, but he conveyed that "The Man Who Laughed" (1928) — a silent film by Paul Leni and Victor Hugo — was the biggest influence on himself and Silver. It was the starting point for this "Joker."
Zazie Beetz thanked Phillips and Phoenix for including her in the massive collaboration, and making her feel so included in the process, which began for the filmmaker and actors nearly six months before cameras even rolled. Phoenix and Phillips carefully created every aspect of the Joker before getting to the set. The two men discussed a plethora of ideas of Arthur Fleck's, aka the Joker, character from his famous laugh, the way he talked and even dressed.
Phillips commended Beetz for her willingness to be "ready to play every day."
"Nothing in the script got more messed with than her character," Phillips said.
Phillips revealed that many times he and Silver would change pages of the script on the day of filming which forced Beetz to learn new lines on the spot. Beetz was always ready to improvise, and the trio endeavored to create a relationship between her character Sophie and Arthur that frantically swayed between reality and fantasy.
"It felt very creative," Beetz said of her experience with Phoenix and Phillips on the "Joker."
While the violence in the movie isn't on the same level, in terms of quantity, with an installment in a film franchise like John Wick, the nature of Arthur's savagery is steeped in realism. Therefore, when the Joker unleashes his evil on a victim, it feels like you're being "punched in the stomach," as an audience member, according to Phillips.
Make no mistake, even with its R rating, the "Joker" isn't defined by its realistic violence. It's the storytelling Phillips is most concerned with. And, so far, critics at the festival are responding favorably to both the "Joker" and Phoenix's performance. Could Oscar be next on "Joker's" hit list?