People Should Watch This Film And Be Outraged: Dumb Money Director Craig Gillespie On GameStop, Wealth Disparity & A Rigged Stock Market The Deadline Q&A

EXCLUSIVE: The GameStop short squeeze drama Dumb Money premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before hitting theaters tomorrow through Sony Pictures. I, Tonya and Lars and the Real Girl helmer Craig Gillespie directed with Paul Dano playing Keith Gill, whose impassioned YouTube stock tip on the retail store for hardcore gamers drew a rabid following during the pandemic, and would up making a multimillionaire of Gill and bankrupting a major hedge fund. Shailene Woodley, Pete Davidson, Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Sebastian Stan and America Ferrera round out the cast of the Black Bear-funded film that Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Anti-Social Network.

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The Aussie Gillespie takes us through his second fact-based underdog story, which he’s mixed with Cruella, and a sequel that will start after the strike ends.

DEADLINE: I remember last time you had a film in Toronto, I, Tonya. I was sitting next to Harvey Weinstein. He said, “I need to buy this, but I’m going to cut it.” I said, “Don’t cut a frame.” I’d heard you weren’t interested in doing that.

CRAIG GILLESPIE: I met with his people that morning and I was just like, I don’t want to sell it to you guys. Because he notoriously messed with movies and I’m like, no thank you.

DEADLINE: You don’t always get that leverage. There are stark contrasts in that film — you’re laughing and suddenly Tonya gets belted across the face by her husband. The deal as I recall was, take it or leave it.

GILLESPIE: Miramax sold it at Toronto, which we found out six weeks before. They really didn’t think it was going to make any money. It made a lot.

DEADLINE: There’s strong buzz on Dumb Money and also BlackBerry, about the rise and fall of the first smartphone. There, you had these lovable nerds who came up with it, and then a shark-like exec who came in and created this big valuation and tried to leverage it to become a hockey team owner, and then it all came crashing down when Steve Jobs introduced a superior product with the iPhone. Also the SEC came knocking, like in Dumb Money. There is an everyman tug in all these and I, Tonya, your film about an underdog in over her head in the wealthy sport of figure skating. Here it is Kevin Gill, originator of this grassroots GameStop stock drive that bankrupted a hedge fund. Like Harding, he didn’t break. What’s the secret sauce in making relate-able to a mainstream audience films about finance like Dumb Money or Adam McKay’s The Big Short, where complex financials have to be made understandable to dummies like me?  

GILLESPIE: You didn’t understand Margot Robbie’s explanation? She couldn’t have been more specific in The Big Short.

DEADLINE: She was in a bubble bath, sipping champagne. I am easily distracted.

GILLESPIE: There does seem like very much a theme of all my work. I seem to be attracted to outsiders, underdogs. I was one when I came from Sydney to New York after winning a scholarship at 19 and didn’t know anybody and started there and I had to figure it out. No cell phone So it was very isolating. Live in a 10-by-7-foot room really, and had started making my way.

DEADLINE: How did you become steeped in the GameStop thing?

GILLESPIE: My son was making Wall Street bets. He was 24 at the time living with us during Covid, like a lot of families. So we’d be hearing about it for months. He got in very early. He was also trying out other stocks as well. As it started building, he started doing really well. He was in options, very similar to the college kids’ trajectory [in the movie]. Got into that in a very intense two-week period and then that one day up at 6 a.m. pre-market checking things, checking every three minutes, going to bed at three in the morning after checking Europe, trying to figure out when he was going to sell. But also every comment that was happening, when Elon Musk tweeted GameStop, that would spike it. Mark Cuban popping in and saying something, and all the commentary. He was sharing all of this with us and we were a little bit like the parents of Keith Gill. His investment was very small, multiplied 50 times.

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DEADLINE: Was he like a lot of the characters, who stayed in instead of selling at a high? The windfall would have meant a lot to these people, but they hung in there and continued to risk their winnings.

GILLESPIE: There was this crowd of Wall Street degenerates, people who prided themselves on being politically incorrect. On this site, they had humor, and this crazy attitude where they would post their biggest failures and there was sort of this bizarre club going on with that enthusiasm and energy amongst themselves. And then they got under this shorting of GameStop and then this other group came in and it grew from 400,000 to 8 million in eight weeks. There was a real group of people, and this is what really interested to me about the whole culture. Covid was such a moment in our lives that will never be repeated. We’ve all experienced something that I think has profoundly changed the world. The isolation, the frustration, the lack of government aid that was going on and this massive disparity of wealth that just everybody is now acutely aware of and was being flaunted on social media and it’s created all of these movements. The Black Lives Matter movement that was happening very much at the same time. There was real frustration and anger to want to have a voice about. It happened to be that GameStop was that way to do it, a way for them to really f*ck you uber-wealthy guys, and stick it to them where it hurts, which is their wallets. So there’s a real coming together of that community, holding those others accountable with an incredible upside of, they could make money. It made for a very conflicting journey for them because ultimately at some point they had to sell, which goes against the instincts of their message. That was very fascinating. But that frustration, that moment in time is still going on now, was what was fascinating to me. When it collapsed, with Robinhood freezing the trading, with Reddit and WallStreetBets being shut down, that was this real sense of the system being rigged against them and they just exploded. I was feeling through my son and through the internet that it was this real outrage and that’s what I wanted for the end of this film. It’s like I wanted to be able to capture that and motivate that so people reinvigorated with it because I was an incredibly frustrating situation and felt really unheard and validated with what they’re talking about going through Congress, which did nothing about it.

