Kaitlin Fontana: You’re listening to On Writing a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East. I’m Kaitlin Fontana. In each episode you’ll hear from writers in film, television, news and new media discussing everything from pitching to production, from process to favorite lines and jokes and everything in between. Today I’m thrilled to be joined by Lorene Scafaria. Lorene earned her first writers Guild credit with the acclaimed teen comedy Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. She’s since written and directed three films Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Meddler and one of this year’s most buzzed about films Hustlers. Inspired by an article in New York magazine, Hustlers is a wild ride that follows a crew of strippers as they turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Hi Lorene.
Lorene Scafaria: Hi.
Kaitlin Fontana: Hi, I’m good thanks. How are you?
Lorene Scafaria: I’m great.
Kaitlin Fontana: Thank you so much for being here.
Lorene Scafaria: Thank you for having me.
Kaitlin Fontana: Congratulations on Hustlers. It’s amazing.
Lorene Scafaria: Thank you.
Kaitlin Fontana: I saw it in New York at the DGA theater and I think it’s electric. I think it’s just an amazing film. I’m not objective at all about this experience.
Lorene Scafaria: Me neither so it’s perfect.
Kaitlin Fontana: Good. You know what just warning listeners no objectivity happening in this podcast today. Obviously this is On Writing the Writers Guild podcast. We’re going to talk a lot about your process as a writer but I wanted to start and get you to tell us the back-story of how this film came to you as a writer and how you got into the project in the first place.
Lorene Scafaria: The article the Hustlers at Scores which Jessica Pressler wrote for The Cut was sent to me by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s company Gloria Sanchez. That was the summer of 2016. The world was … It felt very different then, but I was immediately excited about all themes that it touched upon. It felt like it talked about themes I was really excited to talk about in a really organic way. I was immediately drawn to the story and the characters. I thought there was an incredible friendship story at the core of it. I found the writing to be so compelling and the process of Jessica’s reporting to be so compelling too to speak to these two women who formed this business and formed this friendship and were interviewed separately about their experiences. Yeah, I was immediately drawn to it in the summer of 2016 and now here we are three years later.
Kaitlin Fontana: Which actually in the grand scheme of feature writing is not a ton of time. We’ll talk more about how quickly things came together a little bit later. Talk to me a bit about the travel of this project from writing assignment to you ultimately directing the project.
Lorene Scafaria: That was a longer journey. It took a long time to convince people that I was the right director for the project even though I wrote it. It wasn’t an easy leap for people. The director of the Meddler makes Hustlers, so understandably but I was trying to write myself into the directing chair. It was nine months I would say of just having my hand raised and trying to get the meeting. I was editing footage as really a proof of concept. I was editing strippers and strip teases to show [Pan 00:03:16] and eventually did a sizzle reel with my editor Kayla [Empter 00:03:20] who is a genius and put together this thing that really did get me the job. It became the visual presentation of the film and how I would realize it visually. Just took a long time to get that meeting to be honest.
That was the hardest part of the process was that nine month period where I didn’t want to take any other directing jobs. I didn’t want to take myself out of the running but obviously needed to pay some bills. I was writing at the same time with other projects but really my heart was always set on Hustlers. That was a journey.
Kaitlin Fontana: I bet. I think the phrase that’s really interesting to me that you just said is writing your way into the directing chair. I wonder if you could drill down on that a little bit more.
Lorene Scafaria: I should have said director’s chair but I did say directing so that’s fair. I tried to put a lot of choices on paper including a lot of the music choices including Chopin the score of the movie and about 80% of the music choices, the song choices were in the script. That was a part of it. Certainly some camera moves and some visual storytelling to just try to have people see it. I mean that is what you do anyway as a writer but certainly the music choices felt like you could be overstepping your bounds. If I didn’t have my eyes on that, it might’ve been a little strange to write all of that into it. That was the hope was that they saw that I had a full vision for this and that being able to execute it on paper, being a very different movie from my last would hopefully … I was hoping that would show people what I was capable of on the other side of it.
It was really I think the sizzle reel to be honest that that became that proof concept. It was also to get the movie green lit. It was certainly to get myself the directing job but that was also to get people excited about what the movie could be because I think the stigma around what the characters do for a living when the movie starts and certainly where they end up no longer a stigma obviously. It’s a crime drama at a certain point. I felt that stigma that was wrapped up in what the characters did for a living, where they started from was a part of why people might have been a little afraid of the movie. Certainly women doing bad things but it really felt a judgment of the beginning of the story and what they did for living there.
