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SHOOT LIKE

SCORSESE

The Visual Secrets of Shock, Elegance, and Extreme Character

CHRISTOPHER

M I C H A E L

W I E S E

KENWORTHY

P R O D U C T I O N S

Published by Michael Wiese Productions


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Studio City, CA 91604

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Cover design by Johnny Ink. www.johnnyink.com


Interior design by William Morosi
Copyediting by Gary Sunshine

Printed by McNaughton & Gunn

Manufactured in the United States of America


Copyright 2016 by Christopher Kenworthy

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means without permission in writing from the author, except for the inclusion of
brief quotations in a review.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Kenworthy, Christopher.

Shoot like Scorsese : the visual secrets of shock, elegance and extreme character

/ Christopher Kenworthy.
pages cm

ISBN 978-1-61593-232-0

1. Scorsese, Martin--Criticism and interpretation. 2. Cinematography. 3. Motion


pictures--Production and direction. I. Title.
PN1998.3.S39K46 2015
791.430233092--dc23

Printed on Recycled Stock

2015013291

CONTENTS
I N T R O D U C T I O N  vii
H O W T O U S E T H I S B O O K  x
C H A P T E R 1  1

THE MOMENT OF CHANGE: Taxi Driver


C H A P T E R 2  17

FRANTIC ACTION: The Wolf of Wall Street


C H A P T E R 3 29

TENSE CONFRONTATION: The Wolf of Wall Street


C H A P T E R 4  41

CONTRASTING MOTION: Raging Bull


C H A P T E R 5 63

THE DYNAMICS OF POWER: The Aviator


C H A P T E R 6 75

LAYERS OF DEPTH: The Aviator


C H A P T E R 7 85

SUDDEN ACTION: The Departed


C H A P T E R 8 97

REVEALING THE VILLAIN: The Departed


C H A P T E R 9 105

BARRIERS: Hugo
C H A P T E R 1 0  121

MAKING CONNECTIONS: The Age of Innocence


C O N C L U S I O N 132
A B O U T T H E A U T H O R 133

INTRODUCTION
Everybody knows that Scorsese uses the greatest actors in the
world, so how can you hope to shoot like he shoots? The best
actors need the best directors. Without the right camera moves,
an actors performance is hidden. You can learn to reveal story
and show the depths of your actors performance by learning the
techniques that Scorsese likes best.

Scorsese is a great storyteller, but his greatest skill is telling a


visual story that makes room for the actors performance. This
means that whatever actors you are working with, you can use
his techniques to make their performances shine when captured
by a camera.
Scorsese is a lover of film, but he isnt afraid to use conventional
framings and techniques. As many of these chapters show, if he
wants you to know theres a gun in somebodys hand, he cuts
to a close-up of the gun, rather than using fancy camerawork. If
two people are talking, he will use the same setups you see in TV
shows, with simple over-the-shoulder shots. He also has his trademark freeze-frames, slow motion, and flashguns, which he never
tires of using. These approaches make his films functional, but
what makes them great is when he takes things a little further.

Although hes happy to be conventional a lot of the time, in important scenes or vital moments he shows richer style and flare.
There are times when his shots are incredibly deep and ostentatious, and his dialogue setups are so creative that you can hardly
believe youre watching the same director. His skill is to know
when to use the more imaginative shots and when to relax into
more conventional work.

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Hes made a lot of films, including many great films that arent
even touched on in this book, but the essential techniques are all
covered here. This book shows you the moments when he rises
out of the ordinary and uses strong visual symbolism to create
subconscious feelings in the audience.
With Scorsese, you often watch a scene and think it had great
acting, but you dont realize how incredibly well planned the
shots were. This book shows how his concentration on framing
and screen direction, along with simple camera moves, makes
him able to tell astonishing stories. Whether hes showing a calm
conversation among the aristocracy, or a taxi driver falling off the
edge of sanity, his films are always thrilling to watch. By the time
youve finished this book you should be able to set up scenes with
the same depth and grandeur as Scorsese, and apply it to your
own style of filmmaking.