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DEADLINE: Did you risk your money in GameStop stock?

GILLESPIE: After the first crash, you see in the film the college girls get back in again. And there is now another surge. My son’s like, “Dad, I’m getting back in.” I do not recommend this at all. It’s extremely volatile. I’d been watching him for three months on this wild journey. I’m like, “I’m going to get in,” and I bought an option. I got educated very quickly on what an option was.

DEADLINE: Explain.

GILLESPIE: An option is very high-stakes gambling that really they only allow in the United States. It is very complicated, but the very simple version of it is you pick a number that the stock will hit in a certain amount of dates, whether it’s a week or two weeks or a couple of months. If it hits, you make an enormous return on your investment. If it doesn’t hit you lose it all.


GILLESPIE: Four days later I said, “How are we doing?” My son says, “Oh, we lost it.” I was like, “We lost it? He said, “Yeah, zero.”

DEADLINE: How much?

GILLESPIE: Ten grand. In four days.

DEADLINE: You got a movie out of it. What did you see in Keith Gill, played by Paul Dano?

GILLESPIE: In that world, everybody is very harsh and critical obviously, and they can really smell b.s. There was this earnestness, intelligence, and I really think this altruism to him and sincerity that just captured the internet. There was no agenda. He was posting these seven-hour videos every week, and it was just about having a community and talking about the stock and why he believes in it. And there’s this real genuineness to him that I think people connected to. He really believed in it and he believed in the case and he made some very strong arguments. He was working as an analyst at MassMutual. He didn’t have any clients at all, but that was his field of work. There was this massive short squeeze on GameStop, I think 140% of the value of the stock. He preached this for a year as the stock was short squeezed. I think the Wall Street fed guys started seeing there was an opportunity here to do this, but you needed people to come together and drive stock up. So that’s where the community started talking about it. Combined with the zeitgeist at the time, the helplessness we felt with Covid and the discontent that was going on in the country … people had nothing to do and wanted a voice in what is happening in the world. This became a way to do it. Remember, there were no sports, nothing to bet on.

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DEADLINE: It seems unseemly to the average person that these hedge funds bet on companies to fail and get rich when they are right. It feels like the bundling of sub-prime mortgages that created the global financial collapse. They aren’t building anything, just placing wagers like degenerate gamblers.

GILLESPIE: The script that Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum wrote has this gray area and what I love about it is it’s a commentary on the system. I mean, we really didn’t want to paint as black and white as the villains versus the heroes. And obviously when you watch this film, I think it’s interesting because I think Wall Street watches it with a different lens than the rest of the community. We portray it as, that’s how it works. And they kind of shrug about it and are like, that’s the way it works. And then for everybody else who was learning about this and are now outraged by it and frustrated by it and point the finger and realize, yeah, this system is inherently rigged against us.

DEADLINE: Steve Cohen owns the Mets and was an inspiration for the series Billions. Played by Vincent D’Onofrio, he seems amused by this grassroots uprising, as his friend Gabe Plotkin at Melvin Capital lost billions because of Keith Gill and the GameStop crowd. What was the deal with him?

GILLESPIE: He was on the outskirts. There’s a lot of interaction with those billionaires. They all know each other. He ended up making money out of all of this by bailing out Melvin Capital at the time. He just figured out the angles and he made out. There were plenty of hedge funds that did do well with this; it wasn’t like everybody went down. That was the irony of it. It’s a very complicated story on that financial side. I think what is amazing about it was the social movement that happened and the chance to really make a statement, but the fallout of it was much more complicated than the winners and the losers. Melvin Capital was the one that suffered acutely, and ended up closing their doors. Robinhood really suffered from it, and they became alienated by the community.

DEADLINE: In The Big Short, Adam McKay had us rooting for rich guys who bet against the U.S. economy after trying to warn about the sub-prime mortgage thing. What made you believe Dumb Money could be relatable to a mainstream audience?

