Jeff Prosserman’s documentary “Chasing Madoff” has been garnering praise after premiering at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam last November. Below producer, writer, director Prosserman shares a scene from his film (based on the New York Times best-seller “No One Would Listen” by Harry Markopolos) and reveals part of his process. The film hits select theaters this Friday, August 26.
When the Bernard Madoff scandal broke in December of 2008, I was fascinated with the magnitude of the scheme and the scope of what thousands of people had lost. As news reports and pundits focused on the financial losses, more than anything, I remained attracted to the stories of the real people connected to this crisis. As a filmmaker, I saw the foundations of an epic tale featuring some of the greatest characters in recent history. I also realized so much of this story had yet to unfold.
In my preliminary research, I discovered financial analyst Harry Markopolosʼ 2005 report to the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) entitled “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is A Fraud.” Years before the collapse, this report targeted Madoff’s investment strategy as a giant “Ponzi” scheme. After meeting Harry, I was awestruck by his extraordinary conviction and dedication – his dogged determination over the course of nearly a decade to pursue an unpopular and completely unsupported campaign. I began to investigate. Why did no one listen? Who else was guilty that had yet to be brought to justice? And most grippingly, what personal tolls did Harry endure?
“Chasing Madoff” reveals the shocking true story of Harry Markopolos, securities analyst turned vigilante investigator, and his team in their hunt to bring a covert network of financial predators to justice. Harry risked everything for the truth only to be ignored for nearly a decade. Facing incalculable personal risk and fighting against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, this is the classic story of the lone man who stood up for what he believed in. As the team describes their harrowing journey, the story reveals those in the financial services industry that continue to feed on the public and the overwhelming lack of government oversight.
We started development on “Chasing Madoff” by conducting pre-interviews with Harry and his team to gain a deep understanding of their investigation. We discovered Harry was a classic underdog and a self-proclaimed financial sleuth. We also found many parallels with the Film Noir genre and decided to craft the spine of the story and visual style of the film with this in mind.
With the effects of the recent financial crisis still unfolding, “Chasing Madoff” is a microcosm of the greed and hubris that plague our turbulent economic times. For me, the film is a financial thriller wrapped in an ethical case study.
The shooting range scene is a dramatic turning point in the film. This scene sparks the underlying dread that Harry develops throughout his investigation. After discovering that the SEC would not follow-up on his initial report, Harry began to fear for his life and felt compelled to protect his family. This pivotal scene shifts our focus from the crime to the psychology of our protagonist.
When preparing to shoot this scene, we decided to create tension by juxtaposing extreme long shots with close-ups. We chose to rack focus on some shots and to frame Harry from obstructed angles to project his disorientated perspective. We got a dynamic range of footage but had a strong sense of what shots would be used to define the scene. My intention was to capture the impression of Harry’s experience, to capture the uncomfortable feeling of being watched.
In post-production, we attempted to blur the lines between documentary and fiction. Our editors maintained a brisk cut-rate and included a few longer shots to create breathing room. In the rough cut, we discovered this scene had a profound effect on the audience’s perception of Harry. We also came to realize we did not require a single gunshot on camera because the suspense of the scene came in the build.
The music and sound design in this scene reinforce Harry’s perspective. Our composer wrote over an hour of original music for the film. As we worked on the score, specific instruments and chords came to represent characters and themes. In this scene, our music editor created a variation on Harry’s theme. Our sound designer and I added sharp sound effects like the gunshots and ringing bell to create additional tension. The music and sound design became integral elements in defining the dramatic language of the film.
Looking back, I remember that Harry brought all different types of guns to the shooting range that day. Although I intended for this scene to unravel with the control of a narrative film, I remember our collective precautionary concern because in this film, the guns were real.