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Five Things I Learned at DGA Symposium with Scorsese, Greengrass, Russell and McQueen (UPDATED)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 6, 2014 at 6:15AM

Paul Greengrass, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese and Steve McQueen explain how they shot key sequences their films at the annual pre-DGA Awards Directors' Symposium.
'The Wolf of Wall Street'
'The Wolf of Wall Street'

4. Scorsese, McQueen and Greengrass used careful choreography for key scenes. For"The Wolf of Wall Street" orgy scenes, a choreographer "helped us with the mini-stories," said Scorsese, "episodes going on, who's doing what to whom, 'face this way, two more here.' We had to put a digital chair in front of two guys. 'There's a dirty bit here.' In the airplane scene some dancers were willing to do certain things, some were not completely naked, half-naked. We were in there all day. It was about sex, drugs, and power. It was not erotic. They do it because they can. 'Screw you, screw them.'" 

And for the quaalude scene Scorsese mapped how Leonardo DiCaprio would get from the telephone to the Lamborghini. "His mind is telling his body what to do but it can't react," said Scorsese. "We worked out how he crawls inch by inch throughout the sequence. There are ten steps, he looks at it and it looks like fifty --we used CGI and green screen. We hadn't realized that the Lamborghini opens up.  He can't reach the door with his hand. 'I'll use my foot,' he says. His body language is like Jerry Lewis or Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. We did it in two takes. No reverse, no nothing. 'Let's get out of here.'"

'Captain Phillips'
'Captain Phillips'

McQueen choreographed the intense Patsy whipping sequence so that it unfolded in one shot. "It's the crescendo of violence in the picture," said McQueen. "We shot this in one shot so the audience was present while this is happening, not in film time, you are there in real time. Witnessing everything.  We rehearsed the choreography on the location with no marks, to see what the actors do, follow them, and go for it full-heartedly...The whole idea is keeping the energy and the intensity, we wanted to keep the pressure on, if we put a cut in there it would leak out. I don't want the audience to breathe, I want them to be there in the moment. It was a five-minute reel. We shot five takes. The VFX guys joined the camera pan to Michael with the last 56 seconds. It was magic, you were there, you felt it. It's cinema."

Greengrass and his team mapped out three careful phases--with abort positions-- for the approach of the small skiffs up to the huge container ship when the Somalis were going to board. Greengrass didn't like the way the shot looked in a tank, he wanted to shoot it on the real ocean. "I didn't want it in smooth water," he said. "The container ship was moving at high speed. It displaced large amounts of water, they could get sucked under." A Marine expert rehearsed with the Somalis in the boats to bring them alongside. "The phases of approach had to be right before we moved onto the next stage," said Greengrass. Cinematographer Ackroyd was in a skiff alongside shooting with a small maneuverable 16 mm camera. Only one hair-raising jump onto the ship was staged with a stuntman. 

5. Russell shoots in a 360 degree environment. "I like to let a scene explode," said Russell. "I block it, have one camera and a Steadicam with a china ball on a stick with soft light. We live for those moments. These are the keys in the editing room. It all has to be real, intense, no bullshit, and good. We want each color, is it better whispering or screaming? I don't know. We do three or four takes and try all the ways. We have a shorthand. 'Go!' is 'take the brakes off.' Richie is sometimes insecure about his masculinity, he wanted to be powerful and in charge. He wanted to be Irving. [Bradley Cooper would] touch his crotch, 'what just happened?' Suddenly the whole scene got different."

This article is related to: DGA, Directors Guild, Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese, Paul Greengrass, Paul Greengrass, David O. Russell, Steve McQueen, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Awards, Directors Guild Awards

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.