Taxi Driver & Raging Bull's Writer Paul Schrader | Screenwriters Lecture



[Applause] good evening ladies and gentlemen I'm Jeremy brought welcome to the sixth and final event in this year's stunning series of screenwriters lectures held in conjunction with Lucie guard and the JJ Charitable Trust what can I say about our next speaker Paul Schrader wrote taxi driver I think our work here is done but seriously Paul is so so much more than the sum of any part that you can give him in a sentence he is the writer and co-writer of Raging Bull the Last Temptation of Christ American Gigolo Mishima our life in four chapters affliction and 2017 s utterly brilliant disquisition on faith first reformed Paul has written or directed over 23 extraordinary films and I may well have got that number wrong to sustain a level of excellence in this brutal industry for so many decades to be the screenwriter of an iconic groundbreaking film like taxi driver is simply breathtaking we salute him and we thank him for taking the time to talk to us this evening Paul will lecture followed by a Q&A with film producer Tanya Circassian after which we will as we always do open it up to questions from the floor ladies and gentlemen Paul Schrader is this bike working hear me now before I begin I'd just like to take a moment to express my gratitude to someone a friend and someone who's been in was an inspiration to me which was Nicolas Roeg and who had a long and fruitful life and there's nothing to be sad about and just what are there was to say acknowledge you know what he brought to this medium [Applause] over the years I have taught a screenwriting workshop at various places UCLA Columbia University and what this lecture is is in fact a summary of that class it's a prospectus for a course not given and it's turtle I'll just sort of take you through the process of the class because I taught a method of screenwriting which I devised in fact I don't think I've ever read a book about screenwriting and I can't imagine ever reading one I mean I think one of the worst things that ever happened to screening writing is this guy what's his name Bob who wrote this book about barbecue per stack second a couple it doesn't work that way you know it's not that simple so I I would take the first class in which there's an announcement that the class is open to all who wish to see it undergraduate or graduate whatever and so you get a pretty good-sized room almost as large as this and and you give an intellectual I mean you give an introductory lecture and and the industrial lecture essentially says this is not an overview of screenwriting this is my method this is what I have learned to talk this is what I have taught myself and the only way to teach something as trans Punja ball screenwriting is to teach what has worked for you because there's no way you can teach what works for everybody and and even though what I'm saying may not work for 75% of you it still has value because it works for me and so hopefully your time will be productively spent and it is also best suited for first-time writers now this first class and I say basically art works this is what I believe I believe art is functional art is the tool just like a hammer pliers I saw you can use it to do stuff and what you can use it to do is learn about yourself and learn about other people and so what I'm going to talk about is the functionality of storytelling not just the pleasure of it or the commerce of it and to understand how art works you begin with yourself you are the raw material art isn't really about anything you're seeing this about it's about you and this is why this course is particularly useful for our first time writers because too many students look at films and say I can do a film like that well you probably can't but why the heck would anybody want to hire you they've got people who can do films like that as proof there are films like that and they got people who will do it on command I'm deadline why would they pull around with a goofball like you so you start to think about what is it that I can bring to the dance there's no one else can you know what I walk in the room and say I've got something of commercial value to you but it's only my own and if you want it you have to get it from me so that is ground zero of the creation of a script I began writing on a spec meaning speculation I'm still writing on spec taxi driver was written on spec first performance witness and when you write on spec you are writing primarily for yourself but you're also writing a calculation of what the market place is at any given time and and so you know that that is a kind of thing you learn now when you are the raw material then then you need to study yourself and in this study will come this class therefore you know I've invited you all to the class and thank you for coming but I can't teach this many people so there's only going to be ten of you in the class and I don't particularly care about getting the ten most talented students in fact I really don't care how talented you really are at all I just want interesting people I want ten interesting people because I've got to spend ten two weeks teaching this class and I want to spend it with ten interesting people so that the next step in this class is that everyone who wants to take the class must write out in no more than two sentences their most pressing personal problem at this time and then I will I will read these and do you I also want you to include some basic facts age sex whatever I want to get a heterogeneous group you know I don't want ten you know ten white boys so and but if you and I'll go through these statements you make I'll go through them very very quickly and I'll just go through and pick up ten people and if you are then invited to the class your problem then becomes communal property it is the property of the class no longer your property if you're not invited it gets discarded and that for that reason I want you to write it out in longhand so that I can actually discard it so then I get those pieces of paper and I go through them and if you've done it a number of times you start to realize that people fall into certain categories there's always going to be the overweight girl usually Jewish it's always good to be the homosexual male or female who hasn't told his or her parents yet there's always going to be the minority with a huge grudge on this hilt on the shoulder and there's always going to be the kid who wants to kill his father and and so you get interesting people different kinds of problems so that you know they're not all talking about the same