'Wolf Of Wall Street' Cinematographer Talks Filming Tricks for Buzzy Quaaludes Scenes

Director of photography Rodrigo Prieto tells THR how he paralleled shots with Jordan Belfort's feelings and created the effect of Leonardo DiCaprio's depressant.

The Wolf of Wall Street cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto -- who earned an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain and shot last year's Oscar winner Argo -- has a reputation for using various cameras and formats to great effect, and his latest outing with Martin Scorsese is no different.

Based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, the film follows Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) from his early days on Wall Street in 1987 through his indictment in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering.

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To tell this story, Prieto tested both film and digital formats. "We ending up preferring the skin tones on film; most of it was shot on film," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "But the visual effects had already been budgeted, and the workflow had been planned."

Prieto noted that the film's VFX supervisor, Rob Legato, suggested using the Arri Alexa digital camera for the green screen shots. (The Alexa was also used to shoot Scorsese's 3D Hugo, which was lensed by Oscar-winner Robert Richardson with Oscar-winner Legato handling the VFX.)

"I found it could intercut with film negative well," Prieto said. "Since we were already digital for those sections, I also used low light and Alexa to film the scenes in his apartment where we wanted to show the city outside at night. We also tinted the windows in these shots."

Throughout the shoot, he used the photography to reflect what Belfort was experiencing during the progression of time. "We used anamorphic lenses with shallow depth of field for his lack of clarity, and spherical lenses and more depth of field for sharpness of clarify."

Prieto's favorite scenes occur in a restaurant and a disco, while Belfort is taking Quaaludes before getting on an overnight flight to Switzerland. "We talked about how to make the audience feel somewhat what he was feeling without it being cheesy or overdone," he said. "I distorted the image. Quaaludes are a downer; it relaxes the muscles. To capture his experience, for several moments, we used the Alexa shooting 12 frames per second and using the shutter at 360 degrees. So the frame was blurred. … We also used a filter for enhanced flares and strobing."

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He also shot 12 fps for parts of a scene during which Belfort takes too many Quaaludes and the effects hit him while he's on a pay phone at a country club -- a scene that has had people talking since the previews.

"During the first part, when the Quaaludes start kicking in, we used a Probe lens -- a tiny lens like a tube that allowed us to be extremely close to [DiCaprio's] month, which created distortion," Prieto said. "We also shot him through the silver reflection of the phone. When he falls backward, we had him on a rig with the camera attached to him.

"At the end, what the audience takes away is the hilarious nature of Leonardo's physical performance."

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA