It’s always nice seeing a great movie become a well-deserved box-office hit, and Lorene Scafaria‘s Hustlers has done just that. $155 million on a $20m budget couldn’t happen to a finer film or filmmaker, and now that the movie has hit home video we couldn’t wait to give the commentary track a listen. Scafaria reveals the thought process that went into various decisions, shares anecdotes from the production, and exclaims her appreciation and affection for everyone who helped bring the film to life.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Commentator: Lorene Scafaria (director, writer)
1. She credits STX Entertainment with coming along and rescuing the film… so thank you STX!
2. Janet Jackson’s song in the opening was always a part of the script. “This is a story about control. I had written into the script ‘Janet Jackson voice-over.’ So incredibly grateful that she gave us the rights to use this song.”
3. They shot in a real Long Island strip club called Show Palace despite people having told her not to film in a real place. They had about 300 extras in there, so they also had a comfort consultant and a stripper consultant on hand.
4. She intends the opening montage sequence to be an eye-opener as “people don’t really connect the dots between what these women are doing. This is them paying the bills.”
5. They had a pole trainer work with Jennifer Lopez on Ramona’s introduction scene, and while Lopez was already in great shape “she said it just requires muscles you didn’t know you had. You just find yourself bruised in places you can’t believe.” It was Scafaria’s birthday the day they filmed this, and she had goosebumps watching the performance.
6. The guys around Ramona’s stage performance were all vetted “to make sure they’re all decent fellas.”
7. The now infamous shot of Lopez in her one-piece and fur coat, lounging and smoking on the roof top, was the first scene Scafaria had written and among the last that they shot. They used three real fur coats for Hustlers, but they were all rented.
8. There’s technically no score in the film as it instead uses songs and brief Chopin etudes, some of the most difficult to play on solo piano, as “it just reminded me so much of the difficult moves these dancers are doing.”
9. Lopez and Constance Wu were such great improvisers that Scafaria just let them run with it. Cardi B also improvised on occasion, but she stuck mostly to the script and based her performance “on a girl she used to know.”
10. Scafaria worked in a Wall Street “boiler room” in her teens and is familiar with the mentality of the guys who spent their days “selling bad stocks to old people.”
11. She sent Frank Whaley a “fan letter” to offer him the role of one of the sleazebags despite it being “a glorified extra” on the page. “Basically everything that comes out of his mouth is his own.”
12. For the red-lit scene showing Ramona and Destiny (Wu) stripping privately for Whaley, the shots of him watching were actually shot while Scafaria walked back and forth carrying their outfits. He was there while filming their side though.
13. She had written Usher into the script despite being unsure if he’d be interested, but happily he was and even brought his own chain, shades, and jacket from 2007/2008 for the scene.
14. She loves Keke Palmer. “Marvel, if you’re listening, give this girl a franchise.”
15. Part of what the women are taking advantage of is the reality that men aren’t always willing to open up about bad things that happen to them, “and that’s a stigma as well that’s unfortunate.”
16. She received lots of notes on ways to highlight the Wall Street men as worthy of being screwed over, but she never felt it necessary to alter the reality. “We didn’t need to change what the men did. What they did to the country was pretty bad.”
17. The scene where Ramona and Destiny mix the Ketamine and MDMA reminded her of a “mother and daughter baking a cake.”
18. The dog in the mall is named after Scafaria’s own dog, Mister Bruce.
19. She’s been obsessed with singer Scott Walker and was happy to once again be granted permission to use a song of his in Hustlers. Sadly, he passed away halfway through production.
20. The beat where Destiny’s grandma says she once danced with Frankie Valli is inspired by Scafaria’s mom telling her she once danced with Joe Namath.
21. She saw Madeline Brewer in Cam (2018) and loved her, and she was thrilled to get her here.
22. The naked guy passed out by the pool is stuntman Rob Stats who was “very generous with us. Legally he’s wearing a prosthetic.”
23. Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) has a vomit problem, and they used a mix of graham crackers and Sprite to complete the effect.
24. Scafaria doesn’t explain why Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) is bleeped out at 1:22:26 while naming a mark. Seems odd for a film that could easily use fake names, but I assume they’re using real ones and this person didn’t sign off with permission.
25. The audio dropout at the end of the interview between Destiny and Elizabeth is intentional and meant to represent that “once Destiny is done talking, Elizabeth is forced to fill in the blanks.”
26. She always felt the shot starting with Ramona at 1:32:40 walking to the ATM should be to a Lourde song, but she was advised not to get her hopes up as the pop star had never allowed her music to be used in a film before. Scafaria shared her suggestion with Lopez, who agreed, and when they sent the sequence to Lourde along with a letter explaining their passion they were happy to get a positive response.
27. The photo at the end of Destiny as a child is actually a kid pic of Wu.
28. The film was green-lit in mid-January 2019 and was released eight months later in mid-September.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Pole training is like nothing else.”
“When you cast Jennifer Lopez you’re gonna get more than one final flourish.”
“We wanted to use as much real money as possible… I’m afraid we lost a little bit of it on this day.”
“I do feel bad about the fur coats and the smoking.”
“Every earring really tells a story.”
“Of course an Escalade. Had to be an Escalade.”
“We were lucky to shoot in this Old Navy.”
“This is where the stripper movie turns into a crime drama.”
“I wanted to write a scene where it just went to hell immediately.”
“Gary, to me, is just one of the funniest names.”
“We try to build our families out of our friendships, and sometimes we get really lucky with that.”
Hustlers remains a fantastic film highlighted by great performances, an eye-opening story, and a lot of heart. Scafaria’s commentary shows her to be a filmmaker with strong affection for her cast, crew, and the tale they’re telling.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.