The day before his 40th birthday, Lorene Scafaria received an inopportune surprise: a call saying that the film she had been working on for more than two years was being released by her studio, Annapurna Pictures. “It was an immediate existential crisis,” says Scafaria. Like Jay Roach’s Fox News movie that later landed at Bron Studios, Scafaria’s Hustlers fell victim to Annapurna’s attempt to erase her list to appease the lenders after a series of box office failures. The project was quietly abandoned in spring 2018.
Scafaria was hired as a screenwriter for the project in the summer of 2016, a time when Hollywood’s obsession with gender flexion was reaching a high point.
Based on an article in Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine, the story revolves around a group of strippers in New York City in the era of the recession they drugged and then robbed their Wall Street clientele. “After reading the article, I knew I wanted to direct it,” says Scafaria, who spent months talking with strippers in Los Angeles and New York for his script.
By spring 2018, Scafaria had finally secured the management concert, with Jennifer Lopez joined the co-star when the project fell apart. In the search for a new study, Scafaria was concerned about the possibility of changes in the history of the new sponsors. “I didn’t want to take certain notes that would have facilitated the understanding of the revenge nature of the story,” she says. Because the film is largely about class, sex and power, the filmmaker was worried that he would be asked to simplify some of the gender problems he was trying to explore.
“It is gender in relation to money,” she says. “It’s the kind of thing I feel we only talk about in terms of purchases and in terms of expenses and we don’t really talk in terms of profit and survival.”
In addition to Magic Mike and the very bad Showgirls of the cult film, nudity has no historical film history. There was a risk that the film would easily fall into parody or, worse, vilification. “I felt very protective of [strippers],” she says. In early 2019, Scafaria received another call: STXfilms had Hustlers with green light, which advanced with a budget of approximately $ 20 million. Three months later, the director met at a strip club in Long Island City on the last day of the short 29-day session with 300 extras, pole dance choreographers, a “comfort consultant” and her cast, directed by Constance Wu
Working with cinematographer Todd Banhazl, Scafaria included all pole sequences months in advance, with the desire to highlight the dancers’ athletics. To better understand the physical aspect he expected to capture on screen, the director tried “liquid movement” classes with Wu.
“It’s a very, very physical job. I don’t think people think of women as workers,” he explains. “They are muscles that you generally didn’t know you had; they are bruises in places you didn’t think you could reach.”
Among those present on the last day of filming were Cardi B, who worked as a dancer before triumphing in the music industry, and his partner Lizzo, who had contacted Instagram to interpret dancers. It was also attended by Usher, who agreed to play himself, around 2007.
Hustlers is a high-risk story about the realities of women trying to succeed in their chosen profession, full of constant uphill battles that Scafaria could relate to. “Everyone has a certain amount of obstacles before the starting line,” she says. “Some have less than others and some have more than others. It’s wonderful that anyone can finish the race. “