At the used bookstore for 99 cents I found a screenplay by Paul Schrader for his 1992 film called “Light Sleeper” with Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon. I remember liking the movie but otherwise not too much about it. What a great screenplay! It follows a character named John LeTour (Dafoe), a drug dealer who is smart but paranoid and can’t sleep. He works for a woman named Ann (Sarandon). a high-end dealer who is retiring and planning to go into cosmetics. It’s the same dreary thing day after day for LeTour until he has a chance meeting with Marianne (Dana Delany), his ex-wife, and his life takes an unexpected and rather tragic turn. Ultimately, the film is about revenge and redemption, common themes in Schrader scripts s such as “Taxi Driver.”
A foreword to the screenplay features an interview with Schrader where he talks about the film’s relation to “Taxi Driver” and “American Gigolo,” as well as how finding financing for the film was almost impossible. At the screenplay level, “Light Sleeper” is terse, taut, and gripping, a quick read with a beguiling simplicity and well-drawn characters. It’s sort of like the old movie “Tequila Sunrise” but much better.
The crux of it is one of his high end clients o.d.’s off his product, and he winds up in a cat and mouse game with a local detective. The backdrop of the high end New York fashion and modern art industry is believable and adds a dark emptiness to the plot. The main character doesn’t relish his job as a drug dealer and does wish to change, he just cannot find any other decent option to make a living. The tension between what he does for a living versus his ideal life provides harmonic balance.
The script is only 61 pages long (the average being about 90 or 100 pages) and is light on description, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps for him or herself. This is the quickest read of a script that I’ve ever seen, and it was made into a rather good film. Look for “Light Sleeper: A Screenplay” anywhere you can find it. It’s a must for any aspiring screenwriter!