problem and then and you know I tell them that if you you know we are in the dirty laundry business this is the business we've chosen if you have a problem with dirty laundry you shouldn't be in here and I don't certainly don't want you in my class our task is to everybody's interested in our dirty laundry just not the way it actually looks they want it they want us to rework it and your problem with reworking your dirty laundry for public consumption you should not be in this class so now I get 10 students and we have 10 problems and each student reads his or her statement and we begin to discuss them you know the ramifications of this problem the manifestations what have you done about it you know who else knows all this stuff listen to me what you're doing is group therapy and so I'm going to do the stages here so we all discuss these problems what the next class will bring is a metaphor and begin to discuss what a metaphor is for your problems a metaphor is not the same thing as the problem so using myself as an example I say you know I did a film about loneliness about young male loneliness and this came out of a period of the dark period of laundry Dan being ungrounded and I was sort of living in my car and I had a pain in my stomach went to the hospital and a bleeding ulcer at the age of 25 because I was just drinking and driving and hostel I got this image of the taxicab it came to me this yellow rectangular coffin metal coffin flowing through the open sewers of a metropolis and inside that coffin is trapped a young man and it looks like he's surrounded by life in fact he's absolutely alone and the power of that metaphor just overwhelmed me and I knew I had to write that story because I was becoming that young man and the only way I could not become him was to establish his identity apart from mine to write about him and so it did I did and as I said earlier are actually worse I learned about that young man and I learned not to be that young man by writing about it so I walked into the whole screenwriting business as self therapy not as commerce and that script wasn't seen by anybody for a year afterward it had done its job you know we went on the shelf so down we need metaphors for your individual problems and you need to come back with metaphors next week now what is a metaphor a metaphor is the standard it is not the problem itself so the metaphor for a lonely boy is not a lonely boy the metaphor for and unattractive girls not an unattractive girl it's something like the metaphor I would like the problem but not the problem itself it's like two wires you have the problem in the metaphor and they have to get close enough for a spark to jump across and if they're too far apart there will be no spark and if they're on top of each other they'll be so you have to tease them and play with the sparks and great stories throughout history have had great metaphors some of those famous stories Frankenstein but you know how can you have a better metaphor than that the metaphor essentially does the job you know you can make or the or the walking zombies it doesn't really matter how good it is in before the metaphor has such strength Jaws Exorcist Rosemary's Baby these are powerful functional metaphors and and if you have a good problem and a good metaphor you know you're a lot of the battle is won already the make sure I'm not losing myself here oh yeah and a metaphor can be sometimes an occupation taxi driver there could be a historical moment in time you know Waterloo I suppose it could be a certain kind of love story Romeo and Juliet but it has to be something that expresses your problem without being the problem itself and I remember I was teaching this class at UCLA and I had I was in analysis at that time in five days a week unless on the couch and and one of the things I've been talking with my psychiatrist about was the inability to express a lot and now I'm teaching this class at UCLA and we're in this phase where we're looking for metaphors and I happened to say to the class member I said what occupation does this person have they factory worker a bookkeeper a doctor a gigolo a lawyer and boom as soon as I said the word gigolo I said that's it boom you've got your metaphor that's the metaphor you've been looking for for the inability to express love now I had a problem now I had a better for I was on my way sometimes the metaphor you struggled for it years later I was looking for a metaphor for midlife crisis I turned 40 and I was thinking all right I should do a midlife movie and I thought about all the normal stuff he leaves his wife takes off with a co-ed by the car drives across country all these you know joins the Foreign Service whatever kind of wacky metaphor they all seem so cliched and so there was no spark the wires were right on top of each other and I began to think well you know this went out of her only six months I said well maybe I'm not gonna find a midlife metaphor and then one night I woke up abruptly from a dream about 5:00 a.m. and I had been talking in this dream a drug dealer I was newton-john it's right in front of my face just right there and I hadn't seen him for a year I said oh wow that was David Wow that was David he was right in front of me Wow what were we talking about oh he was asking about me about the movies you wanted to know what movies to see him I said that's it I couldn't find my metaphor and my metaphor got sick of waiting and came and found me this middle-aged drug delivery boy whose boss is quitting it's a steroid cosmetics company and who has no skills that's midlife metaphor right there it is it's a great one no one's seen it before and I have my metaphor and I wouldn't write to my office and started making notes and by the end of the day I had tracked down the real people and and said you know I want to make a film about you and this is an aside for the Brits here Cynthia who was the main drug dealer said to me well let me get back to you so when she called me back and she said well I spoke to Bertolucci I spoke to Jeremy Thomas I spoke to Michael right and they all say you're cool so so I did what that was like sleepers so so the next class commences and everybody has brought in several metaphors for their problem and they propose them for the most part you know they're very feeble they suffer from the same problem I had with midlife crisis just there's no energy in the metaphor there's no imagination there's no spark but once they're out there on the table and once they're part of the communal discussion you know people start talking around and and which is why it's always handy to have a