FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – An Overall Perspective

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

For someone that hasn’t watched The Wolf of Wall Street, the storyline unfolds very similar to these scenes that I photographed as I was watching it:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Scene 1 – Man on top of the universe

Scene 2 – Man down

Scene 3 – Man judged

Scene 4 – Man sentenced and humiliated

Scene 5 – Man jailed

~The End~ 

This is basically the storyline; however, one important element that I failed to mention before is that this is a Martin Scorsese film.  That being said, you and I both know that this film is anything but as simple as thisstoryline is.

Needless to say – Wall Street is a wild place.  One can see this every day on any given news channel:   when the bell rings and the floor opens, it is filled with brokers making calls, running around, shouting and engaged in all types of commotion.  This is the sophisticated Wall Street that we see on CNN, CNBC, Fox and other news networks.  Mr. Scorsese brings us into his world – his genius mind translates the unseen world of Wall Street as only he could imagine it.  Sex, drugs, lies, intrigue – everything sordid you can imagine is included in this film; everything except murder, unless you would like to consider ruined reputations as murder.

One of the first things that piqued my interest as the film opens is the lion strolling around the office.  For me, this symbolically lays the foundation of who Jordan Belfort would become to his constituents – a lion in charge of his pride.  Ironically, the director chose the title of wolf to describe Jordan, which is the same description in the title of the book. The opening scene, which is in stark contrast with the title, implies to me that even though Jordan may have seen himself as a lion or a regal, charismatic person before his pride; the outside world saw him as a vicious wolf leading a pack of vicious wolves. After this opening scene, came countless scenes of wild, reckless and carefree behavior, all at the investors’ expense.  Nobody was safe or innocent in Mr. Scorsese’s interpretation of Wall Street, except maybe Jordan’s young children.  Everything and everyone else were savages who basked in the essence of greed whether it was Jordan’s father – who was a co-conspiring accountant who tried to cover up his son’s wretched lifestyle in order to protect the family name; or Jordan’s wife’s sweet ol’ aunt who was just as much a shady villain, helping him launder money in offshore accounts.

I could go on and on about the good, the bad, and the ugly on Wall street; however, this is not my aim in this blog.  Everyone can draw their own conclusions about the largest and most powerful “invisible” trading firm in the world.  Instead my focus is on how Mr. Scorsese took the taboo nature of what he believes goes on behind the scenes on Wall Street and turned it into an ongoing extravaganza of drug induced chaos, not just on the business floor but in how these people live.  The rogue characters, the wild music, the abrupt changes in scenes all really give you not only the visual cue that this is a crazy world but you can also feel that this is a crazy world.  It is an incredible 3 hours of satire and propaganda at its finest and it’s no wonder that it racked up on Academy Award nominations for the following: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrance Winter), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill); and has gone on record as Scorsese’s highest grossing film to date.

 

Photos taken by Mel from screen shots of The Wolf of Wall Street.


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – A Sound Engineer’s Perspective

While many people wouldn’t consider a film like The Wolf of Wall Street to feature complex sound design, supervising sound editor Eugene Gearty actually had a team of over 40 people who were tasked with making the sounds of Wall Street come alive.

One of the primarily techniques which was utilized throughout the film was the use of minimal background noise in settings that are otherwise quite loud. Most films set in New York have a very distinctive sound of the cityscape, but if you watch this film carefully, you will see that scenes that take place in restaurants, offices and even outdoors have the sound of the surrounding background noise mixed very low. This is an effective technique because it makes the conversations between characters seem very intimate and intense, as if the world of the virile stockbrokers was the only one in existence.

Another recurring sonic theme was that of banging. There were several instances where characters either banged rhythmically on their chests or on tables which was symbolic of archaic, almost animalistic and warrior like nature of the characters as they fought to gain more and more materialistic wealth and power. The chest banging scenes symbolized their war cry.

In addition to the sound design, the music used in the film was one of the most important elements in terms of developing the story, establishing the timeline, and providing emotional and comic assistance. For a film that was initially set in 1987, it was an interesting choice by music editor, Jennifer Dunnington, to use classic, twangy rock and blues and jazz standards to introduce the film and characters to the audience. This could have been done to illustrate the masculine tone of the film. As the characters move from the 80’s to the early 90’s, we are introduced to the scene by first hearing the Cypress Hill classic, “Insane in the Membrane” which was used to establish time and also context, since our main characters were heavy into drugs and debauchery by this point in the film.

A particular scene where music was used to emphasize comic relief occurred when main characters Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) were having a drug induced fight on the floor. When Donnie begins choking on a piece of turkey, a sluggish Jordan has to figure out how to fix the situation and does so by abruptly taking cocaine, all while the theme song to “Popeye” plays on a TV in the background. This was done to show that cocaine was like his spinach and to also cut the tension of the otherwise suspenseful situation.

