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Arts & Entertainment

Channeling Your Influences

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 6:46 min

Martin encourages you to take inspiration from the work of other directors and discusses the significance of referencing other films in your own work.

Martin Scorsese
Teaches Filmmaking
In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.
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I always found that going to see a film and studying it at the moment as you're watching it for the first time doesn't work. You have to let the film work on you or not. Then if you're hit by certain things, if you go there, and you go back, and you try to find very often if you imagine a sequence or a scene or two that's edited a certain way, you find that the camera wasn't that close. But it appeared that close in your memory. That's interesting. Why? Well, it may have been the use of sound effect, may have been use of a cut, you see, or a camera move that was imperceptible at first. So there was almost like a memorization of-- I guess, it was almost like a photographic memory of images, editing, sequences in the film, scenes, shots. And so I would draw upon that. Don't forget there was really no way of seeing these things unless it was shown on television again arbitrarily, or it was playing in a theater somewhere and you to go to find that theater. And so you had to do it from memory, whether it was the Marshal's badge on the dirt ground against the boot of Gary Cooper at the end of High Noon or part of the chariot race in Ben-Hur, you had to go and see the film again. You can make little drawings. I used to try to draw my own versions of these things from memory. And so I remember seeing The Small Back Room, a Paul Pressburger film, on television in an afternoon one day, I think, in the early to mid-'50s. And I remembered the mood of this film. It's a very strange film. I recall very, very clearly the opening title sequence. Particularly, there's a shot of a traffic light changing from red to green. Of course, it's a black-and-white film. But you do get the impression. It's the angle of the traffic light, and it's the rain that's in the frame around it. There's something about that shot that made it very powerful and memorable. And I only saw it once. And also through the windshield as that person is driving. Michael Goff, I think, is driving. in the beginning. And through the windshield, it's the London during the war. Everything is dark. And the windshield is-- the windshield wipers are wiping away this heavy rain. And you're looking through. And those two images became really key images for Taxi Driver. There's another shot in there too in Taxi Driver that he goes to buy guns, this is a specific reference, for example. But he goes to buy guns from Andy in the hotel room. And he picks up one of the guns. He goes to the window. And the gun is pointed at two or three women outside, I think, with an umbrella. But that's placed on a dolly or a track, and it tracks over. And there was always something I loved in this King Vidor's film Northwest Passage. There's an attack by the Native Americans against the Fort. And at one point, he has somebody with a rifle. Camera's shooting over that ...

Study with Scorsese

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It helped in a way to understand how masters really think about each aspect of film amking.

Very informative regarding the way each filmmaker finds their way during the process of making a film.

Thank you Martin for your gracious account and overview of art in film.

Very interesting to hear this story. Not to applicable to me personally. I sometimes didnt follow when he was explaining things, could have been a bit clearer. But overall, very good!


Shaun N.

I love the insider-joke of referencing other films with your work. It feels like a great way to express what you love and pay it forward in a sense. It's unfortunate that it seems to happen much less nowadays (franchise films like Marvel tend to do it a lot though -- sinful to mention on a Scorsese video, I know).

Antonia T.

Wonderful. So interesting. Thanks, Martin! As the great Woody Allen says in Anything Else (2003): "And whenever you're right, strive for originality. But if you have to steal, steal from the best".

Teddy W.

When you first watch a film, just like an audience, don't be a filmmaker. If you always be a filmmaker when you watch a film, you will lost the feeling of the image attack you. After watch the film think about it, which part you like and which part you don't like, and find out why you like or not. Edit the film you like, cut the clip you like and watch them again and again, but don't analysis them. Watch them until you remember them. It's in you, it's part of you. Like we recite the best literary works from master. They are the nutrition of you filmmaking a film.

Angelo M.

I already sent in several emails screenshots of how the subtitles are placed. It only happens with Martin Scorsese's classes. I've checked Aaron Sorkin's and those are correctly. I'm using macOs Mojave 10.14 operating system in a macbook pro laptop.

Angelo M.

Hi. There is a problem with subtitles in Spanish and other languages. They appear displaced and cut by the lower left. You can't read or follow the class. Is it possible that you solve this?

Michael U.

It is amazing that when he was younger he had to remember such detail in movies he had seen just once on TV.


That shot he was talking about must have been an early vfx shot. its a canted angle yet the rain is falling vertical. Doesn't match up


The first time I became intrigued by the camera shots and motions was with the television series ER. I know they use a lot of "steady-cam" shots. They would always take at least one shot of the patient on the table from the patient and the nurse/doctor perspective. Then I began noticing on other shows and films.

Juan Pablo M.

Very interesting. Sometimes I realize of some of my influences when I finished a work. I mean I don´t decide a take or a ressource thinking about a director or a movie in particular, but when I see it on screen I discover the influence. Great lesson.

A fellow student

Any suggestions for where to find The Small Back Room? It's not available streaming anywhere, the Criterion is out of print, and there's no other DVD in this region.