Paul Joseph Schrader
July 22, 1946
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
(m. 1969; div. 1976)
|Relatives||Leonard Schrader (brother)|
|Awards||Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement|
AFI Franklin J. Schaffner Award
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion
Paul Joseph Schrader (/ˈʃreɪdər/; born July 22, 1946) is an American screenwriter, film director, and film critic. He first became widely known for writing the screenplay of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976). He later continued his collaboration with Scorsese, writing or co-writing Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999). Schrader has also directed 24 films, including Blue Collar (1978), Hardcore (1979), American Gigolo (1980), Cat People (1982), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Light Sleeper (1992), Affliction (1997), and First Reformed (2017); the latter earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Schrader's work frequently depicts troubled men struggling through an existential crisis that is then punctuated by a violent, cathartic event.
Raised in a strict Calvinist family, Schrader attended Calvin College before electing to pursue film studies at UCLA on the encouragement of film critic Pauline Kael. He then worked as a film scholar and critic, publishing the book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1972) before making the transition to screenwriting in 1974. The success of Taxi Driver in 1976 brought greater attention to his work, and Schrader began directing his own films beginning with Blue Collar (co-written with his brother, Leonard Schrader). His three most recent films have been described by Schrader as a loose trilogy: First Reformed (2017), The Card Counter (2021), and Master Gardener (2022).
Schrader was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Joan (née Fisher) and Charles A. Schrader, an executive. Schrader's family attended the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church. Schrader's mother was of Dutch descent, the daughter of emigrants from Friesland, while Schrader's paternal grandfather was from a German family that had come to the U.S. through Canada.
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, when he 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 attributes his intellectual rather than emotional approach towards movies and movie-making to his having no adolescent movie memories.
Schrader earned his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in theology from Calvin College, but decided against becoming a minister. He then earned an M.A. in film studies at the UCLA Film School upon the recommendation of Pauline Kael, who encouraged him to be a film critic.
Schrader first 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. 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".
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, eventually selling for $325,000. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack and starred Robert Mitchum. Robert Towne, best known for Chinatown, also received a credit for his 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 wrote an early draft of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but Spielberg disliked the script, calling it "terribly guilt-ridden", and opted for something lighter. He also wrote an early draft of Rolling Thunder (1977), which the film's producers had reworked without his participation. He disapproved of the final film.
Schrader's script about an obsessed New York City taxi driver became Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Besides Taxi Driver (1976), Scorsese also drew on scripts by Schrader for the 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. He has described the film as difficult to make, because of the artistic and personal tensions between him and the cast. During principal photography he suffered an on-set mental collapse which led him to seriously reconsider his career. John Milius acted as executive producer on the following year's Hardcore, again written by Schrader, a film with many autobiographical parallels in his depiction of the Calvinist milieu of Grand Rapids, and in 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 Cat People (1982) a remake of the 1942 film 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 1990s 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 small town 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 $251,000. 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 Israel-set Adam Resurrected (2008), which stars Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe.
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. 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.
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 was one of the first films to use the website Kickstarter to crowd-source its funding. Schrader also used the website Let It Cast to have unknown actors submit their audition tapes over the internet. American Apparel provided some wardrobe for the film. The film was ultimately made for just $250,000 and had a limited theatrical release from IFC Films on August 2, 2013. The film was poorly received by general critics and audiences. The film only made $56,000 in theaters but found later success when released on various Video on Demand platforms.
In 2014, Schrader directed The Dying of the Light, an espionage thriller starring Nicolas Cage as a government agent suffering from a deadly disease, Anton Yelchin and Irène Jacob. In post-production Schrader was denied final cut by the film's producers. The film was negatively received by many film critics and was a box-office bomb. Schrader later recut Dying of the Light into the separate, more experimental work Dark, which received more positive reviews.
