Martin Scorsese is the most-nominated living director who dominated Hollywood since his first masterpiece, Taxi Driver in 1976.
Over the course of his career as a director, Scorsese has earned numerous accolades from some of the world’s most prestigious award-giving bodies including the Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards, and Golden Globe Awards.
With his meticulous filmmaking style and courageously persistent characters, Scorsese created a few of the most provocative films that will continue to arouse the imagination of the global audience.
In his 48 years as a filmmaker, Scorsese directed a total of 42 films including Taxi Driver (1976), GoodFellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), as well as The Irishman (2019).
There is no doubt that the legacy that Scorsese is cultivating will remain valuable in the film industry for generations to come and the aspiring filmmakers who want to follow in his footsteps will have much bigger shoes to fill.
So what filmmaking lessons can we draw from the words of one of the most celebrated directors of the 50 years. Below you’ll find 80 of the best Martin Scorsese quotes covering everything from cinema to directing to influences and much more.
At the end of the article we’ve listed 12 Scorsese quotes that every filmmaker needs to read to level up their filmmaking.
Martin Scorsese Quotes on Cinema
Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.
Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible.
Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.
I love movies – it’s my whole life, and that’s it.
In truly great films – the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable – nothing’s ever simple or neatly resolved. You’re left with a mystery.
We’re face to face with images all the time in a way that we never have been before… Young people need to understand that not all images are there to be consumed like fast food and then forgotten – we need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.
I’ve seen many, many movies over the years, and there are only a few that suddenly inspire you so much that you want to continue to make films.
Each film is interlocked with so many other films. You can’t get away. Whatever you do now that you think is new was already done in 1913.
Scorsese Quotes on Directing
I have a desire to tell stories. And I’m never quite satisfied.
The most important thing is the script.
When I’m making a film, I’m the audience.
I’m not videotaping my life, but in a way I am trying to put certain things about myself on canvas.
I look for a thematic idea running through my movies and I see that it’s the outsider struggling for recognition. I realize that all my life I’ve been an outsider, and above all, being lonely but never realizing it.
As in the case of many great films, maybe all of them, we don’t keep going back for the plot. Vertigo is a matter of mood as much as it’s a matter of storytelling – the special mood of San Francisco where the past is eerily alive and around you at all times… And, as the film critic B. Kite wrote, you haven’t really seen Vertigo until you’ve seen it again.
The image in the mind’s eye. For me, it’s where the obsession began. It’s what keeps me going, it never fails to excite me. Because you take one shot, you put it together with another shot, and you experience a third image in your mind’s eye that doesn’t really exist in those two other images.
The storyboard for me is the way to visualise the entire movie in advance.
Always get to the set or the location early, so that you can be all alone and draw your inspiration for the blocking and the setups in private and quiet. In one sense, it’s about protecting yourself; in another sense, it’s about always being open to surprise, even from the set, because there may be some detail that you hadn’t noticed. I think this is crucial. There are many pictures that seem good in so many ways except one: They lack a sense of surprise, they’ve never left the page.
I can’t take shooting any scene for granted. I just can’t. The moment I do that, I have no idea what I’m doing. “Oh, that’ll be easy, I’ll do that in five minutes.” Believe me, that never happens.
Sometimes when you’re heavy into the shooting or editing of a picture, you get to the point where you don’t know if you could ever do it again.
If you don’t get physically ill seeing your first rough cut, something’s wrong.
I wouldn’t presume to be God’s point of view.
I’m not interested in a realistic look, not at all, not ever. Every film should look the way I feel.
Music and film are inseparable. They always have been and always will be.
I go through periods, usually when I’m editing and shooting, of seeing only old films.
I had a fascination with 3D that goes back to the View-Master. I’d always dreamed of making a film in 3D. It’s like a combination of theatre and film. There’s something 3D gives to a movie that takes you to another land.
There’s only one place for the camera. That’s the right place. Where is the right place? I don’t know. You get there somehow.
More than ninety percent of directing a picture is the right casting.
[on Robert De Niro] And even now I still know of nobody who can surprise me on the screen the way he does – and did then. No actor comes to mind who can provide such power and excitement.
I considered it a true cinematic challenge of working with a versatile actor such as Robert De Niro, who moulds himself according to each character. The only other actor who matches his histrionic ability is Al Pacino.
I do prefer doing more takes. There’s something very organic that comes from the first take, but certain things come out. More details come out, in the way another actor says something. It’s always this investigative process. You come further and further to the truth, the more you escalate. I like to do a lot of takes. I have a hunger for it. I like to see what there is to discover in a scene, that hasn’t been thought of.
There was always a part of me that wanted to be an old-time director. But I couldn’t do that. I’m not a pro.
Hollywood and the Film Business
We have to remember – we may think we know what’s going to last and what isn’t. We may feel absolutely sure of ourselves, but we really don’t know, we can’t know.
