Writing movies is hard. Making them made is harder. Getting people to pay to see something they’re repeatedly told is complicated and hard to understand is nearly impossible.
So smart writers avoid writing about complicated things that are hard to understand.
Unless they’re really, really smart writers. Writers like Michael Lewis.
The first Michael Lewis book I read was “Moneyball”, a book so good it made you want to bite your arm. A book that deserved to become a movie. And one that didn’t for more than a decade because it was literally too “inside baseball”.
Imagine pitching a studio exec a story about people who spend all their time crunching baseball stats. Imagine finding an audience that wanted to see a movie about baseball stats.
Pitch “Hulk smash”. They get it.
Pitch “It's about getting things down to one number. Using the stats to find value in players that no one else can see” -– and their eyes have already glazed over.
As they expect the audience’s eyes to glaze.
Don’t even get me started on how hard a pitch for “The Big Short” a book about the subprime default swaps that cratered the mortgage market in 2008 would’ve been.
But Lewis and his publisher kept making the rounds and people smarter than most of the gatekeepers kept reading his books and one of those people finally used her actress star power to put Michael Lewis’ writing before an audience.
In 2009, Sandra Bullock brought another Lewis book “The Blind Side”, this one about the intricacies of the college football draft, to the screen. And Hollywood finally got what he does. He shows that all those supposedlynunintelligible numbers are describing people.
“The Blind Side” won an Oscar and a ton of Critics awards while (perhaps more important) pulling in 10 times as much as it cost to make at the box office.
Hollywood finally realized Michael Lewis must be onto something.
In 2011, another actor, Brad Pitt got “Moneyball” made, earning six Oscar nominations, garnering more critics awards and taking in more millions at the box office.
Which brings us to “The Big Short”. Opening this weekend with a cast of not one, not two -- but four A-list actors who could all open a major studio film on their own.
And again, getting past the gatekeepers because one of those actors (Pitt) can call his own shots.
This is the season when adults go back to the movies. And there are great films like “Spotlight” and “Carol” and “Creed” and “Trumbo” and “The Hateful Eight” that anybody calling themselves an adult should see.
But for my money, “The Big Short” should be on top of that list.
Forget that it’s about something complicated and hard to understand. Because it’s not. Those numbers being thrown around all come down to people. And if there’s one thing actors know it’s that people go to see movies about people.
So for your viewing pleasure on this Sunday, I append both a trailer for “The Big Short” plus a roundtable of three of its cast along with Lewis and director Adam McKay describing why they became a part of it and why the gatekeepers were so wrong for so long.
Enjoy Your Sunday.
“The Big Short” – Trailer
“The Big Short” – Roundtable