Dumb Money director watched his son take part in the GameStop short squeeze | CBC News

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“Again, I’m not looking to do real stories,” said Craig Gillespie, the director of Dumb Money, a fictionalization of the GameStop stock short squeeze, half laughing at himself. “Somehow, they find me.”

The Australian director’s joking denial stems from what can only be called a damning track record when it comes to “based-on-a-true-story” movies. Beginning with the Disney sports biopic Million Dollar Arm, to the coast guard thriller The Finest Hours, on to I, TonyaPam & Tommy and the upcoming exotic-dancing true-crime flick Chippendales.

But when it comes to his newest film, the story wasn’t pitched to him by a professional. Instead, Gillespie came to the subject of Dumb Money organically during the pandemic, watching his son take part in the GameStop phenomenon, the very story he would put to the screen just two years later.

“He was 24, and he was on WallStreetBets, and he was living this experience,” Gillespie explained.

“He’d done his homework; he’d been following a lot of different other platforms as well. And he timed these options — he got out perfectly.”

WATCH | The official trailer for Dumb Money:

What exactly he got out of was the infamous 2021 stock short squeeze of ostensibly undervalued brick and mortar GameStop video game stores.

WallStreetBets was the engine under the hood: a Reddit page largely dedicated to the wisdom of digital deity “Roaring Kitty,” who nearly single-handedly inspired a working-class revolution in stock trading and “collective effervescence.” 

That is, if we are to believe Gillespie’s screenplay.

The movie — which saw its limited release today — follows the actions of Roaring Kitty, also known as Keith Patrick Gill, a real-life financial analyst and YouTuber who argued his followers should immediately scoop up stock for GameStop — a video game retailer that seemed about as relevant as your neighbourhood Blockbuster. 

They did, and the stock price began to skyrocket. When some opportunistic hedge fund managers looked to “short sell” that stock — effectively betting the price would soon fall, a strategy usually only open to wealthy investors — Gill implored his followers to hold onto their options, and continue buying more. 

As Gill’s message became a rallying cry, thousands did exactly as he asked.

Soon the stock price rose astronomically, and the short-selling hedge fund managers stood to lose billions — until regulators stepped in to halt it all. Those actions turned the initial David and Goliath story into something many felt was a worrying sign of our times.

“The outrage and the frustration and the anger that was happening online and the chatter around this,” Gillespie said of what he witnessed, watching his son experience it all in real time. “I was privy to all of it through him.”

man at computer talks to a screen
In Dumb Money, Paul Dano plays Keith Patrick Gill, a.k.a Roaring Kitty, a real-life financial analyst and YouTuber who rallied retail stock market traders to buy shares in video game retailer GameStop. (Sony Pictures)

Finding their Roaring Kitty

The narrative immediately struck him as worthwhile and already had its hero built in. Gillespie centred the movie around Gill and found their Roaring Kitty fairly early on.

Inspired by Paul Dano’s performance as a stranded man using a corpse as an all-purposes tool in Swiss Army Man, Gillespie says the actor stood out not only because of his range, but because of the “joy” he put into that performance. 

And his tendency to research didn’t hurt, either. 

“I mean, Roaring Kitty for a year was posting these seven-hour videos once a week,” Gillespie said. “I think Paul may have watched all of them.”

That contrasted with Pete Davidson, who plays Gill’s brother, a constant improviser whose dynamic Dano apparently loved. 

Despite the film’s comedic tone, Gillespie says it exists because of growing unrest and feelings of injustice. In the vein of recent movies like Triangle of Sadness, The Menu and The Hunt, it channels anger toward the wealthy — though with the added element of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gillespie says the isolation people felt then, and the ensuing re-evaluation of their lives, is the main undercurrent of his movie. 

“That was the lightning rod that made GameStop happen,” he said. “I think it’s like there was this real discontent, this real frustration. GameStop became a way to voice that frustration, to like, really stick it to the man, as it were.”

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