The “meme stock phenomenon” shook the financial world during the pandemic, propelling a devoted group of online retail investors into a crusade against some of Wall Street’s biggest players. This modern-day David and Goliath saga is the backdrop of Sony’s upcoming Dumb Money, which gets to the origins of the meme stock phenomenon by looking at the rise of GameStop stock—and the various interests working toward its success and demise. Featuring a cast of comedy veterans and directed by Craig Gillespie—who tread similar ground in 2017’s I, Tonya—Dumb Money offers a satirical take on today’s stock market starring the unlikeliest of heroes. Gillespie recently joined Boxoffice Pro in a discussion about the film’s genesis, his personal connection to meme stocks, and the film’s accelerated production schedule ahead of its release this fall.
The Boxoffice Podcast is your #1 resource for news and analysis about movies and the movie business. We’ll be your guide through these evolving and sometimes disruptive times. While breaking down film headlines, exploring box office results, and chatting with studio & cinema executives, we’ll discuss all aspects of movies and entertainment. By movie lovers for movie lovers!
This Week on The Boxoffice Podcast, sponsored by Spotlight Cinema Networks: Rebecca Pahle is joined by Shawn Robbins and Russ Fischer, who discuss the most recent news on the WGA/SGA strikes and what lessons to take from Sequel September. In our feature segment, Rebecca speaks with Rich Daughtridge of the Independent Cinema Alliance (ICA) on what lessons indie theaters can take from the summer of Barbenheimer, as well as the ICA’s priorities moving forward into 2024.
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What to Listen For
- 00:00 Intro
- 02:53 Recent update on the ongoing strike
- 07:55 Lowest box office weekend of 2023
- 10:48 Slow September
- 12:24 Expendables 4
- 15:57 Saw X box office potential
- 17:56 Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie
- 19:19 The Creator
- 25:20 Knives Out
- 29:05 Strong summer for independent cinema
- 31:01 Cinema going is an event
- 33:48 Barbie promotion
- 36:20 ICA marketplace
- 38:42 Flexibility and availability of films
- 41:00 National Cinema Da
At CinemaCon this year, Sony opened its presentation by screening the first three minutes of Dumb Money, a movie very few of us in attendance had heard of. By the end of the presentation, everyone was excited about Dumb Money. You must have been very confident about the film to go that route. How did the screening come about?
It was a pretty quick decision. Sony called the week before and said, “Do you want to go? We’d like to show three minutes of footage. What do you want to show?” And I was like, “Let’s just show the first three minutes of the movie.” Because in those first three minutes, you meet all the characters that launch the story out of the gate. It sets the tone and the fun of the film. It is definitely an aggressive start to the movie, but I didn’t want to shy away from that. I wanted to announce it: This is the kind of film it is and the ensemble that we have.
Do you recall when you first heard about the meme stock phenomenon?
My son, who was 24 at the time, was living with us during Covid. He’d been following the Reddit page “r/wallstreetbets” from very early on, so he was always talking about it and commenting on it. There’s definitely an aggressive un-PC culture to that early core group of the r/wallstreetbets people. My son was tracking all of that before he got involved and started investing himself. He was on that roller coaster and actually ended up doing very well with an option call the day before it skyrocketed. [He came] running in, saying, “Elon Musk just tweeted ‘GameStonk.’ Everybody’s going nuts!”
I also clearly remember when there was a freeze with [consumer-trading app] Robinhood and all the commentary that came with it. Just how frustrated and outraged everybody in the community was. Shortly after that, the stock went on another rally. Throughout that very intense period, my son was literally checking his phone every three minutes. He’d go to bed at three in the morning and get up at six to check what was going on before the markets opened. All that intensity, that emotional roller coaster. I lived through all of it with him.
How did you become attached to this project?
I was working on a different film with Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum, our writers. That film suddenly collapsed, and they sent over the script for Dumb Money about four to six months later. I loved it. It projected a lot of that energy and emotion I lived through with my son. I loved how they set up the story and weaved between all the characters. The script had a lot of gray areas that really encouraged audience participation. Your own personal beliefs guide you to who you’re rooting for as you watch the film.
The book the film is based on, The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, came out in September 2021. In an industry where movies can take decades to get made, this one came together extraordinarily fast.
