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University of Texas at Austin

Paul Schrader:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Schrader, Paul, 1946-
Title: Paul Schrader Papers
Dates: 1943-2011
Extent: 128 document boxes, 9 oversize boxes, 7 oversize folders (osf), 152 bound volumes (bv) (53.76 linear feet)
Abstract: The Paul Schrader Papers contain screenplays, film production files, and personal papers belonging to screenwriter and director Paul Schrader.
Language: English with some printed material in Afrikaans, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Access: Open for research; some materials redacted or restricted. The materials contain documents from which personal information has been redacted or restricted to protect an individual's privacy. Examples are Social Security and account numbers and personal records. The originals were removed and have been replaced with redacted photocopies, which have an identifying statement at the top. In addition, an address book has been removed and is closed to researchers.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts, 2009-2013 (09-09-003-G, 10-02-012-G, 10-05-006-G, 11-09-007-G, 13-09-018-G)
Processed by: Amy E. Armstrong, 2010-2011, 2015

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

Named after his mother's two favorite biblical figures, screenwriter and director Paul Joseph Schrader was born on July 22, 1946, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Charles and Joan Schrader. Paul and his older brother, Leonard, were raised in a strict Dutch Calvinist home where faith and church were an essential aspect of family and community life. Because of the tenets of the Calvinist Christian Reform Church, Schrader famously did not see his first film, The Absent-Minded Professor, until he was seventeen years old. Unimpressed, he did not appreciate the impact of film until he saw Wild in the Country starring Elvis Presley and Tuesday Weld.
In 1963, Schrader attended summer school at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. Exposure to non-Calvinist life outside of Grand Rapids in the segregated South had a lasting effect on him. Intending to become a minister, Schrader entered Calvin College in 1964. The political and social upheaval of the 1960s found him increasingly politically active and rebellious. He began a film club, which screened artistic and foreign films and invited the more liberal faculty members to discuss them. He began reviewing films and wrote film criticism for the college newspaper, the Calvin College Chimes, and later became assistant editor. Both his film club and his management of the newspaper often put Schrader in conflict with the university administration. He was eventually ousted from the Chimes by administrators; undeterred, Schrader and some friends began a new publication, The Spectacle.
In summer 1967, Schrader enrolled in film courses at Columbia University. While in New York he had a fortuitous meeting with the prominent film critic Pauline Kael, who urged Schrader to abandon his plan of becoming a minister and study film. In 1968, he graduated from Calvin College with a bachelor of arts degree in English and the next year married Jeannine Oppewall, a Calvin student and editor of the Calvin College Chimes, who would go on to a successful career in film as an art director and production designer.
After graduation, Schrader asked Kael for a recommendation to the University of California Los Angeles Film School, where he received an MA in 1970. He was among the first fellows at the burgeoning American Film Institute's (AFI) Center for Advanced Film Studies. While there he published his master's thesis as Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1972). As a film critic, Schrader edited and contributed essays and reviews to Cinema, Los Angeles Free Press, and similar publications. While Kael was working as a script reader at Columbia Pictures, she contacted Schrader about a Seattle newspaper film critic position, which he turned down in order to pursue his interest in film-making and to continue writing an in-progress screenplay called The Pipeliner. As a result, Kael and Schrader's relationship cooled for many years.
Schrader's time in Los Angeles in the first half of the 1970s marked a significant turning point in his life. The Los Angeles Free Press fired him for his negative review of Easy Rider, he left his fellowship at the AFI in protest over an administrative dispute, he was unable to finance his screenplay The Pipeliner, he was in financial debt, and his marriage was breaking up. It was in this period of professional and emotional turmoil that Schrader wrote his screenplay for Taxi Driver (1976) in less than two weeks. The screenplay was eventually sent to Brian De Palma, producers Julia and Michael Phillips, then to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, but it would take two years to begin production. Though at the time of its release Taxi Driver received mixed critical acclaim, it won the Palme D'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. More importantly, Taxi Driver launched Schrader's career as an emerging member of the second wave of "New Hollywood" filmmakers, such as Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas, and De Palma, who studied at film school before making some of the late 20th century's most groundbreaking films.
After completing the script for Taxi Driver, Schrader and his brother, Leonard, co-authored a Japanese gangster film, The Yakuza. The script was sold for the extraordinarily high sum of $325,000. Sydney Pollack directed the film, which was released in 1975. The success of these two projects led to Brian De Palma directing Schrader's Obsession (1976). Schrader wrote scripts prolifically during the mid to late 1970s, including many produced and unproduced films like Rolling Thunder (1977), Québecois!, Old Boyfriends (1978), Havana Colony (later made into Havana), Gershwin, Round Eyes, Covert People, and an early uncredited writing role for the film that would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1978, he directed his first film, Blue Collar, based on a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother. Later the same year, Schrader wrote and directed Hardcore (1978), the first of two films heavily influenced by his parents (the other was Light of Day in 1987). While he was editing Hardcore, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese asked himr to rework Mardik Martin's original script for Raging Bull (1980). Though the film's final script changed significantly from Schrader's version, Schrader recognized the need to reorder the scenes and combine Joey La Motta and Pete Savage into one character. He would again partner with Scorsese and wrote screenplays for his films The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999).
Schrader's catalog of film projects demonstrates his fascination with the grimmer aspects of human behavior. He is drawn to the study of flawed, socially isolated, and often self-destructive characters. He has collaborated with some of the twentieth century's most notable directors, producers, and actors on films such as Old Boyfriends (1978), Hardcore (1979), American Gigolo (1980), Raging Bull (1980), Cat People (1982), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), The Mosquito Coast (1986), Light of Day (1987), Patty Hearst (1988), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), Light Sleeper (1992), Witch Hunt (1994), Untitled: New Blue (1995), City Hall (1996), Touch (1997), Affliction (1997), Forever Mine (1999), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Auto Focus (2002), Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), The Walker (2007), Adam Resurrected (2008), and The Jesuit (expected 2012).
In 1983, Schrader married actress Mary Beth Hurt, who frequently appears in his films, and they have two children, Molly and Sam.