GILLESPIE: This is I think very different than The Big Short and a lot of finance movies that deal with that banking community. This is about the everyman and at the heart of that is Keith Gill and the reason this whole movement happened, just the frustration in the country about what’s going on with this wealth disparity. These everymen are betting their life savings in many cases, and it will change their life forever if it hits. You’ve got America Ferrera’s character, which represented a large portion of people that were involved in this. She’s a nurse, she’s up a half million dollars at one point. It’s like you are hoping she’s going to sell, you’re rooting for her to sell. If she loses it, she’s back to not being able to pay her mortgage and the bills. The stakes are astronomical in this very acute moment for them. So that’s a very relatable thing to root for.

DEADLINE: Some of them lost, because of that everyman tug of staying in because dumping the stock would mean The Man wins.

GILLESPIE: That frustration, that voice, which was so rampant at that time in Covid, and we’re feeling again with the strike. It’s exactly the same dynamic. This disparity of wealth that people want others to be held accountable for. That’s what she wanted to be hurt for. There were literally people that didn’t care if they lost the money as long as they brought down the hedge fund. That was more important to them than their own personal gains really. And so she straddled that messaging. You see the college girls are conflicted because the ideology goes against them selling, but they sold at the right time and profited enormously. So there was this really interesting moral conundrum with the messaging that was at odds with the capitalism. That frustration, that outrage, that’s what I was aiming for all the way through that third act of the film. I kept saying, if we make the movie the right way, people should watch this film and be outraged. Even though it’s a wild and fun ride along the way, and it’s intense. I want people to fill that and feel activated by it.

DEADLINE: Activated how? Should I go out right now and see if I can find a stock that a hedge fund shorted?

GILLESPIE: No, not activated by that at all. You can say it’s activated however you want to be as a community to go out there. You’ve got the strikes going on right now. I hope that it reinvigorates that faith in what they’re asking for and holding strong. It’s just holding people accountable and the way where you get to see it, whether it’s going to be protests or strikes or appealing to congressmen, just being aware of these opportunities that are coming up and having a voice in them.

DEADLINE: It is easy to feel frustration about the film and TV businesses right now. Largely controlled by tech titans who are not filmmakers first, as it once was. Do they realize they are holding a sacred trust in the most accomplished art form this country has produced, outside of jazz? AI is inevitable and the guilds are right to fear automation. You go to Home Depot, which used to have six people ringing you up. Now there’s one pointing you to an open automated register. No more toll booths. Can we relate all this to your movie?

GILLESPIE: We have to figure out exactly where AI is going. Everybody sees is as this dystopian society thing we’ve seen in The Terminator. My hope is AI is going to be a tool, the way other tools that have come along the way with technology. I read an interesting article in the New York Times with a professor that uses AI to set up lectures, and all the graphs and information. That work gets done in moments that they can direct their time elsewhere. It’s hard to say where it’s going to land in between those scenarios. I’ve also seen a lot of AI art that’s being motivated and there is at the moment a soullessness to it. I think you can see that there’s no humanity or human connection.

DEADLINE: How did this project come our way?

GILLESPIE: I lived it in a front-row seat with my son. The intensity of it was unbelievable. About three months later, I’m working on Chippendales with Rebecca and Lauren, who are writing it for me. We keep talking about GameStop because they were writing that script at the same time. Chippendales is supposedly going to be starting to shoot in three months and they’re starting to gear up. I was fascinated by the topic that wasn’t on my radar to shoot because I was busy. Suddenly a TV series based on the Chippendales story was announced and our film exploded. They sent the script over the next day and I read it and it captured all this frustration that I was feeling and I went through with my son. They told the story in a beautifully complex-element way. I thought, I need to do this. The congressional hearing on GameStop had only just happened, and that was the end of the film’s journey in my mind. You see Keith Gill testifying, and how measured he is, with so much at stake for him. He could literally go to jail and he’d lost his job at MassMutual. He’s an individual up against all of these corporations and there’s this real sense that they’re trying to make him the scapegoat. Ordinary man in this extraordinary situation. You could feel the support behind him online and the frustration and the anger that it was rigged, and they going off to him. That I was incredibly excited about, and it affected a large portion of the script. We had to go back and build to that moment, them getting subpoenaed halfway through the film, all of these elements. Paul Dano is such an intelligent actor and every weekend we would talk about motivation and what was happening that would inform the character. We put it all in the movie.

What happens when he lost $30 million in 24 hours? What are they talking about in the house? What happened when he got subpoenaed? What happened when they called at MassMutual? These were incredibly intense life moments that are all happening as we are six weeks away from production.

DEADLINE: If there’s a hero in Dumb Money, it’s Keith Gill. Did you buy his life rights and make him part of this?

