My love affair with Martin Scorcese goes back to my late teens when I snuck into the Loop Film Series at the University of Regina and saw a 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull' double bill. Wow. Were my eyes opened. I had a new hero...though it was difficult to determine whether the hero was DeNiro or Scorcese - the two seemed almost intertwined into one entity - but I was starting to think about being a filmmaker, so Scorcese became one of 'da men'.
"All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem. I don't care. Don't make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won't even take spooks. Don't make no difference to me." - Travis Bickle
Swoon. It was a time when us filmmaking types were split into two camps...the adorers of Lucas/Speilberg and the 'Stars Wars' and 'Raiders' films, and the devotees to the alienated solitary man films of Coppola/Scorcese/Cimino and even DePalma. I belonged to the latter camp.
Then Scorcese moved to the top of my list with his early 80's efforts 'King of Comedy' and 'Afterhours'. I absolutely loved those movies. I wanted to be Marty Scorcese, and set about to do so.
I wrote a short film called 'For Whom The Bell Rings'...a dark tale of a substitute teacher and his worst nightmare - a classroom full of teenage students. How much of his anguish was real or in his head remained ambiguous. And it was to be all Scorcese...solitary, tormented hero, flashy camera moves, quick cuts, time manipulation, etc. - and style style style! I remember that being part of my proposal for funding - I actually said I wanted it to be style over substance.
The film got made - and was invited to a few festivals, but was generally a disappointment. It just didn't quite 'pop'. The intent or effort was there, but in the end it was exactly what it was...an imitation, and a pale imitation at that.
"Scorsese, arguably the most cinematically eloquent American director of modern times, is best characterized as an expressionist and cinephile...His exhilaratingly long, complex camera movements, his often staccato editing, and his carefully controlled use of colour, props, decor and music are all designed not only to take us inside the minds of his often paranoid, volatile or disturbed protagonists, but to pay tribute, in passing, to movies he loves." - Geoff Andrew (The Director's Vision, 1999)
Scorcese is an artist and a filmmaker through and through - a master of vision and technique...a visual genius. I tried, and didn't even come close. But at least I learned something.
What I learned was that I am no Scorcese.
One of the most important things you can discover about your filmmaking or writing is what you cannot do. So many go through their creative life thinking they can write anything or make any kind of film...and end up doing nothing well. I loved 'The Departed' this weekend, but I will not set about trying to write/make a film like it.
That isn't to say you shouldn't have inspirational heroes in your chosen craft. You will and should, but don't necessarily try to 'be' them.
Same goes for television - specs, etc. I love shows like 'House' or 'Bones' or 'Studio 60', but I don't fool myself anymore into thinking I can write them well. Sorkin, Hanson, Shore...heroes of mine, but I can't be them. I tried writing an 'Ally McBeal' spec once - it turned out okay, but it was a reasonable facsimile at best. However I also wrote an 'X Files' spec and co-wrote an 'Angel' spec which turned out really well, helping land an LA agent. I knew the shows and could write them naturally. And it showed. And though I acknowledge that part of the gig of TV writing is to show your range and that can write for different types of series...sometimes you can cast the net too wide.
Know your strengths...accept your weaknesses and limitations.
Thats why I have a love/hate relationship with the CSI franchise and especially 'CSI Miami'...however it might frustrate me with its pedestrian plots and cardboard characters, I know I could write it - write it pretty well actually. Accepting that fact was difficult, but necessary.
"And though I'm no Olivier / If he fought Sugar Ray / He would say / That the thing ain't the ring, it's the play. / So give me a... stage / Where this bull here can rage / And though I could fight / I'd much rather recite /... that's entertainment." - Jake La Motta
There are shows you love to watch, and shows you love to write. They will not necessarily be the same show. I love to watch Scorcese movies. I cannot make Scorcese movies.
And that's okay.
SONG & ARTIST? - "We'll be happy together, unhappy together
Now won't that be just fine
The days may be cloudy or sunny
We're in or out of the money
But I'm with you always
I'm with you rain or shine"