The question of commercialism is a source of worry. Must one make a choice, must it be a matter of either setting your sights on winning an Academy Award and becoming a millionaire or making only the movies you want to make and starving to death?
Young film makers should learn how to deal with the money and learn how to deal with the power structure. Because it is like a battle.
I think there’s only one or two films where I’ve had all the financial support I needed. All the rest, I wish I’d had the money to shoot another ten days.
There are two kinds of power you have to fight. The first is the money, and that’s just our system. The other is the people close around you, knowing when to accept their criticism, knowing when to say no.
I think when you’re young and have that first burst of energy and make five or six pictures in a row that tell the stories of all the things in life you want to say… well, maybe those are the films that should have won me the Oscar. When Taxi Driver (1976) was up for Best Picture, it got three other nominations: Best Actor [Robert De Niro], Best Supporting Actress [Jodie Foster] and Best Music. But the director and writer were overlooked. I was so disappointed, I said, “You know what? That’s the way it’s going to be.” What was I going to do, go home and cry?
I prefer the escapism of fantasy, rather than the escapism of incredible sentimentality. What I’m afraid of is pandering to tastes that are superficial. There’s no depth anymore. What appears to be depth is often a facile character study… But they’re making a product, and a product’s gotta sell.
You want to get films made that express what you have to say. You try to do that, but it’s a very delicate balance.
As a kid I watched the Academy Awards on television and always wanted one – or several – like one of my favorite directors, John Ford. He won six. On the other hand, Orson Welles, who’s on the top of my list, didn’t win any. Alfred Hitchcock didn’t win any. Howard Hawks didn’t win any.
I think it’s certainly interesting that what’s happening now, in the past nine or ten years, particularly at HBO, was what we had hoped for in the mid-’60s when films were being made for television. We hoped that there would be this kind of freedom, the ability to create another world and develop character in a long-form story and narrative. That didn’t happen in the ’70s and ’80s with television. This is a good example, and HBO has really been the trail-blazer in this, with the extraordinary series that they’ve had. I’ve been tempted, over the years, to be involved in one of them because of the nature of the long-form and the development of character and plot. So many of their other series that have been made are thoughtful, intelligent and brilliantly put together. It’s a new opportunity for story-telling, which is very different from television in the past. This was my inroad.
What does it take to be a filmmaker in Hollywood? Even today I still wonder what it takes to be a professional or even an artist in Hollywood. How do you survive the constant tug of war between personal expression and commercial imperatives? What is the price you pay to work in Hollywood? Do you end up with a split personality? Do you make one movie for them, one for yourself?
Don’t pay attention to the industry. Do your own thing.
on Film and the Cinema Experience
The cinema began with a passionate, physical relationship between celluloid and the artists and craftsmen and technicians who handled it, manipulated it, and came to know it the way a lover comes to know every inch of the body of the beloved. No matter where the cinema goes, we cannot afford to lose sight of its beginnings.
Film is history. With every foot of film that is lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves.
I prefer celluloid – there’s no doubt about it. Yet I know that if I was starting to make movies now, as a young person, if I could get my hands on a DV camera, I probably would have started that way… There’s no doubt I’m an older advocate of pure celluloid, but ultimately I see it going by the wayside, except in museums, and even then it could be a problem.
I don’t think there is any difference between fantasy and reality in the way these should be approached in a film. Of course if you live that way you are clinically insane.
[February 2017, on why theaters are still the best way to see movies] The problem now is that it is everything around the frame that is distracting. Now you can see a film on an iPad. You might be able to push it closer to your [face] in your bedroom, just lock the door and look at it if you can but I do find just glimpsing stuff here or there, even watching a film at home on a big-screen TV, there is still stuff around the room. There’s a phone that rings. People go by. It is not the best way.
Our world is so glutted with useless information, images, useless images, sounds, all this sort of thing. It’s a cacophony, it’s like a madness I think that’s been happening in the past twenty-five years. And I think anything that can help a person sit in a room alone and not worry about it is good.
Martin Scorsese on Other Filmmakers and Influences
[On Akira Kurosawa] The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.”
L’avventura” gave me one of the most profound shocks I’ve ever had at the movies, greater even than “Breathless” or “Hiroshima, mon amour”. Or “La Dolce Vita”. At the time there were two camps, the people who liked the Fellini film and the ones who liked L’Avventura. I knew I was firmly on Antonioni’s side of the line, but if you’d asked me at the time, I’m not sure I would have been able to explain why. I loved Fellini’s pictures and I admired La Dolce Vita, but I was challenged by L’ Avventura. Fellini’s film moved me and entertained me, but Antonioni’s film changed my perception of cinema, and the world around me, and made both seem limitless. I was mesmerized by L’Avventura and by Antonioni’s subsequent films, and it was the fact that they were unresolved in any conventional sense that kept drawing me back. They posed mysteries – or rather the mystery, of who we are, what we are, to each other, to ourselves, to time. You could say that Antonioni was looking directly at the mysteries of the soul. That’s why I kept going back. I wanted to keep experiencing these pictures, wandering through them. I still do.
