An excerpt from my script review for The Big Short which will be available 12/21/15:
4.) Dialogue and Description
Breaking the 4th wall in a story is generally frowned upon, especially if it’s not done properly.
This script did it. A LOT.
I generally subscribe to the group that warns against it, but it really worked here, because of use and consistency.
This story unfolds like a smart, shorter financial version of GoodFellas which used similar narration, but in an respectful manner.
Anytime a character looked at the camera it was to explain the truth behind the scene, most of which implied “this shit actually happened”.
Page 28, explaining that Steve and his team found out about the imminent collapse because someone dialed the wrong number:
This actually happened. I’m the
assistant who answered the call for
the real Steve Eisman. A wrong
number led them to one of the
biggest leads in investment
history. I’m now a pharmaceutical
rep in Daytona.
Page 31, regarding Greg and his sales pitch:
Actually I do speak English. Greg
likes to say I don’t because he
thinks it makes me seem more
authentic. And I finished second in
the national math competition.
Greg’s a bit of a dick but he’s
good at his job.
Page 41 making Charlie and Jamie’s “origin” story more interesting (and the one that stretches the truth):
We didn’t really find Greg
Lippman’s housing bubble pitch in
the lobby of a bank that rejected
us. The truth is, a friend told
Charlie about it. But this is more
Page 78, after Steve warns an entire conference room that the bubble is about to burst, having just a page or two before promised Greg he’d keep his mouth shut:
Steve walks past Lippmann, patting him on the shoulder. Greg flips him off and then looks to camera.
The fucker really did this.
Page 82, Charlie and Jamie don’t have the capital to buy into the lower mortgage bond market, so they bet against the AAA rated (more secure) securities. Everyone wants their money then, and the payoffs are HUGE if these bonds fail:
This is the thing we did that no
one else did. Even Burry and Eisman
didn’t imagine the AAAs could fail.
Page 120, Greg’s final goodbye:
Yeah Burry, Eisman, and the
Cornhole gang made a ton of money.
But they didn’t care about the
money. That’s why they were able to
see the crash before anyone else.
Me, I just saw a great deal…
His bonus for 2008 is $47,000,000.
GREG LIPPMANN (CONT’D)
Hey I never said I was the hero of
He kisses the check.
There’s a lot of financial jargon in this script, and it’s confusing, so how is this handled?
Celebrity cameos of course!
(Literally, just as I was drowning under this sea of financial vocabulary on page 12, the narrator/Greg saves me.)
MODERN TRADER (V.O.)
Mortgage backed securities,
subprime loans, tranches… Pretty
confusing right? Does it make you
feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it’s
supposed to. Wall Street uses
confusing terms to make you think
only they can do what they do. Or
even better, for you to leave them
the fuck alone. So here’s Scarlett
Johanson under a water falls to
Scarlett Johansson explains mortgage backed securities.
Anthony Bourdain gives us an analogy that compares collateralized debt obligation to seafood stew. (Essentially a bunch of bad mortgage backed securities bundled together become good mortgage securities. See any problem there? Wall Street didn’t.)
Lastly, and probably the best, Beyoncé shows up with Jay Z to explain compounding “synthetic CDOs” and why they’re a problem, via an example that is not only interesting, but SIMPLE to understand. (Initial bet and favorable odds of Beyoncé’s blackjack hand, then Jay Z betting she’ll win, someone after him betting he’ll win, and on and on exponentially, only to have Beyoncé LOSE to the dealer, costing everyone A LOT of cash.)
There was decent description too, but whatever.
Rules were broken constantly, and I loved every minute of it for two reasons. The writers were smart in how they broke the rules and were consistent doing it.
(Ahem, just make sure if you include celebrity cameos in your SHOOTING script, to make sure their names are spelled correctly.)
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