In addition to material found within the Paul Schrader Papers, the following sources were used:
Jackson, Kevin (Ed.). Schrader on Schrader & Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
Kouvaros, George. Contemporary Film Directors: Paul Schrader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.
"Paul Schrader." Contemporary Authors Online. (accessed 26 October 2010).
"Paul Schrader." Dictionary of Literary Biography. (accessed 26 October 2010).

Scope and Contents

The Paul Schrader Papers contain screenplays, film production files, and personal papers documenting Schrader's life and film career from 1943 to 2011. Included are early childhood materials, film reviews and essays published in his college newspapers, materials reflecting his emergence as one of "The New Hollywood's" most successful filmmakers, and records of his film projects. The papers are arranged in six series: I. Films and Television, circa 1960s-2010, undated; II. Plays, 1981-2011; III. Journalism and Other Writings, 1968-2007, undated; IV. Personal and Career-Related, 1943-2011, undated; V. Correspondence, 1968-2008, undated; VI. Works by Others, 1966-2007, undated.
The bulk of the material is located in the first series, Films and Television, and contains screenplays and production files for twenty-nine films Schrader wrote and/or directed, as well as for numerous unproduced films, television series, and other projects. The production files typically include screenplay drafts, film outlines and treatments, notes, Writers Guild of America (WGA) registration, and correspondence. In many cases, these files are extensive and may also include research material, casting files, deal contracts, daily production logs, cast and crew lists, film schedules, audience surveys, budgets and invoices, legal and arbitration documents, behind-the-scenes and film stills, publicity packets, clippings and reviews, film festival screenings, novelizations, sound recordings, moving images, and digital media.
Series II. Plays includes various script drafts, research files, correspondence, legal documents, and clippings for three theatrical projects initiated by Schrader: Sabina (unproduced), Berlinale, and The Cleopatra Club.
Schrader began his film career as a critic while attending University of California at Los Angeles film school. Series III. Journalism and Other Writings contains many of his early film essays and reviews, issues of Los Angeles Free Press and Cinema that Schrader edited and contributed to, as well as later writings published in Film Comment, the New Yorker, and similar publications. Schrader's original master's thesis, which he revised and published as Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1972), is also included in this material.
Series IV. Personal and Career is the second largest series in the collection and contains a variety of material spanning Schrader's life. Beginning with his baby book, Schrader's early childhood and schooling, time at university, and film career are well documented. Also included are family photographs, writings belonging to his brother, Leonard, and extensive personal publicity files.
Though correspondence is located throughout Schrader's papers, Series V. Correspondence contains incoming and outgoing letters he filed as a group. Many of these are originals or copies he sent and received from various family, friends, professional associates, actors, directors, and producers, such as long-time collaborator Martin Scorsese. A complete index of all correspondent names in this collection is included at the end of the finding aid.
The final series, VI. Works by Others, contains scripts and writings received, reviewed, or considered by Schrader, including a 1966 film treatment for Jerusalem, Jerusalem! by Martin Scorsese.

