Paul Schrader Interview: Indie Funding, Porn and Good Looking People Doing Bad Things

06.10.12 Marina Galperina

The Kickstarter for The Canyons just got funded, to be directed by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), written by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero), cast from the internet and financed independently. Wipe that drool. Here’s ANIMAL’s interview with Paul Schrader.

How’d it happen? It was winter. Studio financing was scarce, as it is, unless you wanted something to go boom in 3D. The Spanish economy had just falled apart along with Schrader’s project’s Spanish funding. So, he called up a friend.

“‘Bret,’ I said. ‘What you do is not really that expensive–good looking young people in nice rooms doing bad things. You write a script, Bret, and I’ll direct it and the two of us will finance.'”

“We were thinking, 50 grand. That’s not much. We brought in a third producing partner, then someone said Kickstarter.” That Kickstarter has earned $159,015, plus the $50K the three had committed to. “Now, of course, we’re using the Ed Burns model, which means no one gets paid until revenue has come in.” The perks? Complete freedom from the major studio’s financial control and censorship. They shoot in July, for 20 days on a microbudget. Crazy.

The film will be a thriller–part Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angeles, part Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, about “five twenty-something’s quest for power, love, sex and success in 2012 Hollywood.” Someone is making a horror film. Someone is filming his threesomes. Hedonism, debauchery, etc.

“Their lives interlock in a Bret Easton sort of way,” Schrader explains. “They are all the kind of what Bret likes to call the Post-Empire Generation, the people that are involved in the movie business who don’t like movies anymore. I teach at Columbia from time to time and run into kids that are making movies that they wouldn’t see if someone else was making it.”

So I ask if these kids are going to get punished for their displaced ambitions, if horrible things are going to happen to them. Schrader gives me the tag line, “Well… It’s not The Hills.” We chuckle. I hope.

What about those whipsers of casting James Deen, the suddenly famous darling of BDSM porn who manages to look like an all-American sweetheart-next-door slapping bound girls’ faces in rough gang bangs?

“I’ve met with James. We did a test. The main consideration right now is the female lead. I have sworn that until that is settled there’s no way we can judge who the male lead is.” Shcrader assures she’s definitely not going to be from the adult industry nor–despite the film’s full freedom from studio censorship–will it be porn.

“It’s very clearly to me that people do not go to narrative film to see sexual acts, very, very clear. When people want to see that they know how they want to see and how they go about it.”

“The old rating system doesn’t much apply anymore. HBO’s Girls would be NC-17 in a theater. The question isn’t really how much you can show. Those who think that narrative films can be liberated by explicit sexuality I think are just wrong.” He explains that writing encourages imagination, but giving it all up in images inhibits it. “If Bret says ‘horse,’ you imagine any kind of horse. If I show you a picture of a horse that’s the only horse you can imagine.” And we want to be able to imagine more than one kind of horse. That is, sex.

The internet casting is pretty much closed, with over 300 unscreened auditions, unprecedented for such a high-profile production. Naturally, “You see a lot of stuff that isn’t really worth seeing. On the other hand you’re seeing people are applying their imagination to certain roles that you wouldn’t have. I would say about 25% merit consideration. Of that 25% percent 10% are castable. That’s a higher percentage than I would have imagined when you open the door to an international open call.” That’s good when you’re looking for a female lead comfortable with nudity, sex, “very beautiful, very charismatic, talented obviously, with some access to help her out with make-up and wardrobe. And uh, work for nothing. Once you hit all those checks, the list gets quite small. Hitting all those checks are still a half dozen, from different parts of the world.”

I ask what has changed since the ’70s when Schrader sold his first script for The Yakuza. “When I first came into the industry we were in a crisis of content. There was a whole new set of social conditions. People needed new heroes, new themes, new stories. Now we’re in a crisis of form which is a very different crisis and not one that’s interesting. In that way, the movie industry now is how it was 100 years ago, where everybody is scrambling to try to make it up on the fly.”

And isn’t all just dreadful, isn’t it?

“No, it’s different. The era where movies were central to our culture is over and it will never come back again.”

What is? “That’s a big problem. Nothing is central. Just like there’ll never be Walter Kronkite or Jonny Carson, in some way there’ll never be another Francis Ford Coppolla, there’ll never be a central mainstream serious artist. The serious artist are moving into niches and the mainstream is moving into… Well, it isn’t mainstream anymore. The kind of movies that are showing at Cannes are being squeezed out. Only a fraction of these films will be able to be seen theatrically, but a lot of them are going to be able to seen at your own leisure, on your own device.”

The dream team plans will probably release their film on a VOD platform, or whatever else is invented by Spring for your own device. The funding’s in, $60K extra, which begs the question of whether this really is the future of indie funding.

And all this almost wasn’t. Schrader says he wondered, “Who in the heck would give money to Kickstarter?” His 23-year-old son said, “I have.” Haven’t you?

(Image: Dark Sevier + Official Poster)