Kaitlin Fontana: Tell me a little bit about that in terms of going into rooms and talking to execs. I mean I would assume and I think this is a fair assumption you’re mainly talking to men when you’re going into rooms because there’s just more male executives.
Lorene Scafaria: Women hated it too. Don’t worry. Women we’re also not sure about it. There’s usually-
Kaitlin Fontana: The moral ambiguity of the characters on a certain level and feeling like … When I was watching it I connected to my feelings and my experiences watching films in the gangster genre as a child or as a young adult which isn’t to say that those characters are off the hook but I feel we give men more latitude to misbehave in film. I wonder what kinds of reactions you were getting in the room.
Lorene Scafaria: I mean it’s just is that there’s that double standard what was shocking for me was how much that double standard was in every news headline at the same exact time. That was what was so strange about taking this project around and pitching it when it was between studios. That was interesting because it was Serena Williams her “outburst” was in the news at that point. Ariana Grande wearing a short skirt to Aretha Franklin’s funeral was in the news. It was the week of the Kavanaugh hearings that we took the project around. That was honestly the craziest part was that was the week where husbands and wives weren’t speaking to each other. To go into these rooms and to talk about something that certainly isn’t black and white, it certainly isn’t wrapped up in a bow. It’s certainly not feminism on a silver platter. In my mind it was. In my mind it spoke to so much and I was so interested in talking about empowerment versus control.
That was why I was really interested and I thought it could speak to people certainly be a female gangster film certainly be a movie about an industry that maybe people don’t think about or think about in a certain way. I thought it was a compelling human story obviously but there was something about the collective experience of women that I was interested in speaking to and was most interested because these characters were characters that maybe don’t reveal themselves as those black and white female empowerment characters. That’s why I was so interested in it.
Kaitlin Fontana: I think that a theme that comes up in the film that is not necessarily reflected in other films of the genre if we want to put it in with that gangster genre. The Goodfellas [oover 00:08:32] as it were, is that this is a movie about class and the economy as well in a very specific way that those films don’t usually touch on. Sometimes it seems that gangster world is completely separate from the real world. In this case I felt so strongly that first of all it is a period piece that happens during the financial crash of 2008 but also that it feels very of this world and that these women come from nothing. That I think that makes it a little different. I wonder if you could speak to those themes as they started to arise.
Lorene Scafaria: That’s what I was interested in was that I don’t think people think of women as blue collar or even as earners or providers necessarily. I think that we’re still ticking off our top boxes of this broken value system. I think that was why I was so interested in this underworld being explored because it feels like a world … Like you said, the gangster world does feel it’s outside of us and we can poke our heads in and see behind the curtain and go, “Wow, this is a world I’d never get to experience.” Whereas this world I think people think they know it or have certain relationships to it maybe have their own jealousies and insecurities that understandably rack up to that. It felt like well we don’t know this world. You don’t know this world. You certainly don’t know what it’s to walk in their shoes, the dancers themselves and the employees of these clubs who aren’t employees at all because there’s no job security for them.
I mean I was so interested in getting to look behind this curtain that I think … We think we’re a part of or at least there’s a strip club on every corner and we may have our own feelings about it. It’s also in culture how strippers are seen and viewed. Sex workers in general I don’t think is seen as work. I was really interested in seeing moms, single moms, women of any age providing for themselves, for their families as earners. That was really exciting to me because I think we’re often seen shopping and spending. I certainly enjoy those scenes as well obviously, but I don’t think we’re often seen as earners and providers. I think that might be part of the problem honestly. It’s just the in that value system of women being valued for their beauty or their bodies whether that’s from motherhood or sex and men being valued for money, power, success.
I do think that trickles down into everything. I certainly don’t fault anyone for existing or trying to thrive in that broken value system. It’s just is it any wonder that the financial crisis happened and will happen again? Because greed is rewarded and because people are told that they’re worth the size of their bank accounts. I think what was different about this project and what made it so hard to talk to people about that was all of that is our own preconceived notions of this world, our own feelings about it and then our own relationship with our bodies and our … We’re harder on each other honestly. It’s true. As a person who wants to be empathetic to all sides too I mean that’s what writing is for me is always an exercise in empathy. That was part of this. My interest in this was that my last movie was about my mom.
