The skills of the Diamond Marching Band caught the eye of movie producer Martin Scorsese, who directed “The Wolf of Wall Street,” soon to be released in theaters. Scorsese sought out the band to be featured in the film, in which they perform in their underwear.
“This all was very exciting,” said Matthew Brunner, an assistant professor at the Boyer College of Music and Dance and director of the Diamond Marching band. “It was one of those ‘someone who knew someone else who knew of us’ moments, and they passed our name along to the music coordinator.”
Brunner said the opportunity for the Diamond Marching Band came as a surprise.
“Out in Hollywood, the University of Southern California [Trojan] Marching Band is frequently asked to appear in movies because they are a great band and right there in Los Angeles,” Brunner said. “Since we are so close to New York, I was hoping in the future that would happen for us. I honestly didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”
The movie is based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography about his life finding success on Wall Street, in which he recalls his rise to becoming a wealthy stockbroker, his involvement in illegal activities, corruption, fraud and his distasteful relationship with the federal government.
The Diamond Marching Band appears alongside an A-list cast, including actors Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film depicts the wild and unabashed lifestyle of successful Wall Street investors.
“The movie is just as crazy as [Belfort’s] life was,” Brunner said. “The book seemed to be a bit of a confessional about the wasteful spending of some guys on Wall Street and how those with money could get people to do anything.”
Belfort illegally made billions of dollars on Wall Street. Because he had more money than he knew what to do with, he often hosted lavish parties involving drugs and prostitutes.
The Diamond Marching Band’s appearance comes during a party thrown by Belfort.
“That’s where our scene came from – people with money that could get others to do anything,” Brunner said. “Told to me by one of the assistant directors, the backstory you won’t see in the movie was that the company had a big month and Belfort hired a marching band to come in and play in the office. One of his guys came out and saw the band members and said, ‘Hey, if you take off your uniforms and come in dressed in your hats and underwear, I’ll double what you’re making.’ The band members were already making a lot for this gig and they hesitated a bit, so the guy said, ‘OK, I’ll triple it’ and pulled out a huge wad of cash.”
Twenty of the college musicians were selected to be in the movie and spent numerous hours over the course of several days to film one short scene.
“The scene isn’t longer than five minutes, but took an entire day of filming and a day before that for costumes, determining how we were going to march into the room and all that,” said Doug Friese, head of the band’s drummers. “If we were doing this every day we’d be bored. It was cold because you’re only wearing your underwear and staying there for the entire day. I had to put a huge smile on my face when I came marching out.”
Friese’s face can be seen in the official movie trailer – he’s the first band member to enter the scene, holding a baton. Other band members featured in the movie had similar reactions to working on the film.
“It was an eye-opening experience [about] how quickly Hollywood moves,” said Derek Witzel, a tuba player in the Diamond Marching Band.
“The first day we went there was to practice and to be sized in what we were going to be using as far as undergarments,” Witzel said. “Once we finished practicing and recording they separated us by gender and had a few of us at a time go into the room to see what we were going to use. When I got in it was quite the shock because they literally said, ‘OK, well, drop your pants.’”
The nerves of working on a major film were heightened by their exposing costumes, students said. Members of the Diamond Marching Band weren’t coerced into performing while scantily clad.
“Getting on the set for the first time was extremely weird because I was meeting all of these extras and actors while I was in underwear and a tuba,” Witzel said. “As we tried a few times to complete the scene the people in charge were amazed at how quickly we understood what we were supposed to do as far as marching around the room in an orderly fashion. After the first shot we were all fairly comfortable as far as being in our underwear, because at that moment, the strippers were introduced to the scene and they had [on] less than we did.”
The scene was shot in about 12 hours during the course of two days and was comprised of about 200 people, including the band, extras and actors. Despite being in their underwear and working hard on set, the band said it was a memorable experience.
“Overall, I enjoyed this opportunity to the fullest and it truly was a life-changing experience,” Witzel said.
Brunner said the students had an opportunity to showcase their skills as musicians and as people with a passion for what they do.
“How many people will get to say they worked with an Academy Award-winning director in their lifetime?” Brunner said. “My guess is not many, but some members of the Diamond Band sure can.”
Shayna Kleinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.