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With a Heavyweight in Her Corner

As the first recipient of a Martin Scorsese fellowship, Katherine Lindberg found she didn't have to fight quite so hard in Hollywood.

January 27, 2002|DIANNE BATES

Martin Scorsese hasn't forgotten the valuable lessons he learned from those who served as his mentors at the beginning of his filmmaking career.

Well-guarded industry doors flew open when his protege, 31-year-old writer-director Katherine Lindberg, mentioned that "Martin" told her to call.

"Rain," the first feature film by Lind- berg, the first graduate recipient of the Martin Scorsese Young Filmmaker Fellowship established at New York University, premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival. The film might be called Midwestern noir and offers a stark examination of a small group of people whose lives are intertwined with murder, mystery, sex and small-town isolation. The executive producer is, you guessed it, Scorsese.

The mentor relationship between the director and Lindberg was established after the award and intensified during the often arduous script development process.

Scorsese, speaking by phone from New York City, where he is editing "Gangs of New York" for release next summer, gave credit to several early influences on his own career, one from film school and another a legendary producer of B-movies.

"My teacher-student relationship really began with an NYU professor named Haig Manoogian," Scorsese said. "He was very inspirational and pushed me through making my short films and my attempt at a first feature, which eventually became a film titled 'Who's That Knocking at My Door.'

"Roger Corman saw it when it had a short release in Los Angeles at the old Vagabond Theater under a different title. I always felt that Corman's group was sort of a university of its own. There were a number of people that Corman put through his process. Monte Hellman, [Francis Ford] Coppola. I think Coppola considers Corman even more of a mentor. He did a lot of work there. [Peter] Bogdanovich's first film, 'Targets,' which is a wonderful film."

Corman gave Scorsese "Boxcar Bertha" to direct, with a shooting schedule of 24 days. "His form of mentoring was very strong and directional. He said, 'We're making an exploitation film. It's to be shot in four six-day weeks in Arkansas for this amount of money. There's got to be a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of sexuality.' He would even go page by page and show us exactly where these elements should come in.

"You learned the discipline of making a film on schedule, and delivering that film, [cutting a reel a day], delivering the rough cut and getting it out," Scorsese said.

"This is the most exciting thing that could have happened to me at the time," he admitted. "I couldn't have made 'Mean Streets' without Roger Corman and the people he introduced me to. There were a couple of people, one called Paul Rapp, who helped me put together 'Mean Streets' afterward."

Mentoring is not just about teaching and learning from an established pro. It's also about that magic Rolodex filled with important contact numbers. Lindberg and undergraduate award recipient Kevin Jordan met with Scorsese, and both expressed an interest in going to Morocco, where he was filming "Kundun." They were there for six weeks, shadowing Scorsese and taking notes.

"They observed the shooting and basically behaved as if they were in a classroom, which is good," Scorsese says. "I think they had access to other people on the crew--particularly the producers and particularly Roger Deakins, who was an extraordinary director of photography. They asked those people questions. Each film has its own problems that are very, very specific to that particular production and story. This ['Kundun'] is the one they happened to catch. 'Casino' would have been something different.

"Katherine Lindberg actually met ['Rain' producer] Jordi Ros, who was one of the Disney executives, when he came down to watch some of the shooting."

After reading the treatment for 'Rain,' Scorsese helped finance the script with funds left over from the Disney "Kundun" deal, but says his expertise in funding film projects is minimal.

"I'm not really a producer in this way," he said, laughing. "It's hard for me to figure out how pictures get financed because there's so many ways these days. I'm just trying to hang onto my own [projects]. You have to credit Jordi Ros for staying with it ['Rain'] and getting people who read scripts at Disney to get behind it. They liked it very much and thought it was very interesting. Then he left Disney but stayed on board as a producer. In the meantime, I more or less mentored the script. Jordi was able to get Lolafilms in Spain interested in the financing. I think that's when things really started to come together."

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