Martin Scorsese Inspires Every Filmmaker With Tisch Commencement Speech

I had the pleasure of watching Martin Scorsese’s commencement speech for the graduates of the Tisch School for the Arts. I believe he speaks to every filmmaker through his inspiring words of encouragement. Here are the highlights of that speech transcribed, in hopes they inspire the filmmaker and artist in you:

Any of you, whether you’re actors, writers, directors, painters, dancers, musicians, all of you in different disciplines, but every one of you are engaged in the same struggle. To preserve that initial desire, that animating impulse, that brought you here and will carry you along.

The thing is, your position is never secure. So what you have to make secure and guard with your life, because it is your life, is the same pure creativity that brought you here and that brought me here too. It’s the one thing that’s got to carry you through so irresistibly that sometimes it seems like it’s barely in your control and, you know, mostly it shouldn’t be.

There’s a way that the force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that will paradoxically renew you. You either learn it or you’re undone by it.

It’s the work of the old masters, whoever your masters are really, that remind you that you have to be singular, inflexible, unyielding in your own work so that even the struggle, that very struggle to achieve, becomes its own reward. The hard simple ability to continue is a kind of blessing.

You can’t do your work according to other people’s values.

I’m not talking about “Following your dream” either. I never liked the inspirational value of that phrase. Besides being sentimental, it’s beside the point. Dreaming is a way of trivializing the process. The obsession that carries you through the failure as well as the successes. If you’re dreaming, your sleeping and it’s important and imperative to always be awake to your feelings, your possibilities, your ambitions, and don’t get hung up on the consequences.

The seductions of the rewards are as risky as the temptations of anger and self-doubt.

Theodore Roosevelt said in 1910, in another springtime, at another university:

“It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. Or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly, who errs, comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds. Who knows great enthusiasms; the great devotions. Who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement. And who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You may be shy. You may be tentative. And even, at times, you may be fragile. But you have to protect your own voice, your creative spirit, no matter what it costs. That takes tenacity, confidence, and resilience.

I still find that trying to weave together into a visual narrative and cutting together two pieces of a film; two different images. When they come together in a way that’s unique and that’s different, something you hadn’t expected, that’s surprising and revelatory. It’s still exhilarating to me. It’s still satisfying. It’s still fulfilling. It’s still worth it.

Every step is a first step. Every brushstroke is a test. Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. So let the learning continue.

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