HBO Films’ “Too Big to Fail” Based on Andrew Ross Sorkin Book Debuts Monday, May 23 at 9pm ET
via press release:
HBO FILMS PRESENTS A FILM BY CURTIS HANSON, TOO BIG TO FAIL,
BASED ON ANDREW ROSS SORKIN’S BESTSELLING
BOOK ABOUT THE 2008 FINANCIAL CRISIS, DEBUTING MAY 23
STARRING WILLIAM HURT, EDWARD ASNER, BILLY CRUDUP, PAUL GIAMATTI,
TOPHER GRACE, MATTHEW MODINE, CYNTHIA NIXON,
MICHAEL O’KEEFE, BILL PULLMAN, TONY SHALHOUB AND JAMES WOODS
CO-STARRING AYAD AKHTAR, KATHY BAKER, AMY CARLSON, EVAN HANDLER,
JOHN HEARD, DAN HEDAYA, PETER HERMANN, CHANCE KELLY, TOM MASON,
AJAY MEHTA, LAILA ROBINS, VICTOR SLEZAK AND JOEY SLOTNICK
An HBO Films Presentation Of A Spring Creek/Deuce Three Production;
Written By Peter Gould; Executive Producers, Paula Weinstein, Jeffrey Levine And
Curtis Hanson; Co-Executive Producer, Carol Fenelon; Producer, Ezra Swerdlow
An HBO Films presentation of a Spring Creek/Deuce Three production, a film by Curtis Hanson, TOO BIG TOO FAIL is based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s bestselling book of the same name. Directed by Oscar®-winner Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) and debuting MONDAY, MAY 23 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), the film offers an intimate look at the epochal Wall Street financial crisis of 2008 and explores the inner sanctum of the powerful men and women who decided the fate of the world’s economy in a matter of a few weeks. Centering on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the film goes behind closed doors to examine the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and Washington.
Other HBO playdates: May 24 (4:25 a.m.), 28 (9:45 p.m.), 29 (2:00 p.m.) and 31 (5:15 p.m., midnight), and June 3 (12:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.), 4 (4:00 p.m.), 9 (10:45 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 12 (4:00 p.m.) and 13 (12:45 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: May 24 (8:00 p.m.) and 25 (10:00 a.m., 11:15 p.m.), and June 6 (5:30 p.m.), 10 (7:15 p.m.), 14 (10:15 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 19 (6:45 a.m.), 25 (3:45 p.m., 4:20 a.m.) and 30 (1:45 p.m.)
The film’s stellar cast includes stars Oscar®-winner William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”), seven-time Emmy®-winner Edward Asner (“Up”), Billy Crudup (“Eat Pray Love”), Emmy®-winner Paul Giamatti (HBO’s “John Adams”), Topher Grace (“Spider-Man 3”), Matthew Modine (“Weeds”), two-time Emmy®-winner Cynthia Nixon (HBO’s “Sex and the City”), Michael O’Keefe (“Michael Clayton”), Bill Pullman (“While You Were Sleeping”), three-time Emmy®-winner Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) and two-time Emmy®-winner James Woods (HBO’s “Citizen Cohn”). Ayad Akhtar, three-time Emmy®-winner Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”), Amy Carlson (“Blue Bloods”), Evan Handler (HBO’s “Sex and the City”), John Heard (“Prison Break”), Dan Hedaya (“E.R.”), Peter Hermann (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), Chance Kelly (HBO’s “Generation Kill”), Tom Mason (“The Black Donnellys”), Ajay Mehta (“Eli Stone”), Laila Robins (HBO’s “Bored to Death”), Victor Slezak (HBO’s “Treme”) and Joey Slotnick (“Nip/Tuck”) co-star.
Emmy® winner Paula Weinstein (HBO’s “Recount”) and Jeffrey Levine serve as executive producers with Curtis Hanson; co-executive producer is Carol Fenelon (“8 Mile”); and Ezra Swerdlow (“Enchanted”) produces. The script is by Peter Gould (“Breaking Bad”), based on the book written by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Gould and Sorkin also serve as co-producers.
