Paul Schrader On Piracy, Television and a New Age in Filmmaking

Paul Schrader - H 2014
Courtesy of Mar del Plata Film Festival

Paul Schrader - H 2014

“The film studios of the future are going to be called Amazon and Google”

“This film you see here was taken from me,” said writer and director Paul Schrader on Tuesday in his Master Class at the Mar del Plata film festival, where he is sitting as a jury member in the International Competition.

Schrader was pointing to a poster for his upcoming film Dying of the Light, hanging from the conference table. It featured the director and stars Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin, all wearing the “non-disparagement” t-shirts he'd used to stage a silent protest on Facebook earlier in the year, claiming that the version of Light scheduled for a VOD release wasn’t his own.

“That’s the one subject I can’t answer questions about,” warned Schrader, who was asked about what did he feel about an industry that has all the guns available to prevent filmmakers from talking about their films.

Read more Director Paul Schrader Says His New Nicolas Cage Movie "Was Taken Away From Me"

“When you make a film, every filmmaker signs a piece of paper that says ‘I’m not going to say anything bad about my film’. Everybody signs it. So, I’m the one who agreed to the rule,” he answered.

“I thought I would never say this, but when I was a young guy, I thought that the only place where I would be making movies was the United States. It had the most freedom, most money, was the top community. I look at the world now, and I don’t know if the U.S. is the best place to make pictures,” he added.

Schrader then used his new project, a 10-episode web series called Life on the Other Side inspired by Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, to discuss a new era in the filmmaking business. "If Fellini were alive today, he’d make La Dolce Vita as a web series, because maybe that’s a better way to make it than a three hour movie,” he said.

“We’re entering into a new era when so much of the old rules are changing. We don’t know how long a film is no more. We used to think a film was somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. But now it’s somewhere between 3 minutes and 70 hours. You know, Mad Men is a movie. And we’re seeing the rise of new concepts. The film studios of the future are going be called Amazon and Google — and they are already called Netflix. This is where filmmaking and film-going is headed,” he stated.  

When asked about how these new ways of filmmaking, distribution and exhibition are going to be profitable, the writer of Taxi Driver answered: “the two scariest words in motion pictures are ‘revenue collection’. We’re exploring all kinds of new ways to collect revenue. So, you get subscription systems, individual systems, sometimes it comes through products. I was just talking to someone about short films that are being made by people like BMW, or Louis Vuitton. They don’t even have to be commercials; it can just say,'BMW presents'.  And that’s another way. So, this entire world of how to monetize these things, we don’t understand it. But there are people getting very very rich, and they’re not artists. People who run these cable companies, believe me: they are all getting very rich right now, and at the same time they say there’s no money for the artists,” he said.

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"It's quite an exciting time if you’re not afraid of trying something new," said the 68 year-old writer of The Jesuit, who supported the notion of television as a new creative oasis that should be redefined.

“The whole idea is how we get people to leave their house. And there really is no reason for people to leave their home to go see a movie unless they are showing you something you really want to leave the house for. And so we’re seeing all the kind of conventional dramas dying up, because they’re better suited for home viewing. As a result, in the U.S. in particular much of the writing talent is now migrating to television and the Internet. Now, ‘television’ is really not the best word for it anymore, because it’s not really television. It’s a new thing we created that screens everywhere and doesn’t really come through the cable, it comes through the air, you can watch it on your watch, your phone, or on the side of a building. And very exciting new stories can be told in these new forms. And to use the word television sort of belittles them. Maybe someone would come up with a new word for this thing we’re doing now,” he said.

“The large-budget serious film is not being made anymore. We don’t make The Godfather anymore. We don’t make Chinatown. The audiences for those films are now being taken care of through long-form drama — let’s call that ‘television’,” stated Schrader, who is currently an executive consultant at Paramount TV for a Jerry Bruckheimer adaptation of Schrader’s 1980 cult film American Gigolo.

Schrader also addressed the so-called implosion of the film industry George Lucas and Steven Spielberg foresaw last year, and how piracy will be a key in the full shift of the business in the future.

“What George and Steven were saying is that we’re making too many of these big things, and the bubble is going to burst. Which is just common sense: when you make too many westerns, westerns start losing money. And now we’re making too many cartoon movies, so they are going to start losing money. But the bigger issue is piracy," Schrader said. "We have not yet experienced the full power of torrent. And when that happens, how are big budget films going to survive? We don’t know. How do you make big period spectacles when piracy is rapid? And we’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer and closer to that day when the ship hits the iceberg.”