Paul Schrader

Paul Joseph Schrader (/ˈʃrdər/; born July 22, 1946) is an American screenwriter, film director, and film critic. He first received widespread recognition through his screenplay for 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 is known for its frequent depiction of alienated men struggling through existential crises, a premise known as "God’s lonely man."[1]

Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader Montclair Film Festival (cropped).jpg
Schrader in 2018
Paul Joseph Schrader

(1946-07-22) July 22, 1946 (age 76)
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
Years active1974–present
(m. 1969; div. 1976)

(m. 1983)
RelativesLeonard Schrader (brother)
AwardsLaurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement
AFI Franklin J. Schaffner Award
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion

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).

Early life and educationEdit

Schrader was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Joan (née Fisher) and Charles A. Schrader, an executive.[2] Schrader's family attended the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church.[3][4] 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.[5][6]

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.[7] Schrader attributes his intellectual rather than emotional approach towards movies and movie-making to his having no adolescent movie memories.[8]

Schrader earned his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in theology from Calvin College, but decided against becoming a minister.[9] 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.[10]

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".[8]

Film careerEdit

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.[11] 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.[8]

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.[8]

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.[12]

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.[13] 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 Israeli-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.[14] 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 gained notability as it 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 stepped in to provide some wardrobe for the film. The film gained media coverage due to Lohan's notorious on-set behavior, as well as the film's unusual production route. 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.[15] 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, Schrader 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's new film, Master Gardener, is a crime thriller starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver. It is set to premier at the 2022 Venice Film Festival.

Theatre careerEdit

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.[8][16][17]


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.[8][18][19]

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.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

Schrader battled a severe 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.[20] Together they have two children, a daughter and a son.[21]

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.[22]

In September 2022, Schrader was hospitalized for COVID-19 and pneumonia which had resulted in "breathing difficulties".[23]


Schrader was raised as a Calvinist but became an Episcopalian after the birth of his children. As of 2018, he attends a Presbyterian church.[24] His films frequently feature religious themes.[25]



Year Title Director Writer Notes
1974 The Yakuza No Yes Co-written with Leonard Schrader and Robert Towne
1976 Taxi Driver No Yes
Obsession No Yes
1977 Rolling Thunder No Yes Co-written with Heywood Gould
1978 Blue Collar Yes Yes Co-written with Leonard Schrader
1979 Hardcore Yes Yes
Old Boyfriends No Yes Co-written with Leonard Schrader; also executive producer
1980 American Gigolo Yes Yes
Raging Bull No Yes Co-written with Mardik Martin
1982 Cat People Yes Yes
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
1988 Patty Hearst Yes No
The Last Temptation of Christ No Yes
1990 The Comfort of Strangers Yes No
1992 Light Sleeper Yes Yes
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
1997 Touch Yes Yes
Affliction Yes Yes
1999 Forever Mine Yes Yes
Bringing Out the Dead No Yes
2002 Auto Focus Yes No
2005 Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist Yes No
2007 The Walker Yes Yes
2008 Adam Resurrected Yes No
2013 The Canyons Yes No
2014 Dying of the Light Yes Yes
2016 Dog Eat Dog Yes No Role: Grecco The Greek
2017 First Reformed Yes Yes
2021 The Card Counter Yes Yes
2022 There Are No Saints No Yes
Master Gardener Yes Yes

