A Who’s Who of screenwriters, producers, and streaming-service execs are speeding to make the next Big Short. But is there room for them all?
Photo: Paramount Pictures
About a week before the GameStop “stonks” ascendancy officially overwhelmed the news cycle, writer-director Matt Ritter had already seized upon an idea: This shit would make for a great movie. The finance lawyer turned filmmaker and TV producer emailed Jaime Rogozinski, creator of the Reddit thread r/WallStreetBets, who was quickly becoming the public face of a heretofore little-known movement of amateur investors hell-bent on challenging hedge-fund managers’ control of a certain segment of the options-trading market. Ritter’s goal: to “develop a life-rights relationship” that would lay the foundation for a fact-based film.
Within days, a Who’s Who of screenwriters, producers, and streaming-service executives were flooding Rogozinski’s inbox with competing offers. “He was literally like, ‘Hey, I have Ben Mezrich on the other line and I have this other financier on the other line,’” Ritter recalls. “He said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do what’s best business-wise.’” After Ritter stopped hearing from Rogozinski, the filmmaker impulsively flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City where the alt-stock wizard lives to make a last-ditch in-person plea — only to discover Rogozinski had signed a deal to sell his rights for a “low-six-figure” payment to Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment.
“Look, we’re living in the era of IP for Hollywood and it’s all anyone ever talks about,” says Ritter, using the industry call letters for intellectual property. “But it’s not just, ‘Hey, this is a hot story.’ It’s, ‘Does this story have a bigger significance? A political component? Cultural relevance?’ This one is David vs. Goliath: The Retail Traders Fight Back. It’s not just a cool thing that happened. What it represents makes it a valuable commodity.”
To judge by the proliferating array of GameStop-centric limited series, documentaries, and narrative movie projects clogging the preproduction pipeline — all chronicling the freakonomic class warfare of January’s subreddit-surged “short squeeze” of stocks, including Bed Bath & Beyond and AMC, Ritter is hardly alone in his appraisal.
As of the writing of this story, the GameStop project count stands at nine. At MGM, a film called The Antisocial Network is being adapted from a forthcoming book by Mezrich (the best-selling author whose Accidental Billionaires was turned into David Fincher’s The Social Network). There’s an HBO movie being produced by blockbuster horror ace Jason Blum and Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-creator of Showtime’s Billions. RatPac’s feature will be based on the Rogozinski memoir Wallstreetbets: How Boomers Made the World’s Biggest Casino for Millennials. One of two as-yet untitled documentaries will be directed by Jonah Tulis (behind the CBS All Access doc Console Wars); the other is being produced by XTR (the company responsible for such titles as You Cannot Kill David Arquette) and partially financed via a Kickstarter campaign. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has a title for its doc: This Is Not Financial Advice, which is already in production and covers a broader swath of digital-investment communities. Netflix is bankrolling a feature scripted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), reportedly set to star Noah Centineo of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before fame, and a docuseries produced by Dan Cogan (Icarus) and Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?). And there’s a limited series titled To the Moon that’s being fast-tracked by the nascent production company Pinky Promise.
The impending pile on of r/WallStreetBets content isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given Hollywood’s well-documented fondness for commissioning and sometimes simultaneously releasing multiple entertainment properties plotted around identical subjects. See: 2019’s dueling Fyre Festival docs on Hulu and Netflix; or Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World (2017) and the FX limited series Trust (2018), both of which recounted the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III; or the upcoming Tiger King–inspired feature capers starring Nicolas Cage and Kate McKinnon, respectively; or the trio of impending Thai cave soccer-team-rescue movies from Ron Howard (MGM), Jon M. Chu (Netflix), and the co-directors of the Oscar-winning rock-climbing documentary Free Solo (Nat Geo).
But as the executives reached by Vulture tell it, every one of these GameStop projects will owe more than a small a debt of influence to writer-director Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning The Big Short, the dramedic biopic based on Michael Lewis’s best-selling book about the 2007–2008 financial crisis that utilizes fourth-wall-breaking narrative techniques to explain intricate instruments of finance such as collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities. For much of the general public, it provided a quick lesson on short sellers — predatory investors looking to profit when the value of a stock plummets, a.k.a. exactly the sort of traders the r/WallStreetBets contingent was hoping to punish. “It’s hard to imagine anyone who is trying to tackle the GameStop story not using that as a touchstone to take some really complex ideas and make them both entertaining and digestible,” says Jessamine Burgum, co-founder of Pinky Promise and a producer on To the Moon. “That’s going to be a big influence for all the people that are working on this story.”
