Arts & Entertainment

Understanding Cinematography

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 11:00 min

Martin teaches you how to work with your cinematographer and tells you the best way to learn—by asking your DP questions.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Don’t Be Intimidated by What You Don’t Know • Discovering the Power of Light in Cape Fear • Creating Powerful Images


There's so much to know that you don't know. And I always found this to be something about film making. No matter what the technology is, you shouldn't be cowed by the technology. You shouldn't be cowed by the process in a sense. You should have the kind of passion and bravery and ignorance, I think, to a certain extent, of wanting to get something done. Because if you really thought about making a picture, if you really thought about it step by step, you'd never do it. It's always a situation where you wind up, like, three days into shooting or so, or two days, and you say, what have I done? What was I thinking? But you have to do it. When it came to light, I never really understood light. I still really don't. I don't really need to, I don't think. I never really became something that was prominent in designing scenes. And I think a lot of that had to do-- it took me years to understand a lot of that had to do where I grew up. I grew up in actually the tenements and on Elizabeth Street in the late '40s through the '50s into the '60s. And basically all I needed to know there was daylight at night. I didn't really-- if it was dark, it was dark. There was maybe a light bulb in the hallway. It wasn't complaining about any deprivation of nature's beauty. It was where you were. And it had its own beauty, you know? Yes, there's a nuance that I did learn. On a daylight, in a daylight situation there could be clouds and there could be sun. I got that. But aside from that, where the sun is and where things to be shot at a certain time of day, I really don't-- I still don't know. I still don't know. Maybe that's why I like a lot of British cinematographers too because of the overcast in their country. But in any event, I learned to work very closely with the directors of photography over the years. And in designing the shots, they would add the element of light. I would change. I would work it. I began to understand something about it. And so this is something that I think can be, if not learned, can be coexist with the necessity of making the film. You deal with it. You-- if you don't know something ask. Try it. You know, learn as much-- you may forget afterwards, but you learn a little bit each time a little more. But it's something that shouldn't stop you. If there are certain elements of the actual production, or how to get an image on screen or how to tell a story, you'll find your way through. Freddie's work I'd seen as a cinematographer. But also he was the camera operator on Tales of Hoffmann and a couple of other films of Powell, Pressburger. So he came out of that group and got to know him a bit. I was there the night he won the Academy Award for Glory and said he was looking for a job. And so I thought of possibly working with him on this film Cape Fear, which was a film I hadn't...

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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