GILLESPIE: No, he’s not part of it. He’s a public figure and he did an interview with the Wall Street Journal right after all of it. Very soon after that, he did his final post and retreated from public, no social presence. I believe Ben Mezrich reached out to him, Rebecca and Lauren along the way as they were writing this, reached out several times. No response. Everything that’s in the film, he posted hours and hours, hours of videos. And not just talking about stock, it’s talking about his life. There was what he said online, and at the congressional hearing. I told Rebecca and Lauren, let’s have a scene where the two brothers talk about what to do. They found that his brother Kevin [played by Davidson] actually did run a mile naked in college in a thunderstorm. So we worked a scene around that.

DEADLINE: Did Keith Gill make money off GameStop?

GILLESPIE: We don’t know. In his final post, he was up $34 million, starting out with a $55,000 investment. Melvin Capital lost $6.8 billion.

DEADLINE: The makers of The Social Network also didn’t get rights to the Facebook story because they didn’t want to be beholden. You made another memorable fact-based film in I, Tonya. What do you own the subjects?

GILLESPIE: Once you’re in the public eye, you can tell their story. I want to be as respectful as possible and try and get it as right as we can. I’m coming into these stories and characters that inspire me and they are central to a social commentary that’s happening in our country. It happened with I, Tonya, and with Pam and Tommy, where the narrative is we are all complicit in making judgments. Tonya was a punchline in America. Barack Obama, when he was campaigning against Hillary Clinton, said he was going to go Tonya Harding on her. We didn’t even bat an eye at it. To re-contextualize that and change your perspective on it, was a really fascinating opportunity. [Dumb Money] is an opportunity to talk about the real frustration of wealth disparity, Keith Gill is a perfect conduit for that.

DEADLINE: Tonya Harding is depicted getting knocked down in a celebrity boxing match, and she says she will keep getting back up. Did you have her rights?

GILLESPIE: We had Tanya Harding’s rights, and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Their stories completely conflicted. We had her rights without any creative influence, which is a big caveat. So Margot Robbie and I went and met her three weeks before we started shooting. I said to her, “We’re going to tell your story, but I want you to know we’re also telling Jeff Gillooly’s story.” They hadn’t spoken for two decades. And she’s like, “That’s OK, as long as you tell my story.” We said, “Absolutely.” I knew in my heart what we were trying to do, and that we could portray her in a way where I could sleep well at night.

DEADLINE: Her review?

GILLESPIE: I saw her for the first time after that on the red carpet, and she was quite emotional. She said, “Thank you, you’ve changed my life.” Her husband was there with her and said the same. I was so happy that it had completely changed the lens through which the whole world looks at her and how complicit we were in that. So that was an amazingly poignant moment for me in terms of an artist to be able to profoundly have an effect in the way that we were hoping to.

DEADLINE: She is a punchline no more? Even if it isn’t clear whether she conspired in having rival Nancy Kerrigan hobbled, and she ends the film getting beat up in the ring, playing off her notoriety to make money. 

GILLESPIE: We did it in the same spirit of her, which was in a very unapologetic way. She wasn’t denying things. We see the events that transpired. We see how complicit she is or is not, in it. We tried to be as accurate as possible within that context and you see how she was received in the public eye. It made you take pause and stop and reconsider our own judgments. It was very important not to make it feel like we’re completely manipulating and dramatizing and changing contextually what happened.

DEADLINE: You have found a niche, taking a zeitgeist true story and injecting humor and drama. Much better than on your debut Mr. Woodcock, where you left in post-production and Wedding Crashers’ David Dobkin finished it. What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

GILLESPIE: I was making the wrong movie, one that wasn’t supported by the script. I was trying to do this doc-style, interesting, intelligent, indie movie. Wedding Crashers was about to come out and I didn’t understand that what [New Line] wanted was a big R-rated comedy. Had I have known that in the hindsight, it would’ve been two cameras, a bunch of different improvised lines, a lot of jokes, and cut it together and make it entertaining. I was trying to make something that had more complexity to it, and the script never supported that. Big learning curve on that one, my first film. I’m dealing with Susan Sarandon, who’d done 70 movies. I thought, naively as a director, I need to show them I know what I’m doing. So I’d be like, okay, you’re here. You’re here. Boom, boom, boom. This is what’s going to happen. And they go, okay. And there was no collaboration. I basically shot every shot I could think of. I ended up shooting a million feet of film and amazingly fortuitously, I managed to set Lars and the Real Girl up two weeks after I finished shooting Mr. Woodcock and before this all imploded. I had Ryan, and my DP had just done Capote. I knew the other was a mess and I said, “Let’s pretend this is my first film. What do you recommend?” We were very specific what we were shooting and we shot 140,000 feet of film. The huge thing that happened was with Ryan I learned to collaborate with an actor who elevated the whole thing.

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