Film & TV

Choosing Black and White

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 7:15 min

Martin discusses the evolution of black and white film and how he arrived at the decision to make Raging Bull in black and white.

Martin Scorsese
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I'm finding that when I see some new films, modern films, that yes, I miss black and white to a certain extent. And this is a person who's saying that I was fascinated by the three strip technicolor, yet black and white existed alongside it and had its own sense of color. Light and shadow. It had its own style. It had its own meaning, in a way. But I found that just, transliterating in a sense, reality. That in front of you, with some light illuminating it, and transliterating it to celluloid and that time isn't very creative, you see. I just didn't think it was. However, I think in the past 10, 15 years or so, I'm seeing a kind of, in some of the new films and in many cases independent films, but I'm seeing something happen with the color. That color has become, for certain subjects and certain-- very, very intentionally done by the filmmakers in most cases, I would think-- have become kind of neutral at times. And that neutrality, that neutrality has kind of taken the place of black and white. It's in color, but it's not making a statement. The statement that you don't notice it's in color is the statement. And it doesn't have the complexity, and design, and style, and meaning of black and white. But that's gone. That's gone. That's of another time and place. There are some films made in black and white today. I find that the digital, though, there's a difference between digital black and white, and actually shooting on celluloid black and white. So this is something that it's to be encouraged, there's no doubt. But some films then in black and white are, in a way, not all, but some are, self-consciously in black and white. It's kind of a-- on a spectrum of positive to negative, and negative it's more pretentious. And positive, it feels right, you know. But black and white has been hijacked also by advertising, and well, by everything really. People punch up an image and put it in black and white. You could shoot anything-- you know, I'm talking, I'm illiterate in terms of computer, but I noticed that you can do anything on. You have every possible trick, and every possible color and color combination. Every possible special effect that you can do immediately without working through the special effect. So in a funny way, at first I was concerned about that sort of thing for young people. And then I realized, let them get it out of their system. Let them realize it doesn't mean anything, because again, it has to go back to the core of who you are and what you're trying to say. [MUSIC PLAYING] While we were doing research on Raging Bull, there was eight millimeter sound footage in color of Bob De Niro sparring with the sparring partner, trying to work out choreography with Jake LaMotta for certain scenes in the film. I remember projecting in my apartment, projecting in my apartment in New York, projecting them on a white...

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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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Loved his class, liked his insight and knowledge that he had to share with us. As well as the examples that he shared long with his teaching

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True lessons of cinematographic art, one of the greatest directors of our time. Love the cinema, like a beat of life. Like the spark of the director's magic, and the movie. The cinema is a mystery to discover that you learn by doing. The cinema is a dream, of shadows and light that is made of time.

A great film maker, a great teacher and a lovely human being: gentle, humble, humorous... a real pleasure to watch!


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The Wizard of Oz has black and white and colors combined. It’s interesting. @RJanesRealm


I love his explanation of how they came to the decision to shoot Raging Bull in black and white.

Robert A.

I am very influenced by classic films, especially black and white films. And It's so great to hear more about the subject of black and white. Your amazing Martin thank you again!!!. Onward!!!.

Michele H.

The workbook notes discussing K. Miyagawa's background in Japanese ink drawings as an art student and his focus on the gray scale really illuminated to me some of the amazing work he did in "Rashomon". The play of sunlight on the moving leaves of the forest interior, the deluge at the temple-they showed his study of the technique. Wow. So cool.

Jo E.

I found this subject particularly interesting because my current script takes place back in 1969 so I'm seriously considering using black & white...! I loved Raging Bull in black and white...very effective. Another great lesson...!

Karmen B.

Thank you for this lesson, Martin. You share so eloquently your years of amazing experiences and love for your craft - film making and story telling. 'Choose intentionally'. Most wise words.

Widgett W.

“See, it never ends.” I might need to make a plaque of that and hang it in my office. Profound and hilarious all at once.

Gene B.

The black and white color gives a surreal look to the film and draws the people in, as it seems like a world of reality. The black and white look provides an essence of beauty and essence of being intact to the world and its ground that captivates me. I also like black and white, and take photos in black and white frequently. Plus, it's interesting how Scorsese film Raging Bull in black and white, because there was too much red going on from the color of the gloves and the blood, the aesthetics​ and the tone of the color in the film or even an element in the film is crucial.


great lesson i had seen a lot of black and white film even those tarzan movies from the 30s

Mia S.

"Then, I've been thinking about it a lot, realizing, 'Why design this picture in color - especially a period piece - when it's going to fade in a couple of years? At that time, video was maybe just beginning, but there was no guarantee you were going to see these things in their original form. So ultimately, we decided to shoot in black and white, and the studio was against it, and I remember them coming to talk to us about it. I said, 'Look, you have I think four films this year (when this film is finished) about boxing, that will be opening, in color. What if we're black and white? It's different'.' They said, 'Mo more people want to see black and white.' I remember Michael said, 'Don't forget, Bob Fosse's 'Lenny,' 'Paper Moon,' Peter Bogdanovic, black and white - people liked it.' They said, 'Well all right.' And that's how we got it. We did put a color sequence into the home movies. I used to say, 'The last auteur of a film is the projectionist, because he figures out how much head room you're going to have, the aspect ratio, whatever... if it screw up, it screws up. She walked into the booth to check the sound - the first two days of the film playing in New York - 'It was a real problem, there was a whole color sequence in the film, we had to cut it out.' See, it never ends."