Martin Scorsese Shares A Piece Of Advice For Filmmakers: What Does It Take To Become A Director?

In the documentary series, “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies,” the ace director takes us on an enchanting journey towards the beginning of cinema and how American films have evolved. In the first part of the documentary series, Martin Scorsese talks about the role of a director as a storyteller. Here, he also discussed how directors used to face several conflicts with the production houses and their never-ending demands. None of the people sitting at the top level of the management cared about films as an art form or even discussed the creative aspect of it, yet these were the films that inspired Martin Scorsese to become one of the greatest directors ever.

The contemporary world must understand the history of filmmaking in order to make quality cinema. We, as millennials, tend to rush into so many things, including this specific art form. Still, filmmaking demands from you a certain kind of understanding of the rich history from which it has evolved and that grasping such knowledge requires devotion, wisdom, and a mutiny rising from within. Cinematic history is filled with instances where great minds sparkled, and even greater intellects failed to cope. With his vistas of magnificent brilliance, Martin Scorsese gave us a chance to revisit cinema history with such plentiful examples. Today’s chapter is typically based on directors’ struggles with giant production houses. So, without hesitation, let’s educate ourselves through the words of a wise man.

A Director Is Constantly Striving To Create Better And Better Films.

The documentary starts with a clip from “The Bad and the Beautiful,” released in 1952. Jonathan Shields was a tycoon in the Hollywood production business, whereas Mr. Von Ellstein was a renowned director. After a long argument, Mr. Von Ellstein told Jonathan Shields that a man needs humility to direct a picture. Now, what did he mean by that? Well, he profoundly answered the concerned question here. What does it mean to be a director? A director is someone who acquires humility. And humility comes from understanding one simple fact: no art is perfect, which is why a director always tries to make a better film each time. Martin Scorsese compares this addiction with Frank Capra’s famous quote where he compares the film with a disease, and thus, at the end of things, the antidote to such a film addiction is to make more and more films. It is an eternal devotion toward your goal of telling a better story, specifically to making a better film. Even Martin Scorsese went through such a struggle, as there were not many written books on films back in that time. He used to borrow “A Pictorial History of the Movies” by Deems Taylor from the New York Public Library.

The Eternal Conflict Between The Director And The Studio

Well, this is some sort of riddle that made Martin Scorsese wonder at times. To this day, he sometimes gets lost in this very question about the method of surviving the constant tug-of-war between personal and commercial transitions. There are a couple of questions raised by the great man himself, like when you work in Hollywood, does it mean you end up compromising your art or visions? Or is it to make one film for the production house and one for yourself? From the early days, the hints were pretty straightforward. The production houses interrupted the directors from achieving their visions by constantly interfering in the creative process and taking away certain creative freedom from the director. And why? Well, there were many rules in Hollywood’s game of power. The people sitting on the top always want to prove who is the real boss, which in turn ruins the prospects of great art.

For instance, take the example of “The Bad and the Beautiful,” where the director’s dilemma is vividly established. The filmmaking business is only familiar with the creative tug-of-war between the director and the producer. Be it in the 30s or today; this remains one of the foundational problems of this platform for artists. Martin Scorsese stated one institutionalized truth between the past and present days of filmmaking, i.e., every decision is solely based upon the producer’s perspective and the audience’s demand. It was never about the awards for the producers; it had always been the commercialization of the forum. Gregory Peck, one of the most famous American actors, whose career spanned from the 40s to the 70s, described his period as a time when producers played a crucial role in deciding what was suitable for the film and what was not; a producer used to pick the script and cast the director.

Martin Scorsese talks about another such incident and brings up the case of King Vidor, who is known to be the father of Hollywood. A director of such stature was denied complete freedom in making “The Dual in the Sun.” Producer David O. Selznick acted as the creative head of the film. He was so obsessed with perfecting the play in “Dual in The Sun” that he wished to outsmart his most outstanding achievement, i.e., “Gone with the Wind.” So, while King Vidor was directing “Dual in the Sun,” Selznick changed the scripts and tried to interfere with the director’s vision. The turmoil affected the whole set when the director and producer were not in the same boat. Finally, when King Vidor felt like leaving the film, it was William Dieterle who finished the rest of the film. This happens when the sync doesn’t work. As the producer is giving away so much money, he becomes overprotective about his investment, and thus, in a way, doesn’t trust the director’s vision. But, when you are investing in a creative mind, it demands freedom as well as respect for his craft at the same time. Filmmaking is about taking creative risks, and thus, people who are looking for a profitable return are indeed in the wrong profession.

