Schrader at the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, July 5, 2009
|Born||Paul Joseph Schrader
July 22, 1946
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
|Occupation||screenwriter and film director|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Beth Hurt (1983-)|
Paul Joseph Schrader (born July 22, 1946) is an American screenwriter, film director, and sometime film critic. Schrader has directed 17 feature films, including his 1982 remake of the horror classic Cat People, and critically acclaimed dramas American Gigolo (1980), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Affliction (1997) and Auto Focus (2002). Schrader also wrote or co-wrote screenplays for the Martin Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
Schrader's upbringing and critical writings 
Schrader was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Joan (née Fisher) and Charles A. Schrader, an executive. Schrader's family practiced in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church, and his early life was based upon the religion's strict principles and parental education. He did not see a film until he was seventeen years old, and was able to sneak away from home. In an interview he stated that The Absent-Minded Professor was the first film he saw. In his own words, he was "very unimpressed" by it, while Wild in the Country, which he saw some time later, had quite some effect on him. Schrader refers his intellectual rather than emotional approach towards movies and movie making to his having no adolescent movie memories.
Schrader received his BA from Calvin College, with a minor in Theology. He then earned an MA in Film Studies from the UCLA Film School graduate program upon the recommendation of Pauline Kael. With her as his mentor, he became a film critic, writing for the Los Angeles Free Press, and later for Cinema magazine. His book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, which examines the cross-cultural similarities between Robert Bresson, Yasujirō Ozu and Carl Theodor Dreyer, was published in 1972. The endings of Schrader's films American Gigolo and Light Sleeper bear obvious resemblance to that of Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket. His essay Notes on Film Noir from the same year has become a much-cited source in literature on film.
The September–October 2006 issue of Film Comment magazine published his essay Canon Fodder which attempted to establish criteria for judging film masterworks.
Other filmmakers who made a lasting impression on Schrader are John Ford, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Peckinpah. Renoir's The Rules of the Game he called the "quintessential movie" which represents "all of the cinema".
Film career 
In 1974, Schrader and his brother Leonard co-wrote The Yakuza, a film set in the Japanese crime world. The script became the subject of a bidding war, and it sold for $325,000, which was more than any other screenplay up to that time. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack and starred Robert Mitchum. Robert Towne, best known for Chinatown, also got credit for doing a re-write.
Although The Yakuza failed commercially, it brought Schrader to the attention of the new generation of Hollywood directors. In 1975, he wrote the screenplay of Obsession for Brian De Palma. Schrader also wrote an early draft of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but Spielberg disliked the screenplay, calling it "terribly guilt-ridden", and opted for a lighter script. His script for Rolling Thunder (1977) was reworked without his participation, and Schrader disapproved of the final film.
Schrader's script about an obsessed New York taxi driver was turned into Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver, which was nominated for a 1976 Best Picture Academy Award. Besides Taxi Driver (1976), Scorsese also drew on scripts by Schrader for boxing tale Raging Bull (1980), co-written with Mardik Martin, The Last Temptation of Christ (film) (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999).
Thanks partly to critical acclaim for Taxi Driver, Schrader was able to direct his first feature Blue Collar (1978), co-written with his brother Leonard. Blue Collar features Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto as car factory workers attempting to escape their socio-economic rut through theft and blackmail. Schrader has described the film as difficult to make, because of the artistic and personal tensions among him and the actors; it was the only occasion he suffered an on-set mental collapse and made him seriously reconsider his career. John Milius acted as executive producer on the following year's Hardcore (again written by Schrader), which showed autobiographical parallels in the depicted Calvinist milieu of Grand Rapids, and the character of George C. Scott which was based on Schrader's father.
Among Paul Schrader's films in the 1980s were American Gigolo starring Richard Gere (1980), his 1982 remake of Cat People, and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985). Inspired by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, the film interweaves episodes from Mishima's life with dramatizations of segments from his books. Mishima was nominated for the top prize (the Palme d'Or) at the Cannes Film Festival. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas served as executive producers.
Schrader also directed Patty Hearst (1988), about the kidnapping and transformation of the Hearst Corporation heiress. In 1987, he was a member of the jury at the 37th Berlin International Film Festival.
His 90s work included the travelers-in-Venice tale The Comfort of Strangers (1990), adapted by Harold Pinter from the Ian McEwan novel, and Light Sleeper (1992), a sympathetic study of a drug dealer vying for a normal life. In 2005 Schrader described Light Sleeper as his "most personal" film. In 1997 he made Touch (1997), based on an Elmore Leonard novel about a young man seemingly able to cure the sick by the laying on of hands.
In 1998 Schrader won critical acclaim for the drama Affliction. The film tells the story of a troubled smalltown policeman (Nick Nolte) who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind a fatal hunting accident. Schrader's script was based on the novel by Russell Banks. The film was nominated for multiple awards including two Academy Awards for acting (for Nolte and James Coburn). The same year, Schrader received the Austin Film Festival's Distinguished Screenwriter Award.
