The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode was recorded way back in January, pre-pandemic. I sat down with writer-director Lorene Scafaria and costume designer Mitchell Travers to talk about their collaboration on Hustlers and how to think visually about story. In this conversation we discuss locations, production design, cinematography, choreography, and some major focus on preproduction and the role of the writer.
We had a great audience with great questions. And I am suddenly so nostalgic for being in a room with strangers. So, listen to this conversation. I think you’ll really enjoy it and you’ll get a lot out of it. Craig would get a lot out of it because he’s always such a big fan of visual description of characters and really thinking visually about what you’re writing.
Now, Premium members stick around after the credits because I Skype with Mitchell seven months after the fact to answer a few more question that didn’t get answered that night, really about how screenwriters should be thinking about what their characters are wearing and the things he notices in scripts as a costume designer that drive him crazy. Just what research you need to do, what stuff you should not include. So I thought it’s a really good addendum to the conversation we had with Mitchell and Lorene.
So, that’s our show. I hope you enjoy it. It was a great conversation. Lorene is fantastic. Mitchell was a great find. And we’ll be back next week with a normal episode. Enjoy.
Hi everyone and welcome. It’s so exciting to be here. Lorene, I saw you right before the holidays because we talked about your amazing movie Hustlers on Scriptnotes, the holiday show. So we talked about the origin of the movie. We talked about how you got it all made. Let’s do the quickest recap for folks who didn’t listen to that episode. The quick recap of how Hustlers came to be as a movie.
Lorene Scafaria: It was a writing assignment. So I was sent the article the summer of 2016. Went in and gave my spiel for how I would adapt it to the screen. I was told to stop talking about wanting to direct it so I could get the writing job, so I tried. And then worked on a few drafts of the script. Then kind of waited patiently while they sent the script to a lot of other people. And I think it took 10 months to just get the meeting to put myself out there to direct it.
Got that. Then worked to get Jennifer Lopez on board. The movie kind of fell apart a number of times. We had a home, we lost a home. We brought it around town the week of the Kavanaugh hearings. And that was hard. And then STX, they were kind of the only place that got it, and stepped up and kind of saved the day. And then I still worked on a few more drafts of the script, kind of page one rewrites.
And then they green lit in mid-January 2019. And I had to move to New York and that was it.
John: You’re off to the races. So, you are a phenomenal screenwriter and people can read the screenplay that you wrote and they should read the screenplay you wrote because you wrote a phenomenal screenplay. We’re not going to talk anymore about that really tonight. This is not a night about talking about you as a screenwriter. This is a night about talking about you as a director. Because in our previous conversations we’ve talked about sort of origin and story and character and these points – and these are all things that a director would care about. But I really want to talk about the visual language of this movie and sort of how you marshalled all these talents together to create the movie that we’re watching, the movie that we’re seeing.
And I want to start with Mitchell and sort of how you came on board in this process. How did you find him? What was the connection here?
Lorene: Eighth Grade. Mitchell was working on that. I know the guy who made it. And so I sort of just told Mitchell I’m so sorry you’re doing this movie that I’m going to someday actually see made, Hustlers, so you had no choice. I’m so sorry.
Mitchell Travers: I never did.
Lorene: And that was it. I just loved his work. I thought he made these pieces in that film so iconic, that green bathing suit, and so many little moments of like girl culture. And, yeah, that was the origin really.
Mitchell: I remember we were on the set of Eighth Grade and I had had a wonderful conversation with Lorene. And moments later Bo came up and he was like, “So you’re doing Lorene’s movie?” And I was like, what? No one had ever talked to me about a movie and he was like, “Oh, it’s a stripper movie. She said you’re doing it.” And I just went along with it and I figured why not. I’ve never seen a stripper movie like this, so yeah, let’s go.
John: So what are the initial conversations? Did you send him the script? How do you start a conversation with a costume designer about sort of what the wardrobe look of a movie is going to be?
Lorene: Yeah, I sent him the script. And I mean it really is a movie told through wardrobe. It really is kind of the essential partner in storytelling honestly with this film. So, there were a lot of lines in the script about Destiny’s jewelry making noise in order to show her anxiety or nervousness or how uncomfortable she is during a scene. So, there were things in there that I think Mitchell picked up on right away. And, yeah, the sort of fun of this very recent period piece. I think that was a lot of what we talked about.
Mitchell: We share a love for or a nostalgia for this time and it can be looked down upon and it can be sort of trashy and unglamorous. But there was something about it that we just kept loving. And I would send her pictures of like Kim Kardashian with the ugliest handbag in the world, with just like heart emojis. And she would get it instantly.
And we sort of always had that shared joy about these amazing mistakes that we all made as a culture. You all did it. So, it was just a love letter to that time in our lives and these women’s lives.
John: So, both of you had to do a tremendous amount of research obviously to figure out time wise, because your memory fails you. You have to be able to do the research to figure out what was the look, what was happening in culture at this time. Lorene, what was your research process for figuring out what those specific time periods were like? Because there’s really two time frames we’re looking at. There’s a forward in time from when Destiny starts working at the club, but then we’re jumping forward to when she’s talking to the journalist. So, how do you approach those timelines?
Lorene: Well, my eyebrows never grew back from this era. So it started with making sure that Constance Wu was comfortable with tweezing her eyebrows into oblivion. Yeah, I mean, the research is certainly looking at old photographs. I think we forget what we were wearing in that time period. I think the style icons who were around during that time period. That’s part of the fun of having Jennifer Lopez even in this movie is taking like that–
John: She was probably taking cues – that character was taking cues from what Jennifer Lopez was wearing in the real world.
Lorene: That was her style icon for sure was Jennifer Lopez. But we had others in the mix. Miley Cyrus.
Mitchell: Miley Cyrus. Nicole Richie is like a goddess to me. And there were just really embarrassing things that happened between Paris and Nicole that I found a kinship to that relationship pretty early on. And then once you start it’s like a black hole that you can’t get out of because there’s Tila Tequila. There’s Flavor of Love. There’s early Beyoncé. And it’s just like this wealth of imagery.
John: So you have this imagery. What is the process of sharing this imagery? We’re trying to be really concrete in these things. Is it a Dropbox folder that you’re sharing? How are you getting this information back and forth between the two of you?
Mitchell: I use a website and it’s password protected and I have it for anybody that I’m collaborating with. And I also use it for my team as well, so that if you can’t get me or if somebody remembers an image that I showed them they can access it. I find that the idea of having boards is lovely, but the way we make movies, and especially the way we made this movie it was happening at such a pace that it had to be in your pocket at all times.
So I would put different boards together for each character. And update them – I would start to include the fitting photos in the research so that they sort of meld and you keep the ideas consistent.
John: Make sure we all know what fitting photos are of the actual actor in that wardrobe?
Mitchell: Correct. I outfitted out fitting room with Girls Girls Girls signs and these neon lights to try to create an atmosphere, to get the girls comfortable. So all of our fitting photos were done in that romantic light that we ended up using. But all of the fitting photos are just no hair, no makeup, just costumes, and trying to get people into the bones of these characters.
Lorene: And that’s a lot of it is making sure that obviously they feel comfortable in what they’re wearing, but also I mean these outfits are anything but comfortable. So much of the costume is the skin itself. But he’s right about the pace. It really was crazy. You certainly had some people there to fit them ahead of time and others not necessarily. A lot of lead up to it.
But it was one of those things where in order to control the color palette even a little bit, I said to Mitchell early on it might be good to have an obstruction, like what if there’s no green in this movie other than money. And I think we stuck to that.
Mitchell: We did.
Lorene: There’s some jade in there. I don’t know how you got it in there.
Mitchell: It’s the one dress. It’s the one dress.
