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Martin Scorsese is one of America’s favorite directors. He is an icon in Hollywood and one of the most beloved directors of all time. His career spans almost 50 years and in that time, he has directed some all-time American classics. He’s known for making violent and graphic movies that depict American life. Some of his classics include Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and The Irishman.
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#1 He grew up in Manhattan
Scorsese grew up in Little Italy. He said living there was like living in a “little piece of Sicily.” His time there was inspiration for his first theatrical release, Who’s That Knocking at My Door which is set in Little Italy. He was always interested in film but had a brief stint of wanting to be a Catholic priest. Fortunately, his obsession with film returned after he was rejected from the priesthood.
2- He studied film at NYU Tisch
Scorsese studied at Tisch for both college and graduate school. His influences during these formative years were wide-spanning: everything from Hollywood musicals to foreign dramas.
#3- Scorsese began his career editing concert films
Every director gets their start in the film industry somewhere. Scorsese began his career editing concert films. He edited Elvis on Tour in 1972 documenting the life of Elvis Presley both on and offstage and Medicine Ball Caravan in 1971 which followed several musicians performing at Woodstock. Most notably he directed perhaps the greatest concert film of all-time, The Last Waltz, a 1978 release documenting The Band’s final tour.
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#4- He directed a documentary about the Vietnam War
While he is better known for his narrative work, Scorsese directed Street Scenes in 1970. The documentary centered around protests in New York City against the Vietnam War. It was shot by Scorsese and several other NYU students who took an interest in the protests. The documentary contains both black and white and color footage.
#5- You wouldn’t think him a softie but…
Martin Scorsese is known for his graphic and violent films. He is less known for being a total dog lover. During the early years of his film career, Scorsese was not caught on set without his beloved bulldog, Zoe. Zoe often sat on his lap in the director’s chair. Not known to be the hardest working crewmember, Zoe could often be found sleeping on set. Unfortunately, Zoe is no longer with us, but she’s probably napping the day away on film sets in doggie heaven.
#6 But don’t worry, Zoe wasn’t the end of the Scorsese’s love affair with dogs
In fact, Scorsese loves his current dogs enough to give them their own Instagram page. Jasmine, Flora, and Mac are some true social media influencers. They are all terriers and all drop dead adorable.
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#7- Mean Streets was reworked from Scorsese’s theatrical debut
Scorsese’s breakout film was Mean Streets which was praised by fans and critics alike. The film was reworked from Scorsese’s first theatrical debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door. Both films center around crime and gang violence in New York. Mean Streets features realistic detail and naturalistic performances which were trademarks of Scorsese’s early work.
#8- Music is king
Music plays a central role in many of Scorsese’s movies. He often uses music to intensify action and advance the story of his movies. You can read about some of Scorsese’s best work with music in his films in this article. It should come as no surprise that Scorsese is rarely seen without his IPod.
#9- He does non-violent drama too
A jack of all trades, after finishing on Mean Streets, Scorsese began working on Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. A far cry from the explosions and violence of Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is about a widow who starts life anew and attempts to start a career as a singer.
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#10 Taxi Driver was Brian Herrmann’s final film
Brian Herrmann was the composer on Scorsese’s 1976 film, Taxi Driver. Herrmann was famed for composing the score of the first season of The Twilight Zone as well as the film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Hermann suffered a heart attack after coming home from a screening of Taxi Driver and unfortunately, he didn’t survive. Scorsese dedicated Taxi Driver to his memory.
#11 Scorsese is barred from entering Tibet
After the debut of the Scorsese directed film Kundun, Scorsese joined a list of fifty people barred from entering Tibet. This was because the film is about the Dalai Lama dealing with Chinese oppression. The film’s political nature led to the banishment.
#12- The Irishman’s first shot is a recreation of the first shot in Goodfellas
Go back and watch The Irishman and you might be surprised to find that the first shot is a sardonic recreation of the first shot in Goodfellas. Later in The Irishman, you’ll notice an appearance of the prison where Henry Hill waited out his sentence in Goodfellas.
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#13- He loves to use improv in his movies
Improv is a technique that when used correctly, can make an actor feel closer to his or her character and give scenes a more personal touch. Scorsese is known to let his actors go off script quite a bit. This can be found in the scene in The King of Comedy in which Rupert shows up at Jerry’s house. In that scene, Jonno has trouble opening the front door because Kim Chan really struggled with opening that door. Also, the famous “You talkin’ to me?” line in Taxi Driver was improvised.
#14- King of Comedy was an emotionally grueling experience for Scorsese to make
In interviews, Scorsese has admitted that the making of The King of Comedy was an unsettling experience. This is because some scenes were downright awkward to film because of the uncomfortable nature of the script.
#15 When he works with Robert De Niro, the set is closed to all outsiders
It’s likely because of the close relationship Scorsese has with De Niro. He probably hopes to get a more focused performance with minimal distractions.
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#16 Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation
More than half of all films made before 1950 have been lost to deteriorating film stock. Scorsese founded The Film Foundation in 1990. The goal of the organization is to preserve old classic movies. The foundation has saved over 600 films since its founding.
