Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro Go Deep: The Pair Reflect on Meeting Via Brian De Palma, How Their Partnership Thrives and Paying the Mob to Make ‘Mean Streets’

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro presented their first collaboration, the 1973 crime drama “Mean Streets,” and then discussed the film during a De Niro Con presentation at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary took place Saturday at the Beacon Theatre, where the screening was followed by a conversation between Scorsese and De Niro, moderated by legendary rapper Nas.

More from Variety

While “Mean Streets” was the beginning of their 10-film, 50-plus year creative journey together, Scorsese said their introduction first came at a Christmas dinner, where they were urged into conversation by another to-be-legendary filmmaker: Brian De Palma. Although the pair grew up just two blocks away and heard talk of each other in the neighborhood, they had never been properly introduced until that fateful night.

“Bob was sitting there after dinner and then he looked at me and they had gone inside or something,” Scorsese said. “He said, ‘You used to hang out with so-and-so and so-and-so.’ I said, ‘Yeah, how do you know?’ And he said, ‘I’m Bobby.’ I said, ‘Bobby? Bobby. Oh my God.’ We had seen De Palma after doing ‘Hi, Mom!’ After you did that, [De Palma] said, ‘You got to meet this guy.’ Then he had seen ‘Who’s That Knocking,’ and it was very accurate as to the nature of that subculture in the neighborhood. He identified with that, so when ‘Mean Streets’ was finally put together, he came on.”

“Mean Streets” was Scorsese’s third feature, but he still had to abide by the rules of the New York neighborhoods he was filming in — even paying off the mob in order to shoot. When Nas asked about getting approval to make the movie from the local-made men, De Niro said “some of the neighborhood guys were in the back” of shots.

“I did have a couple of guys who wanted to shoot this hallway,” Scorsese said. “So we did it up at the Mulberry Street building that’s still there. We’re shooting it there, but I had to pay — my father had to go talk to the guy who owned the building. We didn’t get much sympathy from them, my father saying, ‘It’s a kid from the neighborhood. Come on — you’re gonna charge him that much?’ He goes, ‘What? He makes money on this. You make a movie, he’ll go away. We’re still here. This is what it’s gonna cost.’ There was no romantic sticking together. You paid The Sentinel Society. Francis Coppola gave us $5,000 for that because you couldn’t shoot in the festival, because we had to contribute to the San Gennaro Society. As soon as we sold the picture I gave him the money back. It was great.”

Nas also asked De Niro and Scorsese about how they’ve been able to foster such a close professional relationship, and they said it was due to the personal trust they bring on set.

“Marty, he’s always been not afraid to try the thing, so that said, you just do it,” De Niro said. “And we had it, we would talk about it, actually in more conversation, but also we talked about parallels in whatever we were in, in our experiences that we could then put into the film. ‘This scene is like this, I remember something happened to me, blah blah blah.’ ‘Well, let’s try this, because it’s not the actual thing, but this is like that experience.'”

De Niro Con included screenings of many of the duo’s films, including “Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “New York, New York.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Advertisement