From Martin Scorsese's MasterClass

Production Design

Martin teaches you how to reflect the themes of a story through production design. Learn how to bring the world of your film to life and when to take artistic license when depicting historical periods.

Topics include: Being Truthful to a Time and Place in Goodfellas • Capturing the Spirit of a Place in Casino • Building the World of Gangs of New York • Bringing the Look of Hollywood Musicals to New York, New York


Martin teaches you how to reflect the themes of a story through production design. Learn how to bring the world of your film to life and when to take artistic license when depicting historical periods.

Topics include: Being Truthful to a Time and Place in Goodfellas • Capturing the Spirit of a Place in Casino • Building the World of Gangs of New York • Bringing the Look of Hollywood Musicals to New York, New York

Martin Scorsese

Teaches Filmmaking

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The production design, for example, of Goodfellas, is somewhat different, of course, from the production design of Raging Bull. I mean, Raging Bull was black and white, and takes place in the '40s, and into the early '50s, I think. We very often did tests on black and white film of the black and white interiors, black and white clothes, that sort of thing. It was a very different approach. But in Goodfellas, it was to be truthful to the time and place, and what they had to do with costumes, and particularly production design, or the use of actual locations. And I just drew on memory, really, a great deal. Some of it is a heightened memory. But the Copacabana, I could tell you was quite accurate. I was there a lot, and that's what usually happened. I didn't go in the back way. But we did get to sit at the ringside, by the dance floor. Inevitably-- and we thought we had great seats-- inevitably, there'll be a table that would come in and be placed in front of you, and these wise guys would be sitting there. So you couldn't see anything. But in any event, we just really had to be as truthful as possible to the period, but also what I remember. [MUSIC PLAYING] Now when you take it to Casino, which was an extension of Goodfellas, in a way, it goes to Las Vegas in the '70s. And we had to, I feel, give the impression, first of all 235 aspect ratio as opposed to a 185. It was wider screen. You get the impression of a spectacle, a spectacle like a Las Vegas show basically. You could say glitz, you could say theatrical to a certain extent, yes. But a lot of this was played out against theatrical backgrounds. I mean, one of the best films made about Las Vegas was in '59, I think, or '60. It was the Oceans 11, the original one. First half of the picture is like a time capsule of Vegas at that time, in wide screen and color, what these places really looked like, and shot on location. Here, we had to make references, so to speak, to certain places. We couldn't use names, the Stardust Casino. We had to make up another one, because there were certain technical problems in terms of some of the people still being alive and not wanting any connection with it. The major element, change, in Casino was to blast it open and to make it like sequences of fireworks almost across the screen, starting with the explosion in the car and the Saul and Elaine Bass titles. The idea was to make it a Vegas nightclub act, really. And so we went that way, along with-- first time I worked with Bob Richardson-- along with the lighting and the camera moves, and that sort of thing. We had references for everything. I mean, there were pictures. There was some motion pictures, not really a lot. But lots of stills, lots of use of color that we saw, costumes we knew. The idea of the Tangier Hotel, which was really, was supposed to be the Stardust or something. ...

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.

I have a spark that is itching to ignite. It's in me and I'm baring down on it. This masterclass is a chemical compound developed to ignite that spark.

Although I am a photographer, it is still storytelling. This class is full of information and gave me a great deal to ponder. I love the insights that Mr. Scorsese shares. I know I will be able to integrate many of his insights into my photography.

Loved it...He is such a master of storytelling. His analysis of scenes was the best part. Thanks for this. You are such an inspiration.

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


Andrea R.

The last minutes of this video were very touchful, it sums up that the production design depends on the emotion that you as a filmmaker want to express.


I am so glad to talked about New York New York. If it was up to me, it would have been a block buster. When it became available on iTunes, I watched it a dozen times.


In what context was he referencing the "1-3-5" ratio? I have heard of it in the form of writing the screenplay, but he appeared to refer to 1-3-5 in a different form.

Roberto S.

Obviously I hold MS in the highest regard, and love dissecting him and his work to learn as much about film as possible... BUT ... I find it, lets say interesting, the way he explains why he does the things he does ... he is always saying "I want to explore what that is about" but never coming to a conclusion. Like when he is talking about the backdrop of trees, and says he wants to explore the idea of that ... he makes it sound like he just has these questions, and doesnt approach it with a conclusion, more just like an experiment, and lets the question hang there, as if he's not making these decisions with purpose but more for the sake of posing a question. I wonder if that is the case, or, if he has a feeling about what it is doing, or why it should be that way, and just isnt sharing that.

