Martin Scorsese needs no introduction, and frankly, with the editing job I have to do with his speech, I can’t spend any more time writing about him. Here’s what he said for about 45 minutes speaking about The Aviator, with a bit of polish and cleanup on my part.
Q: Do you see any parallel between Howard Hughes’ and your obsessions?
Martin: That’s not for me to say, I think. I have been over the years had some close friends and acquaintances who have said, who have described me at one point, “Don’t go in the room. He’s got the tissue boxes on his feet. Don’t go in there right now. It’s not a good time.” That kind of thing. That has happened many many times, but basically I couldn’t presume to say I’ve been like Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes was this visionary, was obsessed with speed and flying like a god above everyone else, [and] was as rich as one of the Greek mythical kings, King Croesus. But ultimately having to pay that price, too. I loved his idea of what filmmaking was. He became the outlaw of
My thing, personally, over the years, I grew up in an Italian-American neighbourhood, everybody was coming into the house all the time, kids running around, that sort of stuff. So when I finally got into my own area so to speak, to make films, I still carried on. I liked being with people. We did have that sort of filmmakers club, so to speak, in the ‘70s with Brian de Palma, Steve Spielberg, Paul Schrader and John Milius. I mean, not a club but we did frequently see each other. But as that time progressed, I got more and more reclusive from seeing anyone. Basically, it’s a few people. Particularly when the films of the 1930s in America were made available by Turner Classic Movies, by Ted Turner when he bought that station, TNT at the time, I think it was 1989 or something, ‘88 because we had never really seen these films of the ‘30s in such pristine condition. They always looked like antique movies. And then silent movies started to be restored so that’s a roundabout way of saying what I was doing alone. I was looking at these films and trying to cull from this new batch of films inspiration. And to make some sort of sense of what filmmakers were doing in
And ultimately it’s been since then really locking myself away reading a great deal, and I’m lucky to have a five-year-old child with me which sort of disrupts the process to a certain extent. I really don’t go out at all, and see only one or two friends, really. I go to my editing room, I have a little screening room, and stay alone pretty much. When we do go out, it’s usually for an event that we think is the right venue. For example, the Arts and Business Council gala a few weeks ago. To be at the Tribeca Festival with my friend Bob De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. I’m down there, I’ve got go down, I’ve got to go introduce a film, I’ve got to get back. The worst part is just getting up and down across town. I don’t really go and out and see many people. Once or twice, Terry Malick came over for dinner a while back. Paul Schrader, you know, that’s about it. I’m just trying to stay and do my work, so I don’t really see anyone. I usually like to lock myself in the screening room and just screen. That’s maybe the only similarity I see. I venture to say the man is a genius and extraordinary. This whole idea of the aviator itself, the word “aviator” isn’t a word used any more. There’s no such thing as the romantic aviator now, the scarf blowing in the wind. Now I guess it would be astronauts, right? I mean, he would be up there now, maybe spinning around, probably on Mars. He’d be there. These guys, they had guts. I’m terrified of flying.
Q: When you approach biographical materials, are there very specific ways, or is it different for each one?
Martin: It’s very different for each one, and I must say now that the approach on this material really, really comes from John Logan, the writer. I say that emphatically. Why I say that is that I’ve approached biographical material over the years. We hit it one way with Raging Bull. At first with Raging Bull, myself and the writer and Bob De Niro were going from the beginning of Jake’s life to the end, and it was very conventional, and we just sort of got stuck. So asked Paul Schrader to come in and Paul is a very, very disciplined writer and cut right to the middle of the story, the heart of the story, and what the guy wanted and what he couldn’t get, which was a shot at the title and the title belt. That sort of thing. So that taught us a lot about dealing with continuity in bio pics, so to speak. It’s not always the best thing.
And then Henry Hill in Goodfellas, I approached a whole other way. Basically it’s one long monologue, street corner monologue, a comedy routine really. And then ultimately in this, what I liked about this particular version was that I had stayed clear of the Howard Hughes story for two reasons. 1) I was interested in the sense that I only knew him as an eccentric guy living at the top of the Desert Inn, a very mysterious figure, watching movies in the middle of the night. It turns out that a lot of the films he watched I actually know exactly what they are. I watch them, and at a certain point, two or three in the morning, at different points of your life something else is happening.