Nevertheless, the tyranny of studio heads and producers continued for years, and it is relevant in modern times, but King Vidor showed us the path to tackle such a situation. He acted like a true pioneer who could balance both, convincing the producers as well as experimenting with the platform. What do we mean by experimenting? In simple terms, it means exploring the possibilities with unique approaches as a filmmaker. These films were not for mass or commercial benefit, but for intellectual audiences most of the time. This answers one of the questions raised by Martin Scorsese. Do you make one film for the production house and one for yourself? King Vidor did that, and although it was not a smooth ride for him, he remained one of the most prolific film directors of all time. The tactic is to deliver a successful film for the production so they can earn money, and then they will repay you by producing your project. This is how King Vidor made “The Crowd” in 1928, after giving MGM their most significant hit in the silent era: “The Big Parade.” Vidor used to make pictures out of his salary; thus, he successfully created one film for the production house and one for himself.

The Five Major Studios And Their Influence

There were five major studios in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s: MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, RKO, and Fox. Because they owned their chains of theatres, they practically started to control every aspect of filmmaking. The goal was not to create one or two remarkable films that would take their place in history, but to produce 50 films per annum. To construct such an enormous amount of work, these studios quite precisely signed long-term contracts with the stars, writers, directors, producers, and skilled technicians. The studios originated their styles so the audience could easily identify the differences between them. As Gregory Peck stated, MGM created a sophisticated look of their own, while Fox delivered a sense of realism or social conscience. MGM created its own set of rules specifically for directors, and those who refused to follow them, such as Erich von Stroheim and Buster Keaton, paid a high price for their independence.

Also, there were examples like Michael Curtiz, who made around 85 films for Warner Brothers, “Casablanca” being his 63rd. Martin Scorsese said these massive numbers were proof of the incredible opportunities the big studios gave these directors. There were also directors like Vincente Minnelli who introduced some discipline for the system to grow. Minnelli had the chance to sync with supportive producers like John Houseman, who allowed him to act on his own. But even though there were a few lucky ones who fortunately got some understanding productions, most directors felt miserable at the hands of their producers. Some might sense the similarities between the modern world and the vintage past. A saddening truth, yes, but it was forbidden for young directors to direct a million-dollar picture. The young directors might come up with an idea or story, but they were not allowed to execute it if the budget was massive.

The Strategy Is To Create Your Own Identity

Directors like Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille, and Alfred Hitchcock came up with solutions to survive these humongous creative stages. What they did was quite extraordinary and became a permanent escape from the dictatorship in filmmaking history. They originated their own style of filmmaking; the strategy was to create a niche for their own identity. They told a specific story in a particular style that would represent the director, not the studio. For the first time, it wasn’t Universal Pictures’ “Shadow of a Doubt,” but Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of Doubt.” The fact that this drove the audience into the theatres itself was quite an achievement. Frank Capra was one of the pioneers in setting this example who believed in the “one man, one film” notion. He thought that only one man should make a film and that he should always be the director, no matter what. He also remarked that he never looked at art as a committee. To him, it was always an extension of an individual.

The Conclusion

Many great directors fall into the traps of the giant studios and production houses; some create their own identity by thriving, and some lose it along the way. It is always about balancing and waiting for the right moment. Nothing much has changed since then. We all know how the system works, how producers interfere with the process, and how Zack Snyder repeatedly failed due to this turmoil. Directors like Martin Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan also had to endure the agony of sacrificing their creative freedom at times. Although they followed in the footsteps of the greats like Frank Capra and Hitchcock, they created their own storytelling style. Even the audience has evolved with time, and so today they put more faith in the directors than the giant production houses. The filmmaking world is full of puzzles, and all you need to do as a director is shift your balance from time to time. You must be willing to make a film without even caring about what the producers might think. Making a film was no less than fighting for your vision or your existence in the early days. Unfortunately, the present times we live in today are no different from the past. As a matter of fact, they are even more complicated at times.

See More: Guerrilla Filmmaking – An Approach To Independent Filmmaking

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Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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