Marco P.

Science Fiction in reverse? I would like to know more about that term. It's an interesting idea, I think.


Really like how this makes you reflect on your choices as a filmmaker when it comes to production design. I think we often just go with whatever space there is when we're on a budget, but fail to consider the thematic choices of it.

Jo E.

Great Lesson with important information on Production Design and the details involved when shooting historical events.

Gene B.

Great lesson! I like how he has different approaches and methods of production design in the films mentioned in this video, since all of them are in a different time, setting, perspectives, and different group of people. Having different approaches allows filmmakers to portray the aspect of the world at the time in various ways that creates a coherent depiction of the world in the movie in such creative manner!

Mia S.

"But what was it like, in those films? What were they trying to tell us, in the use of production design - the glorification of the image, the implication of fantasy. I always said, 'What happens after the end, they go off, supposedly live happily ever after, do they? I sort of went against the whole idea of it by exploring that part of it, exploring whatever truth I could find at the time in a love relationship that had to do with two very creative people, and the ups and downs of that. Ultimately ending in the reality that they don't get along, which was the antithesis of the style that we're showing, presenting. We even went as far as to shoot everything with a 32 mm lens, to keep it - if you see it on television, it should look right, like an old film. I think stylization was really important in this codifying, particularly in the style of acting that was in the foreground. We decided to go all the way on that. Boris had a way of designing things where he would strip away the unnecessary. In this case, the vertical lines of the trees was what it was all about, and the fact that we know it's a backdrop. Really, it's about the people - when you look at the two of them, the coats they're wearing, all of this ultimately is about the two of them. I may have been trying to get at, 'Why was I so involved with these people and the films I saw when I was younger, knowing full well the background is fake? What does that mean?' You could have someone on a stage, she or he, delivering a monologue in black, and yet you see everything. What is that about? There is no set. Granted, at times I feel you're much more comfortable in an actual location, or more naturalistic sets, but I liked the abstract nature of it, because I wanted to stay with the people, and have the spectacle around them that was abstract. This is something that was an experiment, in a sense - it was a time we could experiment that way."

Mia S.

"The caverns below the city, growing up we knew of these tunnels. Below those tenements, there are cellars and sub-cellars. A lot of this was people trying to get away from scams that they were doing or trying to get away from police, rival gang members - you go in the building on Elizabeth Street, come out on Mulberry, you'd get away, it's just common sense. A lot of it has been closed off, but these things exist - so we took that and pushed it open, like the old brewery and the shot in which we sliced the set in half, and you see all the compartments - you see all the different goings-on, nefarious goings-on, in that old brewery. A number of films are certainly referenced there, including 'The Ladies' Man,' where he just splits the set and you pull back, it's an extraordinary moment. But we kept that idea and obviously, when you see a place like that cut in half, you see these different rooms, all this activity, it's not meant to be natural, it's not meant to be realistic. You could hopefully expect anything to happen, in terms of the look of this picture and behavior of the characters in the film, so we imply that the tunnels were bigger or more intricate. But it's the implication of people hiding out, doing things underground constantly, it still goes on everywhere. We just took that as a concept and opened it and made it maybe slightly eccentric in a way. I became involved in a project called 'New York, New York,' and right at the height of my exuberance and love for the old Hollywood - which was being destroyed at that point - and in an attempt to retain some of it, or at least explore aspects of the old Hollywood, I decided to make that film in such a way that the production design, the look of the picture, would be the codified look of the studio cinema, of musicals from the 40s and 50s in Hollywood, meaning that we knew it was a code. New York was usually codified - interior sets, curbs were always a foot high, and we knew that was not the real New York but we accepted the dream, the fantasy of that. I wanted to live in that world, and put that again on the screen. At the same time, incorporate the new style of improvisation development of the story, work with the actors, and place the two together. Particularly in a musical, with the use of a look of three-strip Technicolor, very difficult at that time. I tried to shoot it 1:3:3, but we had to resort to 1:6:6, for a number of technical reasons..."