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.

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

Topics include: Draw Upon the Work of Other Directors • Direct References to Other Films


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 ...

About the Instructor

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.

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Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

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