John: So talk to me about obstructions. Because this is a conversation – this is a thing you’ll see in many movies, now that we’ve put this in your head you’re going to watch them and you realize a color is missing, or there’s this specific color palette for this past time period or this present time period. How early did you make some of those decisions? And was it just you? Is there a production designer who is involved? Who else is involved in those decisions?
Lorene: Yeah, it’s all of us. It’s the production designer, DP, Mitchell, costume designer, certainly that’s the main group who is deciding the look of it. I think early on I kind of had said to everybody it felt like the production design needed to be as grounded as possible. And the wardrobe felt like an opportunity to be a little more heightened. And that the camera felt like depending on a moment could dip between the two.
So we kind of started there. Color palette, again it’s kind of difficult. The truth is the richer you get the more color drains from your body.
John: Tell me more about that. What do you mean by that?
Lorene: I mean, I think if you go into those spaces, I mean, there’s certainly a contrast with Wall Street and the men and what they’re wearing. You got your blues and, you know. And I think that we have a progression of wealth for the women as well.
John: When we see Constance Wu in the future timeline she’s drained and she’s white and she’s in a white suit.
Lorene: She’s presenting herself as good as she can in this very clean environment.
Mitchell: That actually comes from Lindsay Lohan at court.
Mitchell: And it’s true. And another day we fell down the rabbit hole and we started looking at what these women were wearing to their court appearances, because they were frequent at this time. And it was, you know, we found that there was this projection of innocence all the time where it was the days of Just Jared and Perez Hilton. So you could track the timestamps. The night before you would see a mesh top with the bra sticking out and the next morning you would see an all-white ensemble. And we just loved this idea that you can project the idea that you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, even though those photos of the night before.
Lorene: The sobering reality of it, too. I mean, the contrast obviously throughout the film, but then it kind of catches up to itself. And by the end of the film I think the women, too, are in much more subdued colors.
John: You have Mitchell on board. How are you assembling the rest of your team? So I’m talking sort of your DP, your production designer, your art director. How are you putting these people together and what are the conversations you’re having with them and are they having with each other? How do you foster that teamwork?
Lorene: I met with so many DPs and talent and this position just kind of didn’t necessarily line up. And I remember I was about to pull the trigger on hiring someone, the nicest, most talented person that I had come across. Because the shorthand is so important and the relationship is so important. And it’s often contentious. And it doesn’t have to be.
And so I remember I was on the phone with Mitchell. It was actually our first like official conversation. So we probably should have been diving into a lot of things. I think we did a little bit. But that day after I had thought I was going to pull the trigger on someone I saw that Janelle Monáe video Make Me Feel and I was like who the hell shot this. And who is she? And her name was Todd Banhazl. But I was–
John: Why did you assume she was a woman?
Lorene: I don’t know. Just the aesthetic of it. The way that he shot women and their relationships and their bodies. I don’t know. I mean, that’s limited of me. Men can make great things. So sorry.
So I was on the phone with Mitchell and he said who is going to shoot this and I was like, ehhh, and then you said you have to meet Todd. He just happened to say it.
Mitchell: I had done a film with Todd. It was a very small film. But it was shot so romantically, even though the subject didn’t ask that of it. And frankly I hadn’t even really seen him since, but his work stayed with me from that film. And as I read Hustlers I just kept thinking like this is Todd. This is Todd’s movie. We were trying to figure out what was going to happen with this and I just felt that she didn’t feel like she had it yet. I was like this is my shot. It’s got to be Todd. Maybe he’s working. Maybe he doesn’t remember me. But this is his movie.
Lorene: You don’t understand. I had already called to say tell blah-blah-blah, you know, he’s hired. And so Mitchell said Todd and then I realized it was the same person whose music video I was like fawning over earlier that day. And I was like I’ve got to go. I have to hang up the phone—
Mitchell: She literally did.
Lorene: Stop the presses.
Mitchell: I was like she did Janelle Monáe’s video. And she was like, “I’ll call you back.”
John: So we’re going to talk first off about the DP relationship and what shooting and camera and all that stuff. So Todd couldn’t come tonight, but we’re going to talk through as if Todd were here and really look at that. But this idea of this being a romance is something I want to get into tonight and talk about. Because in many ways this does feel like a romance. It feels like Destiny and Ramona and their complicated relationship and yearning for approval and affection. In the writing and in how you were shooting it was that informing your choices?
Lorene: Yeah. It’s a love story. I think it informed so many drafts along the way. It was something that I think was discovered. I think the article paints the relationship between the women much more of like a business type relationship, more like partners. The minute I met Constance I thought there was going to be a really interesting dynamic between her and Jennifer, this sort of mentor/mentee relationship, but also mother/daughter, but also falling in love.
Yeah. I think as the process went along there was a point where I sort of felt like I needed to smash the script on the ground and so I opened up the title page and wrote Destiny and Ramona in its place. And kind of went from there. And that draft wasn’t what we ended up with, but so many scenes, the training sequences, little things that happen between them, how much of their relationship unfolded in that love story came from that.
So, yeah, and through the editing process it just became more and more clear that everything – certainly if it wasn’t about money and all the other things, the capitalism, everything else that it’s about, it really was grounded so much by this relationship and that longing and that want and that thing, that intimacy that women have. And how you lose one of those relationships it’s kind of worse than a divorce.
John: All right. We’re going to take our first clip and we’re actually going to go out of order. We’re going to look at clip two. This is where Destiny first sees Ramona at the club and sort of first sparks – this is how they begin. This is about page eight I think on your screenplay. But before we actually play it, let me read you what you actually wrote in the screenplay.
So if you were to read her screenplay–
Lorene: Yikes. What draft is this?
John: “Destiny turns to see Ramona, ten years older than Destiny, take the main stage like a boxer entering the ring. Ramona dances, commanding the room. The crowd is wild, throwing money until the stage is covered. Destiny is mesmerized.
“Ramona finishes her routine with one final flourish, smacks an armful of money to her chest, then steps offstage. Destiny watches in awe as Ramona crosses the room. All different guys reaching out. Ramona looks them in the eyes, whispers in their ears, and glides away with cash in hand.
“Destiny can’t look away as Ramona walks by and turns to her. ‘Doesn’t money make you horny?’ Destiny goes to respond, but Ramona is already gone. Off Destiny’s face we cut to the rooftop.
“Ramona sits against a skylight in her fur coat smoking. The club noise is drowned out by the silence of the city.”
Film is a visual medium. And I love doing a podcast, but I can’t talk about – that scene is not a podcast scene. That is a visual scene. Just remarkable. And that was the moment where I watched this movie and I was so happy and excited that I was watching this movie. Because it’s so terrific. And then we cut to the rooftop and she’s wearing the fur coat and it’s just amazing. An iconic moment.
But talk to me about the decisions that lead up to what we just watched. And so I want to start with just the design of the club. Because she’s backlit by the lights. How do you design that club? Is it a set? Is it a practical? What are we watching there when we’re inside the club?
Lorene: It’s a real strip club. It’s a real strip club in Long Island City. We could never have gotten the scope of that. We could never have afforded to build anything even close to that.
So we found a real place that had a layout that helped for an earlier scene, the first scene in the film where we’re following Destiny from the locker room out onto the floor.
John: That long Steadicam-ish shot.
Lorene: Yes. A one-take. Much like 1917, if you’ve seen that.
John: [laughs] It is basically 1917.
Lorene: It’s basically that. Very similar. War like. We actually did talk about it as a war film. I’m not kidding. So that’s how we chose this club. It had that incredible wall of that panel of LED lights behind it.
John: Oh, so you didn’t build that?
