‘Gangs’ all here

Scorsese ready for 'New York' minutes

CANNES — Today’s 20-minute presentation of “Gangs of New York” took seven weeks to prepare, and director Martin Scorsese says it’s been a challenge to come up with a presentation that encapsulates the film.

Nearly two years after he began production on the film, the helmer admits that he’s feeling the pressure of the pic: He is editing it and is also in the midst of reshoots. While he says the film’s violence creates “some tough stuff,” Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein has been “supportive,” according to the director, who shrugged off rumors of battles between the two.

“(Film editor) Thelma (Schoonmaker) and (I) put a lot of time into it, and we also relied heavily on the Miramax group,” Scorsese says. “We tried to do this together because I’ve never done this before and its kind of a weird thing. I’m making a movie but I don’t necessarily know how to make a 20-minute version of that movie.”

Scorsese, who also heads up the Cinefondation short-film jury, arrived in town Sunday; a few days earlier he spoke to Variety from his office in New York, where he was deep in the editing process of “Gangs.”

“Gangs” is slated for a Dec. 25 release Stateside by Miramax Films. Pic was co-financed by Initial Entertainment Group, which sold the pic overseas.

While the release comes more than a year after the original target of Dec. 21, 2001, Scorsese says he’s still not finished shooting. He completed two days of close-ups and pickups with Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis last week in New York, and will do another two days of insert photography after Cannes. Shooting began Aug. 30, 2000, at the Cinecitta studios in Rome.

Scorsese points out that last-minute shoots are not unusual on films. Still, he admits that, because of the lengthy process, he’s concerned about public perception.

“When people hear this they think, ‘It’s a big movie and they’re still shooting.’ But it’s because when you edit the stuff, you discover things you needed. Harvey Weinstein was good enough in the final analysis to turn around and say, ‘Listen, you need two days for some pickup shoots, go ahead and shoot — get what you need.’ ”

Industry rumor has swirled around the relationship between Scorsese and Weinstein during “Gangs.” However, Scorsese views that struggle as an inevitable part of the process between studio exec producer and director.

“He’s passionate, we have a good relationship, but obviously he’s a very colorful character and I have my own ways,” says Scorsese. “I’m kind of excitable at times, but the reality is there are certain things he has to say to me and he’s gotta say them.

“Filmmaking is always a battle, a struggle, but he’s been supportive and enthusiastic and he wants to make my movie.”

He says “Gangs” is expected to receive an R rating from the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s ratings board. However, the filmmaker has attempted to depict violence in a different way.

“In one case, I shot five angles to get one move. In less than a second and a half of film, there are five cuts. You never see any blood, just the faces, the hands, the eyes. But there’s no doubt that in the opening battle scene, there is some tough stuff there.”

Scorsese says the running time will likely stand at around 2 hours, 44 minutes. “As I speak to you now, I’m going into the editing room to continue working. This is pretty much the picture, it’s pretty much what I wanted to make and it reflects me in relationship to the material, so I’m pleased.”

With that in mind, he says a DVD director’s cut is unlikely. “For me, it’s the one I release in the theater.”As for the future, Scorsese has projects brewing. But now that AMG, which reps the helmer, has significantly changed as a business in its partnership with the Firm, there’s the question of agency representation.

“Mike (Ovitz) is a good friend,” he says, “and has been for the past 20 years and I’m still very close with him and basically we think we can still work together in some capacity. For right now, I’m working with (AMG chief) Rick Yorn and AMG and the Firm and the combination of those companies, but my relationship with Ovitz hasn’t changed.”

Scorsese is developing two projects on which he will collaborate again with DiCaprio and financier Graham King of IEG: “Alexander the Great” and “The Aviator,” a Howard Hughes bio (Cannes Show Daily, May 17).

“Quite honestly and literally, the water’s up to my nose on ‘Gangs of New York’ right now. I hope once I get a little bit of a rest in a week or two to clear my mind we will figure out exactly how to go about doing either one or both of these projects. We’d love to do both.”

Scorsese also continues to work on a personal project he has been developing for many years. “Silence,” an adaptation of the Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo, is a tale about Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan. He says producer Gianni Nunnari holds the rights.

The filmmaker admits that his pal Robert De Niro would have liked the 20-minute “Gangs” presentation for the just-wrapped first Tribeca Film Festival.

However, fest co-founder De Niro had to make do with what Scorsese described as the “world premiere” of a “Gangs” trailer as well as four or five minutes from a scene.

“He would’ve liked much more — he would’ve liked the whole film — but we had a commitment to Cannes and the Cannes presentation is very special to us,” Scorsese says.