closeted homosexual in the group because you know the metaphor that will work for them which is somebody involved in an industrial espionage somebody who is secretly spying on his own company getting paid by another company and this is a great metaphor for a homosexual who hasn't told anybody because you're actually talking about the problem without talking about the problem you know what does it like to live a double life in which people you who trust you you are deceiving like any any spy and so you can say to that student I said you know here's a try this metaphor on for size and you know maybe he doesn't run with it maybe he does he starts to get the idea of what a metaphor can do and and then I remember one class kid had a very interesting problem which was he had killed somebody and when he was 16 went in a car and wasn't his fault but he remembered that a young fourteen year old child ran out of the street and obviously that is something that stayed with you and so we started trying to come you know what's a metaphor for that and the metaphor we came up with going back and forth was a professional woman in her 30s who had supposedly an abortion when she was young but she has now come to realize that it wasn't an abortion it was a child that was delivered and went into a adopted home or whatever in the marketplace and she because she sees this girl on the street she said that's my daughter boom now we're dealing with the metaphor of a man who killed the kid because you have the woman seeing the daughter she killed the daughter is still alive so that's good to work your metaphors and then that tap when you just flip the tables and see it from the girl's point of view you're in business the the you know the unattractive or overweight your own metaphor often you know that this is a standard one the ugly duckling was Cinderella or whatever and it's not terribly constructive for a young woman who feels herself unattractive to tell a story about a woman who feels unattractive it doesn't she could tell that story but she's not gonna learn much what she has to do is put ourselves in the shoes of someone who thinks they are unattractive someone who's bulimic come on you know who is injuring themselves and cutting themselves because they feel they're Islands active when they're not no you know that's a good learning point you can learn from that and so that's what we hash out in this third class and try to get every student headed off at a certain metaphorical direction the the the fourth class then revolves around plot plot is simply what happens when you take a medal when you take a problem and drive it through a metaphor okay you have a problem a problem is loneliness you have a metaphoric taxicab driver shove your problem into the metaphor what happens well you have a guy who's drifting around he meets a girl he can't have but once he meets a girl he wants but can't have he tries to kill the father figure of one and fails so he kills the father figure of the other and becomes a hero that is the entire plot Otaki daughter right there and all that comes from is taking this loneliness and shoving it through tax account and imagining what can happen and so the so you know in this class we explore the nature of the problem by exploring the nature of plots what could happen you know there's only a certain number of plots out there and but if your problem is interesting enough if you've analyzed it properly and if your metaphor is intriguing enough hackney plots from yesteryear will live again as you push them through because they will have a new life they will be you know the new wine and the the old bottles and so when when you start talking about plot you just hypothesize now the class is then instructed the next week to come back with a five to ten minute narrative of what happens between their their problem and their metaphor and the plot but what events can happen just imagine events come up with something and it doesn't have to be qualitative but you but you have to come up with something and that you know takes us to the next step I do not believe that screenwriting is part of the literary tradition I believe it's part of the oral tradition it's just me telling you a story you know it's your uncle coming back from a hunting trip and saying you know the dog ate something bad got sick and the bird got away and and we didn't come we didn't you know come back with anything but if you're up goes a good storyteller hopefully he is I had I am good storytellers he can tell that story you know for 15 minutes and that's what it is our world traditions let me tell you stories so now we have these 10 students each of whom has a little bit of a story to tell and they're just exploring and let me it's temporary near eyes okay so okay a man is giving a lecture at BAFTA wearing a blue jumper in the middle of the lecture he has orange glasses nobody knows why in the middle of lecture he improperly walks out and leaves without comment and on the street someone tracked him down and says you know what's wrong what's wrong wrong he said I just got scared I got scared they said well you know let's have a drink ok ok we'll have a drink and he said I don't drink but if you come to my flat I got some pot it's ok ok that sounds good so he goes over there in an hour he and the two flatmates are all smoking pot I'm making literally making this up as I speak so now I've got this older man these two kids smoking grass hit a flat and the story is starting to feel a little thin and you know when Raymond Chandler once said you know if you get in trouble I have somebody walk in the room with a gun because the reader will be so happy they're there they won't ask how they got there and so now I'm in a little trouble so ok a red sports car pulls up and two huge Bachmann 300 pounds each like linebackers wearing purple suits are sitting in the car they screech to a halt they get out and go toward the apartment well I got you back what do I got you back down you know you're all on the edge of your seats I also got these two black guys and purple suits and I have to figure out what to do with them but maybe hopefully something will come to me and that's what storytelling is and the first time you tell your story it may be 5-10 minutes long and you kind of make it up a bit as you go you say to somebody let me buy your coffee let me buy you a drink I got a how are you here is the story and you don't really care what they think of the story it doesn't really matter whether you like it or not what matters is the level of attention they are paying you do you have them what is the eye contact