Martin Scorsese: HBO's 'Vinyl' Failed Because I Didn't Direct Everything

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Martin Scorsese

Speaking at the 2018 Rome Film Festival, Scorsese, who only helmed the pilot of HBO's short-lived series, said top directors need to "do everything" on a TV show if they want it to work.

Martin Scorsese thinks his short-lived HBO series Vinyl would have turned out differently if he had directed the entire show, instead of just the pilot.

Scorsese executive produced the high-profile project, which centered on the adventures of a 1970s-era New York music executive, with Mick Jagger, with Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) serving as showrunner.

But despite the pedigree and its $100 million budget, the series was a flop and HBO dropped it after a single season. The show's two-hour premiere attracted just 764,000 viewers, one of the smallest ever showings for an HBO debut. The pay cabler cut ties with showrunner Winter on season two over creative differences, before abruptly cancelling the show altogether.

Speaking Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival, where Scorsese received a lifetime achievement honor, the director said he should have been more hands-on with Vinyl and not left the helming of episodes to others. He had been trying to develop the project with Jagger for 20 years, initially as a film, before deciding to do it on TV.

“It was ultimately tragic for me because we tried for one year. I did the pilot. We tried for one year with HBO, but we couldn’t get the creative elements together,” Scorsese said. “It was something that I realized, in order to make it right ... I think I would have had to direct every episode and be there for the three to four years.”

To do a TV series right, he said, the director should be the showrunner, as Italian helmer Paolo Sorrentino was on HBO's The Young Pope. “If you do it, you do it right like Sorrentino does,” he said. “You do everything. You do it all. ... If you don’t [want to make that commitment], you shouldn’t be making the series.”

Scorsese noted that Australian director Baz Luhrmann made a similar mistake with his hip-hop series The Get Down, which was also cancelled by Netflix after a single season.

However, Scorsese's other series for HBO, Boardwalk Empire, was done similarly — he only directed the pilot — and it went on to run for five successful seasons.

At the Rome fest, Scorsese also offered a special presentation of the 1972 drama St. Michael Had a Rooster from Italian directors (and Scorsese's longtime friends) Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. In his talk, the Oscar-winning filmmaker briefly teased his upcoming mafia movie The Irishman — to be released next year by Netflix — and also announced plans to reunite with frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio for the 1920s crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon.

The 2018 Rome Film Festival runs through Sunday.