Journalists Bethany McLean (Vanity Fair) and Joe Nocera (The New York Times), co-authors of “All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis,” are consultants on the film.
The cast of TOO BIG TO FAIL brings to life the following real people (positions noted are at the time of the film in 2008):
Henry “Hank” Paulson, 74th Treasury Secretary and former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs
Neel Kashkari, assistant secretary for international economics and development
Warren Buffett, primary shareholder, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Wendy Paulson, Henry Paulson’s wife
Erin Callan, CFO, Lehman Brothers
Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve
Jim Wilkinson, Henry Paulson’s chief of staff
Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs
Joe Gregory, president and COO of Lehman Brothers
Barney Frank, Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services`
Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
Bart McDade, president and COO of Lehman Brothers
Bob Willumstad, CEO of American International Group (AIG)
Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup
John Thain, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch
Michele Davis, assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and director of policy planning
Chris Flowers, private equity investor and bank takeover expert; chairman and CEO of J.C. Flowers & Co. LLC
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase
Christine Lagarde, French Finance Minister
John Mack, chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley
Greg Curl, director of planning, Bank of America
Dan Jester, retired Goldman Sachs banker and newly appointed Paulson adviser
Dick Fuld, chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Sept. 2008
ABOUT THE STORY
In fall 2009, New York Times chief mergers and acquisitions reporter and columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin published “Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves.” The result of his unprecedented access to the players involved, Sorkin’s book gave a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the events at the center of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list.
At the heart of this story about the fate of the world’s economy is a human drama. Sorkin explains, “We think about the phrase ‘too big to fail’ in the context of big, financial institutions, but it’s really a story about people who themselves think they’re too big to fail. And it’s about the interplay between the personalities, and how these billion-dollar decisions aren’t necessarily just about the math. It’s about this small group of individuals and their often conflicted relationships, their histories, their backgrounds.”
The filmmakers elected to narrow the focus of Sorkin’s comprehensive book to center much of the story on the role and decisions of Henry M. “Hank” Paulson, 74th U.S. Treasury Secretary and former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Peter Gould, who wrote the script of TOO BIG TO FAIL, explains, “We landed on Hank Paulson as being the person to center this on, because he’s a unique person. He’s got one foot in Wall Street and one foot in the U.S. government. He’s this very interesting crossover character, and so much of the movie, and so much of the crisis, really becomes about the relationship between the government and the economy — the government and Wall Street.”
A lifelong Republican who pushed for the government to relax certain regulations when he ran Goldman, Paulson was now charged with trying to mitigate a crisis that he and his peers had helped create.
Director and executive producer Curtis Hanson adds, “I love the idea that Henry Paulson, who had been extraordinarily successful as a capitalist, now is Secretary of the Treasury, suddenly in the position where he’s looking at this catastrophic problem. And the only solution is something that is completely contrary to his own beliefs, which is government intervention.”
Executive producer Paula Weinstein comments, “The era of deregulation encouraged a period of unprecedented greed by the most prestigious bankers and loan institutions in our country. Those people, to whom the average American citizen entrusted their savings and whose wisdom they relied upon to help them live within their means, encouraged untold profligacy that rigged a system so that the bankers would win and the American people would lose.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Levine observes, “As Secretary of Treasury during the crisis, Paulson was forced to deal with many of the problems brought on by his and his colleagues’ practices on Wall Street. It was an interesting irony to dramatize.”
Working together with Paulson to come up with a solution to the panic were Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Gould says, “Paulson is a man of action. He’s a man of the moment. He’s a person who shoots first and asks questions later. In Bernanke, we have someone who’s a little bit more detached. He’s not of Wall Street. He’s somebody who has actually done his great academic work on the Great Depression. So Bernanke really has a historical perspective on what’s going on. Geithner is also a really interesting character. He’s much younger than the other two, and he’s someone who’s worked in government his whole life.”
