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Would you watch a movie about a counterfeiting cartel?

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Published : May 04th, 2013
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Category : Editorials
One of the biggest strangleholds on our freedom is the money and banking system we’re forced to endure.  I wrote a novel about it in 2008.  It’s good, especially for a first novel, but good isn’t good enough.  It doesn’t have the broad appeal I wanted.  It steps hard on some cherished postulates such as the legitimacy of U.S. entry into World War I.  It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, not an expedient to save Morgan’s investments.

World War I was a classic example of the wealth transfer effect of monetary inflation.  When wealth is shifted to a government eager to go to war, the country goes to war, and millions of people die, most of them young.  Even when bundled snugly within a tense plot, the connection of fiat money to war and other government adventures is not something the general reader cares about.  Evil bankers they readily accept, but an evil banking system leaves them cold.  

Nevertheless, I’ve always thought the story’s tagline - that of a Fed chairman who sparks a grass-roots movement to bring the roof down on our money and banking system - could serve as the backbone for a good movie.

I therefore set about to develop a screenplay based on that premise, using the book as a rough guideline while re-structuring the plot to incorporate more suspense and action.  Omitting certain characters and scenes helped sharpen the storyline.  I also allow the characters to use profanity as they see fit, though there’s still very little.   Along with most of the world, I’ve learned a few things since 2008 and wanted to reflect that in the story as well.  As it stands the script is 99 pages long, which translates to about 99 minutes of run time. 

A producer reads a script for one reason: to decide if it could make money.  Can a story about a topic few people find interesting be injected with enough adrenaline to make it profitable?  Without diluting the message?  Some pro-liberty movies have been financially successful, others have not.  Antiestablishment financial success depends on many things, but chief among them is the manner in which the writer exposes the problems.  Does the writer work up a case against bad people in a good system?   Or does he argue that the system itself is flawed and only attracts bad people?   

Most people cling tightly to the belief that the system that rules them is fundamentally good but subject to corruption.  They accept corruption.  Corruption can be corrected.  They don’t accept being told the system is inherently bad.  They can’t correct the system without a revolution, and people are not revolutionaries.  With few exceptions the ones who claim they’re revolutionaries can be bought off. 

V for Vendetta was a strong anti-state film set in a dystopian future, with a production budget of $54 million and worldwide gross receipts of $132,511,035V strikes a blow against totalitarianism but is vague on what should replace it.  The black comedy Wag the Dog in which a Hollywood producer is hired to create a fake war to distract attention from a presidential sex scandal had a budget of $15 million and pulled in $64,256,513.  Unlike V, Wag the Dog had marquee stars to help boost sales.  Wag the Dog hits hard against democracy and the manner in which voters can be manipulated, but does not even hint that democracy should be replaced.

In both movies government flaws were exposed while providing strong entertainment value, though of a categorically different nature. Both movies made money without providing answers to the problems they exposed.  People don’t go to the movies for answers.  If they walk out of the theater with an answer it is not an answer to a question the movie explicitly raised.

Hollywood follows the advice Samuel Goldwyn once gave a producer: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”  Don’t make movies that lecture.  Make movies that entertain.  A movie that lectures might appeal to critics but it turns most movie-goers off.  Check the list of top grossing filmsAvatar, Titanic, The Avengers, Harry Potter, Transformers, The Lord of the Rings -- it is not a lecture series.

Atlas Shrugged is a novel that does a lot of lecturing.  How do you make it into a movie people will pay to watch?  Answer: You omit the lectures, or at least scale them down considerably.  But if you omit the lectures, what will you have?  An entertaining something that’s not Atlas?  Even with the lecturing at a minimum, Atlas parts I & II have lost money.  There are other reasons for the losses - low budget, lack of big stars, splitting it up into parts - but without the lectures libertarians were disappointed, and they’re the ones who had to be fired up enough to drag others to see it.

Given that a recent poll found that “banks and financial institutions are still the least trusted sectors in the whole global economy,” there’s a plausible train of thought that says people would have a strong interest in a movie that shows them why their distrust is well-placed -- provided it’s also highly entertaining.  It’s not as if people are distrustful of certain banks or bankers; it’s the institution of banking they don’t trust.   Superficially, at least, this suggests people are ripe for a drama about a counterfeiting cartel.  Maybe they are, and maybe this is an idea a scriptwriter could sell to Hollywood.  (That’s what I’m attempting.)  Or maybe it’s not in Hollywood’s domain, since it has to answer the question: What’s wrong with banks and financial institutions?

But even if a script could be written that wows a few people in Hollywood, who would finance it?  Certainly not Ben Bernanke.  Certainly not his banking cohorts.

I told a friend my script would need at least three miracles to complete the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.  They’re the standard requirements for any script, but in this industry it is miracles that a speculative scriptwriter needs.  And they are:  Getting at least one producer to fall madly in love with it, getting financing for it, getting it produced. 

I’m at the pre-miracle stage, looking for a producer. 
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George F. Smith is the author of The Flight of the Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman and the editor of Barbarous
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