Martin Scorsese Helped Paul Schrader Finish ‘The Card Counter’ During Quarantine

Easily one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and probably the most anticipated indie finished during the quarantine, is Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter.” Shooting on the film, starring Oscar Isaac as a gambler and former soldier who sets out to help a young man seeking revenge on a mutual enemy from their past, was halted back in March — with just five days of production left. But Schrader and his crew were able to finish the film safely in Mississippi in mid-July, when Focus Features scooped up the film for U.S. release. Schrader spoke with the Los Angeles Times about racing the clock to complete the movie, and what to expect from his follow-up to “First Reformed.”

For one, Schrader said he consulted with a number of colleagues and collaborators on the finished product, including Martin Scorsese, who directed his screenplay of “Taxi Driver.”

“Here’s what happened. I was editing. My editor is in New Jersey and my assistant editor is in Tennessee, so we’re all editing virtually. And I had four major dialogue scenes between my principal characters that I had not shot,” Schrader said. “Then I was able to screen virtually the film for a number of people I respect, like Scorsese, who is the executive producer, like [filmmaker and programmer] Kent Jones and other people. And what I asked them all is, ‘I have four more scenes to shoot. I can rewrite them. What am I missing? What do I need to add? How should I write these four scenes?’”

Schrader said that it was this feedback that enabled him to put the finishing touches on the movie, which also stars Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, and Willem Dafoe.

“I was able to rewrite these scenes and make these relationships much better. And not all productions get to do that,” Schrader said. “It’s a very expensive reshoot, but it was built-in that three-quarters of the way through, I have an opportunity to rewrite one-quarter of the meaningful character scenes. So I did, I rewrote it. And I realized what was missing. And I wouldn’t have realized that if I was shooting at the top. I would have only realized that in post. And I would have walked around the room kicking myself in the ass, saying, ‘I wish I had the opportunity to reshoot some scenes.’”

While no release date has been inked for the movie, Schrader said the movie is now in post-production mode.

“Basically, I’m finished, down to an hour and 49 minutes, which is where I think it should be. Obviously, I have to do the score, there’s the post-prod and the special effects, but the thing is that there’s no pressure to finish the film anymore at this time,” he said. “I was talking to Focus, and I could give them the film in a month. They don’t want the film in a month because they don’t know what to do with it in a month. They said, you just take whatever time you need, which is the opposite of the way studios usually talk. I also have final cut, so it doesn’t really matter. What I deliver, I deliver.”

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