I had not really understood what the aviators were doing in the ‘20s and ‘30s, I really didn’t. But I also knew that major
Q: What do you think Howard Hughes’ story has to say about modern times?
Martin: I think it has a lot of resonance for today, particularly the investigation committee smearing people. Here’s a guy who can easily be smeared. I mean, he was kind of strange. As Alan Alda says, “We picked up a lot of dirt on you.” “What do you want me to do?” he says, “Sell TWA to Pan Am. Get a good price. Get out if here. Nobody knows a thing. Nobody knows a thing. Make your deal.” And that happens every second now and people don’t even think about it any more. So I found that was an interesting challenge to start a picture one way and then end with it climactically another way. Dealing with the climax another way rather than climactic sequences between, let’s say, him and Katharine Hepburn. There is one, but it has to do more with aviation, it has to do more with the government, more with what he thinks is right. And more with him and how much he has to come through, how much he has to break through his illness to get back in that Senate room and really pull himself together.
When I read that, I hadn’t known anything about Pan Am and Juan Trippe and all that sort of thing. When I read it I thought that almost can’t be. He won his point in the Senate. He stormed out of the place and people actually applauded. This is true. I didn’t know that. It was true. Also that he flew the Hercules. I didn’t quite understand what a fete, what an accomplishment that really was until I read the script and then went back and did research. It was making a point, a point of honor, that the plane was airworthy. That was it. It may not have flown long but it got up in the air. And it’s the way we fly today.
Now, the best part for me was the ending. The best part was literally thinking about jet planes and then all of a sudden getting stuck on the line “the way of the future.’’ That for me was fascinating because the way of the future implies his future, implies the future of our country, it implies the future of the world, really. There’s a lot because what I mean about that is there’s a lot that goes on in the story that has to do with accumulating, greed, how much is enough, enough is never enough. The curse that he has, like an ancient Greek curse on his family in a way, the curse of wealth, and the curses in his genes. All of this is his undoing. I found that fascinating. It’s a universal story. And the way of the future for me, he looks in the mirror and he says that to himself, finally in my mind accepting who he is and what he, in a since, has to go through yet.
Q: Can you talk about casting Cate, Kate and Gwen?
Martin: Kate Beckinsale came in and was the first audition for Ava Gardner. I thought she was terrific. She was sultry and she’s a beautiful woman, a very good actress. Excellent actress. I’ve always liked her. I’ve seen all her work and I was glad that she agreed to audition. I mean, you’re auditioning for Ava Gardner. It’s not a totally fictional character. You can’t be Ava Gardner, you’re going to be a sense of or a soupcon, a little touch of Ava Gardner. And she asked what she should do before the audition, and I told her to just watch Mogambo, John Ford’s version of Red Dust with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner playing Honey Bear. I thought the attitude of Ava Gardner in that film was all she really had to know. There are only a few scenes with Ava in the film. So really all she had to know as that swagger, that wise guy attitude, like a guy in a way. And the beauty of Ava Gardner, Beckinsale, when you first see her on the screen, when he’s trying to figure out what name he should give his TWA airlines, she’s absolutely gorgeous. The use of makeup, the technicolour field, we had that sense of Ava Gardner there. The scene where she hits him with the ashtray is based on a fight between the two of them. She wouldn’t take anything from him, nothing. In her autobiography she said, “Little did I realize we would be friends for 22 years.” They were like hanging out for 22 years.
Cate Blanchett on the other hand, I thought of Cate. We were starting to shoot our film sooner and she was on The Missing for Ron Howard. I saw her at the Golden Globes, she walked out on the stage, and my wife turned to me and said, “That’s her.” I said, “Yeah, that would be it.” But the availability was completely messed up and ultimately we were talking to a few other people. But ultimately things worked out beautifully because we had postponed our shoot about a month or two, she was then available, and she actually accepted to do it. Her agent said yeah. She flew in, we met. She came into LA while still
shooting The Missing. We just had one meeting for like three hours talking about it. She had looked at some stills of Katharine Hepburn.