The film came together very quickly. As with every feature in the film business, it’s all built like a house of cards. One day the movie is happening, the next day it isn’t. We had a very tight window with everyone’s schedules. Once we secured financing and decided to go for it, we had a whole six weeks to prep the entire production. Within that period, we were constantly rewriting as the real-life story kept playing out in the headlines. The entire third act of the film, with the involvement of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), all came together during that time.
Paul Dano and Seth Rogen were attached to the project from the start. There was a lot of collaboration with Paul in figuring out the arc of that character and his journey, so those scenes were constantly being rewritten as we prepared the film. From there, I started calling many people I’ve crossed paths with, been in contact with, and almost made films with. Pete Davidson and I almost made a movie together; I called him. Sebastian Stan is someone I have a working relationship with, and I called him. Nick Offerman, who I’ve also worked with, I called him. Anthony Ramos was attached to a film that we were trying to get going for a while. Amazingly, everybody was up for it and had the time to do it.
The hardest part was coordinating the number of days we had with each actor. We had Pete Davidson for two days and four hours; Paul Dano was available for eight days. Figuring that out, juggling those schedules, that was the hardest part.
It’s not the first time you’ve tackled a movie adaptation of a story that played out in the news. You had a similar challenge with I, Tonya (2017), where you’re making a movie and crafting performances out of something that really happened, in the recent past, with actors playing people who are still living.
You have to stay very loyal to the truth that’s out there and what you can verify. Rebecca and Lauren, our writers, were investigative reporters with the Wall Street Journal. They had a real depth of understanding of all of that. As we went through this process, anything that we were writing, everything that we looked at, we had to be able to verify in other interviews, Tweets, or Reddit posts. It’s very loyal to what was happening because we had to be, from a legal standpoint—down to all the verbiage, as it was being said. We were very, very dogmatic about that.
This is a developing story, and you had to be mindful not to write yourself into a corner.
Very early on, as I started doing research on the character Paul Dano plays, who was known online as Roaring Kitty, aka Deep F-ing Value, I went back and read all his posts online; you can see his innocence, enthusiasm, and genuine humanity as he starts out, doing these posts. Then when you see his testimony at the SEC, he’s still doubling down and committed to his position, but he’s being very careful about the words he’s using because there’s a lot of scrutiny on him. He’s become the focal point of this whole movement. It’s such an interesting journey for that character. Very early on, I knew his testimony at the SEC should be the end of the film. A couple of months after that testimony, he does his final posting—and we have not heard from him since. It felt like a very natural place to end the film.
This story very well could have been told through a limited series on a streaming platform. We’ve seen it with stories about WeWork (“WeCrashed”) and Theranos (“The Dropout”). They end up on Hulu, six to eight episodes. Was that an avenue you considered? When did you realize that this was a theatrical motion picture, as opposed to a streaming series?
This was truly an independent film from the start. I know that could sound surprising—being that Sony is releasing it—but as a production, it came together as an independent movie before Sony acquired the distribution rights. Sony has been incredibly supportive to come in and bet on it, which was amazing. It was the type of support we were hoping for all along. I love working in the independent world, being able to go out and bet on ourselves that we can make a good film, and then selling it to a distributor. That’s exactly what happened here. We’re in the place we hoped we would find ourselves in, with a partner like Sony who can lean into the film we made and give it a wide theatrical release.
Making a movie like Dumb Money is very tricky in this climate. This type of movie is almost extinct, a film of this size, one that doesn’t come with a built-in audience for theaters. I was cognizant of that, and so were our actors—they’re so much fun, so engaging, and have a lot of goodwill. I wanted the movie to be intense while being a really fun ride as well. There is an online community behind this whole movement—behind the dissatisfaction of what was happening—all of them yearning to connect and come together in an organized way. It felt like a perfect opportunity to try and bring that to the theater and make it a communal experience through a movie.
For those of our readers who didn’t get to see the first three minutes of the film at CinemaCon, how would you pitch the film?
I’d just say that you don’t need to know anything about stocks to enjoy our movie. It’s about the common people feeling marginalized and how they all rally together to have this moment where they give the middle finger to the big guy.
You’ve spent so much time with this story. Do you think there’s an endgame in sight with the regulatory issues that the retail investors brought up during their movement?
There has not been a reform at this point. Maybe [the movie] will help keep fanning that. You should have a certain amount of outrage at the end of the film. That was the hope—to feel that things happened that were unfair or unjustified, and to put it in people’s awareness so that they can keep being outspoken about it.