Are Schrader and Ellis jumping the shark?
As a fan of both Taxi Driver, and the novel American Psycho, the idea of Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader and Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis working together on a project is certainly very intriguing.
Still, I’m not really certain if what they’re currently working is the best project to bring them together.
Reports recently hit the entertainment trades that Schrader is on board to do a rewrite and direct Bait, a low budget thriller about a bunch of kids trapped in shark filled waters by a nutjob.
Now this is actually a project I wouldn’t wish on any filmmaker, because Steven Spielberg did in fact make the ultimate shark movie with Jaws, and nobody’s topped it since.
Sharks are very scary, menacing creatures, perfect movie villains, but every shark movie will always be compared to Jaws, where the bar’s clearly set very high. (The recent Megashark movies sure don’t cut the mustard).
Schrader’s one of my favorite screenwriters, he’s also written Hardcore, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo, and he can do dark very well, but genre movies have never really been his forte. (Cat People anyone?) Ellis can also do dark and cynical very well, but often times novelists don’t make great screenwriters with some exceptions here and there, because screenwriting requires much more economy than a novel.
Then again, the biggest screenwriters in Hollywood have often done "script doctor" work, especially these days when jobs are scarce and they need to make money. The Coen Brothers did a major rewrite on Gambit, the comedy starring Cameron Diaz, and like Scharder, they obviously have their own uniquely idiosyncratic style, but they were also looking for work.
Other big time script doctors have included Robert Towne (Chinatown, who rewrote Mission: Impossible I and II, and wrote the celebrated scene in The Godfather where Pacino and Brando have their last talk before the Don dies), and Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco, and The Bourne Supremacy, uncredited). A top script doctor can work on a film for several weeks, or for the entire duration, and the biggest guys in the major leagues can pull down six figures a week.
Schrader has often said that he’s done the Travis Bickle character in phases where Taxi Driver was him in one film, the Richard Gere character was him in another phase in American Gigalo, and so on. So does this make a shark the next stage of Bickle’s evolution?