This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 149: Writer / Director Paul Schrader Talks About His New Crime Film, Dog Eat Dog, starring Nicolas Cage.

Ashley:  Welcome to episode #149 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – Today, I’m interviewing, Paul Schrader, he wrote “Taxi Driver”, among many other great films. He has a new film coming out starring, Nicolas Cage, William Dafoe called, “Dog Eat Dog.” So, we talk about that new film and also dig into some other topics as well. So, stay tuned for that.

If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in ITunes. Or leaving a comment on YouTube, or retweeting the Podcast on Twitter. Or liking us on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the Podcast and are very much appreciated.

Over on ITunes I want to thank Paul Menoya, who left me a very nice review at ITunes. Thank you Paul for that, it’s very much appreciated. Paul left some very detailed notes in his review, which I really appreciate. I want to read just a small snippet from the review, and it reads like this, “He’s not afraid to ask questions about how film makers get financing for their movie. For their movies, it’s hard to find this information regarding the nitty gritty details of money. In my years, he does a great job presenting this crucial element.” This is great feedback for me to hear. Again, it’s nice to just hear and just hear that someone appreciates what I’m doing. But, really I have no way of knowing what aspects of the Podcast, what aspects of the interviews people like, and don’t like. So, please do let me know if there are specific things that are you like or don’t like. Obviously I prefer if there’s something you don’t like. You can Tweet at me. Or you can send me an Email at – But, really, any feedback is very much appreciated. And especially if you have something positive to say. Like Paul did, it’s very nice to see these public comments on places like ITunes. So, thanks again, Paul for that very nice feedback.

The main thing I have been trying to improve lately with the Podcast, is the audio quality. I’ve had a number of people mention to me that the audio quality wasn’t good. And I kind of know it, just kind of from editing it together. So, I’ve really been trying to improve upon that. And again, that’s really from the feedback I get. I had a conversation with a couple of friends, a couple of weeks ago. About what parts of the Podcast were popular. You know, I was trying to give kind of a recap about what I’m working on. And then there’s also the interview. I’ve had some people say, hey, can I just get the interview, without all the other stuff. And I’ve had some people say, the opposite, where they actually like hearing all the, “What I am working on” details. So, getting this kind of feedback, it really does help me compile it, the Podcast. And try and decide, what I am going to talk about and what I am going to present? I mean, this is, I’m getting close to 150 episode. So, you know, be kinda time for it to retool and restructure things. So, again, any and all feedback is very much welcome. If you have positive feedback and wouldn’t mind sharing it on ITunes, it’s very much appreciated. If you don’t want to share feedback, that’s totally fine too. Just send me an Email, that’s info. at –


A couple of quick notes.


Any websites or links that I mention in the Podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with each episode. In case you would rather read the show or look up something else up later-on. Just go to –, and look for episode #149.

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A quick few words about what I am working this week? So, once again, the main thing I’m trying to push through is post-production on my crime, action, thriller, film, “The Pinch.” The rough-cut is in, And last week I was going through the rough-cut scene-by-scene, making notes for my editor. I can see this is going to be a long process. I’m a little bit more than half-way through this rough-cut now on the scene-by-scene. Hopefully, I’ll get through it pretty, quickly. I’m thinking, maybe another two or three weeks. There will probably be another week. A few more days a week doing notes on a scene-by-scene level. And then probably I’ll spend a week or so with the editor implementing these notes. And then, you know, we’ll have another pass. But then hopefully, this first pass will get us like 90% locked picture. And then you know, once we get the locked picture. There’s a whole bunch of events, very technical things that I will need to do. But, I feel pretty, good about things. Once the locked picture is done. Because there’s still quite a bit of work. I mean, I can see there’s definitely going to be sitting with the editor and just going through things. We have the title sequences to figure out. That’s a matter of coming up, figure out which music is going to play. And that really sets the tone. There’s the opening sequence, we still have to edit that together. The editor kinda wanted me there. Just so I can tell him what I was thinking about. And it’s not going to be, maybe take us a day to edit that title sequence if we’re lucky. Because obviously it’s at the beginning of the movie, you want it to look good. So, we’re going to spend a good deal of time on that. As I said, there’s probably going to be a couple of weeks on that. Or rounds, two or three rounds on that, notes. As I said, get those done in the next month or six weeks. Get the locked picture we’ll be doing pretty good. So that’s what I am working on.

