If you want to make it in Hollywood, you’ve got to hustle.
Alternately, if you want to make it in Hollywood, watch as many gangster movies as you can. Hollywood operates a lot like the mafia—you have to talk your way into more and more responsibilities and actively fight for the top positions. It’s not just about talent, it’s about luck and persistence.
The story of Hustlers is very similar to the story of Hollywood. Once you’re in, you have to stay true to yourself and your voice—otherwise, you’re in trouble.
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the movie is about savvy strip club employees who game Wall Street clients to make extra cash on the side and begin to face the consequences. The film is inspired by an article published by New York Magazine entitled “The Hustlers at Scores” written by Jessica Pressler. It stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B, Madeline Brewer, Trace Lysette, and Mette Towley.
I think it’s one of the best movies to come out in the last few years and full of lessons filmmakers can use to inspire them as they work.
Let’s look into them and discuss.
8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from Hustlers
1. Wow them at the pitch.
Pitching in Hollywood is a sacred art. One of the things directors often arm themselves with is a sizzle reel that gets studios excited about your vision for the project. You have to show you can handle the story and bring a unique take, and that’s exactly what Scafaria did. She made an insanely cool sizzle that proved she was the right director for the job and owned the opportunity to direct.
2. Cast reality.
When it came to filling a movie with strippers, Scafaria didn’t add random people to the background. She found actresses who had worked in strip clubs or had experience stripping, like Cardi B. This helped make scenes feel authentic. You felt like this was a world you stepped into, like you were a voyeur or a fly on the wall.
Ask yourself, how authentic is your movie? Can you add extras or even a consultant to make parts feel more real?
3. Evolve as a storyteller.
I have been a fan of Scafaria’s career for a while. I think Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an underrated gem, and The Meddler had a lot of fun moments I dare not say I identified with (since my mom reads these articles).
Both of these films are wildly different in story and tone, but both show us a storyteller finding her voice and a filmmaker honing her skills. By the time she got to Hustlers, she was ready to continue that development.
Are you evolving as a storyteller? Accessing different parts of who you are to challenge the status quo and tell stories that mean something to you?
4. Give the audience what they want.
This a movie about strippers hustling Wall Street bros. It’s about revenge, class warfare, and good people going bad. When audiences sat in theaters, that’s what they wanted to see, and Scafaria delivered. There were sensual scenes, scenes where women spend cash, and scenes where bros get what they deserve.
Check out this write-up from Vanity Fair, where they say, “Hustlers is a wonderful showcase for [Scafaria’s] writing as well. Adapted from a New York magazine article written by Jessica Pressler, Hustlers has to survey a scam and articulate it while also locating the human element crucial to our connection to the story. Scafaria handles that tricky project beautifully; Hustlers is funny and suspenseful, warm and wise. It’s a clever movie, one that can operate as pure criminal entertainment for those that want it, but that has depth worth mining as well. It prods at a good deal of American reality, connecting the gaze of patriarchy to the function of money in bracing ways. Hustlers has a merry verve but it’s also a piercing look at the scramble for solvency in a time of middle-class erosion.”
Give the audience what they want!
5. Glamorous cinematography accentuates details.
The cinematography in Hustlers was done by Todd Banhazl and set out to capture the glitz and glamor of the world.
He collaborated with Scafaria on the look and feel here, telling the website Motion Pictures, “At the beginning of the film, we explore 2007’s version of glamor. The 2007 world is kind of gross, but deliciously gross. We wanted to shoot it in a much more gritty, cinematic way. Less like a music video, more like a gangster film. For example, there’s an early scene where Constance and her boyfriend are having a huge fight in their apartment and you sense it’s not going to end well. As their relationship is going down, the camera pans to the TV and it’s the first episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”
This evolution of the style inside the film lets the story come naturally. As the visuals backed up the story, we fell deeper into a trance watching it.
How does your cinematography boost the story you’re trying to tell?
6. Don’t shy away from the message.
At the heart of Hustlers is a populist message about dismantling systems of oppression and the value of friendship in that quest. The movie is never afraid of telling us this message and asserting it in scenes even when this could be seen as soft.
Does your story have a message? Are your scenes working to share that message with the audience, or are they hiding it too deeply?
7. Make your shots mean something.
When talking about the depth of his cinematography, Banhazl said that they saved certain angles to build on the themes and message we’ve talked about.
“These tight eye-lines we saved for these moments for when the characters are connecting, at their most emotional, the most life or death,” Banhazl says. “Like when they decide if they’re going to drug these guys, then we go super tight. These characters are moving so quickly through life, and eventually, it comes crashing down, so going off eye-line thing is about watching characters, feeling like you’re a third character in the room and watching them make these decisions, and thinking, ‘I’m not sure that’s the right idea.’”
It might seem small, but saving these shots for certain details allows the audience to subconsciously reflect on them.
8. Get to know your editor.
Back in lesson one, when Scafaria was making her sizzle reel, she began talking to editor Kayla Emter about the movie. Emter turned these conversations into the sizzle reel… which really helped her career. When Scafaria won the project, she knew the perfect person to bring on to help her secure her final vision.
Emter was an editor from indie movies who was never trusted by studios. Executives didn’t think she could handle the stylized scenes in the movie, and boy, were they wrong. Scafaria vouched for Emter, and she got to come on and showcase what she could do on a studio movie with the resources. Even more beneficial, the women had a relationship and trust in one another to get the job done.
Do you know your editor? Can they find what you’re looking for and get it onto the screen?
These were some epic lessons, and I will definitely watch the movie again this weekend.
What are some lessons you think we missed? Let us know in the comments
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