That was certainly coming from a very, very personal place. It was also … There was a reason that she was the main character and I was not was because I was interested in her version of the story and not just what’s it look like when your mom is calling you all day but what’s it look when you’re calling your daughter all day and she’s not calling you back? Those themes of loneliness and isolation traveled into this story as well. There are themes that do end up in the Venn diagram [inaudible 00:12:41] Hustlers. There’s some overlap but it certainly took some imagination for some people to see that.
Kaitlin Fontana: Sure. I’m glad that you found people that did have that imagination.
Lorene Scafaria: I mean STX, that was a miracle to be honest because I really was so … I was sad not just for myself and the movie not getting made which was obviously a bummer at that time but because of the messaging of it. What I was hearing back about it. Like you said male characters I mean they were allowed to be anti-heroes. We know them by their first and last name. We root for them. We’re excited watching them do things that we ourselves would never do. I think that’s also part of I think what’s funny about being a lady, is I think assumptions are made that I agree with everything that my characters are saying and I don’t know that. You know what I mean? I don’t know that that happens all the time to the people. I certainly can write someone else’s justification for things.
I was interested in that power dynamic, that relationship between these two women where one of them is saying some stuff and it is somehow making a lot of sense to the other character but it doesn’t necessarily add up to my full beliefs even if an audience cheers when they hear that.
Kaitlin Fontana: Choose your own adventure.
Lorene Scafaria: It was very interesting to me to be in the audience and in an audience of peers, directors and folks in the DGA at that time. There were some reactions in the room that were so strong and visceral to what was going on screen. In this way that was very pleasurable in a film where normally people are just hand on chin, and be like, “Yes.”
Kaitlin Fontana: That’s fun.
Lorene Scafaria: It was really fun to be a part of that audience.
Kaitlin Fontana: You had a talk back after with Bo Burnham where you broke apart the film and how things got made. One of the things that he brought up that I thought was great was that the film itself is a hustle in that you might get some people who are coming to see J-Lo strip and are Trojan Horsed into this story about women’s role in the economy and their autonomy and bodies and all of this stuff. I wonder if you … How early in the process did you … Did you realize that that was something that was going to happen as you were making the film?
Lorene Scafaria: I don’t think that was my thought until watching trailers back and seeing how trailers are cut and seeing that yes of course we’re … I wanted to deliver on that promise as well. That was always … I wanted to also give people what they want at the same time. There’s moments in it where it’s well that’s we have to cut to that shot of Jennifer smoking on the roof. We’re going after this dance. Moments like that where I was like … I genuinely did that for an audience. Whereas other moments have nothing to do with that. I’m trying to just tell a story. There are those moments where I thought, “Let’s give the people what they want.” Ramona’s intro, her big dance, I mean that was something that when we were editing we felt it in the room. It felt very electric and alive when we were shooting that and we were editing. Yeah, there are other moments where it’s now let’s talk about. Now that I have your attention.
Kaitlin Fontana: It’s a good way to get people to pay attention.
Lorene Scafaria: I mean that felt more in that specific scene it felt like a hustle because that specific scene like felt one of those things where we’re going to show you this incredibly, sexy, fun, beautiful scene that felt like it was just popping and firing on all cylinders. We’re going to make you think about control and this while you’re watching this because to us Ramona was in control of where the camera went. A scene that where maybe we’ve seen strip teases in movies maybe we haven’t seen them with this amount of control, with a character with this much autonomy, with a character with that much agency. That was really exciting for me was to show a scene that maybe we think we’ve seen a lot of enough of maybe but in a new way. It was scene by scene that I think I might’ve been thinking of it in that way but it wasn’t until watching the trailer where you’re going well at least we deliver on some of this. I knew some people would be in for a surprise.
Kaitlin Fontana: Sure.
Lorene Scafaria: Because we obviously talk about a lot more than that and hopefully just tell a more human story and that relationship story between these two women.