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I n t r o d u c t i o n

HOW TO USE THIS BOOK


Watch every Scorsese film you can before you read this book, and
buy copies of the films that you can keep, so you can watch these
scenes (and others) to decode the techniques. The chapters are
filled with spoilers, so make sure you watch the films first. Most of
the scenes are from relatively early on in each film, to avoid giving
too much away, but you should still watch all the films covered
here before reading the book.
You can work through the book in order, or pick a chapter that
interests you, or work through according to your favorite films.
The techniques can be applied to your own work. If youre creating
a scene that needs sudden action, theres a chapter dedicated to
that, and you can go straight there. You can also pick out individual techniques from a scene and use them in your own scenes.

Before you read the chapter, watch the scene in question if you
can and try to see how and why it works. Once youve read the
chapter, watch the scene again, perhaps with the sound down so
you can focus on the camera moves, and see how the scene has
been crafted.

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C H A P T E R

O N E

THE MOMENT OF
CHANGE:

Taxi Driver

T a x i

D r i v e r

hen a character changes in some way, Scorsese


shows the character acting out the change visually. Most
importantly, he uses camerawork to emphasize the nature of the
character change.

In this sequence, Robert De Niros character has cracked for the


first time in the movie, and goes from being unconventional to
aggressive. He is framed centrally for most of the sequence. Rather
than filming this scene with conventional coverage, Scorsese
keeps the antihero in the center of the frame so that we can focus
on the character and his growing intensity.
When a character snaps, let the audience see that personality change as visually as possible, by framing the character
centrally throughout the scene.

Filmmakers are often told not to waste time showing somebody


entering a room. Start the scene in the middle of things, you are
told, or it usually will just get edited out. This is often true, but if
your character is crossing a threshold or entering new territory it
is vital that we see the crossing of that threshold. De Niro walks
through the door and even as he closes it behind him, his eyes are
fixed on a point behind the camera. We can see the change and
determination as he crosses that threshold.
Good screenplays give your characters many thresholds to
cross. Show this, even if the barrier is as modest as a glass
door. The audience will sense that change is afoot.

As De Niro walks forward the camera moves away, as though


pushed back by the force of his presence. It moves back at his
walking pace and he remains centrally framed throughout this
walk. This is achieved through slight pans during the dolly move.
As you can see in the final frame, the camera operator didnt
chase him too exactly, but his face is always in the central third
of the frame. This gives him an astonishing sense of presence
and momentum.
Let the cameras move be dictated by the actors speed and
motion. When the actor approaches the camera, back off, keep
the same distance throughout the shot, and pan as needed to
keep the actor in the center of the frame.

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The camera pushes in on Cybill Shepherd at a pace that is noticeably faster than De Niros walking pace. This creates a small
moment of panic for the audience, as though he is looming up on
her. Shepherd is also framed quite centrally, but unlike De Niro she
does not move during this shot. This has the effect of making her
seem like a victim of his world. Shes trapped in the same framing,
but is unable to move. At the end of the shot, the camera pans onto
her so that she is almost in profile, which is the opposite of De
Niros direct gaze. This makes her seem more vulnerable than him.
Push in fast on a motionless character, using a central framing,
and you will make the character seem vulnerable, especially if
you pan to put the actor in profile.

As the camera rushes toward her, we glimpse her coworker and


friend, Albert Brooks, on the right, but he is quickly pushed out
of frame. This fast camera move isolates her from her coworkers
in a moment, making it feel like she is alone in the room with De
Niro. The shot lasts just over two seconds, but achieves several
powerful effects that let the audience know this is going to be a
dramatic scene.
When you want to show a characters fear, let your dolly move
isolate that character from the other people we have glimpsed
in the room.

