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The master filmmaker who turned down Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese generated enough artistic momentum to set the ball rolling for the new wave in American filmmaking through his early masterpieces such as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. He has maintained that same creative drive in the 21st century, following up The Irishman with a brand new project called Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which has been in production throughout 2021.

Scorsese had been drawn to cinema from a very early age, often citing the cinematic magic of pioneers such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as well as Satyajit Ray and Federico Fellini as chief sources of inspiration. When he was young, New York wasn’t really a filmmaking hub, but he couldn’t ignore his attraction to the cinematic medium and decided to pursue a formal education in film history.

Just a year after the New York University’s School of the Arts was founded, Scorsese enrolled in an MFA program where he was inspired by the passion of professors such as Haig Manoogian and was exposed to the wider world of global cinema. During his time at NYU, he made iconic short films like The Big Shave which kickstarted his career and even resulted in him making his first feature film.

Even after all these years, Scorsese often takes time out of his busy schedule to speak to students at the university and is an active member of the alumni network. In fact, NYU recently established the Martin Scorsese Institute of Global Cinematic Art which offers funding as well as highly improved production facilities for film students who want to achieve the cinematic accomplishments of professional film studios.

One particularly bittersweet memory from Scorsese’s NYU years was when he was shown the door by one of his filmmaking icons. In 1965, NYU invited Elia Kazan to speak at the school while he was directing a production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. Scorsese was especially excited about this because the university mostly called pioneers from the experimental and independent scene while Scorsese wanted to be a part of the studio tradition.

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He even described Kazan’s On the Waterfront as a “turning point in [his] life” so he was naturally eager to attend Kazan’s lecture. After the talk, Scorsese managed to get the address of the master auteur and even set up a five-minute appointment during which he hoped to bag the chance of working with Kazan on one of his upcoming projects and hopefully make inroads into the studio industry.

Kazan was well-respected by students as well as contemporaries such as Stanley Kubrick who once said of him: “Without question, the best director we have in America, [and] capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.” Scorsese was already tense about the meeting and even though he knew New York really well, he got lost on his way to Kazan’s office and only got there ten minutes late.

After apologising and letting Kazan know of how much he liked his work, Scorsese asked him whether it was possible to join as an on-set assistant to which Kazan immediately replied: “We don’t do that”. Scorsese asked him whether he would give him feedback on a script that he was working on which Kazan declined as well, claiming that he didn’t read other people’s work while he was writing his own.

“I was so crushed,” Scorsese later confessed but he later saw “not only how tough the meeting was but that it had been toughening too.” He claimed that the immense disappointment renewed him and gave him the adequate inspiration to continue on his filmmaking journey. Fortunately, he never gave up and is still contributing invaluable gems to the world of cinema.

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