Kaitlin Fontana: I think that what is powerful about it after the fact thinking about it as I was still vibrating, being excited about the film is that it got in under my skin a way where I felt I was there watching. The gaze was very specific to putting you alongside these women as they’re watching. The choices that you made as a director put us there in a way that we’re as excited as the crowd is who’s throwing money at her. Then you feel the opposite of that as the come down. It’s equally felt because you are right there with them. When bad things start to happen, when they are in plain Jane rooms dealing with family situations, you feel that contrast that much more because you were there in the party too.
Lorene Scafaria: Because we were complicit. We were all there.
Kaitlin Fontana: Totally.
Lorene Scafaria: That was the feeling that I did want to come out of it was that we were all a part of the culture at least. We were all a part of the excess that was being celebrated in 2007 before we knew what was really going on. We were all just peeking and a part of it. I wanted to make the audience complicit. I wanted to make the audience a part of that as if we were all in on the party and then we were all a part of that exact experience. At the same time, there’s fantasy and reality working in the movie. There’s this sobering reality of what’s to come and that Destiny is telling the story to a journalist and she and Ramona don’t talk anymore. All of that being the sobering reality to this. There are a couple fantasies in it. There’s certainly pre crash fantasy and then there’s this allure of Ramona really who is mythical in a way.
Yet then they become equals and so that turning point in their relationship was something that I thought was also relatable and that experience of a friend who can save your life and ruin your life. That kind of relationship that I think we’ve all had when we were 10, 13 and even still at 41 it’s like never-ending. Those power dynamics between two people and then the power dynamics on a grand scale that was what I was interested in and talking about.
Kaitlin Fontana: I think one of the most impactful moments for me of the film is a really tiny one where you can tell that Destiny wants to communicate with Ramona and can’t and instead is calling the journalists to be the go-between. When the journalist character … I don’t know if it’s called Jessica Pressler.
Lorene Scafaria: No she’s Elizabeth.
Kaitlin Fontana: Elizabeth, okay. Just you should call her. It’s such a big moment, and you can feel the weight of that, the you should call her. That you think, “I don’t think she’s going to.” You feel that that is what’s on offer.
Lorene Scafaria: Because that was the other difference between some of the crime dramas that we could talk about is that the relationships between women are just … They just run deep and sisters fight. Certainly that same sense of family and comradery that’s there in those other films is there. The family dynamic is different. The matriarchy is different. That was equally compelling to me.
Kaitlin Fontana: You can feel that. I do think that there’s a nice thing there too in female friendship that is it’s a little bit mother-daughter it’s a little bit sisters, it’s a little bit best friends. It’s a little romantic in a certain sense too.
Lorene Scafaria: Definitely.
Kaitlin Fontana: You don’t turn away from that, is very compelling I think.
Lorene Scafaria: Because I mean we even a scene like Destiny’s used to being touched and having physical contact with men and with strangers. She’s close with her grandmother who doesn’t know what she does for a living, but it’s not until she’s up on that roof and invited into Ramona’s fur coat. In an instant that intimacy is there. That connection is there. I mean that’s how I’ve made some friends in my life is they weren’t there for my whole life and then all of a sudden she’s everything to me, and we’re obsessed with each other. Now the relationship is about obsession. This new friendship it borders on romantic blushed, certainly. It’s just all of it. Especially when there’s a power dynamic between them or a mother daughter aching hole in their life and in both their lives. I mean I think Ramona was probably just shocked by how close she got with Destiny because I imagine she’s been close with girls and been friendly and is that person to talk to and yet cares about the money and is trying to just get by and make it.
There’s just a touch of both for Ramona. But I think for Destiny its yes, she wants to figure out how to make money and how to be like her and everything but also just have that relationship.
Kaitlin Fontana: It’s very compelling to watch that unspool. You talked about this a little bit that’s some people might view this as a big leap from your previous work, specifically The Meddler because it’s the most recent and the most on paper different. As you spoke to this, there are some themes that come up and I think one of the ones that came up for me in both experiences was this idea of women’s prescribed roles and what we do when we don’t have them anymore. It was a big core part of The Meddler. Is she was the wife and now she can’t operate in that world anymore. What does she do with that time and energy? I wonder if you could speak a little bit to that those themes and other things you think unfurl through all of your scripts.
