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Meet the 2011 ND/NF Filmmakers: "Margin Call" Director JC Chandor

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire March 21, 2011 at 3:16AM

As the world discovered in 2008, the masters of the financial universe sit in anonymous offices in generic towers in lower Manhattan, staring at numbers that don’t add up. JC Chandor’s timely and terrifying dramatic exposé tackles twenty-four hours on an investment bank trading floor; a day that brings layer upon layer of human and professional malfeasance that jeopardizes the entire fabric of the banking system. This is a system sustained and sequestered by corporate security guards, convoluted mathematic formulas, and, of course, greed. An all-star ensemble cast—led by Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons—propels the ominous events of this day toward the abyss, preserving just enough pathos to allow us ultimately to recognize these bankers’ humanity. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF].
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As the world discovered in 2008, the masters of the financial universe sit in anonymous offices in generic towers in lower Manhattan, staring at numbers that don’t add up. JC Chandor’s timely and terrifying dramatic exposé tackles twenty-four hours on an investment bank trading floor; a day that brings layer upon layer of human and professional malfeasance that jeopardizes the entire fabric of the banking system. This is a system sustained and sequestered by corporate security guards, convoluted mathematic formulas, and, of course, greed. An all-star ensemble cast—led by Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons—propels the ominous events of this day toward the abyss, preserving just enough pathos to allow us ultimately to recognize these bankers’ humanity. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF].

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the 40th edition of New Directors/New Films to submit responses in their own words about their films. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

"Margin Call"
Opening Night Selection
Writer/Director: JC Chandor
Producers: Robert Ogden Barrum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto
Executive Producers: Joshua Blum, Kirk D’Amico, Cassian Elwes, Rose Ganguzza, Randy Manis, Laura Rister
Music by: Nathan Larson
Cinematographer: Frank G. DeMarco
Editor: Peter Beaudreau
Production Designer: John Paino
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci

Responses courtesy of "Margin Call" director JC Chandor.

Early aspirations...

I have been making films in one form or another since I was ten-years-old. My sister and I used our family's first generation VHS camera to stage elaborate productions out of our basement. Later in high school, when I realized you could do this and make a living at it, I could think of little else. It's taken me 20 years to actually get to the point of being able to support myself and my family making narrative films but it's a dream come true.

Providing a window into the economic crisis...

I wrote this film during the fall of 2008, literally during the heart of the economic crisis. At the time, it wasn't known exactly to what extent the responsibility for the crisis would lay at the feet of investment bankers, but I saw these characters providing a very interesting window into the mindset that to a certain extent had influenced our entire country. As it turned out, over the next two years we have learned that these very characters lay at the absolute heart of the crisis and the film has taken on some different baggage because of that.

Shedding light on the characters' actions...

The film at it's core is a very simple character study. But instead of spending two hours looking at just one or two characters, I took one piece of information and sent it up the chain of command of an entire company. My hope was that by witnessing the moment that each of these eight characters learn that everything they have believed in and worked towards is a ticking time bomb that is about to go off, the audience is given a window into a world and moment in people's lives that they don't normally get to see. Also, I hope to give the audience an idea why these decisions got made the way they did. In my opinion, it wasn't as simple as because they are just evil and
greedy people. The greed is there, obviously, but it's almost always a little more complicated than that.

The challenge of funding...

Trying to raise the money in the middle of the largest recession/depression of our lifetime was less than ideal. The subject matter didn't help either. But we kept attracting great actors to the script and finally it got some footing and off we went. I had spent nine years developing another script of mine and it never got it made, so compared to that process, this was a dream.

The benefit of a tight schedule...

I wrote this script with the intention of directing it myself, so it was written to be shot quickly and for under a million dollars. We ended up shooting it for more than that but we stuck to a very tight schedule of 17 days. As a result, we ended up shooting about 90 percent of the movie on one floor of a skyscraper in New York City. Not having to be constantly moving everyday allowed us to concentrate on the performances and the things that really matter. I also think there is this really fascinating sub-layer of panic that comes through to the surface of many of the performances, and I think subconsciously some of that came from the extreme pace we were shooting at. It was something I really embraced as we were editing the film and I don't think I would have gotten that if we had 30 days to shoot the film. Throughout this process, I was always trying to use our weaknesses as strengths and this is a prime example of that.

Upcoming projects...

I have been under a writing contract with Warner Bros. since last summer and handed in the first draft of that project during the holidays. We are also starting cast on my next writing and directing project and we are planning on shooting that late this summer.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews, Margin Call