what is the body language you can feel it when you don't have somebody and then you gotta improvise just like a stand-up comic and you got to keep them you know and maybe when you realize in the back of your head is that I'm doing too much acquisition I should have had a comic scene in here you know if I had told comic scene right there I could have kept them but now it was just just too much exposition so you're making these calculations and you're making notes as you tell story and then you out like tell surrogate outline tell story get and it grows in length and if you can tell a story for 45 minutes you have a movie and the way to know for sure if you're uncertain is take someone to a pub and start telling your story and then about you know 30 minutes into your story you say excuse me I have to go the bathroom and you come back and you start another conversation another tangent maybe talking politics now if they don't ask you how the story ends you don't have a story and this is actually I think a very very productive way to develop a story not that you know often stories fall into three acts of sewing life tends to be you know past present future but it doesn't have to be three acts some stories are 2x some stories on what Aksum are five it will find its own shape and it'll find it as you tell the story and what begins to happen as you tell your story repeatedly arie outline it one of them two things happens and they're both good things one is you get sick of the story it dies it withers and you walk away this is a very good thing it means you have just saved yourself six months of writing a story that nobody wants to read or make you it's a good thing that happened to you you've protected yourself because there's nothing that's quite so debilitating as writing three or four scripts in a row as a beginning writer and none of them people are interested in your darling your spirit is broken so don't even write until you know somebody's gonna be interested in that story the other thing that can happen while you tell the story is the story will get sick of being told you feel it as you tell the story the story will start saying to you I want to be written now I'm done with this phase I'm fully formed I want to go into print and that's also a happy day because there you are with a fully fleshed story in your head full of dialogue Pacey's and everything and you can go to work so what exists between the oral tradition and the script phase is the outlines and I've brought some outlines to show you and our line begins you know just as a list of things and in a given film [Applause] usually about 40 to 50 things happen so as you tell your story your outline expands so maybe it begins with 15 things that happened or 20 things and gradually expands and that's always the best way to write you're much more creative when you're going larger the worst thing to do for me as a writer is to start with 150 pages and figure out how you can do 100 I'd rather start with 70 and figure out how I can do 100 so here are my outlines from so those are the outlines from American Gigolo they actually the ones I was using and you can see this is an earlier outline and I'm the outline I mean note to myself add something at 16 at something that 12 reversed these two scenes move this scene over here and so I'm reworking my outline and then I will tell it again and then we working again and until you get to this level of outline which is pretty close to what you need when you need to start writing and that is a list of everything that happens and it's also a list of a projected page count so let me see here okay something okay Julian and Leroy scene 42 happens on page 102 I'm done I'm doing a running page color so I can tell you what happens 102 minutes if you're using the page a minute I can tell you what happens a hundred two minutes into a film and that is because film is a fixed time frame and a scene that is good on page 35 and it's not necessarily going on 45 same thing you know and so you have to be very aware of the calibration of your time it's like a long-distance runner who's running along it says you know when I when I pass the coffee shop I should be 12 minutes 30 seconds into the run and if I'm too quick I should evaluate where I am I only 12 minutes into the run or if I'm 13 minutes and why am i slow calculating saving heavens you're ready to script I'm five pages off my outline was my calculation wrong in which case I need to recalculate or am I just adding stuff that's unnecessary and so you're always thinking about that and and so here's a this is from Raging Bull now you can see here I okay Danville like I predicted it to be on page 77 I predicted it to last two and a half pages it fell in at 74 so I was in my parameters you know I was hitting my mile markers and and then as I and I like to do these outlines I'm a single sheet because you can carry it around with you and you can look at it so here's the Last Temptation of Christ you know the entire film on a single sheet of paper every scene the length of every scene the projection of every scene and then when the scene is crossed out list of what the real page count was so if I projected Jesus scourged by Pilate I projected it an 81 that came in 85 okay so and so that just like storytelling is spontaneous it's also extremely calculated and so how do you get from that spontaneous moment in the coffee shop where you're literally making stuff up through that calculation where you know what's going to happen on page 84 well you do it through the outline and then you read outline back and forth and usually it's usually about and in terms of a detailed outline maybe four or five of them I do before I'm that point where you know ready to be written and and and sometimes you get very complex you're making notes all over the place there's light sleeper so that more or less completes that more or less completes the process so we are now six classes it out of ten and the students are now permitted to write and they have to have a script done in ten weeks obviously none of them are gonna do this and so the script you know strangle and over the next year or so but I don't want to let them write till we get to this point so now they're writing and I fill out the remainder of the class with some exercises I'll do an exposition exercise I'll do a dialogue exercise and then I'll have a class about formatting and more or less technical things and then the last class I always like to bring in a fellow screenwriter who works in a method totally unlike mine and who for whom everything I have said is wrong and inappropriate and