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On Landing My First Job in the Business on Martin Scorsese's 'Mean Streets'

Photo of Nancy Nigrosh By Nancy Nigrosh | Thompson on Hollywood November 26, 2013 at 6:55PM

Ex-literary agent and writing consultant Nancy Nigrosh looks back at landing her first job in the film business, on Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets."
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Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's 'Mean Streets'
Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's 'Mean Streets'

10 pm.  NYU Film School, The East Building 8th floor, Editing Room.    

"Who wants to work on a movie?" a voice pitched, over the din of old time moviolas.

We worked on the same ultra durable film sewing machine used by all the studios in their heyday. (It now occurs to me that maybe these are what inspired "Star Wars Episode V’"s AT Walkers.) We used a form of scotch tape to make temp edits, and carefully scraped the tape with razor blades to carve the film sprocket holes, a frustrating and messy business.  Hours melted away. Time stood still.

Every wannabe filmmaker in the editing bay just wanted to finish and be done. "I need two camera assistants… a gaffer and…a script girl," announced the voice I now recognized as Mitchell, our TA. Groans were heard. "OK, there’s coffee in it, on me," definitely sounding like Mitchell. Heads poked out. Five guys plus me, the only girl around, threw on our coats and shuffled past the purple walls trimmed with bright yellow paint, yawning and stretching.

Mean Streets
Mitchell Block

We piled into a station wagon parked in a red zone. I asked, "Is this your car?" 

"No," Mitchell answered, "It belongs to the bank, it’s a lease car." 

"What’s a lease car?," I wondered.

Around eleven, we pulled in front of the Gramercy Park Hotel, a seedy place in those days. The lobby couldn’t have been creepier. But the elevator, an old fashioned cage, was. It occurred to me as we were being yanked up a few flights, that maybe I‘d made a mistake.

The cage opened onto a fairly well lit hallway. But that wasn’t a good thing.  A door opened and light spilled out like the sun just came up. Guys were pacing around as far as the phone chords would take them.  Things settled down, however, when the eye of the storm, a dynamo with shoulder length black hair and a dark but smiling countenance, became the center of attention. 

"Mitchell! So, are these the kids?" 

"Yeah, Marty," said Mitchell, who then pointed out two camera assistants, two gaffers and me, whom he called, "the script girl."

This article is related to: Features, Features, Classics, Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese, Nancy Nigrosh


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.