Lorene: No, no. That we didn’t build. But we did extend the stage. We turned that into that sort of big round. It was kind of just a little square at the end there. I’m trying to remember.
John: When is the conversation about you doing this? Is it a production designer?
Lorene: Mm-hmm. It’s all of us.
John: It’s everyone together.
Lorene: It’s mostly production design and our DP. I’m trying to figure out what we need. How can we best light her body to highlight the athleticism of it, to show the fantasy of it? For me there’s a theme of control that runs through the movie. So we just supplied that to the camera as well. And so a scene like that was one where Ramona is in control of where the camera is.
John: So you’re not watching Ramona. She is making you see her.
Lorene: Yes. That’s right.
John: It’s very much an active control of this. And so what is your conversation with Todd about lenses on her and sort of what it’s all like? Because the coverage of Destiny is pretty straightforward. We’re doing the push-ins and we’re seeing her point of view. But what is the conversation about how you’re focusing on Ramona?
Lorene: Well, so I have to back up. The thing that you read was probably even a later draft, like our shooting script once we knew that we were stepping out that scene. Because I really did write it like she sees Ramona up on stage doing one final flourish, and then it was more about watching her walk across the room like Goodfellas when Henry Hill is watching De Niro’s character for the first time, sort of tipping everybody out as he’s walking through the room. And instead Ramona is taking money as she walks through.
And so I thought it was much more about Destiny seeing those interactions. And I wasn’t relying on oh god the actor we get is going to be a dancer for three decades and she’s going to pole train for six weeks and do this incredible routine. So that was not the plan. This was not the plan at all. And then Jennifer said, you know, “I want to do it. I think it’s a really important thing to see this moment.” And she was not wrong.
And so Todd and I didn’t see that dance until two weeks before we had to shoot it, which was like the last week of our shoot. So we were at midpoint, right when you’re just sweating and like are we going to finish this on time. And so we saw that routine. She had worked with our pole choreographer, Johanna Sapakie. The song was one of those things that was–
John: I’ve actually watched the YouTube video where they talk through the training of it all and it’s remarkable. So she starts from kind of not being able to do the movements and puts it together, but she is an athlete. And so she’s able to do it.
Lorene: Well, she’s Jennifer Lopez. So, I don’t know, she’s in better shape than any human person. And she throws herself fully into this and really felt committed to what this scene was. But, still, you know, you don’t know how important is this? Are we really going to watch a two-minute dance? I was actually a little bit worried about the narrative and are we losing the narrative at this point.
And so that was one of those things that then once we saw it and we got our jaws off the ground we were like oh my god how we do pull this off and shoot it like the stunt that it is, but also like the live even that it was. Because that’s Jennifer Lopez stripping in front of 300 extras who we had to vet and make sure they’re good guys and everyone has got their phones in their pockets and stuff.
But no one even spoke about it. It was actually the most respectful group of people ever.
John: So we say strip, but she’s wearing an outfit. She’s wearing the outfit that you designed for her. So this is the first time that we’re going to see her do this thing. What is the conversation you have with Lorene, with the actor about what this moment is going to look like?
Mitchell: It was always like the costume that we’re all like what is that going to be. You know, how do we match what she’s doing with a costume? The beginning of the film sets up the locker room to be this place that is sort of a cacophony of costumes and the answer as it usually is is just less. And so when we got to the Ramona of it all it was like what can be no color, very few straps. How can I take this thing to be almost nonexistent?
There is an amazing photo of Jennifer in 2007 and she has about 1,500 silver bangles on her body and earrings the size of her face and I love it. And I found that one image as we were looking for Ramona influences and I was like it’s silver. It has to be this silver. And I tried a million different shapes on her, different things. Where are we going to cut the body? Where is it most appealing? What makes you feel best? What makes you feel safe? All things like that you have to ask of this costume.
And I couldn’t find it. It didn’t really exist. I had ideas of other costumes, where I would take the fringe of something or the neckline of something else and I was like, OK, we’re going to build this thing. And so I drew on a piece of people on my tailor’s table. We got it together. It fits in my hand. I showed it to Jennifer at the one fitting. We had sort of saved the club wear fitting until the end until we were really good with one another. And so she walked in and I’m holding this string. And I said I really believe in this. I really think that this is the answer.
And so she said, “OK, baby, let’s see.” And she put it on, she turned to me, and she just kind of looked at me like “let’s go.” And there was a boldness to it. There was a confidence to it. There was a movement to it. And it kind of just answered a lot of the questions I had been asking myself for weeks. I had this amazing fitting photo that I mentioned. And I just sent it to Lorene and I was like I just have to let her know. Because she’s either going to be obsessed with it or hate it instantly. And I got a pretty quick reaction out of Lorene, so I was like, OK, it works. That’s it.
Lorene: Yeah, I died. I don’t know. I couldn’t believe it. And I thought the coat and the hat, it was a really great little throwback to—
Mitchell: The Pussycat Dolls.
Lorene: Yes, exactly.
John: So a choice in a movie that is about stripping, a natural instinct would be sort of like take clothes off as the movie goes along, and you sort of do the opposite. She appears onscreen in sort of the least we’re ever going to see her in, and that is the height of her power. And the rest of the movie more things are being added as the relationship becomes deeper. Did you know that from the start or how do you get to those?
Lorene: Yeah, I mean, we certainly had so many approaches to it. It was the kind of thing where I thought we should see the most – I mean, this is a topless club in theory. We should see the most nudity back in the locker room where it’s really mundane frankly. I feel like we don’t see that kind of regular old nudity very often and so I was really interested in that and seeing how the girls interact with each other and their comfort levels with their bodies. And then the show of it and then the spectacle of it. What amount of it is out on the floor? What amount of it is out on the stage? What amount of it is back in the champagne rooms?
And so, yeah, again the theme of control. How much is someone in their bodies and the interaction – there’s other scenes where Ramona and Destiny are working in a champagne room together and–
John: That’s the most sexualized moment between the two of them.
Lorene: Yeah. And you see that they’re using it against him, really. So, a lot of that, we talked about the weaponization of it. What you wear for other people. What you wear for yourself. What you wear for each other. And how you influence each other.
Mitchell: We actively worked at something which I hope registers for some audience members, but sometimes when you see women wearing the least is when they’re putting on their clothes to go home. So we would work at someone putting on a pair of sweatpants, and then their bra, their jacket, their coat. And then living. So it wasn’t about revealing for somebody else. It was about finishing your job and going home.
John: So let’s take a look at another clip. And in this one I want to talk about the relationship between the two of them, as it goes from this initial sort of flush of the love story to a second level. We talk about weaponizing what they’re doing. This is literally creating a weapon, creating a drug, and a whole new plan for how they’re going to make money off of this. The hustle takes a new turn.
So, first, let’s take a look at this, and then I really want to dive deep into what we’re seeing onscreen. I want to start with the scene in the bar, the restaurant there. And your conversations with your DP, Todd, about this moment and sort of what you’re looking for. And I want to get really concrete and detail in terms of your setups.
So you’re in this place. It’s a practical location. It’s not a set.
John: And so why did you choose to cover it the way you did and let’s talk through what the actual shots and angles are that you used to get that scene.
Lorene: I talked to Todd how I felt like this is actually the tightest we are on them, at least up until this point in the film. This sounds very strange. We referenced First Man. I would talk about being inside the ship. And this is one of those inside the ship moments where I felt like it was very important that we were inside the table with them. We were on kind of long lenses.
John: So there’s very shallow backgrounds there. You’re shooting into glass so you have to make sure that you’re not getting reflections and other weird stuff that you could see the outside and see the inside.
Lorene: We’re controlling the foot traffic outside but nothing else really. It was tough in a way because I just think this was the acting – this was the way to showcase their–
John: There’s nothing to hide there.