#17 Domenica Cameron Scorsese followed in her father’s footsteps
Domenica Cameron Scorsese was born in 1976 to Scorsese and then-wife writer Julia Cameron. Domenica is a writer, director, and actress. She has worked on several films including The Age of Innocence (1993), A Little God (2001), and Cape Fear (1991). Her films have been slightly more down to earth than her dad’s that are filled with pyrotechnics and graphic violence. Domenica has twenty-three acting credits, four directing, and two writing.
#18 He’s in a “comfortable state of anxiety”
In an interview with Movie Maker, Scorsese disclosed his past struggles with mental health. He is one of 40 million Americans that struggle with anxiety. At one point in his career, he’d have panic attacks over the number eleven. He’d dread going to the eleventh floor of buildings and refused to travel on the eleventh day of the month. However, Scorsese has learned to manage his anxiety and lives in “a comfortable state of anxiety.”
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#19- He has been nominated for ten different Oscars but has won only one
He won Best Director for his 2006 film The Departed.
#20- His mom was an actress
Catherine Scorsese lived till the ripe old age of 85. She had a long career acting in sixteen different films including several films that her son directed. She played Piscano’s mother in Casino, Tommy’s mother in Goodfellas, Rupert’s mom in King of Comedy, and Iris’ mom in Taxi Driver. She also acted in Moonstruck and was an extra in Muppets Take Manhattan!
#21- He makes cameos in his own movies
Scorsese was making appearances in his own movies long before Stan Lee made it cool. He’s appeared in cameo roles in nearly all of his movies. He is often hidden in plain sight for eagle-eyed viewers to find. Some were even unintentional. The scene in which Travis Bickle confesses to cheating on his wife in Taxi Driver, the passenger was supposed to be played by another actor. The actor called in sick and Scorsese stepped in.
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#22- The Irishman almost didn’t get made
According to Thelma Schoonmaker, editor of The Irishman, studios were afraid to touch the film. Scorsese spent seven years trying to get funding for the movie. The effects Scorsese planned on using such as de-aging the actors were prohibitively expensive. Yet, we all know how this story ends. The Irishman was a huge success raking in $122 million for the streaming service Netflix.
#23- He spent his 77th birthday at the Getty
77 is a big birthday. Anyone who makes it to that age deserves a big celebration. Being the classy gentleman he is, Scorsese opted to spend his at the Getty art museum in LA. However, as he explained in this interview with Jimmy Kimmel, it’s still on his bucket list to make it back to Pompeii.
#24- The Irishman is based on I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
Unfortunately, that paint comes in only one color and that color happens to match the color of your innards. The book chronicles the life of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran who confessed having worked with the Bufalino crime family. Thickening the plot, Sheeran’s confessions, which became the meat of the book, were later disputed in an article by Slate entitled “The Lies of the Irishman”.
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#25- Scorsese doesn’t care if the events of The Irishman are true
What he does care about is how the events of the story affect people. Scorsese recalls that when Robert De Niro pitched Scorsese the movie, he started getting choked up and that’s what convinced Scorsese to take on the project. He says the overall themes of the book, the consequences of life, and what is made of life, ring true no matter what.
#26- He draws his own Storyboards
#27- The Irishman had been Scorsese and De Niro’s first project together since Casino.
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro seem like a match made in heaven. Granted, heaven designed by an arsonist who does hitman work on the side, but still heaven. Scorsese is America’s go-to mafia movie director and De Niro’s demeanor makes you think he was a mob boss in another life. Scorsese and De Niro collaborated on a total of eight movies together in the 20th century. They made a short film together in 2015 but The Irishman is their first feature-length collaboration since the 90s.
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#28- His all-time favorite TV show is Fawlty Towers
Who doesn’t love Monty Python’s John Cleese? Although it’s certainly not expected to be a favorite of the master of movie violence, Martin Scorsese can’t get enough of the classic British sitcom, Fawlty Towers.
#29- He could have directed Schindler’s List
Scorsese is going to win some points with the PC crowd with this story. He was offered the chance to direct Schindler’s List. He turned down the opportunity citing that a film about the Holocaust should be directed by someone who is Jewish. The director’s chair for the movie went to Steven Spielberg.
#30- He directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad
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#31- He directed an episode of Boardwalk Empire
Despite being known as a king of the big screen, Scorsese does have a few small-screen credits. He directed the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire on HBO. The episode has an 8.6/10 rating on IMDb.
#32 Joe Pesci had been working at an Italian restaurant when Scorsese offered him the role in Raging Bull
Joe Pesci had been acting since childhood but he gave it up in the 70s. That was until Scorsese pitched him the idea for Raging Bull. Pesci was excited by the idea and signed on right away. He became one of Scorsese’s go-to actors.
We, at Hollywood Insider, would like to wish continued success, prosperity, and happiness to one of our favorite directors, Martin Scorsese. Thank you for giving us the gift of cinema in your own style.
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Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie’s perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo Rabbit, Deadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and Morty, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.