Wolf of Wall Street featured a very minimal sound job that subconsciously helped to tie all of the visual elements of the film together. Even though it may not seem like there was very much happening, the sonic craftsmanship that helped to shape the movie was all done with a purpose and was as effective in telling the story as it was entertaining to listen to.


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – A Producer’s Perspective

How bad to you want? Well, Leonardo DiCaprio wanted it real bad and he beat out Brad Pitt for it. “It” is the rights to the story of Jordan Belfort, the Wall Street investor who made millions illegally while on drugs, drinking heavily, and exploiting women. The actual production would take place nearly a decade later and turn into the story of “debauchery and debasement” that is the film The Wolf of Wall Street.

DiCaprio was committed to reuniting with director, Martin Scorsese, for this film. He shared with Hollywood Reporter why that was important, “… I had gone down the road looking for other filmmakers, but I didn’t think there was anybody that could quite capture the dark, sadistic humor in Terry’s screenplay.

The film secured financing from Red Granite Pictures, an indie company, after searching from quite some time and realizing that because of the subject and nature – this wasn’t a studio film. With financing in place, creative choices had to be made to keep the integrity of the story while staying in budget. The infamous hair-shaving scene is one such instance when the team and a good friend of DiCaprio made some brave choices to help keep the budget tight. Read all about how they prepared and accomplished one of the wildest scenes in the film.

The producer’s list plus films they are known for:

Riza Aziz, Producer, Out of the Furnace

Richard Baratta, Co-Producer, Spider-Man

Marianne Bower, Associate Producer, The Departed

Leonardo DiCaprio, Producer, Inception

Danny Dimbort, Executive Producer, The Expendables

Joel Gotler, Executive Producer, Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Ted Griffin, Co-Producer, Ocean’s Eleven

Georgia Kacandes, Executive Producer, Hugo

Joey McFarland, Producer, Out of the Furnace

Alexandra Milchan, Executive Producer, Street Kings

Martin Scorsese, Producer, Goodfellas

Adam Somner, Co-Producer, Gladiator

Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producer, The Departed

Irwin Winkler, Executive Producer, Goodfellas

Rick Yorn, Executive Producer, Gangs of New York

Paramount Pictures Domestic Theatrical Distributor

Appian Way Production Company

Sikelia Productions Production Company

Red Granite Pictures Production Company

EMJAG Productions Production Company

Budget:   $100,000,000 (estimated)
Latest gross: (as of March 2014)
Worldwide: $391,942,727
Non-USA:     $116,866,727

**Information from IMDB.com.

Extras:

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awarded The Hollywood Reporter in Focus: The Wolf of Wall Street with a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award. This was a first for the show which airs on A&E.

The real Jordan Belfort tells how Wolf of Wall Street changed his life…for the good and bad.


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – A Writer’s Perspective

Wolf of Wall Street

Many screenwriting books and technique guides will take great measure to emphasize the importance of the first 10 pages when you’re writing a script. In fact, many writers, will obsess over these opening pages. If you can get someone to read your script, your goal is to hook that reader and get them to read the rest of your script that is just as dynamic as the first page.
These key pages have to not only movie the story forward and hook the reader but according to thescriptlab.com, they should accomplish five things: “establish the tone/genre, introduce main characters and their flaws, clarify the story, present the theme and set up the drama”. With each script page representing about a minute or so of screen time that doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

In Wolf of Wall Street, the writer, Terrence Winter, does an excellent job of accomplishing all of the above. In the first 10 or so minutes, you learn a great deal about the main character, Jordan Belfort. You also learn a lot about money, sex, and drugs, which are recurring themes throughout the story.

Within the first two minutes, you see that Belfort was raised by accountants and learned the art of making money at a young age. The audience also learns a little about his seedy mentor, Mark Hanna, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey.

Winter uses voice over, which is director, Martin Scorsese’s signature style. Leonardo DiCaprio who portrays the ruthless broker, Jordan Belfort, toggles back and forth between voice over and talking directly to the camera. Throughout the movie, Jordan is telling the Jordan Belfort story.

Winter was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and actually used some of the dialogue and wild adventures right from the book written by the real-life Belfort.

Winter’s style of comparing the world of investing to a jungle was a jarring open and set the pace for this fast moving and raucous film. I found myself chuckling, embarrassingly so, at an early scene where a dwarf wearing a helmet is swung toward a dollar sign on a Velcro dartboard. Winter uses the scene as a setup mechanism to represent the tone of the chaotic, desensitized and ruthless lifestyle of that industry.

From a writer’s perspective, the Wolf of Wall Street script draws you in and succeeds at mastering the 10-page hook. Some pen perspective for you, Winter has penned scripts for The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. So, it’s safe to say the guy knows his stuff.