Business news was once confined to the economics pages of newspapers. The most interesting could turn into a book, certainly not a film or a television series. But in the past five years, tales of triumphs and (much more often) financial disasters have burst onto the public stage in the form of audio, video and film.
With the proliferation of streaming services, huge spaces have opened up to be filled with TV series that the public can watch all in one go. The popularity of productions such as Successioncentered around a family-controlled media empire, or Billionson the world of hedge funds, has definitively consecrated inquiries and news on the world of business and finance as the perfect material to inspire films and TV series.
One format leads to another
“The streaming industry has grown the demand for new stories, with a great demand for storytelling and characters that are plausible, deep and rich,” explains Elizabeth Wachtel, of artist and sports agency WME. “I think the complex characters have become particularly attractive. And in finance these characters abound “.
Wachtel is one literary packaging agent, i.e. responsible for the acquisition of rights for adaptation. His job is to look for essays that can be turned into documentaries, series and films. One of Wme’s clients is Beth Macy, author of Dopesickessay on the opioid crisis and the involvement of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, transformed into the series with Michael Keaton broadcast by Hulu and Disney +.
Another series in development is based on Billion dollar whale, the investigation by former Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope into the millionaire fraud linked to the Malaysian government-owned 1Malaysia development berhad fund. Dan McCrum of the Financial Times, who disclosed the scam of the financial technology company Wirecard, will publish the book in June Money menwhich reconstructs his investigation and will become a Netflix documentary.
Hope and Wright started Project Brazen, which they describe as a “news production house” to “deliver exciting stories in the form of podcasts, books, documentaries, series and films.” “If you write a book, a Hollywood big shot invariably comes with his dazzling smile. He shakes your hand, tells you ‘I’m going to make a movie’ and takes your work away from you, ”explains Hope. Project Brazen would like to allow authors to work as journalists and at the same time control their works more.
Podcasts are increasingly a stepping stone to the small and big screen. The story of Theranos, the blood analysis startup whose charismatic founder Elizabeth Holmes was convicted of scam in January 2022, was told in John Carreyrou’s 2018 essay. Bad blood, on which an Adam McKay film starring Jennifer Lawrence is based. Meanwhile, inspired by the same story, a documentary by Alex Gibney has been released, The inventorand a popular ABC podcast,The dropout, which in turn inspired the series broadcast by Disney +. Even the series WeCrashed (Apple Tv +) was born from a Wondery podcast about Adam Neumann, a WeWork company executive, and his wife Rebekah.
Project Brazen would like to specialize on podcasts because it can produce them directly: they are “effective” in framing a story and give space “to the original voices,” explains Hope.
With audiences that, in terms of popularity, make less and less distinction between various formats, and with Hollywood ready to write rich checks to those who offer analysis of the financial world, the sector is in turmoil. Faced with the possibility of making large profits from the research of their journalists, publishers such as Condé Nast have created divisions dedicated to the production of films based on the investigations.
William D. Cohan, author of The last tycoons (on the investment bank Lazard Frères) and _House of cards _ (on the investment bank Bear Stearns), remembers that ten years ago the financial stories were unattractive. The police, judicial and hospital plots dominated. Today, however, Hollywood “has realized that viewers can keep their attention for more than 35 minutes on stories that tell the world of finance”.
Keep interest high
However, an artistic device, in the form of fiction or non-fiction, is required to win and hold the attention of the public. The scripts must be plausible enough not to irritate the experts, but they must also avoid too many technicalities. Cohan points out that Billionsdespite the setting in the sector of hedge fund, it almost never shows a character in front of the inevitable screens with quotes. Adam McKay, in the _Grande bet _ (taken from the book by Michael Lewis) tried to keep the audience’s interest high by hiring some celebrities to explain the more technical aspects.
By focusing on the scandals, the producers of finance-based series are certainly not doing capitalism a favor. On the other hand, Hollywood bigwigs with bright smiles are not interested in producing a six-episode Netflix series about the most reliable financial cultures or the sense of responsibility of bankers who help small business owners. The stories of financial cheating, on the other hand, are compelling.
“The best plots contain an investigation phase in which you try to uncover the scandal, but then evolve into Shakespearean plays. And I personally can’t imagine anything more Shakespearean than money, ”Hope points out.
Will the appetite for financial short stories spell the end of the finance book industry, prompting authors to seek the spotlight directly with podcasts or movies?
Wachtel is not convinced: “Books, on the contrary, are in the foreground”. Cohan points to the risk of young writers pointing to the blessing of Hollywood as “some sort of confirmation of their worth,” but the agents recall how difficult it is to go from selling the rights to actually releasing a film with the author’s name in. evidence.
Furthermore, in the world of the media as well as in the world of finance, bubbles can form that are destined to burst. “The next financial earthquake is likely to put an end to these things,” Cohan predicts. “Nobody will want to watch financial dramas in a time of economic distress.” ◆ as