Chapter 16 of 30 from Martin Scorsese

Shooting Low-Budget Films

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Discover Martin's experience with low-budget filmmaking collaborating with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Learn how to creatively get the shots you need, even under tight budget and schedule constraints.

Topics include: Low-Budget Filmmaking Can Re-Energize Your Creative Process • Getting the Shots on a Tight Schedule in The Last Temptation of Christ

Discover Martin's experience with low-budget filmmaking collaborating with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Learn how to creatively get the shots you need, even under tight budget and schedule constraints.

Topics include: Low-Budget Filmmaking Can Re-Energize Your Creative Process • Getting the Shots on a Tight Schedule in The Last Temptation of Christ

Martin Scorsese

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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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 class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach to filmmaking, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make—and watch—movies.

Watch, listen, and learn as Martin teaches his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Martin will also answer select student questions.

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It definitely gave an overview from the point-of-view of a master, but also—what's even more precious—it sparked a lot of ideas. It got my brain working and inspired me. Thanks, Marty. (I hope it's okay to say "Marty.")

I have learned a good starting place for developing my craft of writing, and I also really enjoy the film clips used as examples. I wish course had more film clips with breakdown of each clip. Overall, I loved this course!

While there was not a lot of flair in this course there was a ton of insight and critical thinking on the part of a director. Martin Scorsese keeps you in front of your computer the whole time as you want to take in every word!

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Comments

Ketzal M.

Not even Scorsese can get enough funding for some of his projects. And he's freaking SCORSESE!

Jo E.

Great Lesson…! Financing is important...time is money...! When you can be efficient and still get a quality film made that says a lot...!

Jeff

All due respect, a 40 day schedule is "low budget?" Come on. And while I'm here, where was the research for Last Temptation? The depiction of crucifixion here is comical and idiotic. Even in regards to filmmaking and story telling. Real crucifixion was slow torture. The arms were completely spread out and the body was fully extended. Nails were put in the hands and feet for two reasons, the obvious, but also to make breathing extremely difficult. The person had to push up on his feet or hands in order to take a breath. The nails in the hands and feet made the simple act of breathing excruciating. Eventually, the person would not be able to hold up the weight of their own body. Crucifixion was very slow suffocation. They had them seated!

Avery D.

Another fantastic insight! It's comforting to know that even Mr. Scorsese has to accept the shots that he gets, remember to have fun, and make the best of the situation. I hope to take this advice into my next creative venture!

Robert A.

I now have a different perspective on low budget filmmaking. Great to know!!!. Thank you Martin!!!. Onward!!!.

Gene B.

Working on low budget-films is certainly tedious! But at the same time, in an independent and harder process, you appreciate the beauty of hard work in the process to create a film you desire. You do everything on your own and work with people that allow​ you to look forward to and excites you about the film and the beauty in its hardworking process.

Ross K.

I want to ask for some advice from the community. I really liked the advice of Martin Scrosese to draw the film shots but I'm terrible at drawing, just terrible. Could anyone recommend a software program where I can create scene characters (in a drawing style) and add additional things manually, so it will look decent for the film crew? What is the most advanced program to learn? I would really appreciate any advice on my question as I see the importance of visualization of every shot for better cooperation with other people in order to shoot a good film.

Mia S.

"Him, my AD, my producer sitting in a small room five days before shooting the scene, going through all the shots, saying 'Instead of three days, we have two. So, what could we lose?' It became 50 shots - 25 and 25. We got them all. How he did that was something referring back to what he did with Fassbender, where I think a few days into shooting, Fassbender fired the lead actor and then took the role himself, so they had to reshoot everything they had shot for those three days in one day and night. How they worked it out was timing so that, for example, in the crucifixion scene, the first shot we would give 10 minutes. The fourth shot was a little more complicated - 15. If it goes to 17, we have to move on, accept what we have. There was one shot, the camera twists and turns, he says, 'That is 45 minutes.' And that's how we did it. Literally, within that 10 minutes - I used to call it 'quality time' - we'd be intent on getting what we needed to get. Or if not, shooting an extra two takes, squeezing it in to figure it out later - certain elements of the different takes, which one I'll go with in the editing; that was a very logical and passionate way of going about it, saying, 'We're going to get it, but we have to combine these 75 shots into 50. We'll have 35 set ups a day.' The thing was like a commando group - we got there in the dark, and the moment light broke, we started shooting immediately. It was like being in a battle of some kind, very physical. He always made it clear to me about the value of what we were doing in that particular shot or day. So what to go for, what to emphasize - 'go for', where to put the energy and what to look forward to. He was very clear about - he didn't really say 'This is the way this film has to be made,' but he kept saying, 'We will make it.' I kept knowing that everything was being taken away, the script was being changed, there were lots of production problems, but he would look at me and say, 'We're going to finish it.' Whether we did or not ultimately doesn't matter, it's how we got through each day of the skirmishes and the battles to make the picture."

Mia S.

