Paul Schrader

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Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader.jpg
Schrader at the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, July 5, 2009
BornPaul Joseph Schrader
(1946-07-22) July 22, 1946 (age 68)
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Occupationscreenwriter and film director
Years active1975–present
Spouse(s)Mary Beth Hurt (m. 1983)
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For the American historian, see Paul W. Schroeder.
Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader.jpg
Schrader at the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, July 5, 2009
BornPaul Joseph Schrader
(1946-07-22) July 22, 1946 (age 68)
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Occupationscreenwriter and film director
Years active1975–present
Spouse(s)Mary Beth Hurt (m. 1983)

Paul Joseph Schrader (born July 22, 1946) is a U.S. screenwriter, film director, and film critic. Schrader wrote or cowrote screenplays for the Martin Scorsese classics Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ and has directed 18 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), as well as The Canyons (2013).

Schrader's upbringing and critical writing[edit]

Schrader was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Joan (née Fisher) and Charles A. Schrader, an executive.[1] Schrader's family practiced in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church,[2][3] 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.[4] Schrader refers his intellectual rather than emotional approach towards movies and movie-making to his having no adolescent movie memories.[5]

Schrader received his B.A. from Calvin College, with a minor in theology. He then earned an M.A. 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 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 film-makers 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".[5]

Film career[edit]

In 1974, Schrader and his brother Leonard cowrote 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.[6] The film was directed by Sydney Pollack and starred Robert Mitchum. Robert Towne, best known for Chinatown, also got credit for doing a rewrite.

Although The Yakuza failed commercially, it brought Schrader to the attention of the new generation of Hollywood directors. In 1975, he wrote the script for 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 screen-play, calling it "terribly guilt-ridden", and opted for a lighter script.[7] His script for Rolling Thunder (1977) was reworked without his participation, and Schrader disapproved of the final film.[5]

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 and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. 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 (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.[5]

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.[8]

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.[9] 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 1999, Schrader received the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

In 2002, he directed the acclaimed biopic Auto Focus, based on the life and murder of Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane.

In 2003, Schrader made entertainment headlines after being fired from The Exorcist: Dominion, a prequel film to the horror classic The Exorcist from 1973. The film's production companies Morgan Creek Productions and Warner Bros. Pictures greatly disliked the film Schrader had made. Director Renny Harlin was hired to then re-shoot nearly the entire film, which was released as Exorcist: The Beginning on August 20, 2004 to disastrously negative reviews and embarrassing box office receipts. Warner Bros. and Morgan Creek put over $80 million into the endeavor and Harlin's film only made back $41 million domestically. Schrader's version of the film eventually premiered at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film on March 18, 2005 as Exorcist: The Original Prequel. Due to extreme interest in Schrader's version from critics and cinephiles alike, Warner Bros. agreed to give the film a limited theatrical release later that year under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. The film was only shown on 110 screens around the United States and made just $251 thousand. The critics liked Schrader's version much better than Harlin's. However, Schrader's film ultimately met with a generally negative reaction.

After that, Schrader filmed The Walker (2007), starring Woody Harrelson as a male escort caught up in a political murder enquiry, and the Israeli-set Adam Resurrected (2008), which stars Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe.

After five years of trying and failing to find funding to make feature films, Schrader returned with The Canyons (2013) an erotic dramatic thriller written by Bret Easton Ellis and starring Lindsay Lohan and adult-film star James Deen. The film gained a massive amount of publicity since it was one of the very first films to use the website Kickstarter to crowd-source its funding, completely sidestepping the traditional Hollywood system. Schrader also used the website Let It Cast to have unknown actors submit their audition tapes over the internet. American Apparel stepped in to provide some wardrobe for the film. The idea behind making The Canyons was to embrace a Post-Empire sensibility, using the digital filmmaking revolution and popularity of social media and networking to finance, produce, promote and distribute the film. The filming was fraught with massive media coverage due to Lohan's notorious on-set behavior, in tandem with the films highly unusual production route. The film was ultimately made for just $250 thousand and had a limited theatrical release from IFC Films on August 2, 2013. The film was poorly received by general critics and audiences but gained much attention from film theorists and cinephiles who acknowledged the film's daring and groundbreaking production, heralding a new wave of American Independent Cinema. Lohan, despite the controversy that was reported on set, got rave reviews for her performance. The film only made $56 thousand in theaters but was a huge success when released on various Video on Demand platforms, like iTunes.