Lorene: That’s it.
John: A question for you, Mitchell. We’re so tight here. Do you save a great outfit because you know you’re not going to see all of it in a shot like this?
Mitchell: I actually had something completely different planned for this. And I will always go and just check the shot before as I start to get people dressed. And when I realized this is really a jewelry shot and it’s a shoulder shot. And Todd, like most DPs, loves wet pavement. Loves it. There was a conversation once where we were going to be able to see that out the window and Todd was really excited about that and just getting in there that day it was not going to happen. And so I was like I have that coat which does that which Todd wants in the scene, and I love it.
And if I can just get even the glint of that. The imagery that he was trying to use, I can do that for him with just a coat.
Lorene: Costume wet down.
John: So earrings are you. So you are responsible for earrings. I always get confused sort of the breakdown of hair and makeup.
Lorene: So did we.
John: So Jennifer Lopez’s stud here is makeup.
John: So it’s complicated. Where the piercing is depends on whose department it is.
John: So you know you’re in tight. And are you telling the actors at the start of the day how you’re planning to shoot it? What is your approach?
Lorene: I would always for the most part text if there’s not time for me to go to a trailer and talk to anybody in person. I would often text and say what the plan was for the day and what the sequence of events would be. So there were no surprises.
The truth is we shot this whole movie in 29 days so there just really wasn’t any time. Todd and I shot-listed everything, but still wanted to be spontaneous and leave room for things. And we certainly would adjust things. So that is what this scene really is. There’s something very human about how we’re seeing them. We’re seeing them close up. We’re seeing the makeup from earlier.
John: Yeah. The goal is really to see makeup. Because so often in films you’re not supposed to be able to notice the makeup. You’re so close here that you can’t help but see–
Lorene: You want to. I mean, I was desperate to see that. And, I mean, Jennifer looks 30 years old so it’s really hard to even make her look her age. And this was that kind of gritty moment for her. A very real moment for this character. But sort of wild-eyed. She needs to make a lot of sense even when she’s not making a lot of sense. So, yeah, we tried to keep it really grounded like that moment with the waitress coming in. Obviously there’s no reason to see this waitress–
John: So you’re dirty singles so that people can move into shots so you get a sense that they really are across from each other.
Lorene: That’s right.
John: Now, the contrast between that and we’re suddenly in the bar and it’s all happy and kind of a fantasy thing and you’re going for sort of the joke of the whip pan to reveal the other women that is such a contrast of tone deliberately. You know that you’re starting a whole kind of heist adventure when you move there.
Lorene: That bar, that was a big fight with Todd and Jane Muskey, the production designer. I think they fell in love with this other bar for other reasons and this place for me was just all of it. It was all about the blocking. It was all about that runway, that sort of tarmac for the women to land in from the front door. This corner of this bar where this man can sit in the corner and be surrounded by them. Then we used a dance floor instead of a track. You know, we’re on a dolly but we were able to kind of float around and kind of – even though we’re not going all the way around them it was still giving that kind of boozy quality and letting Gary kind of feel surrounded by these women and distracted enough while Ramona is doing her thing.
John: Great. So without sound we’re able to follow what this conversation kind of is. We see that this woman is bullying and trying to convince her into something. The other woman is – if I were watching this on a plane and didn’t have my headphones in I could figure out kind of what was happening here and what the pressure was. And that’s because of the shots you picked and you how you shot this.
Lorene: Yeah. And I think moments like that, the waitress breaking it up, allowing for this intimacy, to see two characters interacting with someone differently. It’s all about their proximity. At this point, again, earlier in the movie we saw the diner itself. So we knew the lay of the land. And at this point it just doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but being in there with them, with this private conversation.
John: Mitchell, great work on the earrings and on the jacket shoulder. We’re noticing the wet pavement aspect.
Mitchell: One is formed under intense pressure and the other wants to take off.
John: Mitchell, you talked before about wardrobe having a heightened sort of fantasy quality. So, the clothes that they’re wearing is a little beyond what they might be able to afford. And so we’re seeing the women walk into the bar, is that an example of that? Where they’re dressed up a little bit more than they might be able to afford? What was your decision there?
Mitchell: In conversations with Lorene it was important to remember that this is the way that someone is telling a story versus the way that things happened. So, in moment like this where we knew that any man that they’re taking on would kind of be looking all over and trying to suss up what’s happening to them. I tried to use dresses that had metal hardware all over them and odd straps and things that would just catch your eye so you’re distracted. You’re a little disoriented. It feels gorgeous, but you’re not really sure of what you’re seeing.
And the same thing works with the nails on the face. All of the trappings of feminine dress that can be distracting and can also be used as tools in this scene.
Lorene: I feel like her snake earrings at the beginning is very Garden of Eden. I don’t know. Maybe.
John: Yes. Deliberate choice. I’ll always say like, yes, that was the exact thinking behind those earrings.
Lorene: [laughs] That was exactly it.
Mitchell: Honestly the snake earrings came from a photo of Ashanti that I just always treasure.
Lorene: Garden of Eden.
Mitchell: And, again, that’s one of those moments, I always wear a coat on set. It’s like my lab coat basically. And I’ll have rings, earrings, clear bra straps, things like that on this movie. And so I’ll go in and I’ll dress to the shot because I know that that’s the way that Lorene makes a movie.
John: Can you talk to me about your team. Because this movie is shot in New York. You work in New York and Los Angeles. You work wherever. How do you assemble the team who is going to be able to help you do this? Because you may have a vision but you have to have a lot of people there to help you do things. What does your team look like?
Mitchell: Definitely. No costume designer can do what they do on their own. And a lot of times we get the credit for a group of like 35 people’s work, so it’s important to say things like this. On this movie I had three assistant designers who worked with me. I had a wardrobe supervisor who handles the continuity and the maintenance of the clothes. We don’t see everything, but you feel everything. And Lorene and I really fought to dress every single person in the club so that you felt – just you caught little pops of Ed Hardy. You caught little pops of terrible jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets and things like that.
So while you may not remember every part of it, you’ll feel like you were there and you remember all of those bad things. So, on this movie one of my assistants was completely in charge of background. You know, dress shoes had square toes. All those little things that add up. And the way that Lorene and Todd shoot a movie you then have shoes the size of a billboard, which we’re all dissecting here at this conversation.
So it all matters and I need to rely heavily on my team to make sure that if I can’t look at every toe on every dress shoe somebody is, because it all counts.
John: How much of this movie are you shopping and how much of the movie are you sewing?
Mitchell: I always start with what’s out there. And the weird thing about this movie is you can’t go to a rental house in LA. There’s no 2007 aisle. It’s not in a thrift store because it’s at this weird moment that no one really cared about at the time that I was making it. Now Zara is doing this. But at the time that we were doing it it was really difficult to find. And so I found it in the extremes. I found things at Burlington Coat Factory. I found things in people’s closets. Or I found things from vintage dealers who were prepping their stock for a few years from now.
And so I was going to them like I need the multi-color Louis Vuitton speedy that’s this size. And they were like, “Why? Who has that?” And I’m like please ask. I need it. I really do need it. So it came from all over the place, all of the shop stuff.
And there are only so many clothes in the world. There is a different costume in every scene of this movie. I did my first breakdown on a plane and I texted Lorene when I landed and I was like, Jesus, Lorene, there’s like thousands of costumes in this movie. And she was like, I know, it’s part of it. And at some point I ran out of clothes and I would have to say, OK, then we’re going to dye this dress. We’re going to add straps to this. We’re going to add hardware. This is now a skirt. You know, you just have to make enough clothing to dress Lorene’s women.
