Despite not having seen a movie until he was 17, screenwriter-director Paul Schrader would go on to a historic collaboration with director Martin Scorsese that yielded such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. The longtime Westchester resident was kind enough to sit down with WM recently at the Bedford Playhouse, following a screening of his latest film, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried.
How long did it take you to shoot First Reformed, and what was the budget?
It took about 20 days, and our budget was $3.5 million.
That’s really tight.
That’s how films like this get made now. When I started, it would have taken 45 days, but when I did it in 20, it got more affordable, and that was more financially responsible.
Do you see any similarities between the principal character in First Reformed, Reverend Toller, and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle?
More than I had originally intended. We were in the editing room, and that’s really where I began to see it…. I’m not exactly sure why.
The film has a very minimalist feel to it. Was that because of budgetary considerations, stylistic ones, or both?
Since the film is so intimate, so internal, I wanted the audience to come towards the screen. I wanted to pull them in close, and by taking away the music, taking away an editing pattern, taking away rapid cuts, you draw the viewer in.
What are your feelings about the contemporary movie scene and where the industry is headed?
You know, we’ve learned almost nothing in the past hundred years. We don’t know what a movie is anymore. We don’t know how long it is. We don’t know where you see it, and we don’t know how you finance it, monetize it.
Switching gears, your kids graduated from Westchester high schools, correct?
My daughter graduated from Horace Greeley; my son went to Soundview School.
What do you all enjoy doing here?
We sometimes go to Quaker Hill [Tavern, in Chappaqua] right by the supermarket. It’s a nice neighborhood place. I also attend services at Mount Kisco Presbyterian.
What role does the Church play in your life today?
Church gives me the kind of regularity I’d grown up with. You take an hour and a half every Sunday morning todefine your week… and to be quiet. To me, it’s much more like meditation. People don’t walk out of church because they’re bored. They go to church to be bored [laughs], and I was missing that.
Editor’s Note: First Reformed is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.