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The Art of Screenwriting: Paul Schrader

Screenwriting is arguably one of the most challenging efforts a person can dive themselves into. Whether that person solely wants to write scripts for a YouTube channel or they have aspirations to become the next Aaron Sorkin, all of it is deeply entwined into the magical world of screenwriting.


Fortunately enough, today’s society offers a number of excellent opportunities for all screenwriters to utilize. Whether it’s a film contest, a masterclass, or a blog from a successful screenwriter, these are all tools that previously weren’t utilized. Still, if there’s one thing that’s always been done by aspiring screenwriters, it’s to analyze and appreciate iconic screenwriters in the world of cinema.


Thus, in this art of screenwriting article, we’re going to discuss the legendary screenwriter Paul Schrader. For those that don’t know, Paul Schrader is often linked to the movie brat generation, with his two most successful scripts being Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. So, what makes a Paul Schrader script stand-out? Let’s take a look and find out!

Photo credit: AZCentral


Words Turn Into Images


When it comes to the subject of screenwriting, oftentimes writers focus on the story itself and getting to the final page. Editing and making adjustments can come later, but getting to that actual last page is what is on the mind of every screenwriter. From Paul Schrader’s perspective, there should also be the added touch of focusing on the notion of words turning into images.


When someone is writing their script, unless they’re a filmmaker themselves, they tend to not think of how someone will interpret their words into images. Schrader on the other hand typically thinks about how he writes will look while being shot. Although Schrader hasn’t directed a lot of his films, it’s still useful to get a sense of the imagery while writing.


As for yourself, getting a good idea of how every character and the scenes themselves will look should be brought to attention in your writing. Obviously, you don’t want to have your script read like a book as most experts warn about. Still, being more descriptive certainly isn’t a bad thing as long as you know what to do.


Self-Awareness While Writing


Paul Schrader also comes from the belief that self-awareness is especially important while writing. Even if you’re working on a story that has no relation to your life in any way, it’s still worthwhile to venture into the subject to be as aware as you can be with the story and how it can unfold.


Strictly writing a story without realizing how it can be interpreted can potentially be dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that someone can get hurt, but dangerous meaning that you might end up with a script that has no point. Obviously, ambiguity varies from script to script, but having a point is still a key nonetheless.


Narration is Powerful


Whenever someone reads the word narration, they tend to think of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner where Harrison Ford is painfully spoon-feeding the plot of the story to the audience. Although voice-overs certainly serve a purpose, they’re not everything when it comes to narration.


For example, the Taxi Driver script opens with a description of Travis Bickle, primarily focusing on his eyes and how they remain ever-fixed, unblinking, with a piercing empty space. The opening shot of the film eventually cuts to Bickle’s eyes, and right away, we get a sense of narration that Bickle isn’t totally well.


Inner Demons Can Be Used For a Story


Although Paul Schrader’s iconic stories aren’t about him, Schrader has gone on record to discuss how inner demons can be utilized for a story. More specifically, how the art of screenwriting itself can be a part of therapy for an individual while they get whatever is bothering them on paper.


Obviously, if you’re doing well, you don’t have to worry about finding an inner demon to have for your story. Still, it’s worthwhile to find your deepest sense if you have one and apply it to the script you’re working on. If you can comfortably do that, you’ll get something magnificent in return.


What’s The Characters Problem?


If you’re familiar with any of Schrader’s work, then you know there’s a primary commonality found with the characters having a problem. Whether it’s Travis Bickle’s personal struggle with society around him or Jake LaMotta’s conflict with the mafia, all of Schrader’s characters have a problem to a certain degree.


You more than likely have heard about the importance of conflict in a script and how there needs to be a constant conflict for a script to work properly. What you need to realize is conflict doesn’t necessarily mean fighting, but it could be an internal struggle that’s going on with your character. Just like Schrader executes in all of his scripts, characterization is a fundamental role for a great script.


Best Films:

● Raging Bull (1980)

● Taxi Driver (1976)

● First Reformed (2017)