In 2003, Schrader made entertainment headlines after being fired from Exorcist: Dominion, a prequel film to The Exorcist (1973). Production company Morgan Creek Productions/Warner Bros. disliked the resulting film and had large segments re-shot by director Renny Harlin, whose version was released as Exorcist: The Beginning in 2004. Schrader's version eventually premiered at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film on March 18, 2005 as Exorcist: The Original Prequel. It received limited cinema release later that year under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist.
After that, Schrader filmed The Walker (2007), starring Woody Harrelson as an escort caught up in a murder enquiry, and the Israeli-set Adam Resurrected (2008), which stars Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe.
On July 2, 2009, Schrader was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement in Screenwriting award at the ScreenLit Festival in Nottingham, England. Several of his films were shown at the festival, including Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which followed the presentation of the award by director Shane Meadows.
Schrader's second marriage is to actress Mary Beth Hurt, who has appeared in smaller roles in a variety of his films.
Theatre career 
Schrader has written two stage plays, Berlinale and Cleopatra Club. The latter saw its premiere at the Powerhouse Theater in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1995 and its foreign language debut in Vienna in 2011.
A recurring theme in Schrader's films is the protagonist on a self-destructive path, or undertaking actions which work against himself, deliberately or subconsciously. The finale often bears an element of redemption, preceded by a painful sacrifice or cathartic act of violence.
Schrader has repeatedly referred to Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and The Walker as "a man in a room"-films, which form a tetralogy closing with The Walker. The protagonist changes from an angry, then narcissistic, later anxious character to a person who hides behind a mask of superficiality.
Although many of his films or scripts are based on real-life biographies (Raging Bull, Mishima, Patty Hearst, Auto Focus), Schrader confessed having problems with biographical films due to their altering of actual events, which he tried to prevent by imposing structures and stylization instead.
Listing of Schrader's films 
As director 
- Blue Collar (1978) (also co-writer with Leonard Schrader)
- Hardcore (1979) (also writer)
- American Gigolo (1980) (also writer)
- Cat People (1982)
- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) (also co-writer with Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader)
- Light of Day (1987) (also writer)
- Patty Hearst (1988)
- The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
- Light Sleeper (1992) (also writer)
- Witch Hunt (1994) (TV)
- Touch (1997) (also writer)
- Affliction (1997) (also writer)
- Forever Mine (1999) (also writer)
- Auto Focus (2002)
- Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
- The Walker (2007) (also writer)
- Adam Resurrected (2008)
- The Canyons (2013)
As writer only 
- The Yakuza (1975) (with Leonard Schrader and Robert Towne) dir. Sydney Pollack
- Taxi Driver (1976) dir. Martin Scorsese
- Obsession (1976) dir. Brian De Palma
- Rolling Thunder (1977) (with Heywood Gould) dir. John Flynn
- Old Boyfriends (1979) (with Leonard Schrader) dir. Joan Tewkesbury
- Raging Bull (1980) (with Mardik Martin) dir. Martin Scorsese
- The Mosquito Coast (1986) dir. Peter Weir
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) dir. Martin Scorsese
- City Hall (1996) (with Bo Goldman, Nicholas Pileggi, and Ken Lipper) dir. Harold Becker
- Bringing Out the Dead (1999) dir. Martin Scorsese
Unproduced scripts (partial list) 
- Covert People
- Eight Scenes From the Life of Hank Williams 
- Investigation 
- The John Gotti Story
Short films 
- For Us, Cinema is the Most Important of Arts (1970)
- Tight Connection (1985, music video)
- New Blue (1995)
Stage plays 
- The Cleopatra Club
- Paul Schrader Biography on Filmreference.com, retrieved 2002-11-06.
- Harmetz, Aljean (August 24, 1988). "How Studio Maneuvered 'Temptation' Into a Hit". The New York Times.
- "Ageing bulls return". The Guardian (London). October 31, 1999.
- John Brady, The craft of the screenwriter, Simon & Schuster, 1982 (0-671-25230-5).
- Kevin Jackson (ed.), Schrader on Schrader and Other Writings, Faber & Faber, 2004 (ISBN 0-571-22176-9).
- The Yakuza on Sensesofcinema.com, retrieved 2011-11-06.
- Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Faber & Faber, 1997 (ISBN 0-571-19177-0).
- "Berlinale: Juries". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
- Interview with Paul Schrader on The Hollywood Interview, originally published in Venice Magazine, November 2005, retrieved 2011-11-06.
- Short profile of Paul Schrader on Filmaka.com, retrieved 2011-11-06.
- Production history of the "New York Stage and Film" company, retrieved 2011-12-9.
- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), February 3, 2011.
- Schrader: Indies are scavenger dogs, scouring the planet for scraps – Interview with Roger Ebert in Chicago Sun-Times, December 11, 2007, retrieved 2011-11-22.
- Interview with Paul Schrader on Filmmakermagazine.com, retrieved 2011-11-2.
Further reading 
- Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, Da Capo Press, 1988 (ISBN 0-306-80335-6).
- Notes on Film Noir, Film Comment, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1972.
- Paul Schrader's website
- Paul Schrader at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Schrader from 1998 on 'Bringing Out the Dead' and his writing techniques by Mikael Colville-Andersen.
- Video of interview with Paul Schrader about Robert Bresson
- A collection of his film criticism
- Eight Scenes From the Life of Hank Williams (Unproduced Script)