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Arts & Entertainment

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
Teaches Filmmaking
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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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Jon Y.

I think we should be mindful of the story we're trying to tell and use color (B&W, whatever) to serve it, rather than just choose B&W because we think it's cool or different. Everything must have a purpose, including color.

Teddy W.

1.Why you choose black and white ? 2.Difference between digital and the film black and white . 3.How he got shoot Raging bull in black and white.

Jet T.

Raging Bull changed my life, in terms of finally deciding to be a filmmaker for real. It also made me appreciate the black and white aesthetic even more. Some of my indie films is in b&w. One of my latest films is in black and white here:

RJane @.

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.