Thelma Schoonmaker talks cutting 'Wolf of Wall Street' improv and learning from Martin Scorsese
It's interesting because there are actually a number of movies this year that speak to that, with photography and editing of great patience. "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" let shots play out, for instance.
Good. Probably "Nebraska," too, right? And the Coen brothers'?
That's an amazing movie, "Inside Llewyn Davis." And interesting editorially because of the live singing and the lack of a click track. So they're cutting…
…multiple takes. Yeah, that's hard. That's like cutting improvisation in our movie. It is hard but it's tremendous fun and really worth it. But it is hard. I was brought up on it, you know? I mean, "Raging Bull," two of the greatest improvisers in the world, De Niro and Pesci. So I always loved it. And the documentary training was helpful because you're given a slew of footage of a documentary and you have to find the story. And so that was the case with some of the "Raging Bull" improvisations, that I had to find a dramatic structure in it. And similarly here [in "The Wolf of Wall Street"], I mean these guys were just – once Marty saw he had this formidable body of people, we could improvise, he just decided to be very brave and let them go, you know, within a framework. And they all say that he was laughing a lot of times because there was so much great stuff happening. The sound man said his laughter is on the track, but I never had a problem with it, and of course, the actors, when they hear Marty laugh, that's great. They were so wonderful the way they worked together as a team and kicked each other off. Jonah Hill is just brilliant at it.
[MILD "WOLF OF WALL STREET" SPOILERS]
Well, the sequence that everyone will be talking about, obviously — the quaaludes sequence — is just great. Everyone erupted into applause at my screening after that scene.
I was very surprised to hear that. That rarely happens. Yeah, I heard that. I think it was Jonah told me that people applauded after that. It must've been the same – was he there?
He was sitting right in front of me, actually.
Oh, he was? Was that the first time he saw it?
That's what I was told, yeah. But it's such an extended sequence. It's like a little movie in the movie.
That's right, that's right. And Marty was quite adamant about the long shot of him crawling towards the car. He took no close-ups, no frontal angles. He said, "No, I want to hold on that part," because that's the humor, his body language and opening it and his leg getting stuck up. And the great thing I love is when he finally does pull himself in and his wife is telling him that Donnie's on the phone with Switzerland and he's trying to talk to her. And then finally he pulls his two legs in. It's all just silent film comedy, really.
Does it feel like it's been this long working with Marty?
No, not at all.
Does it feel like yesterday for you?
It does seem like yesterday, because he's so – he's never boring. He never repeats himself. Every film is a new challenge and he's such a fascinating person to be around. I mean, very up and down, you know? He can be very moody, usually when someone's messing with his art. But he's so fascinating. And then it's like being in the greatest film school in the world because we have on the – we look this way when we're editing and on the right we have TCM on silent. So we're watching, constantly, classic movies. And every once in a while he'll turn over and say, "Wait a minute, look, there's a great shot coming up. This director did this great thing here." So, you know, it's like being in the greatest film school in the world as well.
Maybe there's some osmosis or something going on there!
Yeah. It's inspiration. So every once in a while we look over. It's so intense and fascinating. It's an extraordinary thing to be around him. Both of us don't feel our age, also, which is rather staggering when you think of it! We've had a very rich life, my God. Between him and then my husband, who he introduced me to — Michael Powell, the great British film director — I've had the best job in the world and the best husband in the world. So, I mean, what more can you ask for?