Featuring a scene where a character wears a wire is a classic staple of crime movies, having been done hundreds if not thousands of times in the genre, but in the making of Hustlers, director Lorene Scafaria came up with a way to put a creative spin on the idea. Basically, the scene plays out in typical fashion from a cinematography standpoint, but the key twist is that rather than just the audience knowing that someone in the room is wearing a wire, the movie actually sources the audio from the clandestine device, allowing us to listen to exactly what the detectives on the case are hearing.
It’s arguably the film’s most cleverly constructed scene, taking a well-worn plot development and making it feel totally fresh – but that just makes it all the more surprising to learn about its origins. Instead of being an idea that was born in the writing stage and brought into filming, the reality of it is that it didn’t become a part of Hustlers until a super late night post-production session with Lorene Scafaria and editor Kayla Emter, and a suggestion to mess around with the audio.
With Hustlers now out on home video, and also very much part of the on-going awards season conversation, I had the wonderful pleasure of hopping on the phone with Lorene Scafaria earlier this week, and it was during our chat that I learned about the special origins of the wire scene. The director explained that there were certain elements of it that existed on the page, but that the manipulated effect didn’t come together until late:
It's funny cause other moments like when Destiny shuts off the recorder and the sound goes out, that was something that was written into the script, but this wasn't. This was something that we found in the edit. I think it was 3:45 in the morning actually. It might've been the 4th of July or something like that, but it was 3:45, and Kayla and I were working and bleary-eyed, and I remember saying to her, 'I don't know if this is a good idea, or the worst idea I've ever had.'
In the scene, the tremendously unreliable Dawn (Madeline Brewer) finds herself forced to team up with the police to try and take down the scam operation created by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and Destiny (Constance Wu), and agrees to wear a wire so that she can try and record them confessing to their crimes. Lorene Scafaria came up with the idea of the audience getting to listen to the sequence via the recording unit in Dawn’s shirt, and while she wasn’t entirely confident it would play at first, she wound up loving the effect.
After making the discovery, the Hustlers director and editor knew that they needed to capture some new material to make the scene really fly – despite the fact that they were only a few months away from their scheduled release date. Madeline Brewer was brought in for some Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR) sessions, and the filmmakers even got a bit creative when they were trying to make the wire audio as authentic as possible. Said Scafaria,
We did ADR with Madeline Brewer, and put that mic on her the way that it would have been - with the wire, I think we wrapped it in a napkin because it gave it a little bit more of that scratchy quality. And then we messed with where the sound is in the room, and how that microphone is meant to pick up everybody else's voices, and adjust the volume accordingly.
When the work was done, Lorene Scafaria was supremely happy with the results, recognizing the very special effect that the audio has on the scene. While there was always tension present, as it really seems like its going to be the moment where everything Ramona and Destiny have built is going to come crumbling down, there is an added element that comes with hearing everything from the perspective of the police, who only need to hear a few select words before preparing to break down the door.
Lorene Scafaria explained that she and her team weren’t 100 percent convinced that it would play in the finished cut of Hustlers, but they still loved the impact that it had, and were willing to bet that it would work:
That was something we found in the edit, and it really heightened so much in that scene that I had certainly felt before then, but without it, it was missing that perspective and it was so exciting to hear it from the cop's point of view, and to imagine that at any moment they could bust in the room. There was something about that that we knew we just had to go for it and hope that people got it.
And it definitely works. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in a film that is filled with memorable scenes, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see crime movies in the future inspired by the idea. It’s so smart and effective that it’s really kind of amazing it’s not something we’ve seen a lot of before in the amazing, long legacy of excellent big screen crime stories, but all it takes is one production to showcase that something works, and in this particular case the name of that production is Hustlers.
Co-starring Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Cardi B, Lizzo, Lili Reinhart, and Wai Ching Ho in addition to Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and Madeline Brewer, Hustlers is now available to purchase as digital download, or on 4K, Blu-ray or DVD, and it’s a movie that we’re likely going to continue to hear a lot about in the coming months – particularly if the recent Golden Globe nominations are anything to go by. We’re going to continue following its progress as we get deeper and deeper into awards season here on CinemaBlend, so stay tuned for that – and be on the lookout for more from my interview with Lorene Scafaria.