Looking at the people who work on Wall Street in ‘Margin Call’

Marketplace Staff Oct 20, 2011

Looking at the people who work on Wall Street in ‘Margin Call’

Marketplace Staff Oct 20, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: We often use Wall Street as a stand-in for the entire financial system. A giant machine that people jusr don’t understand.

But what if we think about it as a place where people work — where sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t, just like the rest of us.

That’s how JC Chandor thought about Wall Street while he was making his latest movie, “Margin Call.” It opens tomorrow. JC Chandor, welcome to the program.

JC Chandor: Thank you very much.

Ryssdal So I want to go straight, as they say, to the tape on this first question. It’s Kevin Spacey who plays a higher-up in this fictional firm, which is loosely based on Lehman Brothers we should say, talking to his boss, the head of the firm, Jeremy Irons. Let’s hit that tape.

“Sam Rogers” played by Kevin Spacey: The real question who are we selling this to?

“John Tuld” played by Jeremy Irons: The same people we’ve been selling it to for the last two years, and whoever else will buy it.

Rogers: But John, if you do this, you will kill the market for years. It’s over. And you’re selling something that you know has no value.

Tuld: We are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price, so that we may survive.

So first of all, is there anybody better at pure evil than Jeremy Irons? Right? But also, was that necessarily evil? I mean, put yourself in 2008 and yes they did a lot of bad things. But these guys thought that their backs were up against the wall and they were doing, as you have Jeremy Irons saying, what they thought they had to do in order to survive.

Chandor: You know, to give a away a little bit of the movie, Spacey’s character is the one that starts to take on what we as the audience feel is a conscience. And he’s there sort of trying to pump the brakes. The really interesting thing about this scene, the scene you just played, is that the character you actually think is sort the “more evil character” is actually right. We as a shareholder in that company would expect Jeremy Irons’ character to do exactly what he just said there. Now the sort of frustrating/interesting/fascinating thing about the film that we laid out here is that there actually is no pure evil. Each character is simply trying to act on the information that they have before them.

Ryssdal Is it easy now, or are they go-to villains now, Wall Street guys?

Chandor: I think yes, in a certain extent, we are using them as a punching bag in this situation. My feeling was there is always gonna be a whole lot of bad things going on in the margins of the banking industry, just like there are in most industries. This film is not about those individuals. This film was about people kind of in the certain of this system, right in the heart, that actually were not breaking any laws or breaking any regulations. But ethically I think while watching this film, certainly a good portion of the population would think that there is some significant ethical sort of violations going on. The system is there because we allow it to be there as citizens and the exciting thing about what’s going on in people out in the streets right now is that at least people are starting to speak out.

Ryssdal And as long as we’re talking about Occupy Wall Street, which is what you were referring to right there, you can’t buy this kind of timing.

Chandor: No. As I said, three years ago I sat down to write a script and you don’t sort of have the kind of absolute collapse that we had, and my gut said that we weren’t going to be “out of this mess” by the time a movie comes out. But the fact that people feel compelled to protest against this system, to put a film into that environment, so that hopefully to a very small extent you’re getting to have your film join the dialogue.

Ryssdal Yeah, that dialogue seems to me, is getting a tad crowded. I mean, we had “Too Big To Fail.” There’s ‘Wall Street Part 2,’ whatever the subtitle was. There’s no shortage of films out there trying to make sense out of all this stuff.

Chandor: Yeah. And I think ‘Wall Street 2,’ I think it suffered to a certain extent from the size of its budget, almost the opposite that we did with this film. You know, it was an $80 million movie or something and this film, it was a $3 million film. So we were never trying to make a film that would wrap up some entire movement or some entire situation that was going on in the world. We set out to essentially make a small film that looked at what at what point was the heart, or the beginning, of this issue and of this problem and look at the characters in the middle of that.

Ryssdal The film is called “Margin Call” by JC Chandor. He’s the writer and director. JC, thanks a lot.

Chandor: Thank you.

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