Lorene Scafaria: That’s so interesting. I mean loneliness and isolation. My movies tend to be codependent because I am. That is the lesson that’s learned time and again is obviously the power of love and the power of connection more than romantic love necessarily, just the power of connecting with someone. Motherhood is obviously in the last two has been a subject for me that I wanted to explore all the sides of cause I feel like we celebrate it which is great but we don’t often explore it. I mean there are movies that obviously have … I thought Tali was beautiful. I thought Tali really explored that beautifully and in a complex way and honestly. That loneliness that was what interested me even in this story. That maybe wasn’t on the surface of it but that feeling of our value, our worth certainly, the character in The Meddler had those roles taken away. I think how that might manifest in Hustlers is that we’ve all been … Our roles have been identified in a way like when we’re born and people assign us all kinds of and assign us all kinds of rules that go along with it and that value system.
It’s also to say, “You’re worth so much more than that. You’re worth whatever you want to be worth. Your value is everything. You can contribute anything.” For me, that was the joy of something like The Meddler was to say like that these roles may no longer be the same for you. That your kid can be grown and act like they don’t need you anymore. I’m like called my mom on the way home. What is it when our rules … That that she could still contribute to society, that she could still give everything that she had to other people that she could still make a difference. With something like this, I mean obviously it’s about so many other things. At its core, if it’s about our value system and that broken value system that we’re all navigating, that as women, that how do we break that definition? Not just this glass ceiling idea, but just the floor, the glass floor.
I mean, it’s all just … I’ve described it as being out of breath at the starting line, and that I think depending on who you are you just have a different number of hurdles to get you to the starting line. We’re out of breath before the race even begin. That collective experience was really interesting to me to talk about in a movie like this. In a movie that has female characters in it that women might not relate to out of the gate, or assume they can’t relate to. That was so compelling to me from the very beginning, because again the stigma around strippers and sex workers, I felt like “Well, what’s the difference? What’s the difference between what they’re doing and what I’m doing in these boardrooms? Trying to, dancing for the money and trying to get people to see what I see.”
When I gave my big pitch, it was a number of things, but it was also a collage of images from movies like 9 to 5 and First Wives Club and Mean Girls and Bridesmaids. Then also girls hanging out in the locker room and to say, what’s the difference? Why couldn’t we feel the same sisterhood and comradery that these characters have? That felt like just that obviously was part of the pitch was how relatable I felt like it was. Those same human stories run through it no matter what … Those same themes run to and no matter who the characters are and what they do for a living. I found similarities between my mother and these women.
Kaitlin Fontana: Now you’ve written a number of screenplays not just as you’ve directed. Can you walk me through a little bit from a craft perspective, how do you approach a new project step-by-step when you sit down with something as a writer. How do you start?
Lorene Scafaria: I guess it depends on whether it’s an adaptation. Obviously if there’s anything to draw from, but even when it’s an original idea I feel like you still do a certain amount of research and preparation before that. It depends. It really depends. I mean, Nick & Norah’s was my first script that got made into a movie. I think it was my ninth script, but it was the first one that got made. That was an adaptation. I love the book. I love the characters, but it was very much like a before sunrise with teenagers, which wasn’t going to get made on that scale. It was about injecting the right plot devices and the right arc really. In order for the characters to go on more of a journey and have this one night adventure. For something like that it was like the invention of … Which was in the book, but this band that they are going in search of became a big part of it.
Caroline going missing became the other part of it. Those two additions just naturally changed the course of that plot. Seeking a friend was an original idea that I pitched actually with myself attached to direct, which they said has never happened before. Who knows? That was one of those ideas of mine that I was so excited about the mash up of it. The mash up of genres and taking a romantic comedy End of the World movie and seeing what the overlap is and what’s that like on the ground floor to explore. Scenes like an orgy breaking out at TGI Friday’s.
Kaitlin Fontana: I was hoping you’d bring that scene up.
Lorene Scafaria: Sorry, I was very frenzies, frenzies.
Kaitlin Fontana: Frenzies.
Lorene Scafaria: Something like that came out of really thinking about that concept and how would those worlds collide really. Again, a story of loneliness and isolation and regret. But that was very high concept. Then The Meddler was incredibly low concept. It was just an exploration. My mother really who is one of those people who will give everything away in her lifetime because she’s truly that generous. It came from a very organic place and honestly just I felt like I was just writing down what she said out loud. Again, an exercise in empathy because it’s of course her perspective fully. If anything my character looks like a total asshole. Then Hustlers was something … It went through a lot of different versions of it, which it was again based on this article. It was of course it had this underlying material that was so great, that I then wanted to write the journalist into and write that part of it as its own timeline.
