Because Paramount Pictures’ “The Big Short” takes place within an industry riddled with obtuse terminology, director Adam McKay knew he needed an entertaining way to clarify some core concepts for the audience.
“People need to know this stuff in order to follow the story, but when you first hear phrases like ‘collateralized debt obligation’ or ‘credit default swap,’ they make you feel stupid and bored,” McKay says. “Bankers do everything they can to make these transactions seem really complicated, so we came up with the idea of having celebrities pop up on the screen throughout the movie and explain things directly to the audience.”
The cleverly staged cameos include “The Wolf of Wall Street” star Margot Robbie demystifying mortgage-backed securities while drinking champagne in a bubble bath, and chef/TV host Anthony Bourdain comparing leftover fish to toxic financial assets.
McKay says he recruited Bourdain for the scene after reading his memoir Kitchen Confidential. “He tells readers that they should not order seafood stew because it’s where cooks put all the crap they couldn’t sell,” says the director. “I thought ‘Oh my God that’s a perfect metaphor for a collateralized debt obligation, where the banks bundle a bunch of bad mortgages and sell it as a triple-A rated financial product.’”
To illustrate the ruinous domino effect triggered by the collapse of so-called “synthetic CDO’s,” McKay paired Selena Gomez with behavioral economist Dr. Richard Thaler in a scene set in a casino. As Thaler expounds upon the idea of “Extrapolation Bias” – the tendency to assume that something that’s happening now will continue to happen – Gomez sits at a blackjack table with a giant stack of chips. “It’s a kind of high-low dynamic where we’ve got Selena playing blackjack as onlookers take side bets on her hand,” says McKay. “It was investors making those kinds of side bets on mortgage-backed securities through CDOs that drove the whole world economy to where it was poised to crash.”
Gomez admits she was surprised to get a call from McKay for “The Big Short.” “I read the script and didn’t understand most of it, which scared the hell out of me because I do think it’s important to learn about our economic system,” says the young actress and pop superstar. “But after I talked to Adam, it made sense to be part of this movie. I get a chance to use my platform and communicate to people who care about me. My generation is the next generation coming up. It’s important for us to understand what happened.”
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, “The Big Short” is vying for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Adam McKay), Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
In the film, when four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: the big short. (To “short” in Wall Street language means, “to make a bet against”). Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything.
Now showing across the Philippines, “The Big Short” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.