Music videoEdit

Year Title Artist
1985 "Tight Connection to My Heart" Bob Dylan

Documentary feature film appearancesEdit


Year Title
1987 Berlinale
2004 The Cleopatra Club




  • 1977 – Golden Globes, USA, Golden Globe – Best Screenplay – Motion Picture for Taxi Driver
  • 1977 – Writers Guild of America, USA, WGA Award (Screen) for Taxi Driver
  • 1977 – Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, Golden Scroll – Best Horror Film for Obsession
  • 1979 – Berlin International Film Festival, Golden Berlin Bear for Hardcore
  • 1981 – Golden Globes, USA, Golden Globe – Best Screenplay – Motion Picture for Raging Bull (shared with Mardik Martin)
  • 1985 – Cannes Film Festival, Palme d'Or for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
  • 1988 – Cannes Film Festival, Palme d'Or for Patty Hearst
  • 1988 – National Board of Review, USA, NBR Award – Top 10 Films of the Year for The Last Temptation of Christ
  • 1989 – Political Film Society, USA, PFS Award – Exposé for Patty Hearst
  • 1992 – Berlin International Film Festival, Golden Berlin Bear for Light Sleeper
  • 1992 – Deauville Film Festival, Critics Award for Light Sleeper
  • 1993 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Screenplay for Light Sleeper
  • 1993 – Mystfest, Best Film for Light Sleeper
  • 1995 – Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, Saturn Award – Best Single Genre Television Presentation for Witch Hunt
  • 1997 – Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival, Best Film for Touch
  • 1997 – Valladolid International Film Festival, Golden Spike for Affliction
  • 1998 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Screenplay for Touch
  • 1998 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Director for Touch
  • 1999 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Screenplay for Affliction
  • 1999 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Director for Affliction
  • 2002 – San Sebastián International Film Festival, Golden Seashell for Auto Focus
  • 2003 – Golden Trailer Awards, Golden Trailer – Trashiest Trailer for Auto Focus
  • 2005 – Golden Raspberry Awards, Razzie Award – Worst Director for Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist
  • 2018 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Screenplay for First Reformed
  • 2018 – Independent Spirit Awards – Best Director for First Reformed
  • 2019 – Academy Awards – Best Original Screenplay for First Reformed


  1. ^ Morris, Brogan. "Where to begin with Paul Schrader". British Film Institute. Retrieved September 10, 2022.
  2. ^ Paul Schrader Biography on, retrieved November 6, 2002.
  3. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (August 24, 1988). "How Studio Maneuvered 'Temptation' Into a Hit". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Ageing bulls return". The Guardian. London. October 31, 1999.
  5. ^ "Paul J. Schrader".
  6. ^[bare URL PDF]
  7. ^ John Brady, The craft of the screenwriter, Simon & Schuster, 1982 (ISBN 0-671-25230-5).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Kevin Jackson (ed.), Schrader on Schrader and Other Writings, Faber & Faber, 2004 (ISBN 0-571-22176-9).
  9. ^ Wolfe, Alexandra. "Paul Schrader Revisits His Calvinist Roots". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 10, 2022.
  10. ^ Schulman, Michael (September 4, 2021). "For Paul Schrader, It All Started on Pauline Kael's Sofa". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 10, 2022.
  11. ^ Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Faber & Faber, 1997 (ISBN 0-571-19177-0).
  12. ^ "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  13. ^ Interview with Paul Schrader on The Hollywood Interview, originally published in Venice Magazine, November 2005, retrieved November 6, 2011.
  14. ^ Short profile Archived December 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine of Paul Schrader on, retrieved November 6, 2011.
  15. ^ Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' October 16, 2014 - IndieWire
  16. ^ Production history Archived January 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine of the "New York Stage and Film" company, retrieved December 9, 2011.
  17. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), February 3, 2011.
  18. ^ Schrader: Indies are scavenger dogs, scouring the planet for scraps – Interview with Roger Ebert in Chicago Sun-Times, December 11, 2007, retrieved November 22, 2011.
  19. ^ Interview Archived February 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine with Paul Schrader on, retrieved November 2, 2011.
  20. ^ "Paul Schrader: Exorcising his demons". The Independent. July 7, 2013. Archived from the original on May 25, 2022.
  21. ^ Rothstein, Mervyn (November 2, 1989). "Mary Beth Hurt's Juggling Act". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  22. ^ "Paul Schrader". British Film Institute. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  23. ^ "Paul Schrader Hospitalized". Worldofreel. Retrieved September 12, 2022.
  24. ^ Wolfe, Alexandra (June 2018). "Paul Schrader Revisits His Calvinist Roots". Wall Street Journal.
  25. ^ Semley, John (March 30, 2017). "Director Paul Schrader and cinema's relationship with religion". The Globe and Mail.
  26. ^ "Franklin J. Schaffner Award". AFI CONSERVATORY. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  27. ^ "Stockholm life achievement award for Schrader". The Hollywood Reporter. Associated Press. October 3, 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  28. ^ Spera, Steph (November 13, 2008). "St. Louis International Film Festival - Student Life". Student Life - The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  29. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (November 27, 2018). "'The Rider' and 'First Reformed' Top the Gotham Awards". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  30. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (November 27, 2018). "National Board of Review Names 'Green Book' Best Film of 2018". Variety. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  31. ^ Brzeski, Patrick (September 3, 2022). "Venice: Paul Schrader Looks Back on His 50 Years in Cinema: "I've Been Very Lucky"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 8, 2022.

Further readingEdit

  • 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.

External linksEdit