Dumb Money is a mid-budget, formula-busting film intended for thinking people that should no longer be made, let alone given a major, studio-backed release in theaters.

It tells the bizarre true story of retail investors — a nurse, students, a YouTube personality named Roaring Kitty — who created a buzz around struggling video game retailer GameStop during the pandemic on Wall Street. Determined to teach professional investors a lesson and hopefully get rich in the process, they drove GameStop shares to stratospheric levels in early 2021, at times pressuring sophisticated hedge funds that had been betting that GameStop shares would fall.

The $30 million film, directed by Craig Gillespie (“Cruella”), features devastating portrayals of real-life Wall Street figures like Kenneth C. Griffin, the Citadel titan; Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager and New York Mets owner; and Gabe Plotkin, whose hedge fund lost billions in the crisis. In one colorful scene, Mr. Cohen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, sits in a mansion, sniffing a club sandwich and snorting with laughter while talking on the phone with Mr. Plotkin, played by Seth Rogen.

“I honestly can’t tell if it’s you or Romeo,” Mr. Plotkin says, referring to Mr. Cohen’s pet pig. The camera cuts to the animal. Mr. Cohen gleefully throws deli meat on the carpet for her to eat.

What makes “Dumb Money” even more unusual is the fact that the film was financed and produced by Teddy Schwarzman, whose father, Stephen A. Schwarzman, is also a Wall Street superpower and CEO of Blackstone, the private equity firm Giants manage more than $1 trillion. Without Teddy Schwarzman’s last-minute investment – he stepped in with the financing after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer refused – there would be no “Dumb Money,” according to former Wall Street Journal reporters Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum Wrote the script and served as executive producers.

“When no one else believed in this movie, Teddy stepped up pretty heroically,” Ms. Blum said.

The “Dumb Money” poster features stacks of cash in what looks like an obscene hand gesture, along with the words “Dear Wall Street.” What does Mr. Schwarzman’s father think about this? And what do the business people caricatured in the film think?

“I’m very, very excited to see what they’re going to say,” said Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of Sony’s film group, which will premiere the R-rated film “Dumb Money” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday. “I know the film was carefully researched.” (Translation: Sony’s lawyers are ready.)

Stephen Schwarzman declined to comment. So did Mr. Griffin and Mr. Cohen. Mr. Plotkin did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2011, 44-year-old Teddy Schwarzman founded a film company that has since delivered arthouse hits like “The Imitation Game,” which grossed $234 million worldwide in 2014 and was nominated for eight Oscars. (The film won for Graham Moore’s screenplay.) In an interview, Schwarzman emphasized that he had no particular interest in making Wall Street look bad.

“It’s never about my thoughts and my feelings,” Mr. Schwarzman said of the films he has made. “It’s about the material: What does this saying mean and how effective is it at what it’s trying to do? Is it a piece of content that can stand out in its genre and do something new and special?”

“‘Dumb Money’ is a comedic and exciting examination of what’s going on in our world between Main Street and Wall Street,” he added.

Asked whether his father or another Wall Street figure had contacted him directly or indirectly to complain about “dumb money,” Mr. Schwarzman shook his head.

Sony, which bought the distribution rights to “Dumb Money” from Mr. Schwarzman, is planning a slow theatrical release of the film starting next Friday. Sony expects “Dumb Money” to be playing on at least 2,500 screens in the US and Canada by September 29th. A release of this magnitude typically requires a marketing campaign costing more than $20 million. (Sony wouldn’t say how much it will spend.)

It’s a big gamble. “The Big Short,” the 2015 film about the greedy architects of the 2008 financial crisis, earned five Oscar nominations and $133 million in global ticket sales. (It cost about $28 million to make.) Since then, however, due in part to the pandemic, viewers have become accustomed to streaming these types of films at home, leaving theaters to play mostly big-budget franchise spectacles.

“Originality works in cinema when it has a cultural urgency, and there’s a tremendous amount in this story that speaks to the particular cultural moment we find ourselves in – the explosion of discontent,” said Mr. Rothman, Sony’s chief executive.

