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Paul Schrader’s latest film, Dog Eat Dog, sprung to life following a disastrous experience on his last film, Dying of the Light. Both films were directed by Schrader and star Nicolas Cage. But that’s where the similarities end.
“Dying of the Light was taken away from us by the producers and butchered. So we wanted to work together again and make it right,” said the 70-year-old filmmaker, who has written some of Hollywood’s most iconic films, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. “They re-edited it, and we all disowned it.”
This time around, he has final cut on the film, which revolves around a crew of ex-cons hired by a Cleveland mafioso to kidnap the baby of a rival mobster. RLJ Entertainment opens Dog Eat Dog today in theaters in 10 cities as well as VOD. The New York-based Schrader talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the time Lindsay Lohan wasn’t 100 percent on set, Hollywood power brokers kissing up to an admonishing pope and why he hasn’t watched the Oscars in 30 years.
How would you describe Dog Eat Dog?
What movie has influenced you the most?
[Robert] Bresson’s Pickpocket. I saw that when I was a critic, and for the very first time I realized that I could possibly be a filmmaker. I had never thought of myself as a filmmaker. But I saw that film about a guy in a room who writes a diary and then goes around and commits a crime and writes the diary some more. And I said, “I could make a film like that.” Two years later I wrote Taxi Driver.
What has been the best moment of your career?
I was talking to [Martin] Scorsese about this, and we agreed. It’s the moment when you are on the set and everything you’re planning to do is not working, and you just step back, clear the room. A new plan will come to you on the spot. You don’t know that as a young director. But if you’ve directed enough, you know that if you just open your mind, it’ll hit you.
Did this happen on a specific film?
I was on The Canyons, having some troubles with Lindsay [Lohan], and we had the entire scene planned out. She was just not cooperating. She was not 100 percent. So I just took a walk for a couple minutes outside and walked back in, and we shot it entirely a different way. That’s what excites me — when that happens.
What has been the worst moment of your career?
There’s too many to name. We all have very painful reversals. It’s better not to dwell on them.
Who would you most like to meet?
[Futurist] Ray Kurzweil. Because I want to live forever. I’ve met a pope. When John Paul II came to Los Angeles, Lew Wasserman — who was the pope of our industry — had a private reception with him. I went with Oliver Stone. It was an amazing thing because the room was filled with industry types, primarily Jewish. And he berated them about their morals and their films for 20 minutes, and then they all lined up and had their pictures taken with him. They got the pope picture on their wall. That’s all that matters.
Is there a dream project you’ve never been able to make?
Not so much. I’ve had dream projects that I should have let go and didn’t. Light of Day. I was five years older than I wanted to be when I made that film. And looking back on it, I think I should have just let it go.
What profession would you do if not this?
Well I was raised to be in the ministry. I just switched soapboxes.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
“Wear comfortable shoes.” Said by every production manager in history.
What book are you currently reading?
A medieval book called The Cloud of Unknowing.
Describe Nicolas Cage in two words.
Describe yourself in two words.
If you could do something all over again, what would it be?
What do you love or hate most about Hollywood?
I don’t know what Hollywood is. I mean, there is a town called Hollywood. And there is an entertainment industry. There’s a studio system, which is pretty much gone now. The executives are not necessarily even in Hollywood anymore. The tentpoles are co-financed out of China.
If you could give an honorary Oscar to anyone, who would it be?
How about me? I’ll take one. I’ve never thought much about getting an Oscar, but what the heck. If they want to give me one I’ll take it.
You’ve been an Academy member since the ’70s. Thoughts on the recent changes?
I cannot tell you how little I think of the Oscars. I’m not at all interested in that game. I don’t think it means anything, not to me at least. Occasionally, they get one or two right — like the Nobel Prize. Every 10 years they get it right, like this year with Bob Dylan. But I don’t think I’ve watched the Oscars in 30 years. I have no desire to.
What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?
I am a very aggressive dreamer. You can credit Ambien. My dreams go on for hours. Every night is a new drama. Last night’s theme was the Holocaust. Another night might be a sea cruise. You never know which dream voyage you’re gonna embark on when you go to bed.
What’s next for you?
I’m directing a film called First Reformed with Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried. It’s the polar opposite of Dog Eat Dog. It’s quiet and contemplative. I start shooting in January.
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