How GameStop Nostalgia and COVID Fueled Dumb Money’s Unlikely True Story

Thứ sáu - 17/05/2024 23:42
Director Craig Gillespie and the writers of the film on what it's like adapting a true story from the very recent past.
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There have been plenty of big movies based on true events, but it still stands out that Dumb Money, which opened in limited release this past weekend (it will begin to expand this coming Friday), is telling a story from just two years ago. Sure, you might get a made for Lifetime/ripped from the headline cheapie made quickly, but this is a major studio film with a very notable pedigree in terms of its cast and filmmakers. Notably though, the film’s director, Craig Gillespie, is someone who’s very drawn to true stories in general, having given us projects like I, Tonya, Pam & Tommy and Mike (intermixed with the occasional not-so-true story like Fright Night or Cruella).

Dumb Money focuses on the attention-getting events that occurred when a group of unlikely online investors gathered together via YouTube and Reddit to heavily invest in GameStop, putting the squeeze on the rich and powerful groups who had financially bet that those same shares – and GameStop as a company – would fall. The situation became increasingly fraught, ultimately leading to many, representing both sides, having to speak at congressional hearings about what had occurred and if any wrongdoing had taken place.

Paul Dano stars in the film as Keith Gill, a driving force behind this movement, leading an impressive ensemble that includes Gillespie’s Pam & Tommy alums Nick Offerman, Seth Rogen and Sebastian Stan (Stan also worked with Gillespie on I, Tonya), along with Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, and Shailene Woodley.

Gillespie and the films writers/executive producers, Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo (Orange is the New Black) about telling a story set so recently, why it stood out that it was GameStop at the center of all this, and their approach to explaining the stock situation to those who don’t follow how it all works.


Shailene Woodley and Paul Dano in Dumb Money

Dumb Money was filmed in late 2022, depicting events that primarily occurred between late 2020 to early 2021 and while it was inherently a bit odd to be filming what is, essentially, a modern day period piece, as Lauren Schuker Blum put it “We always see every film as a period piece!” with Rebcca Angelo elaborating, “If you do it right, every movie is a period piece. It gives you a profound sense of time and place.”

Of course, recent history has been pretty eventful, to say the least, which helped the Dumb Money creators hone in on the specifics of what it felt like as these events occurred. The film brings us not so far back to the vivid and frightening time when the pandemic was first running rampant while vaccines weren’t yet available and depicts how people spending more time at home and more time online than usual would have an extra incentive to become connected to a situation like this and also push back against those they saw profiting from the downtrodden.

In Dumb Money, we see how Keith connects to people on his YouTube channel while a larger group distributes the messaging about GameStop on the WallStreetBets subreddit and how many were affected by the ensuing questionable actions of Robinhood Markets, whose CEO, Vlad Tenev, is played by Sebsastian Stan in the film. And as Craig Gillespie explained, he was very keyed in on what was happening during all of this because he had a personal connection to it.

Director Craig Gillespie on the set of Dumb Money

Said Gillespie, “It was so tangible to me, because I had actually lived this experience with my son, who was living with us during COVID. He was 24 at the time, and he was on WallStreetBets very early, and went through this whole journey. He was in, he had options, he got out at the right time… But the intensity and the frustration that was going on on that Reddit page with the 8 million followers, when Robinhood did the freeze on the buy option, when WallStreetBets was shut down by Reddit, the tweets from like Elon Musk, the tweets from Mark Cuban… All of this stuff was happening in real time in our household and incredibly intense. And ultimately left with this sort of sense of outrage and frustration with how it all transpired at the end of the day with the congressional hearings.”

Angelo said that while this period was filled with traumatizing events, when it came to writing the script, it helped “to kind of be living out some of the events that we depicted on screen as they were happening. It allowed us to really feel what the characters were feeling, to be along for the ride, because our goal in writing the movie was to take viewers along for the ride. So even if you don’t care about the stock market or want to know about buying stocks, you don’t have to understand any of that. It’s a human story and to feel so close to it and to see ourselves in these stories made it, I think, easier and more fun and more compelling to write this.”

Both writers said there was what Blum described as “an element of method writing” involved, given how topical it all was, with plenty of parallels between what was happening onscreen and off. For example, Anthony Ramos’ character – a GameStop employee who buys stocks in the company – is reminded by his boss to make sure his mask is covering his nose, just as “Our own bosses were telling us to put the mask over our nose all the time,” said Angelo.

Anthony Ramos in Dumb Money

Given the nature of the story, one challenge, Blum noted, was “To make sure we were staying current. The story is still ongoing, right? You’re reading about meme stocks every day. And so it was a challenge to know where to end the movie. But we really saw the structure as kind of like a sports film. You have a very charismatic leader who through belief and hard work amasses a team of followers that has this kind of championship game in the [congressional] hearing. And that hearing really became a great moment for us to have this face off between characters who had never met, and will never meet in real life, to actually interact.”

