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Dumb Money Writers Channel Frank Capra for Stock Market Film

A deep dive into what it's like to write a big Hollywood movie based on a true story.
by Shanee Edwards on September 22, 2023

If you paid attention to any financial news during the pandemic, you likely heard about the wild rollercoaster ride of the GameStop stock. What should have crashed and burned ended up soaring to great heights thanks to a Reddit group, much to the vexation of billionaires who were set on shorting the stock. Dumb Money (a term Wall Street insiders use to refer to average, laypeople investors who don’t have a financial institution backing them) is the story of the people who inadvertently created a movement that exposed the unscrupulous nature of Wall Street.   

Based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, Dumb Money is directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and written by Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo. The film centers on regular guy Keith Gill (Paul Dano), who sinks his life savings into the GameStop stock, then posts about it on Reddit and makes YouTube videos as a cat-loving persona named Roaring Kitty. When his social posts start blowing up, so does his life and the lives of everyone following him. 

I spoke to screenwriters Schuker Blum and Angelo as they supported the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in their capacity as Executive Producers while standing in solidarity with the writers on strike. They talked about the similarities between the financial industry and the Hollywood system, the challenge of creating a “populist hero” on film and humanizing the super-rich characters. 

Read More: 5 Ways to Crack the Code of Writing Great Movie Adaptations

Depicting a Broken System – IRL and on Film

Both Schuker Blum and Angelo wore T-shirts that said “WGA Strong” for our Zoom interview. The former Wall Street Journal reporters compared the Hollywood studio system to the financial industry.  

“This is a movie about recognizing that the system is broken and people coming together through collective action to achieve change,” said Angelo, “It’s what happened on Wall Street, and it’s the exact same story we are going through in Hollywood. People are justifiably angry because power, information and wealth are concentrated among an elite few and there’s no dignity to our labor anymore. The system is rigged and it’s unfair and the only path forward in our view is through transparency. That’s exactly what the crew who followed Keith Gill was fighting for and that’s what we’re fighting for, too.”  

Schuker Blum agreed, saying, “The biggest takeaway from writing this movie is that transparency is the only path back to fairness in our society.”

The pair of progressive, forward-thinking screenwriters met 11 years ago when they were working as hard-hitting journalists. But as their stories kept getting cut to shorter and shorter pieces, sometimes only 60-word “information packets” they knew they wanted to make a career change. Writing movies with a social message appealed to them and didn’t seem that far out of their wheelhouse.  

 “We’re storytellers first and foremost. As journalists, we used our research skills to get to the truth of human beings and depict their stories and create empathy. Now we’re trying to do that with cinema,” says Schuker Blum. 

Dumb Money Writers Channel Frank Capra ‘Populist Heroes’ for New Stock Market Film

Dumb Money (2023)

Using a “Populist Hero” Archetype for a Protagonist

The most engaging, dynamic character in the film is that of Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, aka Deep Fucking Value, who led the GameStop stock movement. 

Schuker Blum said writing Keith Gill was a new experience for her because he is a reluctant hero. “While he led this movement, he wasn’t seeking out the spotlight. In fact, through his actions, we see he doesn’t really like the spotlight. He’s retreated into his private life. We had to respect his privacy in the writing of the movie, too.” 

The character of Keith Gill represents the little guy, an underdog – he’s David in a David and Goliath story or even a Robin Hood archetype who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But for Angelo, creating Keith Gill on screen went even deeper.   

“There are obvious comparisons with this film to The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street and the classic finance and tech movies like The Social Network. When we were crafting this screenplay and building the character of Keith, we really looked to Frank Capra more than anybody else, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, and to the populist heroes of a previous generation and what it takes for a regular guy to live a life of greatness to do something so spectacular,” said Angelo.

For Schuker Blum, it was Keith Gill’s strong values and convictions that made the biggest impact. “I think that’s why his message resonated with so many people when he was talking about this stock for GameStop, a store at the mall. But what he’s really saying is, ‘Who’s to say this company has no value anymore? Should it be the 1%? Or should it be the customers who love it?’ It’s also why he’s such an independent thinker. He’s not swayed by Wall Street or the crowd. He had conviction, he was able to hold on when most people couldn’t hold on to a stock when they were losing $15 million a day – for him, that’s not something that swayed him one way or another,” she said. 

Angelo agreed, adding, “[Keith Gill’s] other name is Deep Fucking Value – and that’s what this movie is really it’s about it’s about who determines value in our society – whether that’s the 1% - because they have all the money and the power and the information or if there’s a way to take that back and say, no we determine the value.”

Dumb Money Writers Channel Frank Capra Populist Heroes for New Stock Market Film

Dumb Money (2023)

Not Going Too Arch With Villains – Even Super Rich Ones

In the film, Seth Rogan plays Gabe Plotkin, the real-life hedge fund manager at Melvin Capital – who’s reportedly worth $400 million currently. But it was important to the writers to make him seem like a real person, not some supervillain. They said they had to show his humanity in the small details.  

“Yes,” says Angelo, “it’s true that Gabe Plotkin bought two side-by-side mansions in Miami Beach and tore one of them down to build a tennis court. Everyone knows those details and that’s why he can be seen as a mustache-twirling villain.”

But in one scene, Rogan doubles over to catch his breath as he tries to comprehend what’s actually happening with the GameStop stock. In those little moments, those characters show their humanity, says Angelo. There are also scenes where Plotkin and his wife discuss their finances in the bedroom of their home - something relatable to most people. 

Read More: What Hollywood Wants (and How to Give It to Them): Intellectual Property Adaptations

Dumb Money Writers Channel Frank Capra Populist Heroes for New Stock Market Film

Dumb Money (2023)

Advice for Writing Movies About True Stories

Angelo’s advice to writers comes from her strong journalism background: “Start with the truth, know the full truth and only then do you begin to invent,” she said.

Schuker Blum agreed, saying, “We don’t make things up unless we have to. We haven’t been in the bedroom with Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogan) and his wife, so you have to invent the dialogue of that, but the truth is often stranger than fiction as they say. But making it fun and entertaining is our North Star.” 

“It’s not a plate of steamed broccoli,” says Angelo, “People want to be entertained and to be lifted up!”

“One of the reasons we were drawn to cinema,” says Schuker Blum, “is because you really can access empathy through film. Especially with real people, you have a duty to capture them with all your empathy and see them as a whole person.” 

Dumb Money opens in theaters in moderate release on Sept. 22 and wide release on Sept. 29. 

Read More: How Filmmaker Matt Smulker Told a Touching True Story with Wildflower


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