Martin Scorsese is still in production on Hugo Cabret — which is reportedly moving slowly because of the director’s learning curve with shooting in 3D — but he says that The Irishman could shoot next year.

That’s the script formerly called I Heard You Paint Houses, which concerns famed Mafia hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran, and has Robert De Niro attached to star. Al Pacino and Joe Pesci have been rumored participants as well. More details after the break.

Digital Spy reports that at BAFTA’s A Life In Pictures Q&A Martin Scorsese said that Robert De Niro is set for The Irishman, which is pulling together funding and could shoot as soon as early 2011. Digital Spy paraphrases, but has no direct quotes. GQ and Metro also reported from the event, with no quotes about The Irishman, though GQ says the film is penciled in for 2011-2012.

Thoughts about this: first, there have been reports that Hugo Cabret‘s schedule has been extended and will go into February 2011, so shooting early next year seems like a stretch. And, if Hugo Cabret really has been given an extended schedule, and is therefore over budget, is The Irishman a ‘safe’ picture to make before the Jesuit priest drama Silence that he’s been planning for several years?

Furthermore, what is the nature of The Irishman as it stands now? Steve Zaillian is writing the script, but there has been talk, from Robert De Niro, of adding a very ambitious layer to the project. The talk references Fellini and multiple films, and paints the project as hardly ‘safe,’ but very intriguing. Let’s go back to what the actor said in April:

We have a more ambitious idea, hopefully, to make it a two-part type of film or two films…It’s an idea that came about from Eric Roth to combine these movies using the footage from ‘Paint Houses’ to do another kind of a [film that is] reminiscent of a kind of ’8 1/2,’ ‘La Dolce Vita,’ [a] certain kind of biographical, semi-biographical type of Hollywood movie — a director and the actor — based on things Marty and I have experienced and kind of overlapping them.

So is this a two-film sort of deal, or is the idea to spin a movie off from The Irishman that would be a Fellini-esque semi-fictionalization of the long partnership between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro? (The Irishman would be their ninth film.) The idea of a Fellini-flavored Scorsese film sent some of our readers (and me) into fits when that quote came out, so we’re hoping for the best here. I’m happy to hear that The Irishman might happen sooner rather than later — I just hope it won’t be at the expense of the more ambitious aspects.

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