11-Year-Old Martin Scorsese Draws Storyboards for His Imagined Roman Epic Film, The Eternal City

Mar­tin Scorsese’s mean streets are as long gone as graf­fi­ti-fes­tooned sub­way trains, the real Max’s Kansas City, and Yogi Berra’s pen­nant-win­ning Mets. But while the 1973 film that broke open his career is now over forty years old, Scors­ese hasn’t looked back, nor has he stayed trapped in the rough milieu of New York gang­ster films. He’s adapt­ed Edith Whar­ton, told sto­ries of the Dalai Lama, Howard Hugh­es, hand­fuls of rock and blues stars, and cin­e­mat­ic hero Georges Méliès (sort of).

Last year’s The Wolf of Wall Street fur­ther cement­ed Scorsese’s rep­u­ta­tion as a direc­tor with more breadth than almost any of his con­tem­po­raries. But it would per­haps be a mis­take to call Scorsese’s genre-hop­ping an evo­lu­tion­ary devel­op­ment. The series of sto­ry­boards here for an imag­ined widescreen Roman epic called The Eter­nal City— drawn by 11-year-old Scorsese—show us that his vision always exceed­ed the cramped Lit­tle Italy streets of his youth.

Young Scors­ese described his Cecil B. Demille-like pro­duc­tion as “A fic­ti­tious sto­ry of Roy­al­ty in Ancient Rome,” and though he didn’t give us char­ac­ter names, he made sure to spec­i­fy the film’s actors, cast­ing Mar­lon Bran­do, Richard Bur­ton, Vir­ginia Mayo, and Alec Guin­ness, among oth­ers. As for Scorsese’s own role, The Inde­pen­dent notes, “it is strik­ing that he has giv­en him­self a big­ger cred­it as pro­duc­er-direc­tor than any of the stars.” Repro­duced in David Thompson’s series of inter­views, Scors­ese on Scors­ese, the draw­ings’ impres­sive lev­el of detail demon­strate a pre­co­cious eye for shot com­po­si­tion and the dra­mat­ic per­spec­tives that char­ac­ter­ize his mature work.

The direc­tor of such metic­u­lous­ly com­posed films as Taxi Dri­ver and Good­fel­las has had much to say about the impor­tance of sto­ry­boards to his process. (We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured his hand-drawn sto­ry­boards for Taxi Dri­ver.) They are, he’s said, “the way to visu­al­ize the entire movie in advance,” to “show how I would imag­ine a scene and how it should move to the next.” And while many direc­tors would make sim­i­lar claims about this essen­tial pro­duc­tion tool, Scors­ese cher­ish­es the craft as well as the util­i­ty of the sto­ry­board. “Pen­cil draw­ing is my favorite,” he remarks. “The pen­cil line leaves lit­tle impres­sion on the paper, so if the sto­ry­board is pho­to­copied it los­es some­thing. I refer back to my orig­i­nal draw­ings in order for me to con­jure up the idea I had when I saw the pen­cil line made.”

Can we look for­ward to Scors­ese look­ing back, just once, to his plans for The Eter­nal City? He’d have to recast, of course, but giv­en how con­fi­dent­ly he sketch­es out each of his films on paper, the 71-year-old direc­tor might find much to work with in this youth­ful cin­e­mat­ic vision of antiq­ui­ty.

View the sto­ry­boards in a larg­er for­mat here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Revis­it Mar­tin Scorsese’s Hand-Drawn Sto­ry­boards for Taxi Dri­ver

Mar­tin Scorsese’s Very First Films: Three Imag­i­na­tive Short Works

Saul Bass’ Vivid Sto­ry­boards for Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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