Paul Schrader on the ‘Explicit’ Script He Gave to Elisabeth Moss: ‘I’m an Old Male. How Am I Going to Direct This?’
Paul Schrader will not keep mum.
On Monday night, the filmmaker spoke at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre between screenings of “First Reformed” (2017) and “The Card Counter” (2021). He’s been making the promo rounds of late, whether sharing his new digs on Facebook or being interviewed by New York Magazine or, most recently, The New Yorker.
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His distributors often ask him to refrain from Facebook posting ahead of the release of his new film — in this case “Master Gardener” (Magnolia, May 19), starring the romantic triangle of Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Quintessa Swindell, which played well at Venice. It’s the concluding film in Schrader’s lonely-man-in-a-room trilogy, including “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter.” And yet the indefatigable Schrader is still posting, weighing in on A.I., among other things, and during the conversation, he also spoke about the tricky movie he’s written and now hopes Elisabeth Moss will star in and direct.
Like other WGA creators barred from certain promo duties right now, the unrepentant director admitted that while he was told in an email that he is not allowed to campaign for his movies during the writer’s strike, he does it anyway, because any punishment is “toothless,” he said. “A slap on the wrist.”
And unlike many pundits, Schrader sees a scenario where the strike could be over sooner rather than later. What has to happen is for the DGA and SAG/AFTRA, whose contracts expire on June 30, to line up in support of the writers’ demands. “Well, the writers like to strike,” he said. “It’s a bump for them. They were formerly unemployed. Now they’re on strike. Directors hate to strike because their guild is primarily assistant directors. And they all lose their jobs when they go on strike. Writers don’t lose their jobs. Believe me, none of the keyboards in Hollywood have stopped working at night. They’re all working right as we speak right now. And then when the strike is over, there’ll be this surfeit of spec scripts.”
“But for the first time, the stars are aligning,” he said, with the DGA and the SAG/AFTRA in talks ahead of the June 30 deadline. “The directors don’t like to strike. It’s the same issue. They’re getting burned by the streamers in the same way. So if the directors line up behind the writers, and then if SAG will line up behind them, the strike will be over — boom, right there. The streamers will bump up, they don’t have a choice. So theoretically the strike could go on seven or eight months, but if the director and actors join in, it’s over.”
As for A.I., clearly the producers and writers are far apart in the negotiations on this topic, with each side assuming they should get control of the work that comes from chatbots. “A.I. is not going to be resolved, it is going to be very much part of our future,” he said. “And the truth is that a lot of the television scripts and movies you now see are written kind of by A.I. already. If someone were to ask me, say, ‘Do an episode of ‘CSI,’ I’d watch a dozen CSIs to catch the template — the set of characters, all the dialogue, all the pilot positions, everything you need to take a template, I could knock that off easy enough. But that’s the same thing A.I. is going to do. They’re probably going to make a better episode of ‘CSI’ because it’s faster, cheaper and does not waste its time with any pretension.”
What’s next? In July, Schrader plans to start filming “Oh, Canada,” an adaptation of a 2021 Russell Banks novel about a dying documentary filmmaker starring his “American Gigolo” star Richard Gere. “Canada being a metaphor for death,” he said. ‘It’s my ‘Ivan Ilyich.'” A movie he won’t make: “R.N.,” his first screenplay featuring a female protagonist. It’s about a trauma nurse in Puerto Rico. “I wanted to do a film about female sexual irresponsibility, mainly behavior that just causes trouble,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is really good.’ But there was a lot of explicit sex in it, masturbation. I’m an old male. ‘How am I going to direct this?’ This is not my part of town. There are a lot of female directors out there now, not like decades ago, when there were only two or three. I feel out of place here, I feel like I’m in Spike Lee’s house telling him how to redecorate. And so I decided not to do it. And then I subsequently have now offered it to Elisabeth Moss for her to star and direct.”
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