That was in the very first pitch of what I would do to the script. That was always there. It went through a lot of different versions, I’ll say drafts, definitely drafts, but there were like three versions of it with the number of drafts of each. The first version was staying more true to that unreliable narrator that is there in the article. I’m glad it’s not there now. I mean, I think there are hints of that because aren’t we all unreliable narrators?
Kaitlin Fontana: Definitely.
Lorene Scafaria: Certainly if we’re like talking about our memories at all, I feel like they’re just clouded. That’s part of why it’s painted a certain way. Is this is Destiny’s memory of this, how this went down. It’s really like from a character standpoint and what she’s going through. Once that was taken off the table, once I no longer made it their separate sides of the story, it started to unify them in a really beautiful way these two characters Destiny and Ramona. The second version of it I just smashed the script on the ground and started over and did a page one rewrite of it, and I just wrote Destiny and Ramona on the cover page and just doing that changed everything. I wrote this new version of it which really did focus on that friendship and this relationship and the dynamic between the two of them and what they need from each other and what they get from each other and what they don’t get from each other. That same theme of control that I was always interested in talking about, now served a higher purpose it felt like.
That Destiny gets to look at Ramona holding the wheel. Sometimes that’s an incredibly safe feeling and sometimes it’s not. That relationship and power dynamic really evolved in that second version of the script, which then also wasn’t the movie though. It needed to be smashed on the ground then. The third version of the movie which is the script I should say which is the movie became a blend of the two, where it was, yes, this is an incredibly compelling crime drama at its core. I get to talk about all these themes that I’m excited about through these characters. Yet it really is grounded in this relationship between these two women. That became the main focus of the story really.
Kaitlin Fontana: You’ve touched on this in this particular case, but I’m curious about writing is one thing rewriting is something entirely. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about in a general sense your approach to rewriting on a technical level. Are there certain techniques you’re always using or does it vary by project? How do you approach a rewrite?
Lorene Scafaria: I think it varies, but it’s in some ways it’s easier because you kind of, it’s like you have your own source material. You have your own work to pick from. I try to be surgical about it. I mean, and part of it is hearing notes and agreeing with some and not agreeing with others and knowing what to leave at the door. Part of it for me was that. Was taking in what I agreed with and finding a way to put it on paper and also finding a way to not change the DNA of it. It’s a little surgical. It is a little bit like that. Sometimes it’s like take everything you love, copy it into a new document and now you’ve got everything you love in one place. You’re not going to get so distracted with all this stuff that you have to fix. You’re going to have to fill in blanks. I mean I’ll do anything. I will put things in bold. I will underline them. I will put them in various colors. I will code it for myself in order to know, okay this is intact this is broken. This is what everyone … This is the part of the story everyone’s focusing on, why.
Even if their solutions aren’t the solutions I would use, why are they all pointing at the same area? It’s different for each one, but sometimes it’s like I said. Sometimes it’s like change the title, change your entire thesis and see what happens. What if you didn’t have that opening scene in there? What is it then? What if that one scene that you love, you built around that now, and part of it is also casting to be honest. Once I got there because I don’t really think about an actor when I’m writing until I’m at that stage where it’s, okay who are we sending this to? Then you get to tailor it for an actor and that becomes its rewrite when you’re going forward and making something.
It goes through its own process of reality check. We can’t shoot there, we have to shoot there. We get an opportunity for something, and then editing is rewriting. I think editing honestly it’s such a gift if anyone can also have final cut next to final draft. It really is remarkable when you actually put your hands on it and try to cut footage and realize how much of writing is rewriting and working with Caleb my editor who I feel like I have a writing partner again. It’s like I’m in a room with a writing partner because she’s the one to say to me, “Well, I feel like it’s saying this, but we’re getting, we’re feeling this, but you want to say this.” Whether that’s ADR or voiceover obviously, but it’s more than that. It’s structure. It is the tapping into what’s important. It is like breaking a script apart because then you just have the footage and that’s it.
Kaitlin Fontana: In the case of Hustlers as you’ve said in other places, you had a very tight shoot schedule. It was like-
Lorene Scafaria: 29 days.
