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Editor Thelma Schoonmaker On 'Wolf Of Wall Street,' Burning 'Goodfellas' & Continuity Errors

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Dave M. Benett via Getty Images
Dave M. Benett via Getty Images

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is the fifth film Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made together. Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaborated eight times, most recently for 1995's "Casino." (A rumored ninth pairing could be in the works as well.) Add the duos' stats together, though, and the total still pales in comparison to Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. The 74-year-old editor has cut every single Scorsese movie, 18 in all counting Scorsese's contribution to "New York Stories," since 1980's "Raging Bull," winning three Academy Awards for her efforts (for "Bull," "The Aviator" and "The Departed").

"We don't expect to win, but it's nice to be nominated, as they say!" Schoonmaker, who has been nominated seven times overall, told HuffPost Entertainment. "Marty, in my opinion, should have quite a few." (Scorsese has only one Best Director Oscar win, for 2006's "The Departed.")

Schoonmaker could have an eighth Oscar nomination come Thursday, this time for "The Wolf of Wall Street." The end product of her most recent partnership with Scorsese has become one of the most controversial films released during awards season: "Wolf of Wall Street" focuses on the title character, Jordan Belfort, a Long Island con artist who went to jail for 22 months after embezzling millions from his clients. It was money that went to support, among other things, Belfort's drug and sex habits, both of which Scorsese (working from a script by Terence Winter) examines in great detail. The film has been accused of glorifying the excessive lifestyle Belfort led, which star Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Belfort, has compared to "Caligula."

"It's the same kind of reaction we got to 'Raging Bull,' 'Goodfellas' and 'Casino,'" Schoonmaker said about the polarizing film. "It's almost identical."

HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Schoonmaker about "The Wolf of Wall Street," burning "Goodfellas" and why continuity errors are overrated.

Do you think the strong reactions to this film have been exacerbated because of the echo chamber of the internet?
I think so, yes. Oddly enough, it has helped the box office, which wasn't the case before. I particularly remember with "Casino," everyone was like, "It's not 'Goodfellas'!" No, it's not "Goodfellas," that's right; it's a different movie. Now, everyone thinks "Casino" is a masterpiece. We're very used to this.

Being used to it, did you anticipate this debate during the editing process?
I didn't think it would be compared to "Goodfellas" so much. Marty didn't want to make "Goodfellas" again. I didn't expect that. I really didn't. The voice over gives people the feeling that it's the same, but it's very, very different. Even the degree to which people are being hurt is different. The number of people being hurt by the mafia are much less, as brutal as it is and they're murdered. Many, many, many more people are being hurt by the misdemeanors of, not just this gang, but so much that goes on in Wall Street. It seems like every day there's another hedge fund guy -- I can't even keep track of them anymore. It's very symbolic of some severe problems, and certainly we know that people like this brought us down in this terrible economic crash.

It seems that it's easier for some audiences to disassociate from the actions of the gangsters in "Goodfellas" than from what Jordan and his cronies do in "Wolf."
Yes. One of the things that is happening with some of the people who don't like it is [that]. I think what Marty is tapping into here -- why he's soaking you in the world -- is to tweak what is in all of us, probably. The allure of this kind of easy money and excess is probably somewhere in all of us, but fortunately most of us don't respond to it. I wonder if some of the people who react so strongly against the movie are uncomfortable about what they're feeling. Also, Marty never wants to tell you what to think. That, I think, troubles some people who are not going with the movie. They're saying, "Wait a minute. What am I supposed to make of this?" Well, you're supposed to make of this what you feel. Look at what you are seeing and you make the judgement. The film, though, is also making a judgement. I feel that strongly. If you don't think that girl's head being shaved is a way to show you how horrible this is, then you're missing something in the movie. But maybe some people just resist it and don't want to respond. He doesn't want to tell you what to think, and so many movies these days do tell you what to think. It's really shocking to me.

I think that's part of it too: this is a movie that challenges the audience.
Exactly. My husband, Michael Powell, said the reason the critics always gave him bad reviews -- and this is for masterpiece after masterpiece by the way, at least as they're considered now -- was because the films were always different. He said critics were reviewing 15 films a week and they want to go in and get the review and get out of there. All of a sudden there was something they never conceived of before and they're being asked to feel and think in a different way. It's troubling! "Wait a minute, what is this all about?" I think that's what happens with Marty's movies, and that's why it usually takes 10 years for them to be recognized. At least in the early days. That's happening faster now, fortunately, for the recent ones. [laughs]

You mentioned how people compared "Wolf of Wall Street" to "Goodfellas." Is having "Goodfellas" on the resume a blessing and a curse for you?
It is. It is a curse in a way. All of our films since "Goodfellas," we are constantly being asked, "You know, could you make the last 20 minutes of this film like the last 20 minutes of 'Goodfellas'?" Marty and I look at each other and go, "We're going to have to burn that film!" The Dalai Lama escaping from Communist Chinese troops and going through the Himalayas to India is not on coke! [laughs] You can't make the last 20 minutes of "Kundun" like the last 20 minutes of "Goodfellas." Or even "The Aviator" or "Hugo" or "Shutter Island." It's not applicable. But people have such a strong love of that movie that they can't let go of it. We love it and we're happy that people love it, but it's like Roberto Rossellini, the great Italian director, who made an incredible film called "Paisan" at the end of the war in Italy. He was plagued for the rest of his life. Everybody wanted him to remake that movie and he didn't want to. Marty doesn't want to remake "Goodfellas" either. For me, I was never worried by the connection [to "Wolf"], but it's inevitable.

I know a lot was made about the length of "The Wolf of Wall Street." As the editor, does it bother you to hear people say that it's still too long?
It does. But as you're saying, the film polarizes people. So many people say that it just flew by. I can't tell you how many people told me it flew by and that they want more. I don't know. It's a strange thing. I think if you're with it, it flies by; if you're not, it doesn't. That's just the way Marty's films are. They do polarize people. But it bothers me.

Not to compare "The Wolf of Wall Street" to another Scorsese film, but the way he used music -- stopping songs off in the middle with jarring cuts -- reminded me of "The Departed."
When Marty scores a film himself, he's just a genius at it. He has incredible instinct to putting music to film. The great thing that he was doing here, because of the jagged nature of the movie, was that he could do anything. We didn't have to fade music out, we could just cut it out. Normally, you would fade that music down to make the transition, but Marty said, "No, no, just cut it off." It's representative of the craziness of their lives. They're bombed out of their minds all the time! There was a few things he did with the guitar licks. He said to our sound mixer: I want you to zip up on that and down again. It was noted by two reviewers that there were sound glitches in the film. They weren't glitches. They were deliberate. Marty just decided to shove up the guitar lick.

About that kind of deliberate "mistake": I love the scene where Jordan's first wife confronts him about Naomi, his mistress. He gets out of the limo, which then disappears in wide shot from across the street. Then the limo comes back again when the action returns to the sidewalk. It reminded me of the scene in "Goodfellas" when Paulie is talking to the owner of the Bamboo Lounge and he's smoking a cigar ...
Oh, yes. The famous cigar [long sigh].

Well, you're doing those on purpose, right?
Well, no, not on purpose in that case. The lack of continuity in a movie like this really doesn't matter. It does matter in a movie like "Age of Innocence." There, it's very important. Not here. We don't worry about continuity because when we're doing so many improvs it's better to get the laugh. It's better to get the great lines even if they're in the wrong part of the room. If you look at the great classic films that influenced Marty so much, there are continuity errors all over the place. But who cares? It's ridiculous. People can now stop and say, "Oh, wait, there's an error here!" Who cares? [laughs] I remember at the Oscars in 1991, "Dances with Wolves" won that year, and we were nominated for "Goodfellas." One of my peers said to me, "Why'd you make that bad jump cut?" I said, "Which one? We had about 20 in the film!" He was really upset about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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