Although his family in Iraq was wealthy, he fled the country to avoid the draft and arrived in New York in a penniless state. In his book on the New Hollywood, Peter Biskind states that Martin had to wash dishes to pay his way through NYU, where he met fellow student Martin Scorsese in 1961. The two formed a close friendship and worked together on Scorsese's early projects such as It's Not Just You, Murray! and the semi-autobiographical Season of the Witch which ultimately became Mean Streets. According to Biskind, "The two young men sat in Martin's Valiant and wrote. In the winter, in the cold and snow."