Wall Street in­sid­ers grant Stone ac­cess for se­quel

Los Angeles Times - - Business - Nathaniel Pop­per

Wall Street is no­to­ri­ously close­mouthed about its ar­cane wealth-pro­duc­ing ways, but when Oliver Stone came knock­ing last year, doors swung open.

Stone’s new film, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” in­cludes cameos by War­ren Buf­fett and short­seller James Chanos. The filmmaker shot on Wall Street trad­ing floors given over for the pur­pose. And he plumbed the wis­dom of nu­mer­ous kings of fi­nance.

When Stone first asked fi­nancier Dave Mol­ner to serve as an ad­vi­sor on the film, Mol­ner said, “That’s not what I do, and you couldn’t pay me enough to make it worth my while. But I’m happy to help you.”

“If noth­ing else, it’s fan­tas­tic brag­ging rights at par­ties,” Mol­ner said by way of ex­pla­na­tion.

There were a few in­stances, how­ever, when peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions ducked Stone’s in­vi­ta­tion for a lit­tle back­ground help, the di­rec­tor said in an in­ter­view.

“When my name was in­voked, some­times it would strike fear into the hearts of the bankers,” he said. “Cer­tainly Gold­man Sachs and [JPMor­gan] Chase were not in the mar­ket to talk to us.”

But Stone said he made sure to reach out to de­fend­ers of Wall Street as well as the crit­ics.

“By talk­ing to peo­ple like that, you have the right to ques­tion the big shots,” he said.

The in­volve­ment of Mol­ner and other Masters of the Uni­verse un­der­scores the con­tin­u­ing com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wall Street and its most un­abashed cin­e­matic critic, Stone, whose new­est cri­tique of high fi­nance de­buts na­tion­ally Fri­day.

The re­la­tion­ship be­gan in Stone’s 1987 film “Wall Street,” which set up the main char­ac­ter, Gor­don Gekko, as a cau­tion­ary tale about greed run

Los An­ge­les Times

‘Oliver Stone … be­lieves that the lower quar­tile of so­ci­ety is suf­fer­ing in a mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety — and you know, he’s prob­a­bly right on some of the stuff he’s say­ing.’ — An­thony Scara­mucci,

Sky­bridge Cap­i­tal hedge fund founder

amok but ended up cre­at­ing a glam­orous archetype for a sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tion of young traders and in­vest­ment bankers.

In “Money Never Sleeps,” Stone draws a scathing pic­ture of how the en­tire Wall Street com­plex helped cre­ate the near-melt­down of the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

“The ones who run the show, at the top of the totem poll, they com­pletely let us down,” Stone said. “They should have been fired, and some of them should go to jail.”

But the film it­self was shaped from be­gin­ning to end with co­op­er­a­tion from among the biggest names in the in­dus­try — some of whom strug­gle to ex­plain their affin­ity for the wily, of­ten anti-cap­i­tal­ist di­rec­tor.

“I’m a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can; I’m a fairly free-mar­ket per­son. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a good re­la­tion­ship with Oliver Stone,” said An­thony Scara­mucci, founder of the hedge fund Sky­bridge Cap­i­tal, who pops up in the film as a talk­ing head on a news pro­gram. “Oliver Stone is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent opin­ion. He be­lieves that the lower quar­tile of so­ci­ety is suf­fer­ing in a mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety — and you know, he’s prob­a­bly right on some of the stuff he’s say­ing.”

Vin­cent Far­rell, the chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer at Soleil Se­cu­ri­ties, had a much sim­pler ex­pla­na­tion: “I’m like ev­ery­body else, to­tally star struck.”

The in­volve­ment of Wall Street in­sid­ers in the new film be­gan long be­fore the first takes. At the very be­gin­ning there was Stone’s fa­ther, who was a stock­bro­ker all the way into the 1980s at Shear­son Lehman.

“My fa­ther was the old school,” Stone said. “Dad would al­ways say things like, ‘There should not be a profit with­out pro­duc­tion,’ and ‘The en­gine of cap­i­tal­ism — Wall Street — should be geared to pro­duc­tiv­ity.’ “

Work­ing from this up­bring­ing, Stone cre­ated a script for “Money Never Sleeps” with Al­lan Loeb that he then cir­cu­lated to fi­nan­cial big­wigs.

The orig­i­nal script in­volved a hedge fund-re­lated murder, and the first thing Stone heard was that he needed a dif­fer­ent plot. Even for ruth­less traders and bankers, whack­ing one of their own was over the top.

“If you are go­ing to do a se­quel, here you have one of the great Wall Street sto­ries sit­ting at your doorstep,” Chanos, the founder of Kynikos As­so­ci­ates, said he told Stone, re­fer­ring to the credit cri­sis that hit in 2008.

“We switched it to bankers, be­cause I re­al­ized that’s where the ac­tion is,” Stone said.

Some ad­vi­sors say that as the project un­folded they were able to ex­er­cise a mod­er­at­ing in­flu­ence on the di­rec­tor’s view of fi­nanciers.

