Even on Zoom, Martin Scorsese knows how to frame the shot. Ostensibly he’s dialed in to talk about his new Super Bowl ad for Squarespace, but as he’s settling in, he adjusts the iPad he’s calling from to make sure his face is framed perfectly by the bookshelves behind him.
It’s not so much vanity as a desire to take digital communication seriously. Scorsese’s Super Bowl spot is a punchy, humorous riff about what would happen if extraterrestrials came to Earth and couldn’t get humanity’s attention because everyone is lost in their phones. It’s funny, but also something Scorsese thinks about. At 81, he says, he remembers the transition from radio to television to film and puts a lot of thought into how people from every generation consume visual media.
Including, now, on TikTok. Late last year, the legendary filmmaker—who recently received his 10th Best Director Oscar nomination, for Killers of the Flower Moon—went viral when his daughter Francesca Scorsese started posted a video of her dad on the video-sharing app learning slang. He says he may never be good at storytelling on TikTok, but a 30-second spot? That he can do.
WIRED talked to Scorsese about his Squarespace ad, the rise of artificial intelligence in filmmaking, and whether or not he’ll be getting a Vision Pro.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Angela Watercutter: Shall we dive right in?
Martin Scorsese: I guess so. I’ll do my best. [Laughs]
I saw the behind-the-scenes you did with Francesca the other day. How is it working with your daughter as a collaborator?
Well, it’s just an extension of the two of us and how we normally behave. So for me it’s very grounding. There’s no judgment, or there’s no direction in any sense. It’s really playing off each other. It seems to flow very naturally with her.
You’re both very funny.
I think she has a wonderful sense of humor, and she’s a very good actor. Some, it’s not acting, you know, it’s just simply being. Simply is not easy. But that’s the key.
Does this mean we’re gonna get some more TikToks soon? I know the internet has been anticipating them.
We would like to post a few more. Right now it’s a little busy. If she comes up with an interesting idea during the nature of the work itself, where we’re doing interviews and we’re going places to do an event or whatever, that adds an energy to it. It makes it even more natural. In a way, it’s disarming, because we have no choice. We have to get this done and it’s like, “Let’s go do it,” rather than “Don’t bother me. Get away from me with that iPhone.” I like the iPhone, I’m just saying keep it away from me.
Ha! Right. I know what you mean.
I don’t know what winds up on the internet. I was not aware that it would be posted. However, it’s all right.
You didn’t know those TikToks were going to be posted when she shot them?
Yeah, there was one where I had a beard. I had just come back from [filming in Taiwan]. A few weeks later I had a meeting with a wonderful Indian director, Anurag Kashyap. He came to visit my office, and I walked in and said, “Oh, I should have told you I had a little beard.” He says, “Oh, no, all of India knows; it’s gone viral in India.” Then the kid walked in, it was like a sitcom. I looked at her and I said, “Do you realize what you’ve done? That was just something I did to stop you from annoying me.”
Ha! Now you’re TikTok famous.
Anyway, it started out that way. It was very good-natured; it was very sweet. It’s also interesting for me to see, to experience, the perception of visual images through youthful eyes.
It’s a whole new audience.
My foundation is in more of a solid form, on screen and in theater. It could be a film with only two actors in it, or it could be Lawrence of Arabia. So, there’s total freedom to take the medium and turn it inside out, depending on if you have anything to say or satirically comment upon. It’s a whole new world of storytelling.
Let’s talk a bit about the commercial. Why did you decide to do an extraterrestrial story?
Technology is wired-in now, I guess, for two generations. They can’t imagine life without it. You’re talking to a man who’s 81; I remember before television. My parents didn’t have a radio until 1922. So I slowly came alongside the progression of the media itself. Now with new technology of today, on which so much of our lives is based, it would probably take contact with extraterrestrials to catch our attention.
I mean maybe, maybe not. Many messages are just fun, people conversing with each other. Other situations are more serious. Still, they’re locked into these devices. So I thought it’d be very funny to have these aliens that have been trying to reach us for years and years.
Right. They can’t get through the noise the way they maybe could have a few decades ago.
I go back to those early alien films, from 1950 to 1957, like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing From Another World—the original version. All these classics were part of our psyche at the time. It was the Cold War. No generation today even knows what that is. They may read about it, but they didn’t experience it. They couldn’t have, they weren’t alive. For us at that time, we actually thought there would be some kind of communication with beings from outer space. Anything could happen. The atom bomb could fall, or Martians could arrive, all that sort of thing. We were kids, of course, but there were a lot of adults who believed it too.
With the internet the way it is now, with AI and deepfakes, do you think if Martians did send messages to our phones we’d even believe it?
No, of course not. You know Jean-Luc Godard said, “Cinema is truth, 24 times per second.” That’s gone. I would argue with him that even then that wasn’t true, but there was an aspect of truth. I know what he meant. But now we’re in a very interesting time. How can we discern something that’s been fabricated from something that’s genuine. I don’t want to use the word “true,” but genuine.
Is the influence of something like artificial intelligence something you think about as a director?
I think about it in the sense that it’s new technology. Why not use it? It depends on what you wanna say, if you have anything to say. You might just want to enjoy pure entertainment and action and movement. Which is fun. I think you can utilize any form of technology, and I think you can utilize it to create art in some way or other. But it has to emanate from the human heart.
This is your first Super Bowl commercial, but not your first commercial period. You’ve done ads for Chanel, American Express. What’s different about a Super Bowl ad, especially one for a tech company like Squarespace?
It’s just that, you know, every one of them is a little film. And I shouldn’t even use the adjective little. They’re films. That’s the way I approach it. I don’t know if they work, in other words, if they fulfill their purpose. The companies I made them for could tell you that. I don’t know. You tell a story in one minute or one minute, 30 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds. How do you imply and give an impression of a story in 10 seconds? This is really, it’s filmmaking,
That kind of goes back to the TikTok thing, right? It’s all about putting your voice, your art into something short. It takes as much skill as a three-hour movie, right?
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And that’s something I can’t do. I would never be able to do a TikTok myself. I don’t, I don’t get the concept. Also I got other things to do.
You already have a job.
The kids, if they think in those terms, fine. The commercial itself is an obligation to create something that makes its story clear. All of that’s pretty enjoyable.
You know, it became something of a meme when Killers of the Flower Moon released the same weekend that Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour movie was out. She took that weekend. Now she might come to the Super Bowl and you’ll face off again.
There’s no contest. It’s beyond me. God bless her. She’s wonderful.
You made Killers of the Flower Moon with Apple, and I’m wondering, what’s been different about that, compared to a movie with a more traditional studio?
I was given freedom. They use the word “support” a lot. People don’t really know what that means unless you’re on set and it’s raining, and it’s not supposed to be raining, and all these production problems. If you need an extra hour or two or if you have to make a change, the support comes in very strong in a very powerful way. Because I’ve worked in situations where there wasn’t that support. Too bad. You have to finish today. In some cases, that was the nature of that production. A lower budget, a shorter shoot. You work within that framework.
Here I found there was freedom to experiment and freedom to recreate a whole world. For me, the support was really important with Apple, and the way they have presented the film to the world, I think is something that’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in the 45 or 50 years I’ve been making movies.
So, did you get a Vision Pro?
Not yet, but I hope to. I hope to.