When it comes to Martin Scorsese, controlled, impassioned aggression is the name of his game, with films such as Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and even Goodfellas – to some extent – expressing violent stories and characters who always seem to have a controlled edge. When it comes to 2013’s culturally groundbreaking film The Wolf of Wall Street, however, excess was the key focus, with drugs, sex and money at the centre of the narrative.
Based on the real-life accounts of rogue entrepreneur Jordan Belfort in his book The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese’s film follows the rise of the wealthy stockbroker to his fall when he becomes involved in crime and corruption. It’s a wild ride that joins in the debauchery of Belfort and his gang of stockbrokers, never really questioning the morality of his actions in favour of clinging onto his coattails.
Shot mostly digitally instead of on film, despite Scorsese being a vocal supporter of celluloid, the director’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker expressed her disappointment, stating: “It would appear that we’ve lost the battle. I think Marty just feels it’s unfortunately over, and there’s been no bigger champion of film than him”. After extensive comparison tests during pre-production, eventually, much of the film was shot on film stock, with each of the scenes needing a green screen to be shot on digital.
Containing 400–450 VFX shots, Martin Scorsese masterfully merges new age technologies with old school filming techniques to create a film that seems to exist somewhere in-between, showing how far crime has come since the days of 1990s Goodfellas. Though, in the lives of high-rolling criminals, some things never change, with cocaine remaining the drug of choice for wealthy businessmen and the elite of the time, with plenty of the white stuff going round in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.
As the film’s cast was required to snort so much of the substance on camera, the production went through an astonishing amount of prop-cocaine, which in actuality was just crushed-up B vitamins. Shockingly Jonah Hill, who plays Belfort’s right-hand man Donnie Azoff, inhaled so much of the ‘drug’ that he even had to be hospitalised, contracting bronchitis as a result of all the snorting.
So eager to work with Scorsese, Jonah Hill was willing to take a pay cut to free up some of the film’s budget and was allegedly paid just $60,000 for his performance compared to the $10 million that was given to lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
Along with the copious amount of prop cocaine snorted throughout the film, The Wolf of Wall Street also held the Guinness World Record for the most instances of swearing in a motion picture upon its release, with the word “fuck” being used 569 times in the film. The record was previously held by Scorsese’s 1995 gangster film Casino, which had 422 uses of the word.
For a film all about drugs, money and excess, it seems as though Scorsese pushed the project just about as far as it could go.