Watching David taken on Goliath never gets old. That much is apparent watching Dumb Money, the smart, very funny new film (in theaters now) that takes the infamous 2021 GameStop saga, during which an army of retail investors led by a kind of Reddit messiah named Keith Gill managed to outfox some of Wall Street’s biggest fish to create billions of dollars in value for what was seen as a has-been shopping-mall dinosaur. As Emily Stewart wrote in T&C in that year, “It’s a tale as old as time in business: One group of aggressive interlopers targets another group, and they fight it out. One comes out ahead; the other gets run over. Historically, however, one of the groups isn’t a loose amalgamation of strangers on the internet, nor is it led into battle in part by a pied piper who calls himself Roaring Kitty and streams investment hot takes from his basement.”
If a few more years had gone by, perhaps the story of Gill and GameStop would have faded into obscurity. But with the story fresh in our collective consciousness and the battle between the haves and have-nots still raging—on Wall Street, sure, but also in Hollywood and beyond—instead the story, adapted for the big screen by writers and executive producers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, directed by Craig Gillespie, and starring Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley, America Ferrera, Seth Rogen, and Pete Davidson, among others, makes for one of the year’s most fascinating and enjoyable movie-theater experiences.
Here, Blum and Angelo explain how the story went from a Massachusetts basement to the big screen.
How did you realize that the GameStop story was one that could become a compelling movie?
Lauren Schuker Blum: We followed this story like anyone else watching the news did. We heard the word GameStop and thought, what’s happening around this videogame store in the mall? But so much of the story explained how we’ve gotten to where we are as a country, and it was an incredible way into one of the most galling problems of our time, income inequality.
Rebecca Angelo: Lauren and I got our start as reporters and we transitioned into screenwriting 11 years ago, but we still carry that reporting skillset with us. We tend to be curious about what’s going on in the world and we look for opportunities to tell stories that reveal bigger things about how we live. We also like an audience to leave a theater a bit more optimistic than pessimistic, which rules out almost every contemporary story. So, when we saw this situation play out, and then when producers came to us with the idea of turning it into a movie, we realized it wasn’t just a story of the week but a profoundly human story that has a hero you can actually root for.
LSB: We’ve always been drawn to populist movements online, which are a dominant force shaping our culture but aren’t the most cinematic. Those moments are often led by narcissists, but this was led by a hero, a reluctant leader but a leader. Our curiosity around him and why he resonated with so many people is really what inspired the story.
That hero has more or less disappeared. Keith Gill is decidedly out of the public eye these days. Did you ever worry that he’d do something to upend your version of him before the film was released?
LSB: He wasn’t in this for fame or even money, really. We’re not surprised he stayed out of the public eye.
RA: Every movie, when it’s done right, is a period piece. So, this movie has a profound sense of time and place, and this story happened to be recent history, but we had to give it a beginning, middle, and end to put our arms around it. So, if Keith had done something out of character recently, it’d have been fascinating but hopefully it wouldn’t undo the message of the film.
LSB: We’ve also watched as this story has become timelier and more urgent. The frustration about a lack of transparency from Wall Street is still visible as a frustration with a lack of transparency in Hollywood.
How do you take a real situation like this and adapt it in a way that it works as a film?
LSB: We always come in with two hats, one as journalists and the one as screenwriters. We don’t invent anything we don’t have to.
RA: We begin by learning everything that happened, and getting behind the eyes of all of the real people involved and understanding what led them to act in the way they did. When we got this job, we jumped into Reddit and read thousands of posts, we talked to everyone who would talk to us, and once we had those fact assembled, we made it into a movie. And yes, movies are operatic and have highs and lows and their own timeframe…
LSB: But you always want to get to the moment of truth. It’s important to stay open to being surprised; if you know everything about the story you want to tell, you don’t allow yourself to do that.
It isn’t just a movie about the “little guys,” but also big-deal investors like Steve Cohen, Gabe Plotkin, and Ken Griffin who got involved. The way they’re depicted differently is interesting; why are the rich guys seemingly always barking on speakerphone?
RA: Part of the fun visually of the movie was contrasting the circumstances of the so-called haves and have nots. A lot of us during the pandemic were confined to small, closed spaces and you see that alongside the lives of the billionaires living in side-by-side mansions, breathing the sea air, and having too much sunshine in their windows. The speaker phone thing is a symptom of that; you’re not in anybody else’s space, the space you’re in is all yours.
LSB: Ken Griffin rented out that whole resort for his firm so he could just roll calls. There were guys walking around not caring much about this, but for Keith Gill it was his entire life. It’s kind of our version of the Succession no-phone-case status symbol.
What makes this story matter now? It happened not too long ago, but is there a message that you think is essential people don’t forget?
RA: The thing about a spark is it’s really easy to extinguish but it can also start a bigger fire. We see evidence of that fire all around us today, and people are justified in their rage. The example of Keith Gill and the people who were moved by his message to put their money toward something greatest than making more money is inspirational as a roadmap.
LB: We want people to leave the theater thinking about the power of collective action. In this moment when we’re all separated in so many ways, people are often longing to come together. You could have done a Keith biopic, but you would have missed out on all the people who followed him and way. This is such an emotional story, and it’s about so much more than who made money and who lost it. They found a sense of belonging that’s about so much more than the stock market.
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