I just Brianna Brianna see I've been convincing you of something for ten weeks here's a working screenwriter who happens to be even wealthier than I am and he doesn't believe a word I've said so just bear that in mind as you move on in life and I guess that you know and usually in every class there's usually one script that actually gets made strangely enough remember I had a student and I had UCLA he was a Japanese student Nisei and he was trying to write about his family and everything about it was so happy to just so predictable in her family dynamics and in the yelling times that boring there was an article about the lowriders the the car the car club gangs in East LA and it's very fascinating and I said to him Desmond Nakano is still is a working writer and I said you know go go down there hang out with those guys you know what's gonna happen you tell me you're still 90 yeah interesting and write a script about what they do what's the worst that can happen they tell you to off that's all go give it a shot that's my assignment to you don't come back next week if you haven't so he goes down there any first meeting these guys and I was hanging with him and they take him it sort of into their social lives and he starts writing a script about that well if the same script he was trying to write about his parents and his brother and his sister only now he was far enough away from it that he wasn't getting locked up he was freed and everything he wanted to say about his immediate situation he was able to say about this metaphorical situation and and you know that usually in every class you lose somebody who it works for then of course just mentioned there's always a fair number who doesn't work for us but at least a hopefully they've learned something and I was proud to keep it to 45 minutes I didn't quite make it but I once gave this lecture in New Delhi three hours thank you I was just thanking Paul for the brilliant lecture and also letting you know that the clip you just just saw on the screen there is a script it's a clip from Paul's latest feature film first reformed and I'm going to take the opportunity to talk to him about both the lecture and first reformed if I can and there will be a chance for you to also ask questions Paul what you haven't talked about in your lecture there is three or four of the other things that I always think a really important for screenwriters to tackle tone dialogue character and endings and I wondered if I might ask you about all of those well dialogue when I after I finished the billion section we get into these we do a one class of dialogue and I give an example I say okay magazine a supermarket he meets his ex-wife she has a young child or no man maybe not that maybe two people waiting for a subway a mother and a daughter and this is sort of what they talk about right some dialogue for me and everybody comes in with dialogue and I every time people dialogue usually doesn't work because it's so linear and the mind is not necessarily engaged by linear dialogue and what I often do at that point is I instruct class members to read the scene first we read it through then we read it through backwards last line first second to last line second to third life in Reverse so that the questions the answers are appearing before the questions that's always more interesting and you know students begin to sort of understand you know Harold Pinter's thesis which is you know language is the tool we use not to come okay and there's a language also does that so I do that with dialogue and then I also do it with exposition which is always such a killer give an expositional exercise that is impossible you know and see how people get around it the end I always know the end I can't start a script unless I know the title and the end yes you know the idea of somebody could write the scripts and not have a title for yet just I can't imagine it and I've noticed with your titles you often keep the character out its first reformed taxi driver you don't I think you once said of Brussels and pickpocket it isn't a pickpocket its pickpocket and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about why you choose to do that well I mean well you know what title has to have a certain resonance in a certain mystery to it I hate to run the tip titles Breaking Away running home oh that's terrible and also needs to have preferably a consonant in it I have one hard sounded can arrest the progress so you don't it's not at all soft sobs um yeah I am I was just working on a script I'm now abandoned it but I I couldn't think of a good type and then I came up with a title but I had nothing to do with the script at all it was called this birding wheel and but still didn't work I gave up and you don't start without the ending I think probably because looking at your body of work the ending is always rumination or a mediation on some form of redemption in the broadest and loosest sense of the word is that is that part of why you write a pair of what why you write is that part of why you tell stories I'm not quite sure why I tell stories and I'm not sure if I were 18 years old now I would tell stories you know it was a time in a place and it seems to be a thing to do maybe I should be writing code if I was in my teens but this idea that are dysfunctional then it has that it can get you through life they can make you learn and they can make you survive and you know and at any point in all our lives we have two or three problems that are running around whether it's problems about relationships or sexual needs or career crisis whatever there's something going on and so you're always floating around sort of looking for metaphors and sometimes they arrive and sometimes they don't but I think when you started writing it was a time when cinema afforded the opportunity for people to have answered the questions that were in the ether and somehow they looked to the big screen to address those questions I wonder if you would agree with that and whether well you know there are people who talked about the American cinema of the 70s as some healthy young period it was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers there's probably in fact more talented filmmakers today than there was in the 70s but there was in the seventies was better audiences and a lot of what was happening in the world had people in consternation women's rights gay rights sexual liberation drug liberation anti-war all of these things were rolling on top of each other and people were turning to the Arts so cynically movies what should we feel about this Baba Ted and Alice about wife-swapping