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De Niro encounters his first obstacle, as Brooks comes in from


frame left. De Niro is stopped, but the camera does not stop at the
same time. It dollies back for another second. This emphasizes his
momentum and makes us feel that nothing is really going to stop
him getting what he wants.

When your character is stopped by an obstacle, keep the


camera move going for a moment to show the strength of the
characters momentum.
Shepherd moves into the frame, but with her back to the camera,
and we dont cut to see her face. She is there as a presence for De
Niro to react to. The camera stays on him and he remains central.
As he lunges forward, Brooks restrains him, but it is De Niros face
that remains in the middle of the shot. We are forced to watch him
and his reaction to the unfolding events.

When your main characters emotional journey is vitally


important to the story, make sure that actor remains in the
center of the frame, and dont let the other actors faces
intrude on the scene.

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Brooks repeatedly urges De Niro to leave and pulls him toward the
left of frame, but De Niro always heads back to the center of the
frame, even as Brooks tries to physically move him away. When
Brooks succeeds in moving him to the left, the camera pans to
keep De Niro centrally framed. You can see in the second frame
that De Niro has moved in relation to the background, but the
camera has panned to keep him central. This shows that the character is unrelenting.

Your character can resist any attempt at removal, but if


forced to move to a new position, pan across to reframe the
actor centrally.
When Brooks finally succeeds in dragging De Niro to frame left,
there is a rapid camera move that puts him back in the center
of the frame quickly. As De Niro heads to the door the camera
dollies forward toward the point where De Niro was previously standing and pans hard left. Even though his back is to
us, he has again been placed in the center of the frame. By having
this momentary sense of defeat, the tension is increased when
the fast camera move happens, and we sense that De Niro is far
from defeated.

Let it look as though your character has been defeated by


breaking the central framing, but then dolly and pan rapidly
to reestablish that framing. The audience will sense that more
trouble is coming.

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A physical struggle begins in the doorway, as De Niro shows that


he is not willing to be thrown out. We are at another threshold, and
hes refusing to be controlled, so it makes good visual sense for
his final reaction to happen here. By the second frame, Shepherd
has again entered on the right (her face still unseen) and Brooks
is pushed away, almost out of view. Although De Niro is small in
the frame, and his stance borders on the comical, its clear that
he wont let anybody control him. He is alone in the center of the
frame with nobody obstructing the view of him, showing both his
isolation and his continued determination.
When the scene seems to be over, show your character
reacting or resisting, and move the other characters aside, so
your character is alone in the center of the frame.
De Niro heads back toward camera, still staying in the central
third of the screen, and although the backs of the other actors fill
most of the frame, it is still De Niros face that we see. No matter
how they block him, the framing keeps our focus on him and his
journey through the scene. Even at the point where he is about to
leave, hes facing the camera and framed centrally.
Keep your main actors face more visible than any other face,
so we continue to listen to the actors on-screen rant.

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We cut to a shot of De Niro exiting the building, and hes right in


the center of the frame. The main incident is over, but to have him
wander away from the center of frame at this point would make
it look as though the confrontation had broken his resolve. Even
as Brooks follows him out, the camera dollies left to keep De Niro
central. We see that his character has changed and nothing will
change him back to the way he was before.

If the scene moves to another location, continue with the


central framing until the scene is completely over, to avoid
weakening the characters conviction.
De Niro heads briefly toward the camera, and the dolly move
stops. Then, as he turns 180 degrees and heads down the side
of the building hes just left, the dolly reverses and tracks to the
right, to keep him central. It is very rare to reverse a dolly move,
because it can look obvious and awkward, but when guided by the
actors motion, the move feels right. Most importantly, it preserves
De Niros central framing. The dolly travels faster than De Niro
and moves away from him, so that we are slightly ahead of him.
Although he remains in the center of the frame, this distancing
makes him appear to be less in control than he would like to be.
Although the central framing should continue to the end of the
sequence, you can move your camera away from the actor, to
create the sensation that the character is being overwhelmed
by events.

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