Now, let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, here is the interview.


Ashley:  Welcome Paul to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.


Paul:  Thank you.


Ashley:  So, to start, maybe you can just dig into the latest film, “Dog Eat Dog” starring

Nicolas Cage, and William Dafoe. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch for the film, what’s this film about?


Paul:  Well, it is, a rare transgression of an affair. Sensibly it’s a crime film I guess? The goal is to sort of kind of a lot like a crime film, looks like, in 2016. And this is what I came up with.


Ashley:  Perfect, perfect. How did you get involved with it, this project?


Paul:  Actually, it was sort of back-handed in a way. I had done a film with Nic Cage and

Ed Bradly. And we wanted to work together again too. We kinda liked the situation. And so, I was sort of looking for something you might want to do. And I read the script, and got attached. I thought, eh, maybe Nic would want to do this one? I sent it to him, and he said, yeah, I do want to do it. The character left was this character, “Mad Dog.” And he said, “I don’t want to play Mad Dog. I’m the least crazy person. I’d rather play the character Troy.” So, that’s how it started. But I didn’t really, have, I hadn’t really, planned on doing a crime film. I’m not a crime film director. And so then, I now had this movie. And I had to figure out what it was, and a crime film looks like today? After Southern guy Richie.


Ashley:  And so, you said,


Paul:  Guy Richie ouch.


Ashley:  Now you said, you had this script, and got it to Nicolas Cage. How did you actually, get this script? Or are people just kind passing you scripts as reading material? How did you, this script actually?


Paul:  No, no. My agent there, sent me the script and said it was not set-up yet. But you might be interested in it.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. Now, is that, I get a lot of writers coming to me, kind of asking me. How can I get in touch with this director, or that director? Is that the typical flow of how material gets to you? Do you send it to your agent, and then your agent will disperse it to you?


Paul:  Yeah, I mean, it has to be better than a boy. Because the legal ramifications to reading it of unsolicited material. You know, I love legendary. You know, you can so read a script with a plot line, there’s somebody else. I get involved in making that film with the same problem. Even though, I haven’t read your script. But, now I’m in a law suit with you? So, a, you know, that’s the reason why writers are always so regal and legal about submissions.


Ashley:  So, go now, going back to the script. So, now you’ve got some interest from Nicolas Cage. What really, attracted you to this project? You just said, you weren’t a crime, thriller director.


Paul:  Well, it wasn’t really an attraction, but a chance to do a film with Nic, that has final

cut-off. I mean, after, “Dying of the Light” I couldn’t go back to him, if I didn’t have final cut. I did have final cut, and we didn’t have the greatest budget in the whole world. Because that’s often the way it goes. Nic, he said, “You get your film made.” And then he kept your budget alive. But, I did have control and freedom. So, I was able to pull through and tell them. A, we don’t have as much money as we should. But, we can make anything we want. And let’s respond to the mantra of difficulties, imagination.


Ashley:  And I want to ask? And this kind of gets at the heart of this movie. Just sort of the age old screenwriting question? What’s more important, story or character. This felt like a script that started out with kind of a solid story. But, it really became a character piece, about these three.


Paul:  I mean, there’s not very much of a plot. The book had three acts. I had to cut it back to two, in order for budget reasons. But, the structure of it, as a kind of angus in a way, the prolog. There’s a set-up for a first crime. There is the first crime, then there’s an intermission at the casino. Then a set-up for a second crime. The second crime, and then an epilog. And it isn’t a classically well-structured movie. It’s much more, like a kind of jazz riff. In that it keeps improvising on itself. And if you haven’t been told about the film. You’re not going to figure out where it’s going?