coming home about Vietnam veterans or unmarried women about female liberation so almost one a week films were coming out to address these things that were on people's minds and when when people take movies seriously it's very easy to make a serious movie when they don't take it seriously it's very very hard we now have audiences that don't take movies seriously it's very hard to make a serious movie for them so it's not that our filmmakers are letting you down it's you audiences are letting us down and because if audiences are receptive to a quality movie believe me they don't get it we're all just waiting to make it and so so at that time that period about 10 12 years there every single week there was some kind of film coming out addressing some social issue in a and clearly with First Reformed you have taken on the subject and problems around climate change as one of the things that underpin the story I wonder how you feel your audiences have responded to that aspect of the story but I lost you as climate change how do you think your audiences have responded to that aspect of the story well you know that's a big question because there is no displace there is no response we have as the species we have made our decision and it's pretty clear and our question of how long it takes for that decision to be fully effective but you know there is no well whatever tipping point there was we passed it and and it is you know it's very hard to a friend of mine wrote an article for the New York Times calling called you know raising a child in a doomed the world and my adult children do not have children and they don't feel they should and that is a question that begins first reformed should should I bring someone into this world knowing what kind of life they will have and so it'll be nice to say the movie has a positive effect but our gorilla brains are not gonna get us out of this problem evolution has taken us about as far as a camp the next stage will be some other form of evolved intelligence but Oscar Ella's you know we are not equipped to solve this problem but you do have easily was character taller tell us that it's better to have her well you know Albert Camus said I don't believe I choose to believe and you know that's where we are I don't hope I have no reason to help but you can't choose to hope and that could be a way to live mm-hmm although if we look at some of the choices in First Reformed and go back to the Yakuza or the suicidal tendency in in many of your films your characters often used suicide as a method of action and I think you said in one of the lines in Yakuza was that in Japan when the character is cracking up they take it out on themselves but in America they open the window and take it out on everyone else I wondered if you could elaborate a little about that you know always interesting couple weeks ago someone was mean misma and I watched the opening of it and the initial voiceover comes from a book Southern Steel it beats my Road and it was talking about his decision to take this course of action he says you know words are no longer sufficient so I have found a new form of expression and that new form of expression was no prism and then 30-some years later I'm sitting in my office I'm writing the script first before I write a lot and he says I have found a new form of Prayer oh wow that's a good life I didn't realize I had written in 35 years so it does all kind of circle around yeah well it feels to me as though and first reform really is the state of grace from the state of nature that we discovered you with at the beginning of your career I could talk to you all evening that I might that the audience may have questions so can I open it to the to the floor and see if there's anything anyone here would like Joelle spool I'm down here in the front row I think we have mics I thought pleasure to hear you speaking I was wondering to just talk a little bit about your process of writing and how did it change at all when you collaborate with director Martin Scorsese for example or do you stick to your prices throughout I'm not a very good employee I wish I was because there's a lot of money to be made by being a good employee you know I wrote four scripts for Scorsese but we never talked about it I would do it he would do to get but there's only one person in the room when I was writing and the last film we did together to bringing out the dead I realized that we would not work together again that was over because there were now two directors in the room and one of them was calling himself a writer and the other one was sort of pissed off and silver I realized you know there can only be one director you know Marcy's script about but and not have to be him it's not me so I have not been very good at collaborating I've never held a job in my life I'm every single job I've ever had I got fired from always at some point where somebody says do it this way and you say no not the way you do it you do it this way and then they say you know who's the boss here get fired so that's really probably the reason why I work I expect all these years because I used to get jobs but I always got trouble when I got a bad reputation as somebody who was not cooperative it was not a team player so I realized that the only way I can make a living to just do my own thing and then go out and find somebody to play that's it but how did you behave then uncomforted strangers when you're the writer but you were really acting as a director and you've got Harold Pinter and Ian McEwan – well most scripts that I reread I even go to the point of retyping the entire script so that I feel full ownership over it so I can stand around and say oh I remember when I wrote this I didn't actually write this I just retyped it but I wrote it two scripts are had that I didn't really want to touch I'm one with my brothers and Alison when I was by Harold Pinter and and we were in Rome it was a forehand or Natasha Richardson Rupert Everett Chris Walken healthier and Pinter script was quite elliptical and all the actors were they wasn't changes and I'd like to script quite a bit and I didn't want to make changes but of course I'm a writer and they pressure me so I called up Harold and I said you know let's do it this way will you come down from Rome and I would do two weeks rehearsal you rehearse the first week I'll rehearse the second week and I won't say a thing the first week I'll just sit in the quarter he came down and his rehearsal method essentially was reading and rereading and reading the script over don't break it and at one point that house just said to him now Harold