Why it took nearly 30 years for Martin Scorsese to make his epic new movie ‘Silence’

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“Silence.”
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YouTube/Paramount

It was the project Martin Scorsese had been telling people he was going to make next for almost 30 years.

The legendary director was going to make it after “The Departed” in 2006, “Shutter Island” in 2010, and “Hugo” in 2011. But a combination of a script not quite ready yet, financing woes, and legal battles for years stalled “Silence,” an adaptation of the 1966 Shûsaku Endô novel. Now at 74, the Oscar winner is finally bringing the movie to audiences on December 23.

Scorsese first came across the novel around the time of finishing “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988. The story is set in the 17th century and follows two Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when trying to propagate Christianity in Japan. The director bought the rights to the book and assigned longtime collaborator Jay Cocks (“Age of Innocence,” “Gangs of New York”) to adapt it into a screenplay.

Scorsese and Cocks were hired to make the movie by Italy’s Cecchi Gori Pictures for a total of $700,000, according to The Hollywood Reporter. They each received $250,000 for their efforts and $150,000 would be paid to each if the project moved forward to production.

The script wasn’t to Scorsese’s liking so he went and made “Casino” in 1995 and “Kundun” in 1997.

In that time, the president of Cecchi Gori, Gianni Nunnari, hired other writers to take on the script. And that’s when things began to get cloudy.

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(L-R) Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of “Silence.”
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Kerry Brown/Paramount

For years the project was in a legal tailspin to figure out who really owned the rights to the movie. It didn’t help that Cecchi Gori Pictures was in financial problems and one the owners, Vittori Cecchi Gori, was sentenced to prison related to the company’s bankruptcy.

Around 2012, Cecchi Gori Pictures was awarded rights to “Silence” by the courts. But Scorsese had already committed to making “The Departed,” “Shutter Island,” and “Hugo.” Cecchi Gori sued the director for “intentional and negligent misrepresentation” when it caught wind that Scorsese was preparing to make another movie before “Silence,” “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

According to THR, Cecchi Gori wanted more than $1.5 million in damages. However, Scorsese’s lawyers said he had already paid more than $3.5 million in penalties for the movies he made instead of “Silence” over that time.

“I don’t remember [the details],” Scorsese told THR. “All I know is that, whenever anything happened, I’d ask my manager and my agents and my lawyers to please make sure we did not lose the project. And they would go back into this morass of complications and try to work it out.”

In January of this year, Scorsese and Cecchi settled out of court and Scorsese finally pushed forward to make the movie.

Financing and casts came and went as well over the years. At one time the budget was projected to be close to $100 million with Daniel Day-Lewis and Gael Garcia Bernal attached. The film got made for $46 million with Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson starring.