"Very, very low budget film - the whole picture was designed on paper, mainly because that's the way I always design a film as much as possible, but even more so in that case because I knew that if I had the chance to make the picture, it was going to be very low budget and I had to shoot very quickly, so I had to know exactly what I wanted in terms of the framing, camera movements, editing, that sort of thing. The first day of shooting, we knew it - we understood that it was going to be an arduous shoot. After the second set-up, just trying to set up a tripod and the ground and things falling, he looked at us and said, 'Well, this is the way this film is going to be - every movement we make, everything we set up, is going to be hard to do. So just accept it now,' which we did. We worked as furiously as possible. At one point things were so difficult, I was so in despair about losing time and not getting the right amount of extras; about eight weeks into shooting, saying, 'Maybe I should have waited, to have more money in the budget...' knowing I had waited six, seven years to take the opportunity. He said to me, 'No, this film has to be made this way; the physicality and suffering that had to be done, that's the nature of this work.' Not that any film is luxurious in that way, but this really became more than making a film, it became a life experience. We had one company move from Marrakesh to a little village called Oumran; then we had one company move to a city called Meknes, which gave a flavor of an urban center, suggesting Jerusalem, we thought. That meant we couldn't afford a third - we wanted to go to another place, but we couldn't do it. The only thing was that we found a quarry for the crucifixion that was really very good, and we wanted to keep the crucifixion for the end of the film, but we had to shoot it in the middle in order to take advantage of this location. I had designed - I remember very clearly - 75 shots, whether they were notes, drawings, they were design; figure, 25 shots a day. Now it's a very hard scene to stage, but we were under such pressure, particularly because we were gone days over schedule and were running out of money, that we had to make that move at that time."

Mia S.

"I felt that I had to learn how to make a picture faster, cheaper, and still have the energy in the film - in fact, go further, with a certain kind of camera move, cutting. I first met Ballhaus - having gone though a series of films up to 1981, and sort of the bottom fell out of everything after that - 'The Last Temptation of Christ' in 1983, and I'd seen his Fassbender films and I wanted a sense of freedom with the camera again, freedom with light. In a sense I felt that with the bigger productions from - this is not the director of photography's issue, this had to do with how a film is made, the amount of people, equipment - I wanted to get something trimmer and faster. I felt I should go back to independent style filmmaking. The film fell through and we were out in the diaspora, so to speak - out of Hollywood, everywhere, couldn't get a picture made. But finally it was time to start all over again, I felt. We stumbled upon 'After Hours,' and so I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again, and also a project of course that I really responded to because of the nature of the story and the character being out of his element and in a place where he couldn't believe anyone or anything and he's sort of trapped. That's the way I felt myself, at the time. We shot it in 40 nights, averaging about 25 to 26 set-ups a night. Michael would be on the set and it was downtown somewhere in the old Soho, which was really isolated at night, there was nobody there. I'd get there and be kind of grumpy, concerned about getting everything done - proving to myself I can get something shot in a more efficient manner that still had everything I wanted. I'm not quite sure of this particular scene, and he says, 'Ah, but tonight we do the shot that begins on the chair, tracks up, goes around the face, comes over to the telephone, goes to the jukebox. We don't do it first, we're going to do it a little later, I have certain lighting issues...' But he gave me something to look forward to, and brought back the excitement and the love of the process: 'Look, we're going to have some fun tonight.' Fun, I use that word for many different things - ironic tone, of course; but it really was bringing back to me the energy of filmmaking. I had designed all these shots - drawing and diagrams, smaller storyboards on the edge of the script rather than bigger drawings. Ballhaus studied them and made his own versions, transferred them to his script and made his. He studied the shots, the understanding, tried to understand how the camera would move, the use of the lens, size lens."

Transcript

I felt that I had to learn how to make a picture faster, cheaper, and still have, still have the energy in the film. In fact, go further with a certain kind of camera move and cutting and this sort of thing. And when I first met Michael Ballhaus in-- Having had gone through a series of films up to about 1981, up to King of Comedy, and sort of the bottom fell out of everything after that. But I did meet Michael when we were preparing The Last Temptation of Christ in 1983 and I'd seen his Fassbender films that he had shot. And I wanted a sense of freedom with the camera again and freedom with light. In a sense, I felt that with the bigger productions from-- as this is not the director's of photography's issue. This had to do with how a film is made, the amount of people, the amount of equipment I wanted to get something trimmer and faster, you know. And so I felt I should go back to independent style of film making. And I saw the Fassbender pictures and then I followed up on that with meeting Michael. And we were going to make Last Temptation, but by the end of the year, the film fell through and we were out in the diaspora, so to speak, out of Hollywood, everywhere. And couldn't get a picture made. But finally, it was time to start all over again I felt. And we stumbled upon, I think it was Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne gave me the script of After Hours . And so I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again and also a project, of course, that I really responded to because of the nature of the story and the character being out of his element and being in a place where he couldn't believe anyone or anything, and he's sort of trapped. And I thought this was-- That's the way I felt, myself, at the time. And so I called on Michael again there. And that's the first time we really had the ability to work together. We shot it in 40 nights, averaging about 25 to 26 setups a night. And so Michael would be on the set and it was you know, downtown somewhere in the old Soho, which, at that time, was really isolated at night. There was nobody there. And I'd get there and I'd be kind of grumpy, concerned about getting everything done, proving to myself I can get something shot in a more efficient manner that still had everything I wanted. I'm not quite sure of this particular scene. And he would look at me and says, ah, but tonight, tonight we do the shot that begins on the chair, tracks up, goes around the face, comes over to the telephone, goes to the jukebox. I says, oh, you're right, you're right. Yeah, yeah, that's something-- See, we don't do it first. No, no. Of course not. We're going to do it a little later because I have certain lighting issues. OK. OK. But he gave me something to look forward to and brought back the excitement and the love of the process, you know. He said, look, we're going t...