As of April, 2014, Schrader is in post-production on The Dying of the Light, an espionage thriller starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin and Irène Jacob.

Schrader headed the International Jury of the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival, and in 2011 became a jury member for the ongoing Filmaka short film contest.[10]

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[edit]

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.[5][11][12]


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, The Canyons and The Walker as "a man in a room" stories. The protagonist in each film changes from an angry, then narcissistic, later anxious character, to a person who hides behind a mask of superficiality.[5][13][14]

Although many of his films or scripts are based on real-life biographies (Raging Bull, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, 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.[5]


Feature Films[edit]

1974The YakuzaYesDirected by Sydney Pollack. Co-written with Leonard Schrader and Robert Towne.
1976Taxi DriverYesDirected by Martin Scorsese.
1976ObsessionYesDirected by Brian De Palma.
1977Rolling ThunderYesDirected by John Flynn. Co-written with Heywood Gould.
1978Blue CollarYesYesCo-written with Leonard Schrader.
1979Old BoyfriendsYesDirected by Joan Tewkesbury. Co-written with Leonard Schrader. Producer.
1980American GigoloYesYes
1980Raging BullYesDirected by Martin Scorsese. Co-written with Mardik Martin.
1982Cat PeopleYesWritten by Alan Ormsby. Original screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen.
1985Mishima: A Life in Four ChaptersYesYesCo-written with Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader.
1986The Mosquito CoastYesDirected by Peter Weir.
1987Light of DayYesYes
1988Patty HearstYesWritten by Nicholas Kazan.
1988The Last Temptation of ChristYesDirected by Martin Scorsese.
1990The Comfort of StrangersYesWritten by Harold Pinter.
1992Light SleeperYesYes
1994Witch Hunt (TV)YesWritten by Joseph Dougherty.
1996City HallYesDirected by Harold Becker. Co-written with Bo Goldman, Nicholas Pileggi, and Ken Lipper.
1999Forever MineYesYes
1999Bringing Out the DeadYesDirected by Martin Scorsese.
2002Auto FocusYesWritten by Michael Gerbosi.
2005Dominion: Prequel to the ExorcistYesWritten by William Wisher and Caleb Carr.
2007The WalkerYesYes
2008Adam ResurrectedYesWritten by Noah Stollman.
2013The CanyonsYesWritten by Bret Easton Ellis.
2014The JesuitYesPost-production. Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa.
2014The Dying of the LightYesYesPost-Production

Short films[edit]


Music video director[edit]


Stage plays[edit]

Short documentary appearances[edit]

Documentary feature film appearances[edit]

Television appearances[edit]

As himself[edit]






  1. ^ Paul Schrader Biography on, retrieved 2002-11-06.
  2. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (August 24, 1988). "How Studio Maneuvered 'Temptation' Into a Hit". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Ageing bulls return". The Guardian (London). October 31, 1999. 
  4. ^ John Brady, The craft of the screenwriter, Simon & Schuster, 1982 (0-671-25230-5).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Kevin Jackson (ed.), Schrader on Schrader and Other Writings, Faber & Faber, 2004 (ISBN 0-571-22176-9).
  6. ^ The Yakuza on, retrieved 2011-11-06.
  7. ^ Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Faber & Faber, 1997 (ISBN 0-571-19177-0).
  8. ^ "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  9. ^ Interview with Paul Schrader on The Hollywood Interview, originally published in Venice Magazine, November 2005, retrieved 2011-11-06.
  10. ^ Short profile of Paul Schrader on, retrieved 2011-11-06.
  11. ^ Production history of the "New York Stage and Film" company, retrieved 2011-12-9.
  12. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), February 3, 2011.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Interview with Paul Schrader on, retrieved 2011-11-2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]