Katharine Hepburn is a touchy area, you know? There are three levels there. The older people who really know Katharine Hepburn, who may have been alive in the 1930s and knew all about her career and everything else. There’s the mid-range, which is me. I’m 62 but I was 10 years old when I saw her movies. I didn’t know about her 1930s trouble as box-office poison. She always seemed to be a star to me. Even when I saw the films from the 1930s on television. I thought, “Everybody loved Katharine Hepburn. What’s the problem?” Alice Adams is a great picture and she’s fine in it. Okay, Sylvia Scarlett is a little bit of a strange film, but it’s quite unique what they were trying at the time. It’s an amazing movie and I love George Cukor, so what’s the problem? A Bill of Divorcement is good, the Cukor version. And so, anyway, then there’s the other element which may be many people who don’t know who she is at all. And because of that, I felt yes, let us try to do Katharine Hepburn in a film. I said, “How do you do that?” With an actress of great intelligence and courage.
And we discussed levels of accent, we discussed. When she came she said, “Look, I looked at some pictures of Katharine Hepburn and there’s a couple here.” And she got in a certain position sort of on her haunches, Cate Blanchett did and she said, “I think she was like this.” Sure enough, that’s the way she’s sitting on the beach when Howard comes up and asks her to go golfing with him. That was taken from a PR still off the set. And she just had it. She had the gesture, she had the lines to be, the body lines, the look of Katharine Hepburn. The attitude, really, of Katharine Hepburn. It was a matter of really working ultimately on the level of accent. And it goes two ways. One way which is that yes, it’s an accent that reminds you of Katharine Hepburn with the particular certain laughs that she has, the barrage of words that she hits Howard Hughes with in the golf scene when you first see her.
But also there’s an element to Katharine Hepburn that if you don’t know Katharine Hepburn, the person created in the story and the script and by Cate Blanchett is definitely a character. She’s a Yankee. She comes from a family with a very socially progressive thought and action in life. And a very opinionated woman, right up there, right in your face and if you don’t like it, leave. That kind of thing. And that is a character. It’s a valid character and some younger people may say, “Oh, that’s interesting. She was an actress at the time. I see. “So we were going on three levels, really, for those who knew and for those who don’t know. But there’s an element that Cate Blanchett brought to it that is quite extraordinary. I think it’s that breaking of that facade, particularly in the scene where she leaves Howard.
When she finally says, “I met someone. I’ve fallen in love and so I’m leaving.” You look at her eyes and she’s waiting for him. She’s waiting for him to blow up. She doesn’t want to really do it. And then she goes, “So, there we both are. You’re not one for tears.” “No, we’re going to have to deal with this emotionally, Kate. I’m going to get angry.” You can see it in her eyes that she’s getting a little nervous and particularly when he says, “Stop acting.” She says, “I’m not acting.” And starts laughing. That’s it. Cate Blanchett’s reaction and her reading and her body language when she says, “I’m not acting,” tells it all, really. If not the real Katharine Hepburn, then the Katharine Hepburn that is the one John worked out in the script, based on this character, this person.
So ultimately what I finally did with Cate Blanchett, she was still working, and a long story short, I had her look at every Katharine Hepburn film from A Bill of Divorcement to 1939, The Philadelphia Story. But on a big screen, 35 mm, so that she’d be absorbed by the image and by the character, whoever that character is up there on the screen. So that she’d feel comfortable with the body language if she had to improvise a word or two. And then Tim Monich who is a wonderful dialect coach who I’ve worked with since Age of Innocence, he worked with her very, very closely to the point where she finally came to rehearsals, she didn’t really want to read. I said, “Should we read a scene?” “No, I’m not ready yet.” I think what she was really waiting for was being comfortable with the level of the accent. That’s when she said, “Okay, I think I can read a few pages now with Leo.” When I started to hear the accent, then I understand. In the actually scenes, I just guided her through in a way. I didn’t try to get in the middle of what she was doing. I didn’t want to mess it up and try to give her any direction.
