Q&A: Paul Schrader

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Veteran Hollywood writer-director Paul Schrader is frequently seen in India these days. Last summer, he held a workshop at the Cinefan festival in New Delhi while this week he heads the jury at the 11th Mumbai Film Festival that concludes on Nov. 6. Schrader sat down with THR India correspondent Nyay Bhushan in Mumbai to discuss how times are changing for the film business, both in Hollywood and Bollywood, and where he stands in this cross-cultural mix.

The Hollywood Reporter: Your interest in India is reflected in your plans to direct an Indian film. How did this happen?

Paul Schrader: I was approached by some Indian producers to work on a project and so I am currently collaborating on a story with Bollywood screenwriter Mushtaq Sheikh (who penned 2007's musical hit "Om Shanti Om" starring Shah Rukh Khan). The film is titled "Xtreme City" and is intended to be a mainstream commercial film. It will be a meeting of Bollywood and Hollywood because I think that there can be a synthesis of these two hugely commercial cultures. The cast will be a mix of Indian and American talent. And it will be bilingual in English and Hindi. Of course, there will be song and dance sequences, but I won't be directing those.

THR: So when does this go into production?

Schrader: I am first going to complete my next film "The Jesuit" in Mexico slated to start shooting in the coming months. It's co-produced by Televisa and we are currently casting. This is an action/revenge film about a Tijuana guy from Texas who travels to Mexico. So "Xtreme City" should begin after I finish "Jesuit."

THR: Given your body of work, your Indian foray has surprised observers. Are you making some kind of statement with "Xtreme City"?

Schrader: It actually reflects different challenges for me -- artistic, psychological, philosophical, sociological. I am really asking, can two major film cultures meet in some way and have a universal resonance? I think in that sense it's more than just a personal statement.

THR: What is your take on the state of Indian cinema today?

Schrader:
As a jury member at the Mumbai Film Festival, I've seen some really interesting work. I've also been impressed with some recent mainstream commercial releases like (9/11 drama) "New York" and (romantic comedy) "Jab We Met" (When We Met). And then there was "Ghajini" which was "Memento" on steroids! It sure is an interesting time for Indian cinema.

THR: Given that you have made your own movies in the independent arena (such as 2008's "Adam Resurrected"), you've often been saying that the scene is in a state of flux. At a time when Disney has trimmed down Miramax, what is your take on the indie scene?

Schrader: Well, let's just say that indie cinema is definitely at a crossroads. Add to that the overall slump in movie attendance where research indicates that cinema audiences in the 15-25 demographic in America are dropping as these kids have other entertainment options, everything from social networking websites to gaming. So I'd say it's not just the indie scene that is in a flux, its also the mainstream studio business that needs to come up with a new game plan. And the recession didn't make things easier. We couldn't get wide distribution for "Adam Resurrected."

THR: And then on the other side we have India that wants to assert itself globally. What do you make of the recent Reliance partnership with DreamWorks?

Schrader:
Its an interesting development but I think more than just financing, the game now is about technology. That will really define the future of the film business. So whoever is at the cutting edge of innovating new film technologies will emerge as the winner. The traditional film business and filmmaking techniques will go through a major evolution in my opinion.

THR: So what are the common challenges facing Bollywood and Hollywood today?

Schrader:
Given that recent times have been rough, the financial state of the business is affecting both industries. And this in turn is seriously affecting the creative process. Top that with the digital media revolution which is currently challenging the bastion of film. The iceberg has already hit the music business seriously and that's something the film folks should learn from. At the end of the day, both industries have to find ways to monetize digital opportunities. If not, then I have a title of a horror film for you: "Revenue Collection."
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