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. So, how do you decide, in a case like this, what scenes to use if you’re balancing that story elements with character. Like the opening scene with William Defoe. You know, when I started, I was thinking, he was going to be the antagonist. I’m thinking he might even be the antagonist in this. How do you make those determinations? What scenes to keep from the book, what scenes to not keep?


Paul:  Well, I mean, in this day and age, this lean budgets we have. Were you try not to film anything that isn’t going to be on screen. So, I, more and more was able to do that. There was not a whole lot on the cutting room floor with “Dog Eat Dog.” That was the first film I did with no scene on the cutting room floor. So, you have to sort of do that. But, you’re asking me a writers question? And I’m not the writer, Matthew Wilder is the writer of it, the screenplay. And so, I have an adapted book. So, I have addressed that question? But, I did not adapt this book.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. Did you read the book in preparation for this? Or have you only read the screenplay?


Paul:  No, no, I read the book. Because I had to, I had to shorten the screenplay for budgetary reasons. So, obviously I had to read the book. And for me, it took me, if I ever take 15 pages out of a script. I can sit down and write it. And plan and instruct him. Or I can just sit down at my keyboard and take them out. And usually it’s quicker to take them out, than try to explain how it should be taken out.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk about the tone of “Dog Eat Dog” for a minute. You had some moments of pretty broad humor in the movie. And obviously, there’s a really, dark violent side to it? How do you balance those two things? I mean, Quentin Terentino has failed, and was famous for doing this. But, I’m curious to just kind of get your thoughts on you know, making that balance?


Paul:  Well, you know, the book was not a comedy, and I’m not a comic. I really, know the script. If I was really going to be faithful to the book. I would have had to make it a period kind of piece. The Ed Bunker, who wrote the novel, wrote his sensibility from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. The book is set in the ‘90’s. Now, here I am in the 20 teens trying to make a crime film. But the voice is a flops. 3-ex-cons, you know, who decides to do one final job, it’s boring. So, you get that kind of look at it. And say, how can I do this different? How can I make this less boring? You know, and you start thinking about this, it’s pretty, funny. These guys are kinda dominate and kinda funny. I mean, and you start to lean in that direction.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. And then is there ever a sense though, that you may have gone too far? How do you know when you’ve gone too far with this humor?


Paul:  Well, you know, it’s something like that to me. You know, how do you know you’ve gone too far? Should you go too far? You get sense of it. I have historically in films, have gone a little too far. And, Penny Marshal once said, to me, you’re problem is that, you do films where you go right up to the line. And when you hesitate, you step over it. And, so I would figure out people who would say, I went too far on this one. But, I just felt, that not going too far, was not an option. There was just too many dumb crack films out there. And they’re all the same. And who bothers to watch them. They are obviously lost on me, both big screen and TV. The only thing you can really do, anymore, to compete is? To be the divergent.


Ashley:  I’m curious to get your thoughts on, someone who’s trying to be a screenwriter, and an artist. How do you balance sort of the artistic and the integrity of the project. Versus the practical reading legalities of the business? I know in my own writing career, it’s constantly a battle. You know, you get notes from people, whom you think, just don’t understand sort of the, what you’re trying to do out as an artist. But, you’ve had a great career. Kind of really, creating some really interesting artistic movies. And just, maybe there’s some advice you can give us. On how you’ve been kinda traverse that landscape?


Paul:  Well, there’s advice I could have given 4 years ago. There’s advice I could give now, it’s not the same advice. In 4 years ago possible to come work on the machine. Now, that movies have lost their special relationship with capitalism. It is possible to make a film, for $50,000.00. But, now it’s possible to lose $50,000.00. It’s possible to feed it a film maker to have credit after credit, and be in debt. Where as in the past, if you made films even in the same class, you’d make money. So, as Francis Ford Coppola said, “To be a film maker today, you have to have a day job.” It doesn’t really pay anymore. So, if you are a young a hypothetical liar. It is fine to make a living, well I guess that’s all that matters. You know, if somebody pays them. You know, it’s like when you got me for an advertising company. If that’s, if you need the money, you need the money. If you don’t need the money? Then I love it, that’s another discussion immergence.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. Now, there’s a great quote from Jack London, and that’s exactly what he said, “I write purely for the money.” I guess that’s the heart of what you’re getting at. So, on a case like, “Dog Eat Dog” you went into it and said, “You did get final-cut” on the film? And it was all based on your reputation and your experience. They said, “we’re going to let you.”


