Interview by T.J. English
T.J. sat down with Martin Scorsese on August 3, 1990, a few weeks before Good Fellas was released. He was writing a profile of Scorsese for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine.
The Animated Transcript
T.J. English is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. His most recent book, Whitey’s Payback, is a collection of his crime journalism.
I like credits. They promise something. Like posters, they promise something, you know because for me credit sequences are sometimes more important than the movie, I don’t know, because they present the picture a certain way.
I tend to get impatient with the title sequences that are unimaginative that are just showing up with shots of people driving, going in their house. I think in that case, don’t do that. I think in that case, put white on black, put some music over it. It’s even nicer. It’s much more honest about it. Then get the story started because you’re wasting story time.
The thing that I heard about were those sketch drawings that you did when you were a kid.
Yes. I was eight, eight or nine. I started playing around with frames. The frames for me were moving frames although because it was still. They were moving in my mind because then the next image would be this. The next image would be that. I did a lot of that. I threw a lot of them away.Then when I was about eleven or twelve, I think I started earnestly in a bigger way. I was fascinated by the biblical spectacle or the spectacles of an ancient world. I was framing especially learning how to use the wide frame. Then I would do some in one, three, three. I would do others in formal.
So you were storyboarding?
Storyboarding, yeah, I didn’t realize what it was, but. It was really more like they were movies to me. They weren’t comic books. They weren’t movies but They were something in between.
You said roughly you were about ten, eleven years old, westerns were your favorite movies.
Yeah, I like westerns a lot. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was here in the city and loved the idea of horses and loved the idea of open spaces to which I would probably never get to see. Although I was not physically made for that sort of thing, to live that way, I had I guess certain dreams about it.
What would a Martin Scorsese western be like now?
I don’t know. There are possibilities. I would love to maybe, try something of eventually something on mythic scale end of the West rather than ultra realistic. Something rather than revisionist, I’d like to try to see what made some of these people tick and a sense of honor and a sense of a code, some sort of code because being there part of the frontier, dealing with death and life every second. It makes a person act in a certain way.There were certain characters who act in certain ways. Some personalities came out of the West. I’m interested in those personalities.
When were you in the seminary, what year?
Just when I was about fourteen. Just a preparatory seminary, mid ‘50s, ’56, ’57. One doesn’t realize that one doesn’t need to become a priest or doesn’t need to have a third or fourth person to be able to talk to God. If you want to talk to him there’s direct communication. Making of the first short films that i did at NYU, that’s when I decided that I would probably fare better in what I wanted to do with making movies. I didn’t set out specifically and say I could put whatever emotions or passions I had for the priesthood into filmmaking. That happened.
How did your parents react when you first started making movies and finished completed projects, the early projects, Boxcar Bertha, Mean Streets?
Mean Streets was an ordeal. My father saw it the night at the New York Film Festival. His first reaction was never again to sit through because he had the same anxiety I had sitting through it. Are they’re going to laugh here? Are they going to be nervous here? Are they going to boo this? Are they going to be against that, that sort of thing?
Did they react in anyway to how violent and rugged and, in many ways, unconventional those films were?
Well my mother was concerned that that night, for example, at the New York Film Festival when she came out, somebody said, “Oh, that’s your son’s film.” She said, “I just want you to understand. We never use that language at home. We never use that language at home,” which is true. We never did in the home. It was never used. In the street, that language was used. That was it.
The two elements I like best about movies are the sense of motion and performance. I love the way the camera moves. I love the cut from one moving shot to the next, or a cut from a moving shot to a static shot. The light comes second to me in that area. I don’t say it’s not important. Usually the inspiration is always the point of view of the lens. Sometimes when it all comes together on the set, and especially when it comes together in the cutting room, at a certain point, you can actually feel it go through you in your body. It’s a part of you. It just seeps out of your body. You become the film you’re making. I think there’s an aspect of that in that statement, “I am cinema.”
Why every time when I pick up an interview with an actor or an actress and They all say, young and old, they all say, “I would love to make a movie with Scorsese.”
It’s crazy, it’s crazy. [laughs]
What do you think it is that they’re talking about?
I don’t know.
It’s true. It’s true, right?
Okay, I’ve seen a few, but they haven’t worked with me. How do they know, Maybe it gets to a point where they think I’m very, very good with actors, so they come in and they do their best without me asking. I think what I try to do is create an atmosphere in which they can try anything, try anything. As long as we’re talking about the same movie and the same scene, we’ll be okay.I cover a certain way with camera, I do certain things in cutting, I try to have an actor come out as best as possible.
Scorsese’s best opening credit sequences
Master of the Title Sequence
Saul Bass has created some of the most iconic opening sequences in film history. Beginning in the early 60’s, Bass soon became a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, who had him design the title sequences for Vertigo, Psycho, and North By Northwest. He met his wife Elaine working on the opening credits of Spartacus. They married in 1960 and work as a team for the rest of their careers, designing credits for films like West Side Story and Walk on the Wild Side.
In later years they moved away from design to concentrate on their work as filmmakers but returned to the craft in the 80’s and 90’s, designed some of their last sequences for Scorsese on Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, andCasino.
Art of the Title made a great compilation of Bass’ most iconic work. Watch it here.
An 11-year-old Scorsese drew this storyboard for The Eternal City, a Roman epic dreamt up by the future filmmaker to be produced by his imaginary production company, Marsco Production.
Naturally, the credits take up about ⅓ of the storyboard. His cast includes Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, with his grandfather Martin Cappa serving as the sound recordist.
This is just a partial list, because Scorsese LOVES movies
- The Third Man
- The Red Shoes
- Ashes and Diamonds
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
Doug Moss / Mixology Post
“What Do They Know 2” Alexander Baker, Clair Marlo
“Black Gold Blood!” Greco Casadesus
Mike Reed, Gaynor O’flynn, Tom Howe, Sachidanand Rauniyar