Martin Scorsese looks at the changing face of Oscar season over four decades
And that was also when you brought Thelma Schoonmaker back and were able to work with her again. Was reconnecting with her on a professional level, did that flip a switch for you, too?
Well, it's complicated in that I'm from New York. I come out of independent cinema. I may love and be inspired, and still am, by American classical Hollywood cinema, by European, Asian, etc., but I don't do that. I mean I thought for a while I could, but I don't. And so I come out of a tradition in the late-'60s — that was becoming a tradition, I should say — that was really spearheaded by independent filmmakers here and documentary filmmakers on the East Coast, some on the West Coast, too, but mainly on the East Coast. As far as narrative cinema is concerned it was, really, you go to Cassavetes and Shirley Clarke. And they were involved in the editing of their films.
In Hollywood, it was different, and I found that I certainly was not welcome in the editing room. I was making a living as an editor with Roger Corman and others out there at that time around '71, '72, '73, right before I made "Mean Streets." And so basically I was working as an editor, but I was non-union and for some reason I decided not to try to be or get in the union. First of all I didn't know how to, you know? But I was supervising a lot of montages, they called it, and editing films feature films for Roger Corman.
So by the time I made "Taxi Driver," I mean — how should I put it? I edited "Boxcar Bertha" myself. I edited "Mean Streets" myself, but I could not take credit because of the system at the time, so it didn't matter, really. But in any event I found that I needed somebody to work with — that I was able to work the way I used to work with Thelma in New York before "Woodstock." Because once "Woodstock" happened, I was taken off the picture then we lost contact with each other. So I needed to find someone who would listen to me and be more like a friend. You're sitting there, you're making a picture, they'll do what you want to do, they'll add to it, they'll argue, they'll discuss and they'll stand by the picture, the integrity of the film. And believe me, it's always against everybody. It's against the system. It's against the studio. It just is. Even if it's an independent film, it just is. There's always stuff. So you need a good ally. And that's what I was looking for. I found that in Marcia Lucas at that time, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," "Taxi Driver," "New York, New York." But after that, she left, too. After winning the Academy award for "Star Wars" she went off. So I had to start all over again and at that time Thelma, by 1979, was unavailable. I think she was in Pittsburgh, I'm not quite sure.
Yeah, she was doing those documentaries out there.
Yeah. So I wanted that, too, because we used to have a lot of fun. Not a lot of fun. "Fun" is the wrong word because people misunderstand it. But it was very gratifying to even have a conversation working together, you know? She thinks the right way. She is not based in film. She's not based in the film world. It's politics and philosophy and all sorts of other things. And so that really is, you know — I missed that. But luckily she was able to start again with me and that helped out a great deal. She had to become a member of the union at that time and that's Irwin Winkler who was able to do that.
Well on the Oscar circuit thing, did it feel like anything changed around the time of "Gangs of New York?" I know the post-production was a battle on that film, but as far as a switch finally being flipped for the Academy and then ever since then, you are always on the circuit.
I don't know. It has a lot to do with who's in the film. And it has a lot to do with finally having a chance to fulfill kind of an obsessive quest, which was to make a film about that period in New York with the backing of Harvey Weinstein, you see, who has really, I guess — if you look back in the '80s and '90s, right, he kind of helped, I guess, change the course of how films are — what's the word, promoted?
He made awards part of his business model. Absolutely.
Yeah. So he started to do all these different things, and somehow that all came together on "Gangs of New York" with Leo DiCaprio, who happened to like my movies a lot. And he also was a young actor who was recommended to me by Bob De Niro, and Mike Ovitz pulled it together. At that point that I didn't even know what to do afterwards, quite honestly. I was going to do this film, "Silence," but I hadn't even written the script at that point. So I took a chance and utilized all those elements.
As far as what happened with the Academy or with the promotion of the film, well, they put a lot of money into it and it went up to another level, but prior to that I had been written off, quite honestly, once again. I've been written off a number of times: "New York, New York," pretty brutally, too, by a lot of publications and the Hollywood industry, and in the middle of the '80s I was written off again. I was written off after the failure of "The King of Comedy." I was written off even after "The Color of Money," quite honestly. There was some acclaim and support, I should say, for "The Last Temptation of Christ," but of course not for Best Film. But in any event, by the time I did "Kundun" and "Bringing Out the Dead" I was written off completely. Even in the news, you know? Even on television.