Gillespie said he kept in mind that this was all happening “against this backdrop of COVID, which is something that was so life-changing for everyone. I sort of relish the opportunity to be able to jump in and analyze all of that, because all of this happened because of COVID, because we all had a second to step back and reassess our lives. And you really got the sense of the disparity of wealth that is going on in the country with social media and with the flaunting of certain things. And then there were these social causes like the Black Lives Matter movement. There was a lot of hardship, there was a lack of government aid happening, there were so many things that came together that made this a moment outside of the stock market. So having the opportunity to examine what we’ve just been through was really interesting to me.”


Paul Dano stars in Dumb Money

One notable thing about this story as it occurred was the mere fact that it was centered on GameStop stock, a store many were familiar with but which was struggling in a time when not only were retail stores in general often in danger, thanks to the rise in online shopping, but also enduring everyone staying at home due to COVID, which made things even dicier.

Angelo felt the GameStop of it all definitely helped amplify the situation, remarking, “I used to go to GameStop stores all the time; I loved playing video games as a kid. And the notion of Wall Street folks just looking at a balance sheet or looking at the EBITDA of a store that was so important to me in my childhood and just saying ‘Burn it to the ground,’ I think that is personal. Like I take that personally, and I think a lot of people do, too… I think it’s more than just the galling reality of rich people profiting off of a terrible moment when stores were forced to close and people were stuck in their homes. It’s also like, you’re coming for me, you’re coming for my community, you’re coming for my childhood, you’re coming for things that I have good memories of!”

Angelo and Blum noted this wasn’t to say GameStop made no mistakes, with Angelo adding, “I get it, Gamestop didn’t pivot quickly enough to digital sales. But also, does that mean that it deserves to be immediately burned to the ground? Or maybe does it deserve a little bit more time? Do these stores that mean something to people deserve a little bit more time?”

Seth Rogen in Dumb Money

Replied Blum, “Yeah, we talked about the movement as giving Gamestop time. It wasn’t like everyone said ‘This is a great company that’s going to just flourish forever in the future!’ But it deserves a moment. And I think the pandemic also made everyone see and understand shorting in a very different way, right? Wall Street is betting these companies are going to fail at a moment where everyone was struggling and faced with challenges. And this idea of then just taking, just beating them when they’re down, felt heartbreaking to a lot of people and really unfair.”

Gillespie said he also felt everything was amplified by Keith Gill’s YouTube persona and online fame as “Roaring Kitty,” observing, “There was this sort of sweetness to him and naivety. Even though he’s very intelligent, obviously, there was an earnestness that I think people really responded to. And the Internet can be very, very critical and tough at times. And it can really sniff out BS. And there was none of that with him… This was a movement that started with 400,000 followers and bloomed to 8 million in the space of like eight weeks.”


(L-R) Aaron Ryder (Producer), Rebecca Angelo (Writer/Executive Producer), Craig Gillespie (Director), Lauren Schuker Blum (Writer/Executive Producer) and Teddy Schwarzman (Producer) at the Dumb Money screening at the Toronto International Film Festival

Any movie based around a story involving stocks and shorts will need to deal with the fact that some people just don’t understand that world at all. So the question becomes how you handle that in an entertaining film “Without putting Margot Robbie in a bathtub?” as Angelo joked, in reference to The Big Short’s memorable manner of explaining such things.

Said Blum, “Ultimately, when we were researching this, we realized the movement was by people for other people and that they actually taught themselves about shorts and short squeezes, like a TikTok on WallStreetBets, and so it felt right for the story to bring those pieces, those videos, into the movie. And to say ‘You know, let’s have people from the movement explain this to the audience,’ as opposed to us talking down to the audience.”

Sebastian Stan in Dumb Money

So indeed, in the film, the situation is explained a bit by characters like America Ferrera’s financially struggling nurse, Jenny Campbell, speaking to a friend about it all, but with even more background conveyed by actual footage of people recorded at the time posted on social media (and in one case, a bit of a Stephen Colbert segment about it).

Angelo observed that, typically, when it comes to finance movies, “Very often, they’re done from a top down perspective where it’s the absolute elite, the greatest geniuses on Wall Street seeing things that other people don’t, or the greatest criminals on Wall Street seeing things that other people don’t. This is a grassroots movie. This is a movie about the bottom up, the regular man and woman teaching each other, figuring this stuff out and coming together. So it felt really important to us that the voices come from that community and not be, like, we as a filmmaking team… We weren’t going to talk down to our audience, we were gonna have the audience learn along with us.”

Vincent D'Onofrio in Dumb Money

Said Blum, “We looked to the films of Frank Capra and the tradition of populace cinema for that because it’s a movie about regular people. And we wanted to kind of go back to what he invented, which is you don’t have to be a billionaire to lead a meaningful life. And there’s a lot of meaning in America Ferrera’s character.”

Angelo said they felt these characters, Angelo said they led “A life worthy of cinema. A life worthy of the big screen. Your value as a human isn’t determined by your bank account, it’s determined by your choices and your actions and your conviction.”

Dumb Money is now playing in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, and San Francisco and expands into additional markets on September 22 and September 29.

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