Gwen Stefani is just literally Jean Harlow. I would have liked Gwen to be in the film more. I would have liked Jean Harlow to be more of a character. But again, that’s what’s so interesting about the script.
Q: Could you relate to waiting for the clouds and dealing with the MPAA?
Martin: Well, yeah. This is something where if I had my own money, I would have waited for the clouds. I don’t know if I was able to. A couple of pictures it was situations where I sort of waited for the clouds. But my tension in filmmaking usually comes from another place. My films are more urban. I don’t even see clouds. I’m waiting for a garbage truck to go. [Laughs] The studio’s on me, it’s raining and you can’t match it. It’s that kind of tension. Taxi Driver was an extraordinarily difficult shoot because of that. That tension is always there but I don’t think I’ve ever been in the situation where it’s gone three years in the making, with that point up to $4 million which today is $250 million, maybe $300 million. But it was his money. He was young and it was his toy. He was going to play with it and that’s it.
And certainly with the MPAA, that’s why we put the line in with the reference to Scarface, which is an extraordinary movie. But it did cause quite a stir, very much like Brian DePalma’s Scarface caused with its extraordinary use of violence. But if you think about it, it’s not just the violence. It’s the way Howard Hawks directed it and the way it was written and the way it was produced. The issue was that despite Paul Muni in terms of the character Tony, you liked these guys. It was dangerous, like Goodfellas. It’s the same kind of thing I got with Goodfellas. “You’re making this attractive. You’re making it all very attractive to young people.” Look at the scene where they’re sitting there, based on what happened to Al Capone who’s sitting there in a coffee shop, and suddenly all these cars come out and drive up like a funeral. These guys get out in long coats with machine guns, kneel down and just spray the place full of machine gun bullets. They’re all hiding under the table. And Muni’s looking around like, “What’ve they got? What are those kind of guns? Hey, look at those things. That’s interesting.” He tells George Raft, “Will you get me one?” He says, “Yeah.” So he shoots the guy with one, Raft runs out and grabs one. “Hey, that’s really nice!” Things are flying. That’s the mentality.
The only thing is, what Howard Hawks does, is he shows two or three older people being hit by bullets. “Look at these maniacs.” So there was kind of an expression of embracing these guys in that world, which was very dangerous. There certainly wasn’t a rating system at that time. When we did Goodfellas, it was R rated. What can I say? It’s for adults. And certainly the last hour of the picture they’re not very happy. They’re not happy. They’re all getting killed. Their Uncle Jimmy’s killing everybody. They go to have baptisms with him. They have birthday parties and he kills everybody. If they’re not killed, they’re in jail. Who in the hell wants that lifestyle? You’ve got to be crazy.
Q: How did you help Leonardo DiCaprio become Howard Hughes?
Martin: I think with Howard Hughes, I showed Leo, before showing them Hell’s Angels, I showed him Wings directed by William Wellman which was the first Academy Award winning film, 1927. Wellman is such a great director, the film is beautiful. The aerial sequence is beautiful. I turned to Leo and I said, “Okay, now you’re going to top that with Hell’s Angels.” And in a way, the aerial sequences do top any movie that’s been made considering what they had to do at the time, and losing three or four men who were killed in it. Second thing was, I showed him Public Enemy, my favourite gangster film. There the characters aren’t very likeable. You like Jimmy Cagney, but oh my God. It’s brutal, tough, truthful, honest, all source music the way we do source music today. There’s no score. It’s music coming off radios or record players or dance bands. Then I looked at him, it was him and a few actor friends of his in the audience and some crew members. There was spontaneous applause at the end of the film. I just said, “Ah, I wish William Wellman was here to see 25 year-old kids shocked and stunned and applauding this great work 75 years later. Then I looked at him and said, “Now you’re going to top that.” Scarface. So you’re attitude is you’re the outlaw of Hollywood, basically. The wise guy, the bad kid. That was something I think where he pushed the envelope every way he could.
Q: Did you show him Carpetbaggers?
