You learn a lot making movies for 45 years. That much is clear from Paul Schrader’s recent appearance on the No Film School podcast. Despite the name, it’s an extremely enlightening half hour: The writer-director, whose new crime drama The Card Counter comes to theaters on Sept. 10, manages to pack into 30 minutes what feels like a lifetime of learning.
Schrader’s big break was in 1976 with his screenplay for Taxi Driver. In it, Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle describes the monotony of his job behind the wheel: “The days dwindle on forever and do not end.” On the podcast, Schrader draws a line between that movie and his newest: In The Card Counter, Oscar Isaac plays a hollow gambler who, despite what the flashing casino lights would have you think, is stuck in the same kind of lifeless routine as Travis Bickle. Schrader has found this archetypal character in card sharks and taxi drivers, in gigolos and drug dealers, and even in pastors over the years—and he talks about the merit of finding a niche and getting really good at it.
But the best part of this Schrader crash course is hearing him confess that things can go wrong. He speaks candidly about two major miscasting moments in his career. He warns against writing a character with a particular actor in mind (“It makes you a lazy writer. You’re writing a speech, and you imagine Al Pacino reading, and you say, ‘Wow, what a great speech.’ It’s not a great speech—Al’s a great actor!”). And he talks about growing through the dreaded on-set moments when it becomes clear something (a performance or lighting or camera move) is not right.
“When you’re younger, you panic,” he says. “But when you’re older, you close the set for 20 minutes and you just sit there. You know the answer will come to you because you’ve been there before.”
If sitting doesn’t work, Schrader says he takes a 10-minute walk on a preset, highly worn path around each movie set. Or, if he’s in the car, he’s found that he often has new ideas as he “drives over train tracks.”
Nuggets of wisdom like these are sprinkled throughout the episode, and if you listen to the end, you’re in for another special treat as Schrader reveals his decades-long effort fending off his worst nightmare: a Taxi Driver video game.