Series Descriptions

Related Material

The Robert De Niro, Russell Banks, Tom Stoppard, and David Mamet holdings at the Ransom Center contain additional Schrader-related material.

Separated Material

Artifacts, including two commemorative plates celebrating the completion of Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Adam Resurrected, a film clapper used for the film Touch, and school and childhood memorabilia, were transferred to the Ransom Center's Personal Effects Collection. A costume worn by Willem Defoe in the film Light Sleeper was transferred to the Costumes Collection.
Audio, if present for a film, may include published soundtracks and unpublished demo tapes, musical scores, and promotional cassette tapes. Published soundtracks and albums were transferred to the Ransom Center Library. Unpublished audio was transferred to the Ransom Center Sound Collection. Of particular interest are demo tapes by Bruce Springsteen for Light of Day, David Bowie for Cat People, and Bob Dylan for Light Sleeper.
Bound volumes related to film theory, film criticism, and filmmaking; books containing biographical information or features about Schrader; and critical analyses and novelizations of Schrader's films were transferred to the Ransom Center Library. Many of these books are inscribed to Schrader; those inscribed to him from his early mentor, Pauline Kael, have particular significance. Novels he used heavily for screenplay adaptations have been kept with the manuscript material. Some of the books originally contained loose items which have been removed and placed into folder 102.11.
Also transferred to the Ransom Center Library are over fifty bound volumes and programs for numerous international film festivals in which Schrader was involved. Many of these festivals held screenings, tributes, or retrospectives of his films; in some instances he served as a member of the film jury.
Digital media, including Zip disks, CDs, DVDs, and 3.5-inch disks, have been transferred to the Ransom Center's Electronic Records Collection. Digital audio and moving image materials have been transferred to the Ransom Center Film and Sound Collections.
A variety of moving image material is present in the collection, including commercial versions of Schrader's films in a variety of formats, including film, VHS tape, beta tape, DVD, and laserdisc. Published films have been transferred to the Ransom Center Library. In addition there is a large number of diverse, unpublished films, including versions in various stages of the filming process and daily takes. Materials related to certain films include recorded interviews and other televised promotional events; research materials; and copies of published movies, programs, and documentaries recorded from television or some other source. These have also been transferred to the Film Collection.

Index Terms


De Niro, Robert.
Hurt, Mary Beth.
Kael, Pauline.
Oppewall, Jeannine, 1947-
Schrader, Leonard.
Scorsese, Martin.


Writers Guild of America, West.


Film festivals.
Independent filmmakers.
Motion picture authorship.
Motion picture plays.
Motion picture producers and directors--United States.
Motion Pictures, American.


Grand Rapids (Mich.)
Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)
New York (N.Y.)

Document Types

Audio tapes.
Film stills.
Legal documents.
Motion pictures (visual work).
Serials (publications).
Video recordings.

Container List

Oversize document boxes Container 123-124   
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Oversize flat boxes Container 125-132   
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Accession 11-09-007-G (material integrated into container list) Container 133-135   
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Accession 13-09-018-G (material integrated into container list) Container 136-137   
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