Neal Dodson couldn't bear to watch "Margin Call" one more time.
He admitted that fact as he introduced Before The Door's first feature length film Nov. 17 at York College.
In 2008, Dodson started Before The Door with his college friends and actors Zach Quinto and Corey Moosa. When they stumbled across J.C. Chandor's script about a firm in financial crisis, they knew they had to bring it to the screen.
"Margin Call" is playing in large markets, so Nov. 17 was the local premiere. The audience packed the theater and two overflow rooms. The film is also available on iTunes and Amazon; I had downloaded it earlier this month. I could bear to watch the movie one more time.
Dodson brought his wife, actress Ashley Williams, to the screening and reserved seats for his family in the front row.
Before he ducked out, he warned his grandmother about the swear words.
It's no wonder that the characters - employees at a financial firm - curse many times. The housing bubble is about to pop and their careers are on the line. The tension builds slowly. The script is quietly brilliant. It's smarter and less schmaltzy than "Wall Street."
But the wow factor is the acting. The cast - an All-Star lineup of Hollywood stars - includes Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons, Oscar nominees Stanley Tucci and Mary McDonnell, BAFTA nominee Paul Bettany, Golden Globe nominees Demi Moore and Simon Baker and rising stars Penn Badgley, Quinto and Williams.
Judging from the feedback during a discussion after the screening, the local audience felt the same way. Dodson answered questions.
How did you get so many big stars?
Dodson credited the script, which Chandor wrote and made into his directorial debut. Chandor's father worked at Merrill Lynch for decades. Dodson said that all he had to do was ask agents if some stars were available. The fact that the movie had a 17-day shoot helped. It was quick enough that some actors could squeeze it in between other projects, Dodson said.
What was Spacey like?
Dodson said that he heard Spacey could be harsh, but that was not his experience. On the first night, they took Spacey out to dinner. Dodson said Spacey pulled out a stack of index cards filled with his lines and questions about the script.
The dinner lasted five hours.
Spacey, Dodson said, is dedicated. For his role in "Margin Call," Spacey gained weight, wore a wig and took a public speaking course.
How did you charm people into giving you their money to make the movie?
There was one person who financed the $3.4 million film - Michael Benaroya. His father was an early investor in Starbucks, Dodson said.
Dodson's job is to pitch a movie with a projected budget and timeline. Hundreds of people do it every day in Hollywood. When movies are made through a studio like Warner Bros., the studio takes the risk.
For independent movies, people are hired to work out distribution deals, which is the main way investors recoup their money
Dodson said the stars were willing to work way below their normal salary, since they believed in the movie.
"When you take a job for money, it can be a different relationship with the movie," he said.
Did the director feel intimidated while working with many big stars on his first film?
"He trusted them to do their job," Dodson said. Chandor's wife had a baby 10 days before the first day of shooting. Dodson said that helped keep Chandor focused on his job and not the star factor.
"He had something more important going on," Dodson said.
What do you think the movie says about Wall Street?
"It doesn't tell you how to think about the subject," Dodson said of the film. "I think it's about how people handle themselves. (The characters have) no real choice in the equation . . . no matter how the moral and ethical questions go."
The movie doesn't show papers flying or people screaming amid a market meltdown. Dodson, who spent time on trading floors to research the movie, said those things rarely happen in real life, so they don't happen in "Margin Call."
Most people assume the fictional firm is based on Lehman Brothers, but Dodson said that's not true. He said he compares the firm to those that survived the financial crisis, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
Some American distributors worried that "Margin Call" would be too similar to the HBO movie "Too Big to Fail."
In other countries, people were asking him why there weren't more movies being made about the financial collapse.
"I found that difference fascinating," Dodson said.
PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In their words
"I am so glad I met Neal, he's everything you want from a movie producer - intelligent, calm, dedicated to excellence, has great taste and knows how to throw a party. I can't wait (until) I get to work with him again."
- Paul Bettany, plays Will Emerson
"Neal was so instrumental to each stage of getting this film made that, had we never met, it's very clear to me that it would just be another unproduced script sitting on my shelf instead of this film that we are all so proud of. Neal never wavered for a second in standing up for and defending the original intent and integrity of the script, which is a rare and invaluable trait in a producer and collaborator."
- J.C. Chandor, director
The score was created by recording sounds of the building the movie was filmed in. The sounds were remixed into music.
Paul Bettany's character drives an Aston Martin. "We paid dearly to use it, but it was worth it," Dodson said.
There are no crimes committed in the movie.
Before The Door made $35,000 on the movie, which it spent two-and-a-half years producing.
But Dodson said, creating a good film means that investors will have more confidence in future projects.
"We're trying to figure it out now," Dodson said of the company's future. "We want to evaluate . . . what we want to do."
Before The Door has a small romantic comedy and a horror movie in the works. It's also developing another J.C. Chandor script.
"We're branching out," Dodson said. He said the company hopes to develop the two graphic novels it produces into movies.
Recently, Dodson counted 11 feature films, nine short films and two TV series in the "active" column on his project board.
For details about Before the Door, visit www.beforethedoor.com.
Humanities Film Series
Up next in the Humanities Film Series:
Director Ramin Bahrani will present his films "Goodbye Solo" and "Plastic Bag" at 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 in York College's Humanities Center Room 218, 441 Country Club Road, Spring Garden Township. The event is free and a question-and-answer session will follow.
"Goodbye Solo," which debuted at the Venice Film Festival, follows an unlikely friendship between a Senegalese cab driver and a man from Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bahrani's films have screened at Cannes, Sundance, Berlin and Toronto film festivals. He's won an Independent Spirit Award and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a faculty member at Columbia University's graduate film program.
For details about Bahrani, visit noruzfilms.com.