Paul:  No it was based on I thought I could get Cage, and Cage could finance it, the film. And I couldn’t approach Cage, without final cut.


Ashley:  I see, I see.


Paul:  Because of what had happened to us the last time.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. So, I see, I see. Perfect.


Paul:  So, I see this, I said to the producer, Nicolas Cage and I want to do this. And I know Nic, was wanting to do something together. I cannot approach him, unless I have final cut.


Ashley:  So, maybe take us back a few years I’d be curious just to get your take on how you’ve handled notes from you know, higher-ups, and it doesn’t sound like in this particular case, with “Dog Eat Dog” it is a concern since you have final cut on it. But just, how do you in general, handle notes from Development Executives, when you don’t necessarily agree with them.


Paul:  The times are changing. There was a time when in the past, notes were relevant, and relatively intelligent. And you could use them, and ideas with them, and discuss them. In the last ten years, a lot of mine have come into the entertainment business. That it didn’t really, feel real anymore. These are people who, don’t watch films. In fact, people who don’t really, like films. But, are investing in films, for a number of reasons. So, the notes you are getting from them. Are really, problematic. Because then, no idea what a film need to do to make money. They just have this idea of this film that made money once before, and different films. And so, it’s hard, if you talk to really, real film people. And you say, something like, we can’t do that, because it’s been done too many times, they’ll get that. If you talk to one of these money guys? And you say, “You can’t do that, it’s been done too many times.” And they say, “Yeah, but it makes money.” Well they’re wrong, it doesn’t make money. At some point, if it stops making money, and they don’t know when that’s going to be? But you, as an artist, have a much bigger sense of what or when a certain game is up? And you have to change the rules.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. So, what’s, do you have any last parting advice for screenwriters, who are trying to break into the film business?


Paul:  Yeah, I mean, I, the same advice I’ve had for a long time, which is. That being naive is not in fact writing. It’s part of the all tradition. It doesn’t really matter how good a writer you are. It matters how good you can tell a story. And, you know, your story should be again, past, as an old story telling. If you can tell a story to somebody for 45 minutes and keep them interested, you have a moment. And maybe at that point you can think about writing it.


Ashley:  Yeah, yeah. So, nice advice. How can people see “Dog Eat Dog?” Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like?


Paul:  Yeah, you know, It opens in New York and L.A. the 4th of November, two other cities a week later. And then it hits all the platforms the Friday after that.


Ashley:  Okay, perfect, perfect. Well Paul, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today. Great interview, thank you very much.


Paul:  Alrighty.


Ashley:  Thank you, we’ll talk to ya later.


Paul:  Thank you.


Ashley:  Thanks, bye.


Paul:  Bye.


Ashley:  Bye-bye.




Ashley:  A quick few words about the SYS Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy a 3-Pack you get an evaluation at just $67.00 per script for feature films, and just $55.00 for Tele-plays. All the readers have professional experience reading for: Studios, production companies, contests, and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website. And you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script.

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  Every script will get graded and given a grade of : Pass, Consider, or Recommend. Which should help you roughly understand where your script my rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency.

We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proof reading without any analysis. We also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So, if you are looking to vet some of your projects, this is a great way to do it.


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In the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Craig Van Sickle, he is a television writer and producer. One of his many creations was the hit TV show, “The Pretender” with Duran, in the late ‘90’s. He’s got a ton of great stories, and great advice for people who are looking to write for television. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.

That’s the show, thank you for listening.