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Film & TV

Costume Design

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 15:13 min

Learn how to let character dictate costume and how to collaborate with actors to find the perfect clothing for roles.

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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When you talk about costume design-- all right, let's say the block of classical cinema from Hollywood or from England from Italy, whatever. That's custom design. You're talking about about Piero Tosi, you're talking about The House of Tirelli in Rome, Visconti's films, and extraordinary things. But they're of a time and place. In other words, they are depicting period, and there's an aspect of accuracy, to say the least, and some-- what's the word-- a flourish to that accuracy. A touch of the artist, so to speak, beyond that. In the case of Minnelli directing Madame Bovary. They changed the period costuming, I believe to be around the 1870s or so in Paris, because they felt it was more interesting than the actual period the book was written about. I believe could be the 1840s. And so these things are-- once you make that kind of decision, you do have drawings from the 1840s, you do have drawings from the 1870s, you do have pictures from the 1920s. One of the key things I found, like in the Age of Innocence, for example costumes-- where it was an upper strata of society-- was I always wanted the costumes to feel lived in. That they shouldn't look like costumes. That was the idea, particularly the people in the street. The extras, or what they call now the atmosphere. In the case of Gangs of New York it's different. In the Gangs of New York we had license to go as far as we wanted with costumes. We got the Daybreak boys and the Swamp Angels. They work the River Luton ships. The Frog Haulers shanghai sailors down the bloody angle. The Shorttails was rough for a while, but they become a bunch of jack-rolling dandies, lolling around Murderer's Alley looking like Chinaman. The gangs did dress differently. Gangs dress differently today. Each one, so they know each other. They could see that person's wearing that. They could see it a block away. All right, be careful. There's this group coming and this person wears suspenders a certain way. They call them gallusus. The Bowery Boys behaved a certain way. They all had their own uniforms. There's the Plug Uglies. They're from somewhere deep in the old country. Got their own language. No one understands what they're saying. They love to fight the cops. And the Nightwalkers and Ratpickers were on. They work on their backs and kill with their hands. They're so scurvy only the Plug Uglies will talk to them, but who knows what they're saying? We could take license with that. In the case of the very few characters in the film of the upper classes, were more conventional. But everything else, you could let your mind go. [MUSIC PLAYING] Of course, films like Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or going up to After Hours, things like that, it's a different kind of costume design. In other words, it shouldn't be confused, I think, with the costume designers o...

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.

Scorsese has always been one of my personal heroes. He explains the process so thoroughly and effortlessly that it's hard not to be inspired.

Martin is a master, thank you for allowing us listening to his Masterclass.

I like the fact that Martin is very honest about the process, he reminds us that no technology will make films for us, and its up to us to do it anyway. I'm inspired.

Great Anecdotes and obviously an incredible film historian but not the most engaging and not enough explanation as to the HOW of his and others work


Antonia T.

I love the fact that Scorsese allowed Robert De Niro to choose part of his costume.

Chava G.

I was born 73W 40N38, and these films were very comfortable, because f the accuracy of costume and the brilliance of direction and the precision acting. Makes all the difference, and the advice is precious - rare and very helpful.

Nicole D.

Captures the essence of the creative process of defining characters, time and place through the clothing actors wear.

Teddy W.

The character and the story decide what she or he wearing. Director and the costume designer have to find it. As a DP, I usually think about the color of cloth and the background. The way find the right clothe is never stop to find until you find it. The best costume designer is the one who have the good taste about the cloth and have the ability of understand the story.

Andrea R.

When a director allows an actor/actress to get involved in the external process of character development/construction it really pays off, not only it makes the actor feel comfortable but it also allows them to express their perception of the character.


There isn't a film he's mentioned here that I haven't seen many times. I really enjoyed this lesson. A great walk down memory lane.


I love period pieces from the early 1920s -1950s. Unfortunately, the designers don't get the kind of recognition a designer of a film like Dangerous Liasons would get. The less it looks like a costume, the harder it is to appreciate it contribution to developing the character's realism.

George C.

thereabouts and roundabouts and New York specific and fancy pants and fame glitz and terrible lesson.

Dinar D.

Costumes truly are a part of characterization so much so that it gives the fourth dimension to the role and the scene. This chapter has made things more clear about involving the artists in the discussion of their character's costume to involve them in the characterization process.