William Hurt was cast in the role of Paulson. The actor observes, “It was an amazing event that those three personalities were brought together for this. They anticipated a problem, but the problem that they got was so much greater than anything they expected.”
Paul Giamatti, who plays Bernanke, notes of his character, “Anything that comes out of his mouth can affect the economic temperature of the entire planet. So he needs to be a very guarded guy. Paulson and Bernanke complemented each other nicely. I think Bernanke needed somebody who was going to be more aggressive, but I think Paulson needed somebody who was going really assess the situation more calmly and be able to provide him with ballast.”
Billy Crudup, who portrays Timothy Geithner, recalls, “One of Geithner’s aides said to me, they used to say that he could see around corners. And he had the kind of mind, or has the kind of mind, that he’s able to process a lot of disparate information very quickly, and collate those ideas into a foreseeable future. I think he really was a kind of pragmatist, and someone who was trying to allow all of the players to arrive at the right conclusion.”
Also central to the story is Lehman Brothers chairman and CEO Dick Fuld, played by James Woods. Once the country’s fourth-largest investment bank, Lehman’s decline and ultimate freefall precipitates much of the action. Says Woods, “Dick Fuld’s storyline in TOO BIG TO FAIL is that of a rather Shakespearean dimension. He is the one who falls mightily from grace. He was very dedicated to Lehman Brothers – his employees, his colleagues and investors. And I think that he just could not believe that it was unraveling. It was almost like a general who could not believe that, with a superior force, he was forced to be in retreat.”
In addition to Sorkin’s book, the film’s cast had a wealth of information available to them regarding the events depicted, as well as the characters they would portray, including all the media coverage and government reports.
Says Hanson, “We tried to do the best we could to be truthful, but I didn’t want the actors to be doing impersonations. I wanted them to try and find the essence of the character they were playing.”
He adds, “As they joined the cast, I gave each of them a DVD of the person they were portraying, testifying or being interviewed, so they could get a sense of what that person is like.”
Cynthia Nixon plays Michele Davis, assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and director of policy planning, and one of Paulson’s key team members. Describing some of her preparation for the role, Nixon says, “I think we’re all reading ‘Too Big to Fail,’ the book, and we’re all reading ‘On the Brink,’ Hank Paulson’s account of how it all went down.”
Topher Grace portrays Jim Wilkinson, Paulson’s chief of staff. “The best part of getting cast in this role is having to scramble to do a lot of homework,” he notes. “That’s been one thing, just sitting around the set and realizing, one, how brilliant some of these people are; two, how they were solving a problem they created; and three, how it’s just weird how few people are actually in charge.”
Sorkin adds, “We look at these individuals – you read about them in the papers, the boldfaced names in the headlines – and you think they should be supermen. For me this project was really about trying to bring the public inside the room. I always thought that when you actually got in the room, your field of visions changes. Nothing’s black and white; everything’s gray.”
The circumstances that lead to the 2008 financial crisis depicted in TOO BIG TO FAIL continue to evolve. Notes Hurt, “This is not over by any means. I mean, every single day we pick up the newspaper – every single day – and it’s like I am reading background material on this script.”
Crudup describes the crisis with an analogy, saying, “There’s a ticking time bomb, and you’ve got a bunch of guys who are bomb experts, who all of a sudden, they think they understand where the device is. They discover that it’s not the size of a shoebox; it’s the size of the entire house…And they don’t actually understand where all the wires go.”
“I was shocked and stunned when I found out what was really going on behind the news stories,” says Gould. “When you look at this from a distance, you can see villains, but as you get closer you start seeing that these people were driven by very human motives. Whether what they did was right or wrong, and what their alternatives were, that’s for the audience to decide.”
May 2008: Lehman Brothers, the nation’s fourth-largest investment bank, is beginning to unravel. Thanks to its dependence on toxic real-estate assets such as subprime mortgages, the company’s stock has plummeted.
