On Saturday, Martin Scorsese’s latest film, the highly-anticipated Killers of the Flower Moon, will have its world premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival — but he is not the only Scorsese unveiling a new film at the fest.
Francesca Scorsese, the 23-year-old daughter of the legendary filmmaker and his wife Helen Morris, will screen her directorial debut Fish Out of Water — a 25-minute drama about a young woman struggling to raise her child while harboring resentment towards her formerly abusive father and fear about her declining mother — at 10:30am on Wednesday as part of the fest’s Cannes Short Film Corner market. It will then have its official world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11.
met up with the younger Scorsese — a recent graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, the same film school that her father attended — on Friday to discuss the project, the pros and cons of growing up with the last name Scorsese and her dreams for her future.
I suspect this is not your first time in Cannes, is it?
No. The first time that I really remember, where I was actually able to experience it to its fullest extent, was when I was about 10. I don’t remember much. I just remember the carpet and a little bit of the hotel I was staying at.
To have a movie playing in Cannes has got to be exciting and intimidating for a filmmaker of any age. You’re doing it at just 23. How are you feeling right now?
I feel like it’s not real. It’s a total honor. And it’s really crazy that so many people are going to get to see my film. It’s also absolutely terrifying. And super exciting.
What made you want to make this film and tell this particular story?
It was actually a thesis for NYU — I had to write it for my class — and it was the only plot line that I had thought of. I’m really bad at coming up with plot ideas. I struggle with it. I was kind of like, “OK, I can work with this.” I workshopped it for about a year. It started off completely different. There were characters that were dead that aren’t there now, and then I added people, and I changed things. I think I really got it down to the core of what I was trying to tell. The main thing I wanted to express was family: the complications of different family relationships; care-taking for loved ones; and family illness, which is also a big part of my life.
If it’s not too personal to ask, how much of this story is your own?
The father-daughter relationship is polar opposite to me and my dad. Nothing at all has anything to do with my dad and I. I mean, we’re best friends, and they’re obviously really not. But the maternal thing is definitely influenced by my life. My mom has Parkinson’s. She’s had it since she was in her 30s. She’s almost in her 70s now. Yesterday was her birthday. So, she’s been sick pretty much all my life. And it’s a progressive degenerative disease, so it just gets worse over time. So, something that my dad and I have been dealing with is experiencing her kind of having memory loss, almost like dementia, but just periods of that, and then she comes back, and she’s fully there. And my way of dealing with it is putting it into my art and trying to express those feelings through my work.
Do you find it cathartic to do that?
Oh yeah, definitely. I was so nervous to show it to her. I’ve made a short film before, almost like a documentary, about her, which was a bit more scary for her to see because it was real footage of her and much more literally about her. But when she saw it, she was like, “No, I was prepared for it, and I loved it.” She just loves to see that I’m able to deal with my feelings about these things. My dad was also telling me that it’s really good that I’m able to put my feelings — my trauma, even — into my art and express it that way and deal with it that way, rather than in other ways, you know?
Do you think he has also done that in his work?
I imagine that growing up you were surrounded by lots of film and lots of filmmakers, not just him. Do you remember when it first occurred to you that you might want to make films too?
I honestly don’t. I mean, I practically grew up on film sets. It was literally my life. And I thought that life was really like playing pretend all the time. There were these incredible actors in front of me doing amazing work, so I mean, it was very believable. I have so many memories — I mean, my dad put me on the prop plane from The Aviator, and I thought I was on a real plane, and then the turbulence started, and now I’m terrified of airplanes — I cannot fly! That was me when I was 3 years old. As I got older, I was like, “I want to do this.”
You’ve also done a bit of acting…
Acting became more appealing as I got older. When I was a teenager, I was starting to deal with a lot of mental health things and trying to discover myself. I was really diving into watching a lot more films and television series. And I started to actually look up to certain characters and really relate to them — mostly young female characters, I was very intrigued by. I’d watch, and I’d put subtitles on, and I’d rewind, and I would say their line a similar way or a different way. I’d record myself doing monologues. And it was nice to take myself out of my own shoes and go into somebody else’s world for a minute and forget everything else that was going on and then come back. So, it became really cathartic for me to do that. And then I put myself on Backstage, and Luca Guadagnino found me [for his HBO series We Are Who We Are]. It was online. I made a profile. I did a couple of short films. And then Carmen Cuba, the casting director, found me on my Instagram actually, through a family friend.
You eventually went off to NYU Tisch. Is that where you began to focus more on directing than acting?
I was not really there for acting at all. I’ve always wanted to direct. Acting kind of came as a little side thing that I was doing. But I mean, I’ve made my own little videos and home videos and stuff like that from the age of 8 years old. My dad would be some of the characters in it. He’d be helping me, teaching me how to create my own films. And my friends would play different parts, or I’d play different parts and dress up differently and stuff like that. So, when I went to NYU, I definitely went with directing in mind. I was like, “I want to be hands-on with a camera my first year,” which didn’t really happen because that’s not how it works.
Your dad had attended NYU Tisch years earlier. Did he give you any advice before you started there?
He told me to just really put myself out there and make as many connections as possible. He was like, “You really have to just be yourself and find interesting people and connect with them and just see where that goes.” Because it’s always good to make connections.
What’s the best and trickiest part of having the last name Scorsese as you head into the same profession as your dad?
There’s so many pros and cons to it. The best part of going into the same profession is that I have him. I mean, he is the best teacher, guide, just overall mentor — and also, he’s literally my best friend. I tell him everything. He tells me pretty much everything. And it comes so naturally — he’s like just my one person that I go to. But the worst thing? I feel like I’m always tied to him, which I love, but also, sometimes when I’m trying to make a name for myself, it’s very difficult because I literally have his name.
Will you guys go to each other’s movies while you’re here in Cannes?
Has he seen the film already, or will this be the first time?
Oh, no, he’s seen it. He’s seen it from the beginning, all the way. Originally it was like 40 minutes long, and we cut it down to 25 minutes because it’s obviously not a short film if it’s 40 minutes. No, he was definitely somebody I would go to for advice. I’d be like, “Hey, this shot kind of sucks. What do you think?” Or whatever. But yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be there for my screening. I’m definitely going to be there for his.
What is the best possible scenario for how your film plays here? Are you hoping to find distribution for it, or that it will lead to another opportunity, or something else?
I don’t know. I just want to get as many eyes on it as possible and be able to show some of my talents — or what I hope are talents! I’ve been in talks about it maybe becoming a feature, so that could be interesting. But I’m just excited to see what happens and where this takes me. I really want to do a little bit of everything. I want to write. I want to do photography. I want to make films. I want to act in films. I just want to be myself.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.