Although the early stampede of industry interest in adapting the “Reddit rally” for the screen has coalesced around securing rights to Rogozinski’s story, most of the projects to date are moving ahead without securing life rights agreements. (After all, Rogozinski was kicked off the Reddit forum he created for allegedly attempting to monetize his relationship with the forum in 2020.) Like Ritter, executives at Pinky Promise Productions exchanged texts with the r/WallStreetBets creator and considered traveling to Mexico City to court him. They also secured ties to retail traders within the short-squeeze community before the story metastasized into a global sensation — sources with whom they have remained in frequent contact as To the Moon moves closer to production.
“Our advantage was we could easily reach out to individuals and ask them, ‘How does it feel to potentially be rewriting the history of Wall Street?’” says Matthew Cooper, a company co-founder who is also a producer on To the Moon. “We found that, one, as long as their anonymity was kept in check, people love talking about this. Two, we discovered that this is a story about people. The events are interesting. The outcome will be interesting. But talking to someone in France who invested 95 percent of their life savings and made $2.5 million last week, or talking to a farmer in the Midwest who had trouble paying his parents’ medical bills and is now able to pay them off completely and donate Nintendo Switches to children in the hospital — those are things that really deserve to be talked about.”
Adds Burgum: “In the past, we’ve seen the media represent Reddit as this nebulous amalgamation of people — just kind of this, like, shadowy internet thing. The more research we’ve done, the more meetings we’ve been able to have, it just becomes super apparent that there is a diverse and broad group of people who all have really, deeply human needs and desires. So we saw a real opportunity to have our take on the story put those people at the center.”
The Tulis-directed documentary is being produced by Submarine Entertainment, the sales-production-distribution company behind such acclaimed docs as American Factory, The Truffle Hunters, and Boys State. According to a trade announcement, its GameStop film will feature “key players” who leveraged the power of social-media platforms and online trading to instigate the short-squeeze surge including “a Midwestern father of two whose contrarian research helped propel the big bet against Wall Street, and an amateur investor who put her life savings on the line riding GameStop stock to the moon.”
“What’s interesting about this story is there isn’t necessarily a center and you can tell it from a lot of different angles,” says Submarine co-founder Dan Braun. “We don’t care about what anybody else is doing, because we know what we’re doing and we know it’s not going to be the same. These things can be a big competition — which is going to be number one? The best one? The first one? We might be the first one because I think we do have the jump on everyone.”
Producer David Klawans knows the power of high-quality, ripped-from-the-headlines IP about as well as anyone in Hollywood. His 2012 Oscar-winning bio-drama Argo is based on a 2007 article published in Wired magazine. In 2018, he triggered a bidding war after developing a property around an article about an ex-cop who rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game to steal millions of dollars. (Among those who helped hike the article optioning price up to $1 million: Robert Downey Jr. and Joker director Todd Phillips; Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio; Mark Wahlberg; Kevin Hart; Will Ferrell; and Steven Spielberg.) In Klawans’s view, the likelihood of all these GameStop projects reaching public consumption remains slim. “I don’t think there’s room for multiple features,” Klawans says. “But I think there’s room for a doc and a limited series. It can drive interest. Tiger King started out as a doc, which then led to features.”
With Rogozinski’s life rights already spoken for, top Hollywood agents and production companies have reportedly identified another worthy subject of interest: the social-media sensation variously known as Roaring Kitty and DeepFuckingValue. As a sideline to his day job as a licensed securities broker and “financial wellness educator” for MassMutual, the erstwhile Keith Gill, 34, posted detailed spreadsheets on Reddit (under the more profane of the screen names) explaining how he grew an initial $53,000 investment in GameStop stock in 2019 into an ostensible $48 million fortune — playing an outsize role in sending the stock soaring by 1,700 percent in the process. Identifying himself as Roaring Kitty on YouTube, Gill maintained an exuberant presence, wearing cat T-shirts and flashy headbands to cheerlead a separate frenzy surrounding the stock; many online commenters had no idea the two entities were in fact the same person. On February 10, Massachusetts securities regulators issued a subpoena for Gill’s testimony as part of a review of his registration as a broker, including his “outside business activities.” And the SEC is reportedly probing whether fraudulent social-media posting boosted GameStop stock.
“This is still unfolding,” points out Braun — who, incidentally, says he watched The Big Short again as his documentary went into preproduction in early February. “Maybe the most interesting part hasn’t even happened yet. It might be happening in a month from now. I don’t know. I mean, nobody knows. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a hot story. Anything could happen.”