Martin: Mo, not Carpetbaggers. I screened the best one of Howard Hughes, Caught. Carpetbaggers is a good picture. They had a lot of fun. George Peppard and everyone was up there and the airplane in the sky and the credits and that sort of stuff. But it’s different from Max Ophuls and the writers on Caught with Robert Ryan and Barbara Bel Geddes. That’s a film I saw at the age of six years old and it really struck me and it left a deep impression on me of the nature of the pain that this character was in, that Robert Ryan was in. Not a sympathetic character, but it was sympathetic to me ultimately because of the pain that he was undergoing, he was experiencing. Yet, did that justify the emotional violence that he perpetrated on Barbara Bel Geddes in that film? It’s an absolutely disturbing film and it’s brilliant. We screened that a couple of times. Other people might not agree with me, but that’s the one that’s the key.
The other one is a real good spectacle Hollywood movie movie, a good old fashioned enjoyable film by Gordon Douglas and all the people that worked with him on the film. But in terms of Leo, he came attached to the project. I felt that the main thing for me was that it’s hard character to play to say the least. But he had such a determination. I mean, more than half of it is wanting to do it, really wanting to do it. Then quite honestly, I thought particularly the young Howard, like when he’s at the Grauman’s Chinese and he’s in tails, he did seem to me, when I looked at some of the earlier photographs of Howard Hughes, you’ve got to look at some real early stuff when he was still dressing before he gets the clothes from Penny’s or Sears and he’s saying, “Better make it Woolworth,” or whatever he’s saying on that paranoid phone call to Noah Dietrich. I mean, before that he was in Seville Row clothes. He was really a dandy. When he burns his clothes, that’s a key moment. He changes everything.
Q: What is your philosophy on fact versus fiction in these historical pictures?
Martin: Some people call it “faction”. This is what happened. Ava Gardner shows up at his house and straightens him out and then he gets all taken care of. He gets shaved. He gets his hair cut later. They get him a suit. And he goes to the Senate. That happened. It happened. It really did happen. I don’t know if it was Ava Gardner. People say it was Cary Grant. But his friends gathered together and the fact that Ava is there represents what she had said in her autobiography in my mind of the 22 year friendship. Screaming, yelling, fighting, “’Alright, lets go to dinner.” “Ava, will you marry me?” ”No. I will not marry you.” It sort of was the spirit of his friends coming, the spirit of what he did for Katharine Hepburn with the pictures of Spencer Tracy is a fictionalizing of what really went on. But the reality is that after they’d broken up for so many years, when she needed The Philadelphia Story to propel her back to being a star, she knew that was the perfect vehicle for her, he bought the rights to the play and it was made into a film and changed her career. But that means that you have to know that her career was really on the skids. Box office poison. Nobody can relate to that today. That can’t understand that she was so big, she wins the Academy Award for Morning Glory and then nobody makes a film with her. They’re making all these films and no one goes to see them. So dramatically, I think that what John did was very interesting. Also, it was interesting in that it was honest to the truth of the emotion between the two of them. I think that’s what was interesting to me. And the film is meant to be an impression of views, an impression of the spectacle of Hollywood, and at the same time, a man who wants to fly to the sun like Icarus. But his wings really are wax ultimately.
Q: When you’re working on a script with a writing partner, what does that writer have to have for you to work with them?
Martin: That’s a very kind of difficult question to answer. In some cases, I was given a script, lets say Taxi Driver, and you can’t say much about it. It was very, very good, very strong. There were a couple of little improvisations they did and that was it. But Mean Streets was something that I worked on for many years, myself and a friend of mine, Mardik Martin. But you know, if you’re working with a writer, I think that has to do with, let’s say that I generate a project. I have an idea and get together with a writer. First of all, the sensibility of the writer has to be attuned to the project, not be afraid of it. Particularly the projects that I tend to generate are pictures that may have a hard time getting made. The characters aren’t clearly good guys or bad guys. It’s the shades of gray. There is a certain toughness that I want in it and an ability- – For me, my tendency is excess in the sense of a Goodfellas or Casino. To a certain extent, Age of Innocence even, excess in the frame. Certainly, Gangs of New York. Like, the frame would look as if people were just falling out of the edges. I mean, the story just gets sloppy and turned all around the place.