“He was con­vinced there had to be a sin­gle bad guy,” Mol­ner said. “I told him, ‘It’s not that sim­ple. You can’t point to any one per­son’s ac­tions. But it would be sopho­moric to re­duce it to one big bad wolf.’ ”

Soon enough Stone had a new script that told a lightly fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of the cri­sis, with a firm named Churchill Schwartz that looks a lot like Gold­man Sachs, and a Trea­sury sec­re­tary with a bald head who bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to Henry M. Paul­son.

As Stone’s ac­tors be­gan pre­par­ing for their roles, they spent weeks on the trad­ing floor of firms in­clud­ing Knight Trad­ing and John Thomas Fi­nan­cial watch­ing the traders at their desks and then dis­cussing the sub­tleties at drinks af­ter work. Some­times the con­ver­sa­tion re­vealed com­mon in­ter­ests. When Chanos met co-stars Dou­glas and Josh Brolin for din­ner, Chanos learned that Brolin was an avid day trader.

“We ended up talk­ing about stocks the whole night,” Chanos said.

Once shoot­ing got un­der­way Stone had a fi­nan­cial ex­ec­u­tive on set the en­tire time to get the de­tails right. Far­rell, a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at Soleil, trudged to the New Jersey set ev­ery week­end for a few months and sat at a video monitor keep­ing tabs of shoot­ing with a run­ner at his side in case any­thing looked wrong.

One week­end, Far­rell raised ques­tions about a scene in which the vil­lain­ous bank CEO — based partly on JPMor­gan Chase & Co. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jamie Di­mon, Stone said — was at a late-night meet­ing with his tie loos­ened and jacket off.

“He would not have his jacket off; he just wouldn’t, be­cause he’s the man,” Far­rell said he told Stone. “You might have that with govern­ment em­ploy­ees like Tim Gei­th­ner, but not with the masters of the uni­verse.”

“Al­most ev­ery time I said some­thing, he said, ‘ OK, we’ll do it that way,’ ” Far­rell said.

A few fi­nanciers man­aged to get even more in­volved. When Stone was scout­ing for lo­ca­tions, he came across Thomas Be­le­sis, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the trad­ing firm John Thomas Fi­nan­cial, and told him to go straight to cast­ing.

“I did a read­ing and I blew it out of the wa­ter,” Be­le­sis said. “ He was very im­pressed, and he gave me a role.”

Be­le­sis, a child of Greek im­mi­grants with a work­ing­class Long Is­land ac­cent, brought his patented swag­ger­ing style to the film. When Be­le­sis was shoot­ing a scene de­pict­ing the down­fall of a Lehman Bros.-like trad­ing firm, he told Stone, “Lis­ten, let me do it my way be­cause I got a great thought for a scene like this. And he just let me roll with my way.” His way in­volved Be­le­sis strolling out of the of­fice with sun­glasses on and a cigar dan­gling from his mouth.

“He’s a great char­ac­ter. He’s got the Greek war­rior — the ‘300’ look,” Stone said.

The fi­nal prod­uct does not present Be­le­sis and his traders in a ter­ri­bly fa­vor­able light. Gekko is still a schem­ing ma­nip­u­la­tor, but as he watches the mod­ern­day firms ramp up their lever­age and splurge on credit de­fault swaps, he says, “This puts me to shame.”

This might seem like a re­buke to play­ers such as Be­le­sis, who founded a group to de­fend Wall Street, and Scara­mucci, who told Pres­i­dent Obama dur­ing a re­cent round ta­ble that he was tired of see­ing Wall Street treated like a piñata for pub­lic bash­ing.

But both Be­le­sis and Scara­mucci said they thought Stone care­fully chose his tar­gets and got them right. As Scara­mucci put it, “The truth of the mat­ter is that we on Wall Street haven’t done such su­per great jobs. That’s the facts.”

Mol­ner said that it was largely due to the cred­i­bil­ity Stone won 23 years ago from “Wall Street” that beaten-down fi­nan­cial­is­tas were will­ing to lis­ten to him this time, which might even pro­voke some re­flec­tion among a crowd not known for deep in­tro­spec­tion.

“If you can en­joy the movie and ask a ques­tion or two, that’s a good thing,” Mol­ner said. “It can be both en­ter­tain­ment and a sup­port group.” nathaniel.pop­per@latimes .com

Carolyn Cole

NEW CA­REER: Thomas Be­le­sis, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the trad­ing firm John Thomas Fi­nan­cial, was cast by Oliver Stone in his se­quel to “Wall Street.” “I did a read­ing and I blew it out of the wa­ter,” Be­le­sis said.

Barry Wetcher 20th Cen­tury Fox

PER­FORM­ING: Be­le­sis, right, plays an ex­ec­u­tive in “Wall Street” Money Never Sleeps.” “He’s a great char­ac­ter,” Stone said.

Barry Wetcher

SCENE: Oliver Stone di­rects Michael Dou­glas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which draws a scathing pic­ture of how the en­tire Wall Street com­plex helped cre­ate the near-melt­down of the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

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