You talkin’ to me? Acclaimed writer speaks at DePaul

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Founded in 2008, the Visiting Artist Series aims to promote innovative industry professionals by inviting them to DePaul’s campus for students to attend for free. The School of Cinematic Arts hosts a wide spectrum of guests to visit DePaul to discuss with them on stage their educational stories and glimpses of what it’s like working in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

After a 4-week run of conversations with guests of all sorts, the Spring 2017 series wrapped up with legendary screenwriter and director Paul Schrader. The past seven days were littered with screenings of Schrader’s work including “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” “Affliction” and “Taxi Driver” which took place in the College of Computing and Digital Media theater.

On Friday, May 28 DePaul’s Visiting Artist Series hosted a Q&A with Schrader following a screening of the four-time Oscar nominated lm “Taxi Driver” which he wrote. Schrader uttered the words before the screening that “Taxi Driver” is “the film that never dies.”

That is, without a doubt, a true statement as the classic film remains high on the Greatest Films Ever Made list for many cinephiles. What Schrader is ultimately able to do so profoundly is create the character of Travis (Robert De Niro) who is so deeply troubled as he wanders in his yellow cab hoping for someone to flag him down who is even more deeply troubled than he is.

Fatou Samba, a first year MFA Screenwriting student at DePaul mentioned her love for Travis, “I find it fascinating, especially the Travis character and how he was characterized through. The way he (Schrader) begins his storytelling with a metaphor was probably what stuck out for me the most.”

Schrader mentioned after the film that he often verbalizes his stories. He will tell certain stories and as he does that story escalates and escalates, ultimately staggering to a rough 45-minute story. “When a story is 45 minutes long, you have a movie,” Schrader said.

Gary Novak, one of the moderators of the event and the Director of the School of Cinematic Arts, asked Schrader about writing what you know. Novak mentioned that he often tells his students to do just that when writing scripts.

Schrader wrote “Taxi Driver” during a rough patch of his life. He lost a marriage, was broke and was often spending time in soft-core pornography theaters throughout the nights for a place to crash. While he utilized these components into the script, it’s obvious that he began to see much of himself within Travis. Early in his production stage, Schrader envisioned a yellow coffin in the street and that got the ball rolling.

Writer of “Taxi Driver” Paul Schrader speaks as part of this year’s Visiting Artist Series at DePaul. (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL'S SCHOOL OF CINEMATIC ARTS)
Writer of “Taxi Driver” Paul Schrader speaks as part of this year’s Visiting Artist Series at DePaul. (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL’S SCHOOL OF CINEMATIC ARTS)

Travis excitedly perks up when he describes the exact time and location where he saw Betsy (Cybill Sheperd), which then develops into a stalk outside of Betsy’s campaign headquarters. This, for Travis, is a huge deal. For him to make some sort of contact with the constant social interaction that happens in New York in the ’70s, is groundbreaking for him. His utter loneliness can’t be dealt with and it’s excruciating for him.

The Visiting Artist Series features many DePaul student crewmembers to aid the filming process of the event. The crew deals with anything from cameras and sound to organizing talent and even publicity. One DePaul student was the Sound Mixer.

“My responsibility was to make sure that the levels were appropriate when the moderators and guests were speaking. I enjoy the crew that I work with at the VAS. It means a lot. It gives us a small dosage of what we’re going to be doing in the later future, being put on a production team and meeting the guests for our discussions,” Abel Araya, a graduating MFA Screenwriting student said.

Eventually, “Taxi Driver” evolves into a series of failed social interaction attempts for Travis. After Travis takes Betsy to a porn theater, that date goes awry. He rushes after her on the street trying to win her back. “These are the movies that I know,” Travis yells. Then the harrowing shot of Travis on a pay phone, trying to secure another date with Betsy and the camera pans slowly to reveal a long, desolate hallway.

“The guests we’ve had are really humbling and down to earth people. You kind of forget that although their notoriety is widespread, they’re simply just regular people,” Araya said. “They goof off as much as we do during rehearsals. So yeah, it’s a great learning experience for people who want to work in the film and entertainment industry, no doubt.”