I'm in Venice with my boyfriend my two children from another man are staying with my mother in England what is my relationship to those children's father is he alive do I know him are we on good terms and he'll said dagger there I have never answered a question like that not going to start now read the text and by which she simply met you read it enough you won't answer that question and whatever answer you have it's going to be a better answer than anyone I can tell you and so after he left we all came down and I said yo Big Daddy went back to London and let's all discuss the scripted Chris Walken said you know I kind of liked it the way it is and make no changes I think there's a question over there on the corner Paul thank you so much for a very enlightening lecture it's sort of helped me as a writer I wanted to wash you about cat people because you know what that's in looking at the time when you made that film no of course today everything seems to be Murray remade left right and center how did you interpret that I mean was it did the studio give you a specific mandate what was it something that you wanted to do on your own way well it was I was doing the field with the discovery so it was very much a visual exercise and I the script the original scripts have a kind of traditional horror arc and at the end of the script the protagonist shoots the monster kills the monster the old house burns down and I thought you know I had a inspiration I said you know what happens if instead of killing the monster he it and then he built a shrine to it and comes and worships wouldn't that be a boring interesting ending and that's what we did and and I remember we had a screening in Westwood and with Jerry Bruckheimer who is the producer we were sit in the background there's two teenage girls in front of us and it comes to the ending when John heard is carrying up nostalgia in the bondage of David Bowie in toning this sort of ritualistic music and he's tying up the time so he can her to make her back into a leopard and and the two girls in front of you and one turns the other and said oh my god I turned to joy I think maybe we went but you know looking back at it that's why he'll probably has a shelf life because there's not a lot of competition for that there's a lady down here at the front sorry those of you at the back I can't see your hand so wave aggressively if you have questions hello can you hear me yeah um well what I love about your your films is that the scripts and lie somewhere between cynicism without ever being cynical and sentimentality and they're never sentiment sentimental and I hate that yeah that so you you get to really human human feelings sometimes awkward but always we can identify with and one of the brilliant expressions of that was in first reformed and I knew I if I could vote for the Academy Award I would have been this moment it was when he's showing around the tourists the family and he says we have a little gift shop here and he says and I'm of any looks at the mini says I'm afraid work out the only thing we have left is a small size and knowing of course how Americans are so obese of course that would all all that would be left but then that the fact that this man after all we've seen him go through is reduced to saying that and I just thought it was brilliant how did you ever think well in that particular case wardrobe you know provided the t-shirts and being cost effective as they were they only did extra small because no one was going to put them on and so the extra small looks the same size as extra large and so I was looking through myself these are all extra small so we did that on the fly but but that joke in that scene that was the joke I heard growing up in the church about the minister and the choir mistress you know she chased him around the church and caught him by the organ and the joke I heard as a kid finally found a place works it's a question out there at the back I'm hired this might be quite a quick answer but do you ever write different versions of scripts for finance here's what actors do you ever kind of change them based on who you're kind of sending them to well I've been the only reason you would change requests I had a meeting two days ago about this film I want to do with Willem and even and the antagonist is 300 pound Mexico and the financier said I think we can get more money if you make the antagonist a woman and so I'm gonna try that and make our sort of Mercedes McCambridge like and but and often when someone makes a suggestion like that it throws you for a loop but I also fire some neurons up to anything that's you know I can actually sort of do that but I would never write something specifically for an actor that that that's the door to hell you know it makes you a lazy writer to begin with because you're now hearing the words as spoken by Al Pacino and you're saying wow that's a great speech it's not a great speech how much he knows a good actor that's all and so you have to try to write the dialogue of scenes almost act approved so that if it so happens that the only way they'll finance that movie is with a log of attackers you know our singer your script should be good enough to still work with Arnold so that's how you have to think as a writer it's a question down hit hello in first formed you you shoot the movie in a particular aspect ratio which is very focusing and it changes at one point later on in the film and I was wondering about that in terms of the process of writing the story was that something you conceived as you wrote it how it was going to be viewed or was that later on as a director that you look at that no I said this yesterday I have written a book of theological aesthetics so critics but I never thought I would make a film of that nature and then about three years ago I was having a conversation with Ravel pavlovsky IDO half of that conversation I walked up town and I realize is now time it's time for you to write that spiritual script but when you go swore for decades that you would never write and either was one three three black and white so I said okay I'm gonna do a film just like that one three three bike away eventually I ended up making it in color but that was the template and since I was dealing with spiritual style your you'll immediately engage yourself with withholding devices you immediately start giving less well one way you can give less if they have a smaller image you know with hold music withhold acting withhold editing you know with home camera moves with hold for run background and so it's just one of a buffet of withholding devices do you regrets