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What Martin Scorsese Taught Me Under The Table

Or finding your authentic self is like eating a good piece of chocolate

By Zel HarrisonPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 10 min read
Top Story - December 2021
What Martin Scorsese Taught Me Under The Table
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Did you really meet the famous director/producer Martin Scorsese under a table, people ask?

I did, at the NATPE convention in Vegas, and years later, the story is as quirky and memorable in the way I met him and a facet of my authentic self.

Two for the price of one, at the same time.

The back story led me to an unexpected invitation to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference in Las Vegas Nevada. NATPE is a professional organization that provides its members with education, networking, professional associations and tech guidance through year-round activities, directories, and events. Many people have sold their scripts, packaged film projects and media programs through connections at NATPE. I thought I could be one of these people because of a few scripts I had floating around the networks.

In the past, the most fabulous television deals came from those in attendance at the conference. Included in the parade are media buyers, broadcast and cable networks, and world famous television producers and directors. I heard that NATPE provided tremendous learning opportunities for people just starting in the business so I was eager to go.

I was working as a program aid at a cable network in Cincinnati, and my job was to teach citizens how to produce their home grown films, and incorporate the arts into the classrooms where cable television was used as a tool. One of the executives had to cancel her two day trip, so she offered me a one day pass as a student with a stay at the Luxor hotel. I was more than excited, because of the opportunity to go to Vegas and attend a seminar with the world famous Martin Scorsese, and meet with program execs about my scripts.

If nothing else occurred, my prayer was to be in the same room with Mr. Scorsese and hear some of his thoughts about producing his original first films. They were organic in nature with characters that ooze story. I was fascinated with so much of his early work like, I Call First, with Zina Bethune, a beautiful ingénue with Russian heritage, and Harvey Keitel who was a clone of Scorsese and part of the early new Hollywood movement. This was an experimental film that took years to shoot, and started on an almost volunteer budget. At first, the film dialogue, actually sounds like a college impromptu class. I thought I could get a glimpse of Mr. Scorsese’s stories about his birth into film direction.

I had written a script that was seen at one of the networks by the new content producer, and made a few contacts with the network who offered to have me attend a meeting. This was my chance to strut my tail feathers and meet so many people who I had admired and had tremendous respect for in the television industry. I did not have an agent but I thought I would be persistent and introduce myself to some of the decision makers. I knew that if I couldn’t get in the front door, I would knock on the back door. I learned this growing up in a large loud New York family and the only way to get your point across was to speak up for yourself.

I wanted to look crisp and professional, so I went to Macy’s and bought myself some lovely outfits for the two days I was going to be there. On the first night I was invited to a meet and greet cocktail party through a good friend that worked at the network I was courting. She told me to slip in under the wire without a formal invitation with a thirties costume and a big peacock feather. “As long as you are dressed to the nines, nobody will know that you are vying for a position and starting out as a newbie. That is not quite true, but for the moment it sounded so dramatic and convincing. My bags were packed and I included a simple black dress, and a huge feather which I placed in my suitcase.

I left Cincinnati, thinking I would come home with a sold script, and new viable knowledge about many aspects of the industry. People would look to me as somebody who could be of good guidance. I would share my outcome with the students and teachers I worked with. I would be that much closer to the television industry and as a writer I would be heard.

Walking into the Luxor hotel, I entered a new radiant world. I was immediately mesmerized by the dazzle, the walk of importance, hundreds of high level`conversations going on simultaneously and I was a small part of it. Once I got through the energy of the room that was in surround sound, I picked up my conference program guide with a menu of choices that was jaw dropping. I had arrived late, so I decided to immediately attend a network conference about changing approaches to new and already existing content. As a side note, when I walked into the room, I turned my name tag around so nobody could see the word student. After all, I was seemingly apparently but not really involved with a network.

Knowing that later that evening I would attend a cocktail party, I asked the front desk to take some of my clothing, and the evening little black dress to press for an hour delivery, and then I went to my room to luxuriate in a whirlpool bath for the first time ever. The long mirrors were my favorite. I did a happy dance, and wiggled my fingers with a favorite ring that looked just like a diamond.