[on John Ford] To me and to so many directors, John Ford is a towering figure and continues to be a profound inspiration. His films deftly convey his unique and acute sense of humanity, his deep understanding of people. When I first started watching his films, Ford’s force behind the camera was palpable. He was a visionary in the truest form and his films are enriched with artistic energy. I see his films often, studying them and each time, I learn something new.
[on Stanley Kubrick] One of his films… is equivalent to ten of somebody else’s. Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountain top. You look up and wonder, “How could anyone have climbed that high?”
[asked if he has a favorite Stanley Kubrick film] I keep coming back to Barry Lyndon (1975). I think that’s because it’s such a profoundly emotional experience. The emotion is conveyed through the movement of the camera, the slowness of the pace, the way the characters move in relation to their surroundings. People didn’t get it when it came out. Many still don’t. Basically, in one exquisitely beautiful image after another, you’re watching the progress of a man as he moves from the purest innocence to the coldest sophistication, ending in absolute bitterness–and it’s all a matter of simple, elemental survival. It’s a terrifying film because all the candlelit beauty is nothing but a veil over the worst cruelty. But it’s real cruelty, the kind you see every day in polite society.
[again on Kubrick] Why does something stay with you for so many years? It’s really a person with a very powerful storytelling ability. A talent… a genius, who could create a solid rock image that has conviction.
[David Lean’s] images stay with me forever. But what makes them memorable isn’t necessarily their beauty. That’s just good photography. It’s the emotion behind those images that’s meant the most to me over the years. It’s the way David Lean can put feeling on film. The way he shows a whole landscape of the spirit. For me, that’s the real geography of David Lean country. And that’s why, in a David Lean movie, there’s no such thing as an empty landscape.
Orson Welles was a force of nature, who just came in and wiped the slate clean. And Citizen Kane is the greatest risk-taking of all time in film. I don’t think anything had even seen anything quite like it. The photography was also unlike anything we’d seen. The odd coldness of the filmmaker towards the character reflects his own egomania and power, and yet a powerful empathy for all of them–it’s very interesting. It still holds up, and it’s still shocking. It takes storytelling and throws it up in the air.
Martin Scorsese Wisdom for Filmmakers
Try something experimental. You push further. It’s not just experimental for experiment-sake. But you push the boundaries further.
I always tell the younger filmmakers and students: Do it like the painters used to…Study they old masters. Enrich your palette. Expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.
I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, ‘Why do I need to look at old movies?’ I’ve made a number of pictures in the past 20 years and the response I find that I have to give them is I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in the past 20 years, the more I realize I don’t know. And I’m always looking for something or someone I can learn from. I tell the younger filmmakers, the young students that they should do it like painters used to do it – painters do I – study the old masters. Enrich your palette. Expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.
You can’t do your work according to the people’s values. I’m not talking about “following your dream”, either, I never like the inspirational value of that phrase. Dreaming is a way of trivializing the process, the obsession that carries you through the failure as well as the successes which could be harder to get through. If you’re dreaming, you’re sleeping. It’s important and imperative to always be awake to your feelings, your possibilities, your ambitions. But you also know this, for your work, for your passions, every day is a re-dedication. Painters, dancers, writers, filmmakers, it’s the same for all of you, all of us. Every step is a first step, every brush stroke is a test, every scene is a lesson, every shot is a school. So, let the learning continue.
Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. Let the learning continue.
Your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions.
It is not the most brilliant that excel in film, but the most patient.
You want to get films made that express what you have to say.
Any film, or to me any creative endeavour, no matter who you’re working with, is, in many cases, a wonderful experience.
The most important thing is, how can I move forward towards something that I can’t articulate, that is new in storytelling with moving images and sound?
You have to put yourself in a situation, a lifestyle, that makes you do the work. Even if it’s a monastery.
You have to remain strong. That’s the kind of filmmaker I want to encourage. Orson Welles was the one who said, you know, you can learn anything you need to know about filmmaking- that’s camera, sound, celluloid, video at this point- in four hours. It has nothing to do with anything. It has nothing to do with it… It has to do with what you want to say. If you feel you have something to say, you’ll find that way to get it said, on film, and not let anyone or anything chip away at that or tarnish it, because it’s something special and precious.
Recommended Martin Scorsese Books
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Scorsese on Scorsese (Revised Edition), 2004
Martin Scorsese: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series), 2017
Martin Scorsese Quotes Final Words
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