How a Casting Agency Found the Cars of American Hustle
Martin Scorcese’s GoodFellas and Casino set the tone for all crime dramas that followed, and for better or worse, when directors make movies like this, the music and the cars have to be 100 percent right. Set in 1977, David O. Russell’s American Hustle is no exception, and we’ve got a look at the cars in the movie, and learned how a casting agency in Boston found the perfect cars for the film.
The story is this: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia. It’s a barely fictionalized account of the Abscam scandal; an FBI sting operation that eventually led to the conviction of a US Senator, six members of the US House of Representatives, one member of the New Jersey State Senate, six members of the Philadelphia City Council, and an inspector for the INS.
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The movie is set in and around New York, but principal filming took place in the cities of Worcester, Woburn and Medford, and the town of Natick– all in Massachusetts.
Russell filmed The Fighter in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts, and came to appreciate Massachusetts’ former industrial giants as film locations. “You go to Worcester… What else looks like the ’70s like that?” Russell said for an article with the Massachusetts Film Office. “It’s hard to find actual streets that look like the ’70s. To me, it’s a gold mine.”
Massachusetts wasn't always a hot film location. Only a handful of popular movies were filmed there in the 1960s and 1970s (most notably, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and The Thomas Crown Affair). But since 2007, when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provided a tax break for companies to film there, Boston’s been appearing in a lot of major movies.
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So the setting worked, but what about the cars? The trouble of course, is that Boston isn’t Los Angeles in terms of car culture. If you’re setting your movie in the 1970s and early 1980s like American Hustle, you need cars that work for that era. It snows a lot of the year in Massachusetts, and a lot of vintage cars were claimed by rust. The job to source all the cars for the movie fell to Boston Casting, a casting agency in Boston that also worked with Russell on The Fighter.
Ashley Skomurski at Boston Casting was involved in casting these particular cars, so we sat down to talk with her about the process. For her, it was primarily a job of casting with a twist: “The way most movies end up using cars is by hiring people to work as extras WITH their cars,” she says. “So every car came with a driver. Since we’re hiring extras with cars, it’s left to the extras casting department. So not only do the cars get to be a part of the movie, the owners do too.”
For a movie like American Hustle, the cars set a very specific period in time, so they need to be right. In a case like Breaking Bad, set in the present day, you have a lot more leeway, but for American Hustle, Ashley says that the production gives the agency a breakdown of what it needs for the film to work. “We are given a breakdown by production of what time period we are working with and then the extras casting directors start searching for people with those cars,” she says.
“After we've gathered a good selection of people with period cars - we bring it to production where the art department goes through and decides which cars work with the look of the film.”
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Then it’s about how those particular cars are going to be used. For example, the Cadillac Eldorado driven by Jeremy Renner’s character – Carmine Polito, based on former Mayor of Camden, New Jersey Angelo Errichetti – Boston Casting found a more upscale, luxury car in top condition to fit the bill.
In other scenes where cars are just setting a street scene or filling the background, the requirements are less stringent. They still have to be of the time period, but, Ashley notes “we try to use the more ‘beat up’ cars to set the scene of a more rundown area.”
In general, though, Ashley notes that the production drove the quality of the cars. “It was very important that the cars were appropriate for the time period and place we were shooting. We were given guidelines on what his vision was for the scene and it was up to us to make it happen,” she says.
Interestingly, rather than having to go out and find each individual car, Boston Casting had an open casting call that it tweeted out, put up on its blog and posted on its Facebook page. “Many of the cars we found through our casting calls were used in the film,” Ashley says.
People may be leery of having their cars used in a movie like this, but since Boston Casting is actually looking for extras with cars, it’s a way to get a feel for how a film production works, while still keeping an eye on your precious automobile. “[Interested classic car owners] should definitely get in our database!” says Ashley. “You never know when opportunities like this are going to come up. Go to www.bostoncasting.com to join. Post a picture of the car and list the year, make and model. Once they’re in there, we will contact them the next time a period project comes up that their car might be right for.”
A note on photos: Along with the pictures we used from IMCdB.com, we got outstanding photos of some of the cars on location in Worcester from Kim Allen, who writes the blog The Curious Birder on blogspot. Her main focus is birdwatching, but she’s local to Worcester, and was on Main Street in town when the movie was being filmed. She provided some great shots of the cars on location. Thanks, Kim!
Image Sources: IMCdB.com, kitchenwindowbirder.blogspot.com