There is a part of me that’s very, very much baroque in a way. I love going to Italy and I love looking at the paintings that take up the whole wall, Frescos and things are in the corner and you can look at that Fresco twenty times and you still see something new, that sort of thing. But on the other hand, there is something very powerful, very tough about the way Schrader puts together a script like Taxi Driver or Bringing Out The Dead. There’s the way that Fred Zinnemann did The Day of Jackal. Even though the film is over two and a half hours, it’s extraordinary in terms of visual storytelling. It’s a powerful film. You can’t stop watching it. In a sense, I need a writer to say, “Listen Marty, you want this, this and this. You’re going to have to lose two of them in order to make this more powerful.’ I really do at times. For example, on Gangs of New York, I’m working with my old friend Jay Cocks and Steve Zaillian and Kenny Lonergan. I said, “Listen, don’t worry about the excess. This picture is meant to be excessive in a way.” I’m dealing with a tendency of a certain excess visually, let’s say like Luchino Visconti and Fellini and that sort of thing. I’m just influenced by that. I think that certainly for me, it’s something that particularly Casino has. You can see it in Casino, a cinema of excess, excess of the world that they’re in, excess that finally explodes in everybody’s faces. I think that’s important. But I need a writer to be able to cut to the heart in certain stories. I think that’s what Logan did on this one. He really did because how do you tell the story of Howard Hughes? You might as well start when he’s a boy and go to when he dies on the plane in Houston in ’76 and do everything. You can’t. You can do an infinite number of films on him, yeah. Well, this is one of him.
Q: What is the status of your Dean Martin biopic?
Martin: There was talk, a lot of it. We did it. We did it. Tom Hanks was going to do it. Nick Pileggi and I killed ourselves working on that script. I always used that phased “killed” since I’m always accused of being overly dramatic by everyone. But we really suffered making that one. You do feel as if you’re in a battle, you know? The studio at the time really wanted a film on Dean Martin. I had worked on a script with Irwin Winkler and Paul Schrader was first and then John Guare on Gershwin for many years. And that was a film I owed Warner Brothers. It’s a complicated issue. Ultimately, when it was time to do Gershwin, they turned to me and said, “We’d rather have one on Dean Martin.” I said, “The thing is, the Gershwin script is done. Excuse me. I’m just saying. It’s been since 1981 that I’ve been working on it.” They said, “No. No. No. No.”
I understood. They wanted something from the swinging early ’60’s, late ’50’s Vegas like Ocean’s Eleven, man, the original Ocean’s Eleven. They had a retrospective of my movies at Walter Reed Theater in New York, the only way that I would do it is if they showed a film of mine and a film that sort of influenced it or a film that I thought was important to see. When it came to Goodfellas, I had them watch Ocean’s Eleven. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s the attitude. It also was like in widescreen and in color, a documentary in a sense of old Vegas that doesn’t exist anymore. But in any event, when the time came, we accepted the assignment to try and do it. There were legal issues involved too. I owed them a film for about ten years. It was a complicated issue. I don’t remember half of it. But all I know is that Nick and I tried for a year on the script, and it’s exactly the same situation. I didn’t know what to leave out. I just didn’t know what to leave out.
Then Terry and I looked at each other kind of perplexed, we didn’t know quite what to do and then something happened and bang, the next thing you knew, Gangs of New York was being made. So we are back to a certain extent with Warner Brothers on this picture. Miramax is the main distributor and Warner Brothers is the other, but we tried. We really tried, but the story of Dean Martin is very difficult. It’s very difficult because ultimately he pulls back in life. He seemed to pull back in life. He pulled back and seemed to be passive and that was part of what was appreciated about him from Sinatra and everybody else. The active ones were Sinatra and Sammy Davis. They were making things. They were out there taking people on, and Frank Sinatra would see somebody in a bar that had written something about him that he didn’t like and Dean would say, “Leave him alone. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Let it be.” No, he was going to get up and hit him. It’s interesting. It’s an interesting dynamic.
But can you make a film and say what the man is about? I don’t think that you can ever make a fiction or even a documentary. You could, maybe if you’re lucky, have the contradictions in a man or a woman. That makes the person, but you can’t say this is the kind of person he was and this is who he is like Howard Hughes. This is an aspect of Howard Hughes. We really couldn’t get a handle on what to do. I actually thought the strongest story there beyond the Rat Pack thing, before that was his relationship with Jerry Lewis and the creative relationship and how that worked out. Ultimately, having gone through such fame, having such a close working relationship, how he then pulled back seemingly creatively, seemingly, and had gone through such a close relationship, like a marriage. That’s a very strong thing. That’s really the story, I think. And it’s the story of creative collaboration whether you’re writers or painters or composers, musicians, anything, filmmakers, comedians. This is it. This is the story of two people and how they worked together over the years.
Q: What sort of pressure do you feel from people’s expectations of you now?
Martin: That’s a good question. In the ’80’s, I was kind of on the outskirts of the industry to a certain extent. I had to make films all over again, lower budget films until I got The Color of Money, and that sort of thing, until I hit back to stories that I really wanted to make like The Last Temptation of Christ. But since then, since Raging Bull, I’ve been reassessed in ’89 and Goodfellas came out and a few things, I felt that I was real lucky to have lived through a period where people could come back and say, “Hey, that stuff that you did in the ’70’s, that was pretty good.” When you make a picture, a big budget picture like this, it’s a pretty big marketplace. And I was very lucky to have fallen upon the situation with John Logan and Leo and Michael Mann, all of them that had created a story about a man that I could identify with, feel for him, empathize with him, a visionary who also had tragic flaws. I think that kind of makes me feel comfortable with the material. But there’s no doubt that every time I make a picture, there’s a part of me that thinks, “Well, what are they expecting?” I just like to be able to be true to what the film is and maybe scale down in the future certain pictures.
Q: What were your impressions of visual effects in The Aviator?
Martin: Maybe that’s the way to go and you become more of a painter than a filmmaker, but the nature of filmmaking is really, really changing. The nature of what a director or a writer does to a certain extent is changing a lot. And it’s just a new technology and we’re going to have change with it, I guess. I’m just old fashioned. I design the flying sequences in three or four days in a hotel room based on what John Logan had written in the script and listening to some music. Then I took these notes and little tiny drawings and worked it out with Rob Legato, who is a special FX supervisor, and basically what was interesting about that was that he took the flying scenes that I had designed and these small drawings and notes, and made them into what they call a pre-visualization on a computer. It’s a 3D animated film. Then I go, “No, that’s too low angle. I want a higher angle here. I want it closer to his head here.” Literally, it was a moving storyboard and I enjoyed that.
For action sequences I think it’s wonderful. How to use it other ways, except for designing extraordinarily long takes, I think that Spielberg did a number of things in Minority Report with a computer, figuring out how to get the camera in certain places with all these spider-like figures and creatures coming up. George Lucas showed us a test in which they took a scene from The Seven Samurai and showed the blocking of it on screen and then showed that you can make little figures and you can actually move the camera around the figures. So you can angle over a shoulder or you can swoop down over here and you can do that. The problem is that the technology runs away with what you’re saying in the movie. It takes away the heart sometimes.
But there are no more rules and camera moves don’t really mean anything anymore because you can make any camera move in the world, especially digitally. You can do anything. You can tell the story [with] impossible shots. I wonder what Max Ophuls would have done with a computer. You know what I mean? I mean, camera movement doesn’t mean anything anymore. Anyone can do it. But when it will mean something is that it always have to have an emotional or narrative point the way that Brian DePalma used the steadicam in Untouchables, the way that Paul Thomas Anderson uses the steadicam on long takes. They usually have a very strong, narrative punch and three or four points in the shot rather than just following someone down a hall. So again, it’s a new tool and there’s going to be a new period of adjustment for the next 20 years.