By The Paris Photographer on Unsplash

After primping and putting on make-up, I received a phone call letting me know my clothing was delivered to the front door. I gingerly slid the handle, and the door didn’t open. I tried a few more times, thinking I needed to lift the handle, but it didn’t work. This exercise went on for about fifteen minutes, and then I started to get really concerned. I called the front desk, and announced, “I am locked in my room, it is really important to get security upstairs, and get me out… I am fearful this could be a fire hazard, I am here for a conference… help”. I knew I wasn’t the only person locked in their rooms, because the people next door, were also knocking on the walls and talking to me about their predicament. They were getting married, and were locked in. Ten minutes later, security, and a fire official came up, and they started to work with the locks. It involved a procedure that would take a few hours, and each door would require some drilling. I knew the couple had to get married, so I told the hotel staff to work on their door. I would wait till the morning and try to get in to the remaining seminars. Since I had not eaten, I told the staff to send up a porterhouse steak, flat mashed potatoes, salad in a baggie, and a New York cheese cake. “Send it through the crack”, I said. Since I was going to be locked in, it was time to enjoy myself.

I called the NATPE exec office at the hotel, and told them, I was locked in my room, and let them know that if anyone else was in the same situation to please understand. The representatives said they would send out an all points bulletin to everyone.

By the morning, I expected that everything would be back to normal, and by 1 pm, I was finally able to open the door. My laundry was waiting for me at the front door, and I was excited to at least put on my new duds and hot foot it into the main conference area. I opened the grey plastic laundry sleeve and instead of the pant suit I bought and my little black dress, I saw a 1930’s green sequin dress. I freaked, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from getting to the conference room where I could locate a catalogue and find out where Martin Scorsese was presenting if there was any time left in the day. Selling my scripts and meeting with the network executives was suddenly uninteresting. I charged through the hallways, like Cinderella with my feather fanning through the air, and finally got to the large conference hall.

By Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

I made a beeline dash to the nearest group of tables, to see if any remaining catalogues were left. The room and all the vendors had cleared out considerably and I felt like I was in hyperspace space looking like a flapper from yesteryear. I started to cry which echoed in the room.

Then it happened

I crawled under a table, as my nearsighted self was rooting around looking for any storage areas for remaining catalogues, and suddenly from the other end of the long table, I saw a man who was crawling toward me with two catalogues in hand. The closer he got, I saw him wearing a pair of huge Turtoise shell glasses, and he had a huge grin. It felt like a scene in slow motion. It was Martin Scorsese, and with a very deep voice with a tinge of sarcasm he said, “Did you climb out of one of my movies?”

Mr. Scorsese stood up with a catalogue in hand, and generously offered it to me.

Still tearful, I told him about my mishap, and said that I felt bad that I had missed a whole day of seminars.

“ Oh I know who you are”, he said. “The NATPE office mentioned that some people were locked in their rooms.”

I was suddenly five minutes worth of famous.

The dialogue and interview between us, lasted for a few minutes, and then Mr. Scorsese had to run to catch a flight.

Me: Mr. Scorsese what draws you to the characters you write about?

Mr. Scorsese: I never consider the status quo. I know what I want, become fascinated with real people and find their authentic qualities. I fall in love every time

Me: So are your characters flawed Mr Scorsese.

Mr. Scorsese: No they have a challenge to conquer. Well, you had challenge coming here. (laughter) You obviously wanted to learn something, and you would go to any length to find this catalogue. You even had me crawling under the table.

Mr. Scorsese: So what did you learn?

Me: I've learned that I don't have to turn my ID card around so that nobody knows who I really a.m. It's more than okay to be a student. Sometimes I am the teacher, sometimes I am the student. I can ask for what I need, and if I don't get it, you can bet I'm going to find another way.

With that he looked at me eye to eye and I could see his dark eyebrows that framed his very deep set familial eyes that reminded me of my genius grandfather. On the table there was an open box of delicious Italian chocolates.

By Monique Carrati on Unsplash

He said choose one, and of course I chose the chocolate one with chocolate through and through. He told me that was a good choice, and I think he would have told me any piece was a good choice. I thanked him for the catalog and for the life-changing wisdom. I gave him a big hug and he kissed me on both sides of my cheeks. And then he added:

See the imperfections in what you are doing, embrace it and be perfectly imperfect.

Although I am still a diamond in the rough artistically, my moniker over the years follows Mr. Scorsese’s words. I now try to find the good chocolate through and through, and on an imperfect day, I laugh at myself, embrace my foibles, quirkiness and find a good story.


If you are an aspiring writer producer or director, or have become fascinated with new opportunities in the television industry research the myriad of opportunities offered by the NATPE convention.

NATPE's organizers have revealed new program details for the upcoming NATPE Miami on site convention which is set to take place January 18-20th at the Fontainbleau Resort in Miami.

The organization also offers online services to its membership including a propriety industry network. [Wikipedia]


About the Creator

Zel Harrison

I travel with a nap sack on my back to gather stories and sit in the circle of humanity.

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