The first famous director I ever approached in my entire life was Taxi Driver script writer, Paul Schrader. (BTW, you can download the taxi-driver-script here). It was at the DGA and he was smoking a cigarette and I had one of those “I’m a filmmaker and can you give me screenwriting tips” type of conversations. Schrader said, “just keep trying” or something banal like that. In retrospect, I probably made him nervous.
After what I know about him – that he didn’t see a movie until he was 18, that he was a Calvanist, etc, I realize I probably did make him nervous. Someone who usually would be inside a room alone as opposed to being a Hollywood writer/director (coincidence this is the Taxi Driver script writer? Perhaps the best film about alienation ever…).
Cut to tonight, I don’t know, 20 years later, I’m watching “Blue Collar” at the Aero and Paul Schrader is here to discuss his first directorial effort, starring Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel.
And all the Schrader anecdotes are sort of nostalgic of a time when I used to read all the Faber & Faber director books, such as, but not limited to, “Schrader on Schrader” and at a time when I watched every retrospective I could glue my eyes on.
One of the screenwriting Gods of our time, Schrader says that he does not write a script until he can tell the story to someone for 40 minutes. At the Q & A tonight, he said, you should stop at 30, go to the bathroom… and when you come out, change the subject. And if the person you just spent 30 minutes telling your story does not say, “how does it end?” then you DO NOT have a movie. Schrader insists that screenwriting is oral. His directing style is more observatory than a Martin Scorsese or Brian De Palma. He is a voyeur, and you feel him observing his subjects in the films he directs.
I don’t know if I’d call anything Paul Schrader directed great, but they are fascinating… they are a point of view. In “Blue Collar,” Schrader insists that no one got along and no day went by when there wasn’t a physical or verbal altercation. Richard Pryor was really good on take 1 and Keitel was good on take 6, so Schrader had Keitel perform several takes with a stand-in for Pryor and then bring in Pryor to bring the best of out of both actors.
Tonight, the journalist interviewing Schrader complimented him by saying how “assured” his first film was, to which Schrader replied that he was just trying to survive his first movie. Generally, you try to survive any Schrader movie. They are cinematic battles of wills… when you think of the Mosquito Coast, Mishima, or the Taxi Driver scripts you think of movies to endure rather than to enjoy. Check out this book and learn more about perhaps the most repressed of the screenwriting giants… but he used that repression to vomit up some of the most influential cinema ever made.
Written by: Norith Soth