Sitting at his personal computer, clicking ineffectually at a track ball, Joel Silver--Hollywood producer, legendary thrower of tantrums and relisher of excess--is for the moment strangely humbled before the gods of technology.
"I hate waiting," he says to a visitor, dispensing his vice presidents of production and finance to fuss with the communications equipment so the demonstration of his new World Wide Web site can get underway.
But he says it with an air of resignation, incongruous with his notorious testiness.
Known for perfecting the commercial action film formula with blockbusters such as "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard," Silver has just completed his first production for the World Wide Web, where the formulas are not quite so predictable.
Nearly everything Hollywood churns out on film or video gets its own Web site these days, including Silver's recently released "Executive Decision." But most sites are designed by marketing departments or the studio's "new media" entity.
Silver, who with four partners owns the rights to the original "Tales from the Crypt" comic books, says he conceived of a Crypt-related site on the Web and wanted to be directly involved. And while he has approached the experience partly as a learning process, he has not hesitated to apply his movie-maker style to cyberspace--with mixed success.
"Joel can get irate pretty easily," notes Brad King, marketing vice president at Presence Information Design in Pasadena, the firm charged with the task of translating Silver's vision into technical reality--and telling him what wouldn't work.
Meetings to plan the site's design took twice as long as other Presence clients. And it was not unusual for King and his programmers to be summoned at a moment's notice to Silver's bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot when the producer wanted a status report.
After spending several weeks designing the site to look like the original Crypt comic books, King recalls a meeting in which Silver showed them an animation cel of Sleeping Beauty's castle and explained he wanted it to look like that instead.
"I told them I want to be able to walk into this castle and up the staircase and through the rooms," Silver says. "They said we can't do that yet, and I said why not? To hell with this."
"We had to explain to him the technology just doesn't let us do that right now," King says. "But what we could do is give him the look and feel of it."
Alan Schechter, who in addition to his duties as vice president of production has taken on the task of servicing Silver's many digital needs, "put the fear in us," King said.
Finance Vice President Steven Richards, who crafted the business plan for the site, took a softer approach, in a sort of "good cop/bad cop" routine.
"Most Hollywood clients are more intense, but they were by far the most demanding," King said. "That's the only way they know how to operate. And we realized we had to go the extra mile for them."
King said Presence will probably fall just short of break-even on the project, because of all the extra hours they put in. But he hopes to recoup any losses in increased exposure and future work with Silver Pictures; despite everything, he's looking forward to it.
Indeed, like the extremes Silver has been known to push for in his film productions (for a scene in the original "Die Hard" he once asked Fox to let him create a real explosion on a floor in Fox Plaza), he forced the technology further than Presence has ever taken it, King said--often with impressive results.
The site uses a new framing feature that enables browsers to look at several images on one screen. And despite a union dispute and a few technical hang-ups, several hours of live video feed from the London shoot of HBO's "Tales" TV show were transmitted by cellular phone directly to the Web site last month.
One of his more ambitious plans is to put all the dailies from the shoot of an episode on the site and let would-be directors download them, cut the show and send it to him.
"Maybe we'll run that episode that someone else cut," Silver says.
If the site is successful, Silver and his partners stand to make at least a modest profit. While most Hollywood sites exist solely for promotion, Silver's team hopes to generate substantial revenue through the sale of Crypt paraphernalia and advertising. It will also help promote the summer release of Universal's "Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood," and HBO's seventh season of the Crypt series.
Still, there's no mistaking Silver's genuine enthusiasm for the new medium. His list of bookmarks include links to the Ultimate Frisbee Assn. home page (a game he claims to have invented), and the Library of Congress, where he calls up an early movie clip of the first car show in Madison Square Garden.
On one of his first trips onto the Web, he typed in "Frank Lloyd Wright" and discovered a huge mass of material, including a picture of his own house.