The cast includes Paul Dano, America Ferrera, Pete Davidson, Anthony Ramos and Shailene Woodley. Normally, such a line-up would lead to promotional appearances in settings such as “Saturday Night Live,” talk shows and social media platforms.

But Hollywood actors are on strike. Their union has banned promotional activities for virtually all completed films until the standoff is resolved, and no talks have been scheduled. (The writers are also on strike, with no end in sight. It’s not lost on the writers that “Dumb Money,” about a populist uprising, is coming out while they’ve been picketing.)

Familiarity with the GameStop investing saga or even the basics of high finance is not a requirement to watch “Dumb Money.” The film unfolds as a relatively simple David and Goliath story – set to a sometimes profane hip-hop and rock soundtrack, with real Reddit threads, TikTok memes and TV news footage occasionally crossing the screen in unconventional ways littered.

“To quote the great Billy Friedkin, we wanted the film to feel like a bat out of hell,” said Ms. Angelo, the co-writer, referring to the famed director who died last month.

Mr. Gillespie, the director, is known for quirky, comedic films (“Lars and the Real Girl,” 2007) with exuberant pacing (“I, Tonya,” 2017) that sometimes veer toward mockumentaries. “Dumb Money” presents a unique challenge, he said, because the story is told through a large cast of characters, many of whom have lives that never intersect.

“We have 12 different characters and a complicated background,” he said. “The priority has always been to get to the heart of the matter and get to the heart of the emotion, which is this frustration and utter outrage at the wealth inequality that exists in this country.”

The GameStop surge was partly due to boredom. Working at home or unemployed during the pandemic, new investors opened brokerage accounts and got caught up in the endless online hype surrounding certain stocks.

Mr. Gillespie’s son Miles was one of them. “He made about 50 times his investment,” Mr. Gillespie said of his son’s GameStop bet. “He actually timed it perfectly.”

Excited, Mr. Gillespie then invested money in the company – just in time as the stock plummeted. “My timing was completely wrong,” he said. Mr. Gillespie declined to say how much he had lost. “The point is, I was emotionally invested in this story,” he said.

“Dumb Money” debuted in January 2021, with producer Aaron Ryder (“Arrival”) twiddling his thumbs during a 14-day pandemic quarantine in Canada. He had come across conversations about GameStop on Reddit, and then his phone rang. It was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was owned by Anchorage Capital, a New York investment firm headed by Kevin Ulrich. Mr. Ulrich also served as chairman of MGM.

“He thought the GameStop story would make a cool movie,” Mr. Ryder recalls.

Mr. Ryder took action. Through a contact, he had learned that Ben Mezrich, who wrote the Facebook origins book that served as the source material for the film “The Social Network,” was working on a book proposal about the GameStop phenomenon.

“I just begged and pleaded and maybe lied a little bit to get this,” Mr. Ryder said. He succeeded and began assembling a creative team, including Ms. Angelo and Ms. Blum, who eventually based their script on Mr. Mezrich’s book, “The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall The Road Goes.” on your knees.”

However, in the spring of 2021, Anchorage sold MGM to Amazon and “Dumb Money” suddenly found itself in limbo. “In the end, the project was a kind of orphanage that no one wanted to own,” Mr. Schwarzman said.

At the time, “Dumb Money” was expected to cost up to $40 million to produce. Mr. Ryder and Mr. Schwarzman cut the budget and secured tax refunds from New Jersey, where much of the 31-day filming would take place.

Mr. Schwarzman subsequently sold certain distribution rights to Sony for an estimated $16 million. His company, Black Bear, sold additional rights to foreign distributors, providing a solid financial foundation for the film before it even hit theaters.

The irony is that Mr. Schwarzman is what Hollywood has long called “dumb money,” a wealthy, often gullible outsider who has been bitten by the movie bug. But he might get the last laugh. As he told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 in an article about heirs to family fortunes living in Hollywood, “The idea is that dumb money is smarter.”

Source : www.nytimes.com

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