John: So let’s talk about Lorene’s women in the locker room. So this club you picked had a locker room which you could actually do a continuous shot from. Early on and later on in the show we’re seeing the women backstage. And so it’s the moment where we have the most sort of casual nudity, but also just so many women together. And as I watched it you’re shooting into mirrors. There’s a bunch of women, there’s a lot of stuff happening.
Lorene, how many women are in that locker room?
Lorene: I don’t know. I feel like it’s 15 speaking roles, but maybe I’m exaggerating.
John: It’s a lot of people in a small space. And no one is wearing green. So you kept the green out of there. Thank you very much for that.
Lorene: Thank you.
John: Talk to me about your motivation going into that and also the blocking and the planning for that because you have so many moving bodies. You want it to feel natural. But you’re also shooting into mirrors. There’s a lot happening there. So talk to me about–
Lorene: Yeah, it was chaos. And, I mean, we were four days in the club. So this was I think our last day in the club. Our Cardi day. Our Lizzo day.
Mitchell: This was the most insane day of my life to this date. We shot – like the biggest chunk of the movie. The Usher sequence. We shot this that day. We shot that long shot where she goes from the locker room all the way through the club. So we had like a few hundred extras. We had all of this talent on set. And the call sheet was like terrifying. And we all just took it one step at a time.
Lorene: This was one of those scenes, too, where we knew we wanted to capture something alive and real and let the women talk over each other. When I watch it it’s miraculous how much of that is scripted to be totally honest. I mean, I want to give them full credit for lines they made their own and there’s certainly some improvisations in there. But actually to their credit, to people’s credit, like Cardi and Lizzo, they’re also really delivering scripted lines.
But, yes, making it their own. We had two cameras going. It was sheer chaos. When I say that part of – like some of the things are the only time we got that line on camera. Some of those moments are like that was it. And I’m glad that it feels the way that it does and I was certainly checking things off as I was going and knowing, OK, we got that, we got that.
But in a way it was like how do we capture this thing. So we had the cameras rolling before anyone started to deliver the lines, before Jennifer entered. And we had two boom guys, because we didn’t have lavs on anyone.
John: Well, where are you going to hide a lav?
Mitchell: Exactly. I met the sound guy once.
Lorene: They were running around like crazy trying to hide. Everyone is trying to hide themselves.
John: And you must have blocked some – like some people are standing in front of mirrors deliberately so we can’t see the camera.
Lorene: There’s a rack or two that are used because they sell the clothes, the house moms often sell clothes backstage. So we were able to use some racks and there’s some piled up clothes and different things like that. Bodies positioned in certain places. But also we painted out our camera guys.
John: In post?
John: After you went through the cut you realized like, OK, this is the shot I need and we have to get rid of–
Lorene: Yeah. We had to get rid of some bodies. Well, you know, some guys in black clothes. [laughs] Yeah. And there would be like a mic on the counter that now it looks like a makeup brush. So, visual effects, it’s wonderful. I learned a lot. I learned that you can do that. I mean, we couldn’t afford much of that obviously, so had to be careful, but it was the kind of thing where, oh, if we just – I just wish we got even more of it and weren’t trying to jump out of our own way.
And so, yeah, the chaos of wrangling all that. The blocking that I did was sort of the position of where everybody is and how she enters and who says hello and who they pass and where Diamond is in the room and where Ramona ends up and who sits and who stands. And so we wanted to keep that fluorescent vibe. That really like almost ugly mist of it. Again, a real strip club.
They had painted in there. It was Tiffany Blue. The manager said so that the girls felt expensive. So there was a big written thing on there that said, “Smile and look expensive.” But we painted that, you know, we got rid of that. And still added a lot of, I mean, there’s a lot of markings and writing on the mirror and everything.
John: On a day like that which was so busy and so technical and so challenging, how did you remind yourself about what was important in a scene? Because in that scene what is actually crucially important, much more so than even the jokes, is the role of the house mother and Jennifer Lopez telling them like “No, you have to eat some cake” because she made the cake. How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
Lorene: By the way, that cake was like 50 pounds.
Mitchell: It was crazy.
Lorene: It was one of the hardest things to do. I was like I’m so sorry Mercedes Ruehl to make you carry this gigantic cake. I don’t know. I mean, I think we just knew that it was an opportunity to capture the most camaraderie, the most – at this point in the movie we’ve seen Destiny be alone and stripping life can be a solo sport or a team sport. And so Destiny was living the solo sport version of it. And this is the locker room and this is the team and this is that sports movie.
So, we talked about it that way and talked about it League of their Own to The Wrestler. Various movies that kind of capture that spirit between people. And it’s also about girls getting ready. It reminds of my friends and I hanging out in the bathroom, putting on makeup, trying to psyche each other up to go out for the night. I haven’t done that in 20 years, but someday, at some point I remember that.
John: But are those conversations you’re having with your principal actors and the other actresses before the cameras start shooting to sort of get that vibe in there? How are you talking through that?
Lorene: Yeah. I mean, every time I met an actor to cast them we spoke about all the themes of the movie and why it felt important and what these scenes were trying to represent. So, yes, I’d speak to them about that.
But it was also about capturing that electricity and a lot of it is casting. A lot of it is Jennifer Lopez is Ramona and is like the sun just walked into the room. And how people interact and meet with her. And how sweet Trace Lysette is. And there are real strippers in that scene. Not just background, you know, principals. And standup comedians. And obviously singers, musicians who I think just have that natural timing.
And, you know, Cardi was nervous, obviously. And so it was just about warming everybody up and making sure everybody felt like let’s keep it loose. And so there’s plenty that didn’t make it in there obviously. I wish I could have made an 18-minute version of that scene. But, yeah, there’s plenty that didn’t make it in there.
John: This is the time of the evening where we open it up to questions. So, repeating the question, Lorene, do you feel that being a female director changed your ability to get the amazing performances you got out of these women? And did they ever bring that up to you?
Lorene: I mean, we had a really balanced set. It was a really wonderful mix of women and men who made this film. We have men and women department heads and lots of men and women on set creating this vibe. Incredibly respectful, wonderful New York crew.
We had things that maybe were added as a result of just me being aware of certain things. Things like a comfort consultant. She was our stripper consultant and also our comfort consultant. She played Jackie. So, I mean, she was invaluable. She was always there for the women to call on to say, you know, what would I do, how would I react to some bad behavior in a club. How would I react if Usher came in the club?
And so Jack was just an incredible source for what to do with your body, what to say, how to slink away from someone maybe or how to use something against someone.
And so things like that maybe were different as a result. I was just highly aware of everyone’s comfort level. But so was our first AD, Colin, who we had so many strippers as background and he was always telling them to put their clothes back and because they were fine and completely comfortable and he was just such a lovely, just respectful person who really like led this incredible team.
To be honest, there’s some fear going into it in a way. An all-female cast. You have so much hair and makeup and wardrobe to contend with. I think people maybe heard bad things about what that environment could be like. And we ended up having just such a lovely group of people.
John: You’re also a very experienced director. You probably would have had a very different experience had this been your first movie to direct. You have movies under your belt and you sort of know – you can go into it sort of anticipating what some of the challenges were. This is also a much bigger movie than the other ones you made. We were talking backstage just the size of the cast, the size of all the departments was bigger. What were your conversations with department heads and producers about how to wrangle? Did you get advice from folks who had done bigger movies as well?
Lorene: No. No. Honestly, I don’t know, that part of it wasn’t that daunting. It wasn’t as daunting as the hours in the day. As big a budget as it was, it still felt like we were scraping the floor for what was possible in New York City and for a movie that covers this much time and just needs this much stuff. So it was really nice to have toys. I mean, my last movie I was told what day would you like Steadicam. So, you know, this was different than that.
