Martin Scorseseese has been making movies for over half a century. From his first feature film, Who's That Knocking at My Door, to his 60-second short film with the Bleu de Chanel fragrance campaign, Scorsese knows how to masterfully create an engaging narrative that keeps the story and the visuals interesting.
In a recent interview with Timothée Chalamet hosted by GQ, Scorsese breaks down that all of his projects, no matter if they are 60 seconds or three-and-a-half-long Western epics, are carefully crafted with a shot list that plays out the visuals Scorsese wants to capture in service of the narrative.
In the interview, Scorsese says, "The shots were designed, or at least the, I like to call it, like a philosophy of a shot. Should this be a moving shot at all? Or should it be static? And if it's static, what the hell size are you [the character] in the frame?"
While shot listing is an essential part of the filmmaking process for most filmmakers, Scorsese takes the process very seriously and looks for the best shot that has the most potential to boast the visual narrative.
"Back when I started doing my first films, I would draw everything ... I spent a lot of time doing that because, first of all, I like the idea of how to tell a story with pictures, right?" Scorsese says. "But it also, because it was so low-budget, I had to really have a plan so that it could be changed."
It is amazing to know that Scorsese used to draw out the shot lists for each of his productions, sometimes including the shot list in the script for films like Goodfellas. To him, the shot list isn't just creating a visual language but helps Scorsese find the pacing and purpose of each shot in the film.
There have only been a few times that Scorsese hasn't used a shot list in a film, but the American auteur says he works better with a plan. With a plan, Scorsese can understand how each scene works in the larger narrative and what the focus of each shot needs to be to better serve the story.
"There's a difference between memorizing and knowing it. As long as you know it. You know it, then you can start fooling around with stuff.
Scorsese's attention to detail is unmatched. There is little to no fat in Scorsese's films. Everything in his stories matters and deserves a particular shot to be in service of the story. Scorsese's shot list seems to take a lot of time to put together, but the results show us that this careful planning and exercise in understanding the screenplay can lead to a great and tight direction on set.
While we have the technology to draw out our storyboards for us, I highly encourage directors to sit down and create a shot list that helps them understand what is needed from each shot of their film. Not only will this make you a stronger director on set, but it will give you the needed time during production to work out any knots in the story.