Kaitlin Fontana: 29 days.
Lorene Scafaria: It was rough. Our post was truncated as you can … Illegally. I think you can make anything for anything in any amount of time in a way. A script like this was so sprawling with covering. It was a period piece. I was such a stickler about it being a period piece even though it’s such recent history, but it’s a period piece. It spans time. It shows a progression of wealth. It’s a bunch of female characters. I mean, that’s just a ton of wardrobe and hair and makeup. That required its own amount of time, and then shooting in New York requires its own amount of time. Thankfully we had a New York crew who was incredible and the entire crew was … We were just running and gunning all the time, but it was like we got it every night. It was like, “We got it.” But it was like every single night like that because there was just no time. We just Todd and I my DP, Todd Van Hazel who’s incredible, we shot listed everything as much as we could.
You also want to leave room for things to feel alive and open and for people to improvise. Depending on what our day was on how much time we had. I mean, but it was not a lot of takes. It was not a lot of … It was just wasn’t a lot of time. We shot everything in the club in four days. It was like that was a lot. Cardi and Lizzo and Usher were all there on the same day. And we needed a pre-crash day in a post-crash day in 300 extras and everyone to hide their phones when Jennifer’s doing her dance. It was a lot to coordinate obviously. Incredible producers, the AD department honestly from sent from heaven and a New York crew. It’s the only way it would’ve gotten done. It’s also a credit to Kayla Empter also on the other side my editor because the assembly she put together was the movie already. That was such a relief.
That was when I sighed. That was when I finally exhaled was watching that. Because I mean usually seeing an assembly can make a director cry. I mean, it’s always a weird experience definitely, very weird experience. This was like, I was just so relieved because we were just in a snow storm that whole time. I think it rained 27 of the 29 days which you can’t even really see in the movie.
Kaitlin Fontana: No, you can’t.
Lorene Scafaria: It happened to rain on the days where there in the diner scene and we wanted rain in the background. It was amazing.
Kaitlin Fontana: Magical.
Lorene Scafaria: Very magical, very few of those moments where it was getting … Mother Nature was getting in the way. Otherwise it was very blessed. It was very blessed.
Kaitlin Fontana: Yes. Truncated illegally is a funny phrase. Who was the lady got a drug to get [inaudible 00:40:45] to make her film around here.
Lorene Scafaria: Good question. I don’t know.
Kaitlin Fontana: Who were your writing heroes when you were younger? Who did you look to when you’re first coming online as a creative person?
Lorene Scafaria: I loved theater, so I love David Mamet at a very early age. I was like in fourth grade loving David Mamet. My mother was like very worried for me because I was writing a lot of, I was writing plays that were mostly like men in offices yelling and cursing at each other. I was also obsessed with A Clockwork Orange when I was a kid. I loved the book. I loved Anthony Burgess, but I was obsessed with that book, that script I bought for $20 on the streets in New York.
Kaitlin Fontana: I miss those days where you could buy a script on the street.
Lorene Scafaria: I saw Stan recently.
Kaitlin Fontana: Really?
Lorene Scafaria: Yeah. I almost cried. It just brought me back to being a kid and going there and seeing them in a … I bought that screenplay when I was in like sixth grade or something like that and started to then study structure. Yes, theater really. It was like Sam Shepard and David Mamet. I loved film. I love movies. I don’t think I even knew a screenwriter’s name at that point, but I knew Penny Marshall. I knew who she was. I knew Amy Heckerling. They inspired me a lot. Then as I got older, someone like Nicole Holofcener became like a real hero. I love Friends with Money. I love what she does with very complex taboo subjects, but with love.
Kaitlin Fontana: Then what does it look like when you sit down to write? Do you have a designated spot that you like to sit and-
Lorene Scafaria: I bounce around my house. There’s a few different spots. I like to sit outside to be honest. I like to sit in the shade outside. Although we’ve got mosquitoes now which we never had before.
Kaitlin Fontana: This is the thing that people keep saying to me here in LA is we have mosquitoes now.