So, you know, toys are nice. And, yeah, and getting to capture New York City the way that we did and getting into these incredible locations and this wardrobe. But my first film was I think maybe $9 million. My second one was like two point something. And this one was like $20 million. So it was different but, you know, all the same.
John: You’re still scraping to make that thing happen.
Lorene: Yeah. I mean, in a way the whole movie is just an out of control train, you know, and it’s moving, it’s been moving for thousands of years before this one girl’s story begins. And so in a way it was the entire movie was a sequence to us. And so as much as we were able to break it up and think about each scene and, again, that theme of control like you said which we could apply to Ramona in one moment and Destiny’s lack of control in another moment.
So, yeah, it was sort of like a bullet. And we wanted to treat it like that. So we shot-listed everything from beginning to end.
John: Well in advance of production you and Todd went through these are our dream shots that we would try to get on the day to tell the story.
John: What percentage of those shots did you actually end up making most days?
Lorene: Almost all of them.
John: All of them, great.
Lorene: We just knew we didn’t want to hose down TV coverage constantly. We knew there wasn’t any reason to see it in a way that wasn’t what our protagonists were feeling. So, you know, a scene like that diner scene it wasn’t like we had so many different sizes of those shots. It wasn’t like we had a million different, you know, yes we had a wide that is in the earlier scene in the diner. But then like a nice 50/50 with them. But that was it. We just knew we needed to be precise. We knew that there’s a driving scene where Ramona is driving and it doesn’t feel comfortable. Ramona has her hands on the wheel and it does feel out of control.
And so it was a scene where we had minutes to shoot it before the sun came up. And it was like all that really matters is Destiny’s POV of Ramona really not looking at her in the passenger seat. And us in the back of the car looking at Destiny in the passenger seat. And so we did like two runs, one where the camera is where Destiny is and one where we have a stunt driver driving and so they weren’t even in that scene together.
So there were so many moments where it was like we just have to get exactly what we need. And other moments like the locker room where we were like let’s be a little more loose. We’re handheld. We’ve got two cameras. We’re just trying to capture what we can and move off of people and really feel the fluidity of it. And other moments where the rigidity of it is what we want to express.
John: You had a question. So the question is the amazing J-Lo scene that we saw. So what was the coverage on J-Lo’s major dance number?
Lorene: We had three cameras. We had a wide right in front of the stage. And then two cameras that were kind of like roving on either side. That was just for the perspective of really looking at her up on the stage. Then we did let’s say two or three takes of that. And I would say two and change basically. If she missed a move we would get it again. You know, if the heel clack was something we’d do it again.
But otherwise then it was about jumping up on stage and being with her. And, again, two cameras I think at that point dancing around each other in order to capture her movement and the spirit of the club. And then setups on Constance.
Yeah, maybe five times? Maybe five times? I did a really cool walkthrough of it to show the guys when they were going to be throwing their money, because it really – I mean, when I say like live event, it really was about when she gets there this room is ready because obviously it was an incredibly vulnerable thing that she was doing. And she also needed to feel the energy coming back to her. I mean, she’s obviously a performer and she needed that. So it wasn’t about just keeping everything quiet so she could do her moves. It was very different from that.
So I did a walkthrough and then was like you’re throwing money, now you’re throwing money. And then our pole choreographer ran through it a couple of times so that our cameras were set up and ready. I think on that first run, was that when that outfit almost snapped off?
Mitchell: Sure was.
Lorene: I was looking across the room and I was like this is time of death. [laughs]
Mitchell: I left my body. I had my team ready with needles and thread because there was a possibility of that happening. There’s only so many points that you can anchor. But, yeah, the first time two strings went flying across the stage and she had to hold on.
Lorene: It was a trip. It was my birthday.
Mitchell: Sure was.
John: Happy Birthday, Lorene.
Lorene: Thank you. And the movie fell apart a year earlier on my birthday, so that was nice.
John: I saw you shortly after that, yeah.
Lorene: You saw me then. Not pretty.
John: Back right there. Yes, you. So the question is about obstructions and do you look for obstructions? Are they a helpful thing that you’re seeking out?
Lorene: I think for something like this that we knew, I mean, control is the theme of my life as well. So I think for something like this where there was only so much control we could have an actor could try on something and absolutely hate it in that moment and reach for the next thing. And maybe the color palette could have been thrown in that moment. So, and I’m taking it from that movie Five Obstructions, you know, so I’m just using words. Hopefully that means what I think it means.
But, yeah, I think for this it was a way to try to control something that felt almost like it could be out of our control if, again, so many characters in very tiny clothing, you know, wanting to look good but it’s a period piece but it’s all of the above. So, yeah.
John: Mitchell, is that a thing you commonly encounter with other directors where they will have a specific mandate of like we’re not going to see this thing, or it has to be this or there’s a structure to how they want things to happen?
Mitchell: I feel like every director that I work with is just so different and their process comes from such a different place. The thing I can say about Lorene is that there is a trust with the people that she surrounds herself with, both cast and crew. And so there’s a security in that when you have a director who says like, “We have it,” and all of us feel like then we have it. No one feels like they have one more take or we don’t want to change anything because we believe in her because she believes in us.
John: Did you have any rules with Todd in terms of lenses or things the camera was going to be able to do or not be able to do? Did you put any boundaries on what was permissible with the camera or how you were shooting it?
Lorene: I don’t think we did. I think, you know, when you’re picking the color palette of a club like this it’s easy to think that pinks and blues are so cliché, but they’re just there. And so there were things like well let’s make that pink like cotton candy pink. And let’s make that blue like aquarium blue. So there are scenes in the private area which are so well designed by Jane Muskey, I can’t even take it. Because we shot in that real club but the champagne room and the private area we built on a stage. So we had a lot of control there and they just frankly didn’t have that at that club.
Yeah, the private area we said this space, I want to see men like fish in an aquarium. And that’s what we did to the lights and what we did to the color in the space. There were obviously moments that are more about realism and more about walking in someone’s shoes. And then there are other moments where it’s about we’re soldiers and we’re dialed in.
So it was always different. It was always different. When we picked these lenses and how we manipulated them, I think that did a lot to establishing that look. And then, yeah, then we just tried to lean into what was Scores [unintelligible]. What was Scores like in that era and without actually taking cues from Scores, you know, what’s the vibe of this scope like.
And so, yeah, there were those kinds of rules where it’s like we’re going to do a lot of things that are true to the environment but we want to shoot them differently. We want to cover them differently. I never wanted a scene to be about an actor’s body unless the character wanted it to be. I felt like it was very easy to just tell a story from this person’s point of view and automatically see this space in a way that we hadn’t seen in other movies, just by focusing on the people who are usually in the periphery.
John: There, you right there. Yes, you. Two hands up. So the question is how did each of you talk with your actors about making themselves feel safe as they were not wearing a lot of clothes? What were the conversations like? You talked about Jennifer Lopez, you waited – or actually all your actors you waited late for the club wear. But what was your conversation with actors about what they’d be wearing and their bodies?
Lorene: I certainly asked everyone and so did you what anyone is comfortable revealing. I mean, the truth is some girls would be like the left one but not the right. And I get it. And others would say under is cool. Or I like my butt and I’m fine with that. It really was as crass as that where it’s just asking people what they’re OK showing and moving in a lot of them.
What we did with background actors as well as everyone else was we said the women were in charge. And as they are. But in our club the girls picked out the guys and then we kind of did some musical chairs. So all the women were comfortable with who they were having physical contact with and we certainly vetted all of these guys that our actors had physical contact with. So I know on set, again, our comfort consultant did a lot of that, too.
But, yeah, how’d you do it?
Mitchell: For me, something that I do with all projects, this one most significantly, is I start to understand what somebody is seeing in a mirror that I’m not. Because everybody sees something in the mirror that – I always track someone’s eye movement, right? Because the first thing that they’re going to look for in a mirror is what they don’t like. Because they’re either going to tell me about that or they’re going to feel like it’s solved.
So I always try to watch that and watch body language. And I’m just really into that. I kind of treat my fittings a little bit like therapy. I’ll get to know somebody’s history, what they’re excited about that’s not this movie, and just try to understand them as an human being so that I can dress that human being who is playing a part. Because if that human being is not comfortable that character is not comfortable and this movie certainly demanded that.
Lorene: But it’s also not about revealing clothing either, because someone like G-Eazy who is in the movie was surprised at how much we were going to lean into the 2007 fashion and then came fully onboard, thank you Mitchell.
Mitchell: I would have to warn them. There is a celebration going on with this movie about this time period. Because it is in such recent memory it feels horrible. But you need to eliminate that and recognize that everyone here is playing the same game. So your earrings couldn’t be big enough. This is the game. Let’s win.
John: Let’s all win. Another question, there in the middle. Yes, I see you. So the question is about the casting process and how much pressure did you feel to cast star names. What was the casting process like? I don’t know who cast your film, so talk to me about this.
Lorene: Oh, Gail Keller was our casting director who had her hands full. I can’t believe what she pulled off with this with so many speaking roles. I began with chasing Jennifer. I mean, I didn’t write the script with her in mind, but as soon as I reopened the script to try to think of who it was it was so obvious that it was Jennifer Lopez. So I bee-lined toward her and sent the script to her producing partner who fortunately loved it and sent it to her, fortunately loved it, and then we met at her house. And, you know, it’s Jennifer Lopez and I thought of what to wear for 72 hours. But, yeah, we were really excited about all the same themes and what the movie was speaking to and capitalism and this time in very recent history.
And so once she was onboard it certainly made it a lot easier to get other people. I had been chasing Lizzo for a year, Cardi for two years on Instagram. And I would DM Cardi and then get like a cellphone number back and then text that number and then get another number. So I have two numbers in my phone that are Cardi that I don’t think either are Cardi. And Lizzo, same, I just thought they were so exciting for this, so I wrote those roles for them.
There’s an opera singing burlesque dancer who I wrote that part for. Jack the stripper, I wrote that part for Trace Lysette. She reached out to me on Twitter because she had worked at this club in 2006 and we met maybe a year before the movie and just hit it off, so I wrote her the role. And it was a lot like that. You know, Keke Palmer was someone I was just obsessed with. Just her whole personality, her whole way. I want to see that onscreen so bad. And I think Mercedes is the character who makes Ramona laugh, so who is that person. Lili Reinhart was someone who I watched some indie movies that she was in and thought my god this girl is so good. And I thought about the four of them. I thought about the locker room.
I made so many collages of sort of my dream team and then they happened. It was crazy. Constance was someone who it was so hard to figure out who Destiny was. That was really the toughest journey, but the second thing we needed to do was find our Destiny once we found Ramona. So I met with over 100 actors and met with Constance and just thought she was so deep and was equally interested in a story about loneliness. That’s something I talk about a lot in my work and I was really excited about her bringing that into this character, that vulnerability, the sensitivity, that intelligence, and that dynamic that the two of them might have.
So I didn’t get to see them together until the camera test when Jennifer was in the fur coat for the first time and they were in full hair and makeup. And she put her arm around Constance and I was like, yeah.
Lorene: That’s it. That was what we were hoping for. So, yeah.
John: Lorene, what was the audition scenes you used for Destiny? Were they things that are in the movie or were they different things you wrote just for auditions?
Lorene: Oh, well definitely scenes from the movie. But they’re probably like things that aren’t in the movie anymore if I think about it. There was a lot of voiceover in the movie, more so than there is. And so I think they had a very awkward scene to audition with to be honest.
For the most part I met with girls. Gail had so many girls come in and audition. So, I had great tapes to watch. But then–
John: You were also in the room in many cases?
Lorene: Then I could be there. Yeah.
John: That’s where you discovered.
John: We have time for two more questions. Let’s try, yes, you. So the question is how did you get the job of directing this movie? What was the process to get there?
Lorene: I wanted it from the beginning. But I really did feel like I had to tell the story, even if I didn’t get to direct it. So once I handed in two drafts of the script and it became that time for them to decide who was going to direct it, they sent it to Scorsese first. He passed. I don’t think he read it. You know, I don’t think it reached him. So, they sent it to him first. And then sent it to everyone, people I knew.
I just had my hand raised that whole time. It was a very weird timeline in America also, you know, from the Summer of 2016, in which I thought I was making like a subversive Spring Breakers type movie that it kind of became a little bit more real as time went on. So, I would say how I got the job during that ten month stretch where it was being sent to kind of everyone in town I was editing a lot of footage of strippers and stripteases to Chopin which is sort of the score of the film. And different sequences in the movie. There’s a car crash. Different things as a proof of concept really.
And then my editor, Kayla Emter, who had edited my last film, we/she put together this sizzle reel that really became the piece that I was able to show as sort of, you know, it makes sense from the director of The Meddler. Maybe people wouldn’t necessarily understand the leap that it might take. So I was OK trying to really audition for it, obviously.
But that sizzle reel I think was really what got me the job, got Kayla the job ultimately. I put up collages of different movies of kind of female friendship type movies. Mean Girls and Bridesmaids and then pictures of strippers in locker rooms just to say like, you know, what’s the difference and why can’t there be a movie about that dynamic but in this space.
John: Our last question. So the question is she loves the ending, but were there ever choices to do a different ending or a reconciliation or some other – what were the other thoughts about the ending of the film as you were writing it or working on it?
Lorene: Not for me. You know, I mean, I never saw it that way. I’m sure I had to do a draft or two in which I delivered some kind of happy ending that I probably tried to make bad on paper on purpose. Yeah. I think I always saw it as this bittersweet ending.
But even when we were testing the movie and trying to figure it out it really was – it’s hard. It’s one of those things where you want that hope that maybe they will call each other without seeing it really happen. So, I think that that was always the hope.
How it ends, though, there were so many different versions of that speech that Ramona gives in the office. I was never sure about that. I really wasn’t. I really was like I don’t know, this feels on the nose and stuff. So there were like things that kind of got massaged into place. I realized like, oh, we had this incredible B-roll from our club where all those images at the end of the movie where you’re sort of seeing the men and women interacting with each other. That felt very real because they just were interacting with each other. And our camera was just catching them.
And so I think once Kayla and I landed on that, that that imagery was really important to bring back. That life goes on. That everything is up and running and maybe some stuff has changed but not a lot. And so we discovered how important that was. And then, you know, Ramona and all of that. But the friendship, yeah, no, you know, love doesn’t, I don’t know. [laughs]
I’ll end on love doesn’t, I don’t know.
John: Love doesn’t…Lorene Scafaria. Lorene, congratulations on your film. Mitchell, congratulations on what you were able to bring to the film. Thank you all very much. Thank you guys for coming.
Lorene: Thank you. Thank you so much.
John: Have a great night.
And that’s our show. Thanks to Paul Cowling and everybody at Film Independent for putting on the panel and letting us use the audio from it. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Caden Brown. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you can send questions.
Short questions on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
Premium members, stick around after the credits because I Skype with Mitchell to see what he’s doing now and answer some more questions about screenwriting and costume design. You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net. Thanks and we’ll see you next week.
John: Hey Mitchell, how are you?
Mitchell: Good. It’s nice to hear from you.
John: It’s good to hear from you. I’ve wanted to talk with more because I just felt like we got through so much in that panel but I was curious what’s happened since that time and also I had follow up questions. So thanks for getting on the blur with me.