Treasury Secretary Henry “Hank” Paulson [William Hurt], a free-market advocate and former Goldman Sachs chairman/CEO working for a Republican president, reluctantly gets involved in finding an investor to shore it up. He is supported in this decision by his team, which includes chief of staff Jim Wilkinson [Topher Grace], assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs Michele Davis [Cynthia Nixon], and assistant secretary for international economics and development Neel Kashkari [Ayad Akhtar]. After being prodded by Lehman CEO Dick Fuld [James Woods], and despite his misgivings, Paulson reaches out to the world’s richest man, Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett [Edward Asner], whose eventual offer to Lehman proves unsatisfactory to Fuld.
The next morning, Paulson has his weekly breakfast with friend and colleague, Ben Bernanke [Paul Giamatti], chairman of the Federal Reserve. Along with president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Timothy Geithner [Billy Crudup], the men reach a consensus that Fuld needs to find a buyer for Lehman.
Friday, Sept. 12: Paulson calls a meeting of CEOs from the country’s biggest banks – including Jamie Dimon [Bill Pullman] of JPMorgan Chase, Lloyd Blankfein [Evan Handler] of Goldman Sachs, John Mack [Tony Shalhoub] of Morgan Stanley, John Thain [Matthew Modine] of Merrill Lynch and Vikram Pandit [Ajay Mehta] of Citigroup – at the New York Federal Reserve, asserting to all that the crisis is just as much their problem as it is the government’s, and that they need to come up with a solution. He gives them until Sunday night, when the stock markets open in Asia, to find a solution, or else Lehman will be forced to close its doors. In an attempt to stabilize his own company’s precarious position, Merrill Lynch’s Thain makes a side deal with one of Lehman’s possible suitors, Bank of America, putting the kibosh on any possible agreement.
By Sunday, a potential solution seems to be reached: British company Barclays will buy up a large chunk of Lehman, and the banks will contribute to the deal by throwing in billions of dollars. However, at the 11th hour, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer kills the plan, and Lehman has no choice but to declare bankruptcy. Fuld, who has been kept out of the negotiations, is devastated.
As the news breaks Monday morning, Paulson is surprised that the public’s reaction is mostly positive – Main Street is satisfied that Wall Street has finally been taught a lesson. The stock market appears to be stable, but within hours the aftereffects of the Lehman bankruptcy sends the market into a free fall. The crisis grows to encompass the insurance giant AIG. Bank takeover expert Chris Flowers [Michael O’Keefe] has been monitoring the company’s precarious position for the past week. Again, Buffett is approached to invest, but concludes that AIG’s problems are too much for him to take on. As the flow of credit begins to dry up, Paulson fields desperate calls from international regulators, CEOs and the head of GE. When the world’s largest company faces difficulty financing its daily activities, Paulson knows a tipping point is at hand.
Tuesday, Sept. 16: At their weekly breakfast, Bernanke urges Paulson, looking worse for wear after not sleeping in days, to go to Congress for legislative approval on a plan for the government to rescue the banking system. They both fear an economic crisis worse than the Great Depression if AIG isn’t bailed out. It’s too late to undo the deregulatory atmosphere that led to the crisis, but if the government were to buy toxic assets at a price tag of $700 billion, the economy might just have a chance to stabilize.
Paulson now must develop a bailout bill on which both House Republicans and Democrats will vote “yes,” and that the public can swallow. Meanwhile, Geithner works on merging big banks in order to save them. With the 2008 presidential election just weeks away, the “mother of all bailouts” gets caught up in presidential politics. Both candidates demand a solution, and John McCain, in a move that vexes Paulson and his staff, suspends his presidential campaign to return to Washington.
The first pass at the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is defeated, but the revision, initially a three-page bill that has ballooned to the size of a phone book, finally passes on Oct. 3. But Paulson and Bernanke recognize that buying up toxic assets isn’t a viable solution. They now have to do exactly what they loathe, give the banks capital injections.
On Oct. 13, Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke persuade nine major U.S. banks to take the money. Their hope is that the banks will use the cash to lend to Main Street and keep the economy flowing. The crisis has been averted, for now.