that you made it in cover what do you regret having made it in time no no I don't because I saw those new film cold war and I was just talking to him he was saying how great it was in black I don't know I thought it should have been a call and then you know you can't shoot and no you can now shoot in black and white digitally two years ago you couldn't so a film like Nebraska was simply shot in color and then they dialed it down some other reasons the black-and-white is so unattractive but now they have a dedicated black-and-white digital camera so you can shoot it back away but what that means is you can't do both you know you have to design your set your palette from black and white or color and so then the task simply became how little color can we use and how minimal can we make everything and so you know there's red is used for the pepto-bismol and for the blood you know and so that becomes one of those constraints that is very very useful because limitations in any art form are inspirational if I tell you that I want you to make fiberglass chairs for a 500 pound person but it has to be really stylish your your minds gonna jump so how can I do that whereas if I tell you I want you to make a stylish fiberglass chair your mind isn't gonna jump so those kinds of limitations inspire you it's a question Tyler you mentioning but you need for the ending of your script before you can start filming is that ending dialogue or is it an actual final visual shot so sorry I missed that the question is down here sorry Sally it's just so for example at the end of blue collar where you have the freeze-frame yeah did you decide on that shot and that image before you wrote the whole script cuz you're saying you need to know the ending before you start the writing process well you know it was part of the script process you know when I came to that ending in the course of the script they probably must've been fairly early on because I was creating a situation that could not be resolved and I had to just be stopped in a dialectical way that anything was always there you know you know it's not like you know how he takes for the wrench he's gonna hit Richard well he didn't actually hit Richard no I said cut so I knew I was gonna freeze right gentleman over there in the front hi you mentioned a squib that you'd abandoned recently I just wondered have you got lots of abandoned scripts and or has that become rarer over your career not really he asked about a banner script because of this process I used I try not to write until I know what's gonna work and I was writing a script about my late brother very very personal script and I thought I had it I wrote it and I knew I somehow it wasn't I missed it I missed it and because it was such a personal subject you know it was time to put it on the shelf and see if it comes back to life again but I'm not gonna go in the marketplace with something that personal that I don't believe it that's what I do down here in the front room hello so yes first of all thank you for being so entertaining as well as say helpful at the same time and my question is kind of a follow-up for net and I was so a response to what you were saying about what audiences are not interested in if the demand was there their particular areas that you would like to go into that you're just kind of waiting for a sign for like well like stories you in a tower or subjects that you in a bridge that it's still burning a hole inside you well I mean yeah I talked earlier about the problems you know what has long long this journey well obviously the last problem you have is you know your own demise and I tried to do a film about that seven years ago and the body was taken away from me and I disowned it called dying of the light with Nic Cage so it's still out there I haven't yet solved that one so maybe I should swing back around one of the problems with doing a film about old age is that you know it's harder to sell tickets because everyone wants to sell to the younger audience so you you have to be very very careful about that I mean I would love to do you know I would love to do a film about new intelligence but again you have that same problem it's like somebody says I'm gonna do a film about the Neanderthals and the cro-magnons but and it's about how no and the Homo sapiens dinosaurs are the hope we'll see same P ads and how the Homo sapiens advanced but you can only sell tickets to the Neanderthals well hard shop it's hard to make a movie in which the the the fail the film species is the one that's watch you know there's a lady over there on the right with the microphone thank you thank you Paul my quick question is have you learnt or have you experienced from writer's block experience of writer's block writer's block have you had it have you know usually with this method you don't have because you don't start writing until you know everything if you have so you never stop not knowing what's gonna come next you know whether the secrets of writer's block is you have always have to finish writing for the day before you've completely finished the scene so you immediately jump right back in you know where you are the the longest period of the writer's block I had was I used to be a night writer and I would start about 11:00 and write till 5:00 6:00 in the morning and that was a kind of cascade of alcohol nicotine caffeine cocaine and you can get a lot of writing done and you know there were certain spelling errors but for the most part is quite good and and those little people who live inside the typewriter they need some inducement to come out they just don't come out on their own so you have to give up come on out come on up and then they did they come out and they climb out of the typewriter start running all around the desk then I had a child and the idea of going to bed at 6:00 was no longer a feasible one and I also didn't want to be in that condition when you know my child woke up so I said that you know it's time to become a day writer and that took almost a year to retrain myself I got in office and I'd go there and I just sit and but I refused to write at night till finally started to copy and I could write there in the day and now I can't even write at night well Paul um it's been a real pleasure talking to you and thank you for teaching us today and for the last decades thank you [Applause] you

13 thoughts on “Taxi Driver & Raging Bull's Writer Paul Schrader | Screenwriters Lecture

  1. This is a racist shitwhole and a homophobic dip shit. How this guy still on stage and why is he still getting?

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