John: So question, a lot of what we talked about in that discussion was how you work with the director to figure out the visual language for the movie, how you work with the actors to figure out what clothes make sense for the character. But I wanted to wind back and ask what should screenwriters be thinking about in terms of the clothes that characters are wearing. What’s useful for screenwriters to come into a script with? As you’re flipping through pages what are signs that are like, oh, this writer knows what he or she is talking about when it comes to characters and clothes? What are you looking for?
Mitchell: You know, I’ve never been asked that question and I think it’s such an interesting topic because it’s funny there are certain scripts that you read that you can the person who is writing is very much thinking about the character from a visual point. They’ll mention the color or that it’s a sweater or they’ll put in even brands. I’ve read some scripts where it’s like brands are listed by the screenwriter. And I’m always so fascinated by that because I feel like it is so premature because, you know, a costume designer hasn’t weighed in, and actor hasn’t weighed in. And of course those are going to be the loudest voices when it comes to the clothes.
But I don’t mind it because I think it’s a really nice way of getting into the headspace of the character from the writer’s point of view. When it gets really frequent and you feel like almost every outfit is described it can be a little bit – it’s kind of a little bit of a turnoff because it feels like some of the work is being done for you. And then of course the rebel in both the actor and the costume designer wants to do like, well, you wrote sweater so we’re not doing a sweater.
You know, like we all want to put our own spin on everything. But ultimately I do find it helps me know where we’re starting from. And of course we’re going to take it further and we’re going to find different meaning in things in the fitting room that wouldn’t really come up in the writing process. But I do enjoy it. And I think for me it’s like as soon as I can meet the writer I feel like I have a kindred spirit in that person because they’ve obviously done the work to think about the clothes. So then I think it fleshes out the conversation.
But for me it’s just a jumping point. It’s definitely not, you know, the truth.
John: I’m trying to think back about the times I’ve used specific clothing descriptions in scripts, and it’s mostly just to give a sense of the general direction of a character and not sort of what they’re wearing in that moment. Or try to prescribe what they have to be wearing. I was thinking back to my script for Go we meet Melissa McCarthy about two-thirds of the way through the movie and she only has one scene. And they’ve knocked on the door, she opens the door, she has a big bowl of popcorn, and she’s described as wearing sweats.
And ultimately she was not wearing sweats. She was wearing stuff that was more comfortable for her. But she was wearing her version of what sweats would be. And it started a whole conversation. But I only described her outfit because it was important for us to understand that she was not expecting to be going out that night. She was sort of dressed down for the evening. She was in her retiring clothes.
Or in Aladdin, you know, the only kind of dress that I mention in Aladdin are the stunning first reveal of Jasmine when she’s coming down the steps to meet the suitor. I’m not going to describe every dress along the way.
Mitchell: I designed In the Heights. There was in that script, which was written by Quiara, she wrote one description of clothing which I actually loved and I was like this totally helps. For one of the characters she talked about how the shoes had been worn down in the back heel like they’re so beloved that they have that permanent crease in the heel. That was one of those little details where I was like that helps me so much, because I understand – you know, I can see this person’s apartment. I bet there are other shoes that look like that piled on top of each other. And I can sort of understand how this person gets dressed.
So I do enjoy when it’s a description that helps me understand the totality of a person, rather than just “she walks in in Armani.” It’s like why? You know, is there a promo deal? What is the reason behind that?
John: So it sounds like what you’re describing is that over specificity can be a problem if it sort of feels like it’s locking you in to something. But something like that metaphorical description of how her shoes were being worn down, that gives you a pathway for figuring out like, OK, if her shoes are that way then I can think about the rest of her outfit in ways that is going to speak to the same character. So trying to–
John: Put everybody on the right path rather than sort of say it has to be exactly this one thing that I’m describing.
Mitchell: There’s something funny with some actors, too. They treat the script like the bible. So if something is written they want to adhere to that. And I find there are certain, like the Julliard actor, like they are really text-based and they really adhere to the script and it’s part of their process. I’ve worked with some before where it’s like, “Well in the script it says that I’m wearing a turtleneck.” And it’s like would the character wear a turtleneck? Let’s start there and then we might not have to use the turtleneck. But for some people it can really lock them into this idea which, you know, it depends. Sometimes that’s limiting and sometimes that’s where you start.
John: Yeah. And so that’s an example of like “he’s the kind of guy who seems like he’s in a turtleneck even when he’s not.” I mean, in that description you describe the type of outfit that he’s wearing, not necessarily limiting to exactly the thing he has to be wearing unless there’s a reason why the turtleneck becomes a big joke point. There’s a reason why it has to be a turtleneck. Instead just give a sense of the class of outfit that you’re looking for.
Mitchell: Yes. Do you know I truly hope I never read a script again where it is written that the girl takes off her shoes, breaks off the heel, and is running in flats. I have read that in a script like nine times. And it is such an impossibility for any shoe ever. But it seems to be this thing that is in every script. Oh, she’s running, she breaks off her heels and now she’s in flats. I’m like, no, now she’s running on a metal spike on the bottom of her foot. It’s incredibly dangerous and painful.
John: Yeah. And I’m sure that is one of the situations where that came up because somebody saw it in a movie and they assumed it must be real and so therefore they just put it in other scripts. And no one has actually tried to do it in real life. Because I don’t know anyone who has ever done that in actual life. I know people who have broken heels, but not like that.
Mitchell: Right. And then you limp home with dirty feet. That’s how that happens.
John: Great. Any other red flags? Things you see in scripts about clothing that maybe we should be more mindful of?
Mitchell: There are certain times where I will go to the writer and if they are mentioning specific changes and things like that where, you know, my job is to break this down into reasonable costumes. And I’m personally as a designer I find that you can reach a fatigue point with too many costume changes in a movie where you kind of stop remembering what the person is wearing because they’re wearing them so frequently.
So sometimes I’ll have to say to a writer or director, sometimes it’s the same person, OK, in this scene it’s written that she’s in a dress, but then in this scene it’s written that she’s now in a pair of skinny jeans, or whatever. And from a storytelling perspective it would just all make sense in one day. So, is the change motivated because this character wants to be perceived differently? Is the change motivated by something else? And oftentimes it’s that scripts go through so many drafts that that’s one of those things that’s just kind of layers.
But that’s another thing that can sometimes happen when clothing gets described in a script is you’re like, OK, you know she’s now changed four times before lunch. Let’s think about this a little bit.
John: Now, Mitchell, I don’t know how much you’ve worked on periods, so obviously Hustlers was period, but it wasn’t super deep period. If we’re working on something that is a costume drama from turn of the century or you’re working on Hulu’s show The Great, how important is it for the writer to know what all those pieces of clothing are called and how much is it helpful to call that stuff out versus just giving a general description of the type of clothing or sort of what time of day clothing this is? How helpful is it for period stories like that?
Mitchell: I think it’s very important. And it should be part of the research process for a writer in the same way you would make sure that a character wasn’t using something that hadn’t been invented. I think the same should be true for clothes. It can be in a script where she removes her bra and it’s like, well, no one was wearing those yet. So she doesn’t.
I think it should be as important to the process as every other part that’s researched.
John: I think you make a very good case for that. So yes. Mitchell, thank you so much for this follow up. This is really helpful.
John: It was a great conversation before and you’ve gotten me thinking more about sort of how I’m describing clothes in my scripts and how I’ll be talking about them as a director. So, thank you for that. Congratulations on the move.
John: Thanks Mitchell.
Mitchell: Be well.
John: All right. Bye.
- Directors Close-Up: Tacky Fashion and the Visual Language of ‘Hustlers’ – Film Independent
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