Arts & Entertainment

Production Design

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 18:05 min

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.

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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


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. ...

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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