Schrader's dramatic thriller First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, premiered at the 2017 Venice Film Festival and received critical acclaim. Schrader received his first Academy Award nomination for the film in the category Best Original Screenplay. In 2021, he directed the crime drama film The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish. The film also premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival and was widely lauded by critics. Schrader grouped these two films into a loose trilogy with another thriller, Master Gardener, starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver. Like the rest of the trilogy, it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2022, where Schrader was awarded the Golden Lion Honorary Award.
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, The Canyons, The Walker, First Reformed, and The Card Counter 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.
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.
Schrader battled a cocaine addiction, which contributed to his divorce from his first wife, art director Jeannine Oppewall. He then moved from Los Angeles to Japan in hopes of getting his life on track, finally quitting drugs around 1990. His second marriage is to actress Mary Beth Hurt, who has appeared in smaller roles in a variety of his films. Together they have two children, a daughter and a son.
In September 2022, Schrader was hospitalized for COVID-19 and pneumonia which had resulted in "breathing difficulties".
In January 2023, he and his wife moved from New York's suburban Putnam County to a luxury assisted-living facility in Manhattan's Hudson Yards area, where Mary Beth receives treatment for her worsening Alzheimer's.
Schrader is a Christian. Raised Calvinist, Schrader abandoned religion in his young adulthood, before returning to Christianity later in life. He became an Episcopalian after the birth of his children. As of 2018, he attends a Presbyterian church. His films frequently feature religious themes. However, Schrader has now emphasized that he considers himself to be just a Christian.
In December 2016, Schrader referred to the then-upcoming Trump presidency as "a call to violence" and said "we should be willing to take arms. Like Old John Brown." He quickly deleted the post, but was visited by the New York City Police Department Counterterrorism Bureau for threatening violence. Schrader expressed some regret for his post (blaming it on him drinking alcohol and taking an ambien), apologizing for his post's violent rhetoric, but not for his comments critical of Trump.
In 2021, Schrader attacked cancel culture, describing it as "infectious...like the Delta virus". In 2022, Schrader criticized that year's Sight and Sound Greatest Films poll, describing it as a "politically correct rejiggering", with its selection of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles as the greatest film of all time being the product of "distorted woke reappraisal". In 2023, he also criticized the politicization of the 95th Academy Awards, writing that the Oscars' "scramble to be woke" have made their ceremony "mean less each year".
In 2012, Schrader participated in the Sight & Sound film polls of that year. Held every ten years to select the greatest films of all time, contemporary directors were asked to select ten films of their choice. Schrader gave the following ten in alphabetical order.
In 2022, Schrader updated his list, including:
|1974||The Yakuza||No||Yes||Co-written with Leonard Schrader and Robert Towne|
|1977||Rolling Thunder||No||Yes||Co-written with Heywood Gould|
|1978||Blue Collar||Yes||Yes||Co-written with Leonard Schrader|
|Old Boyfriends||No||Yes||Co-written with Leonard Schrader; also executive producer|
|Raging Bull||No||Yes||Co-written with Mardik Martin|
|1985||Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters||Yes||Yes||Co-written with Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader|
|1986||The Mosquito Coast||No||Yes|
|1987||Light of Day||Yes||Yes|
|The Last Temptation of Christ||No||Yes|
|1990||The Comfort of Strangers||Yes||No|
|1994||Witch Hunt||Yes||No||Television film|
|1995||New Blue||Yes||Yes||Documentary short|
|1996||City Hall||No||Yes||Co-written with Bo Goldman, Nicholas Pileggi, and Ken Lipper|
|Bringing Out the Dead||No||Yes|
|2005||Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist||Yes||No|
|2014||Dying of the Light||Yes||Yes|
|2016||Dog Eat Dog||Yes||No||Role: Grecco The Greek|
|2021||The Card Counter||Yes||Yes|
|2022||There Are No Saints||No||Yes|
|1985||"Tight Connection to My Heart"||Bob Dylan|
|2004||The Cleopatra Club|