But when it comes to writing, he's had his hands in every screenplay he's ever made into movies. From giving notes to even writing a few, he's a guy who knows what great words look like on the page. From his movies like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and The Departed, he's proved himself as one of our greatest filmmakers ever.
Besides directing, Scorsese is always very immersed in the writing process and always collaborates closely with his screenwriters. Let's learn Scorsese’s greatest tips on writing, directing, and cinematic filmmaking as a whole. Check out the latest from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's talk after.
20 Filmmaking Tips from Martin Scorsese
1. Use film to express the emotions you find hard to talk about.
Your work should feel like a catharsis. You're allowed to confront and deal with issues that you may have trouble defining otherwise. If you pick a story that challenges you, you'll find you engage with it on an even deeper level.
2. In cinema, we’re working with subtleties.
When things appear on screen, they have to be restrained. Since cinema gives us such an intimate approach to storytelling, we don't need huge emotions to be overt. We need them to be subtle so we pick up on them if we look, but not so in our face that they turn us off.
3. Always push your boundaries.
Sometimes you can get complacent working on ideas that aren't pushing you to your limits. How can you ever sharpen your skills if you're unwilling to rub against the iron that forces you to develop an edge? Try new genres, stories, and budgets to see what you can achieve. Impress yourself.
4. Two images placed together will always create a specific sensation, or “phantom image,” in the viewer’s mind. Be deliberate about what kind of images you’re placing next to each other.
We call this idea the Kuleshov effect, and it's very useful. Editing things together gives you total control of how the audience feels. Wield it in a way that allows you to stabilize your tone and themes during storytelling. Make sure you're consistent, as well.
5. Find the humanity in your antiheroes.
We know a thing or two about antiheroes here. Here's a little hint—no matter who you're writing, approach them like they have wants, desires, goals, and reasoning. You know—treat them like they're human beings! This will help the audience connect to the story.
6. Learn visual literacy.
It's really important to learn the shots and camera angles that will release different emotions in your work. If you can learn how to shoot something and why to shoot it, you can build a repertoire and know how to tackle new projects or even give notes as people bring you different ideas.
7. Promote yourself shamelessly.
This is a hard one for people to straddle. How can you brag without bragging?
Some of it requires presenting your ideas in a way that leads others to ask questions or ask to read your script. Another strategy is just to get your ideas to where they're perfect, and then confidently ping your network to see who might be interested in reading.
8. Make your own industry.
So many people focus on what they can't do that they turn a blind eye to what they can do. You can network with your friends. Write low-budget ideas that you can shoot either as proof of concepts or short films you can market yourself.
Do what you can control. Don't whine about what you cannot.
9. Write your screenplay in a way that the reader will always have an emotional connection to the protagonist.
It all comes back to your voice as a writer. What do you have to say, and why are you saying it? Is there a way you can describe scenes to manipulate the reader? Is there a better character entrance or exit that elevates how you want someone to feel? A line of dialogue that leads us from one scene to another?
10. Write what you know.
When you're starting, the easiest way to get into a story is to write about what you know, or what you're curious to learn. Use screenwriting as a way to deconstruct your world and the characters you see.
11. Limitations can be good for creating.
Stop talking about what you don't have access to. No one cares. Seriously.
Start working with what you do have in creative ways. Can you make something compelling from it? Can you use the tools in front of you to tell a story? That's all anyone wants to know. Let the limitations enable you to think outside the box.
12. You have to make sacrifices.
Making a career means making sacrifices. It might mean moving away from home, saving money, or even just living with a few roommates while you work on your craft. Sacrifice is a part of life. You don't need to be a martyr for the cause, but you cannot expect to walk in and have things handed to you. Sweat for this. Put in the work.
13. The story and characters are what people will always come back for. The plot won’t be enough to hold up a film.
A nice twisty plot is fun, but it means nothing if the people inside the movie hold no weight or emotion. We want to engage with humanity when watching a movie. This is the ultimate empathy machine you're playing with—so why not use it to show us people who arc and who we root for or against? We've covered this Scorsese topic in-depth here.
14. You can’t do it by yourself. Work with like-minded people who like to explore similar interests as you.
Find your village. The best thing you can do is find people who share similar interests, and collaborate with them. You can share screenplays and first cuts, and just hash out ideas with them. They can be your crew, support system, and everything in between. Find your people, whether in person or even on the internet. They're out there.
15. Write with music in mind.
I usually do a lot of my writing in silence. But when I play music, I try to match it to the scenes I'm writing. I want to feel that flow in the scene. The movement to the rhythm. Try it out and see if it cures writer's block.
16. Study other films.
Man, I cannot tell you how many writers I meet who have no literacy when it comes to watching movies. Watch movies—that's it. Watch as many as you can. Watch ones from all over the world. Steal. Pastiche. Borrow. Homage. Watch them and see where they take you.
17. Write empathetic characters.
When people ask me what I think is the most important trait for a writer to have, I tell them empathy. You need to be able to feel what the characters want and need. Create characters that the audience is invested in. They don't have to like them, they just have to care where they're going.
18. Characters must reap what they sow.
This can be filed under plant and payoff.
Plant and payoff is a simple concept. It means that if you introduce a story detail, you need to make sure that detail matters later. So the plant is the introduction, and the payoff is what happens later. The idea comes from planting a seed and watching it grow. If your character has a set of actions they do, we want to see the repercussions of those actions.
19. Use the people around you when starting out.
Whether it's raising money, using them for locations, or just asking them to read your screenplays, your family and surrounding friends matter. Lean on them when you can. Sometimes they'll be the only ones who believe in you. And then thank them in awards speeches. Get them to help, to act, to set decorate—anything to make your vision come alive.
20. Use projects to learn more about yourself and the important life questions.
Everything I write is me digging into an emotion or a situation. Use your work to explore life's great mysteries. Ask the big questions and distill them into character journeys. Take some risks and put yourself out there. What does the world mean to you?
Let us know other advice from Scorsese you've gleaned. Start a discussion in the comments.
Source: Outstanding Screenplays