WHEN HIS agent showed him a screenplay about the late actor Bob Crane, director Paul Schrader was not inclined to read what he assumed was a conventional biopic script. But as he read it, "I saw this very interesting movie down there. A film about this male dynamic, a kind of American, middle-class, middle-aged, TV, heterosexual version of 'Prick Up Your Ears,' " Stephen Frears's 1987 film, which Schrader always liked, about playwright Joe Orton, who was brutally murdered by his gay lover.

"As I got into the material, there were other angles," Schrader continued. "The notion of a folie a{grv} deux [a condition in which two mentally deficient people share similar delusional beliefs], celebrity, changing male attitudes -- all kinds of things to work around and more than enough to make the central character journey worth taking."

Sony Pictures, who had just come into mad money thanks to the runaway success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," offered him $7.5 million to make the film. That's a small figure by many directors' standards but, for a movie about a man with a weird taste for pornography, it was a godsend. Schrader rewrote the script somewhat, retitled it "Auto Focus" (which refers to Crane's self-absorption) and made it