When reading the script for “Hustlers,” cinematographer Todd Banhazl instantly recognized it as “a gangster movie” in the vein of Martin Scorsese‘s “GoodFellas” (1990). And he thought “that’s how it should be made.” Luckily, writer-director Lorene Scafaria felt the same way. Watch our exclusive video interview with Banhazl above.
Based on a widely read New York Magazine article, this STX Films release tells the true story of a group of savvy strippers (led by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu) who decided to fleece well-off Wall Street clients, drugging them and running up their credit cards to keep themselves afloat after the 2008 financial crash caused by some of those same Wall Street types. The movie has turned into one of the biggest surprises at the fall box office, raking in over $100 million domestically against a $20 million budget.
In Banhazl’s conversations with Scafaria, the word that kept coming up was “control.” So the question was, “How do we represent control: these characters trying to maintain control and gain control in their lives?” The director and cinematographer also talked in-depth about “how to photograph women and these kinds of characters in a way that feels right to us, a way that isn’t normally shown in films.”
To achieve this, Banhazl approached the characters “like they are athletes.” He also wanted to film them as “criminals we are rooting for,” much like in “GoodFellas” or in other movies where “you are allowed to root for characters simply because it’s admirable to want power,” and you like to “see people obtaining power in ways that are impressive.” Unfortunately, this is “normally reserved for male characters.” The DP also leveled the gender playing field by avoiding “the male gaze,” choosing instead to use low angles and “Godfather”-esque lighting to give the characters a sense of dominance rather than objectification.
Besides his work on feature films, Banhazl is also known for his music video cinematography, most notably his work with Lorde, Janelle Monae and John Legend. He’s next scheduled to shoot the upcoming Marvel movie “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
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