Lorene Scafaria: That’s our global warming. That’s how we point to it. We will have gigantic bugs to look forward to. The mosquitoes they weren’t there and now they are. I love sitting outside, but I bounce around my house. I have trouble with music playing in the background. I find that really distracting because it puts me in an actual mood. I find music very emotionally charging. Unless I’m writing to one song on a loop or something I find it very distracting. I usually have TV going or movies, but I don’t … I like being home to be honest. I’m not like a café kind of girl.
Kaitlin Fontana: I mean it’s interesting. I was going to ask about music because you have … You are a musician. You higher-
Lorene Scafaria: Apparently.
Kaitlin Fontana: Well, more than most screenwriters I would say. You have obviously a musical ear. I mean it’s so present in Hustlers, but I think just in general. It’s interesting to me to hear that you don’t like to have music on when you’re writing.
Lorene Scafaria: It is just so distracting. I would be picturing things, I would be feeling things that again unless it’s like Beyonce’s, I Was Here like in The Meddler playing on a loop which it could be. I mean unless it’s the song of that scene and for some reason I’m timing it out in my head because I like to do that. Unless I’m doing that because I listened to Chopin a lot, I listened to [inaudible 00:44:18] a lot. Because they were informing the feeling of it so that I did write to Chopin. If it wasn’t exactly what I was picturing for the scene then I’m and I’m listening to the song, then I’m feeling the mood of the music. It just moves me too much. I can have people talking, dialogue can be just droning on in the background. It doesn’t have that same effect. I don’t know why, but I like writing scenes to songs. I do. That’s like the 90s kid in me that will never quit.
It’s like I grew up on Tarantino and Scorsese and so I just have always enjoyed what those needle drops could do. For me it was like maybe being a musical person, I felt like I could hear the script as much as see it. That’s part of the editing process too, is the rhythm of it. Same as the dialogue to me. Part of why I think musicians and singers and dancers make great actors often is that they’re in on that, that they know-
Kaitlin Fontana: The rhythms.
Lorene Scafaria: Timing and rhythm, and so that’s part of it to me is the rhythm of it and the sound of it and the beat of it. That’s how I think it might affect it more.
Kaitlin Fontana: Which calls to mind not to give anything away for those who have not seen Hustlers, but the scene with Ramona walking down the street to the Lord song is specific in its rhythms.
Lorene Scafaria: That was so funny because we did not have the rights to that and I was told and we probably would never get them because she had never licensed one of her songs before. I was like, “Well, I’m timing out this entire sequence to it. I don’t know what’s going to happen if we don’t get it but.”
Kaitlin Fontana: Fingers crossed.
Lorene Scafaria: “I can’t help that I’m going to keep shooting to it.” I remember standing there with Jennifer and saying, “I have this song in my head for this. Do you want to hear it?” She was like, “Yeah.” I played her Royals and she listened to it for like 10 seconds. She was like got it. She knew the rhythm of how she was going to walk up the street to it because I loved that idea that she was going to settle us into that immediately. If it wasn’t that I probably would’ve tried to find a song with similar beats per minute, but would it have said everything that I wanted it to say? Would it have been that musical in a way? Because there’s so much storytelling in these songs obviously, and so much of it is part of it. I’m incredibly grateful that she said yes. We sent her the whole sequence of course because-
Kaitlin Fontana: How could you resist?
Lorene Scafaria: We had to show her how it was being used.
Kaitlin Fontana: What’s next for you? What follows the film about the End of the World, the film about your mother and then the film about the strippers?
Lorene Scafaria: A mash up of all three. My mom stripping in the apocalypse. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just drawn by the stories usually. Part of me is excited to keep playing in this space, in this scope and size of movie. Another part of me is like, “Well, who knows what kind of story I’ll be drawn to.” That’s problematically what I’m drawn to whether it’s a small story or big.
Kaitlin Fontana: Well, I just think Hustlers was amazing. I’ll say it again.
Lorene Scafaria: Thank you.
Kaitlin Fontana: The first female gangster epic I think.
Lorene Scafaria: Thank you.
Kaitlin Fontana: Thank you for your time. Thanks for being here today.
Lorene Scafaria: Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
Kaitlin Fontana: That’s it for this episode. On writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. This episode of On writing was recorded and engineered at UCB sunset in Los Angeles by [Anosh 00:47:58] McAdam. You can learn more about the writers Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org. You can follow the guild on social media at WGA East and you can follow me on Twitter at Kaitlin Fontana. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thanks for tuning in. Write on.