Genre: Non-Fiction Book
Premise: A group of Wall Street underdogs begin to realize that the current computer-driven stock market is rigged, and decide to do something to change it.
About: Everyone in town takes notice when Scott Rudin options something, because Scott Rudin wins Oscars. He’s the guy who headed up The Social Network, after all. So when he snatched up Michael Lewis’s best-selling non-fiction book, Flash Boys, the book immediately hit everyone’s radar. You probably know Lewis best for writing the book Moneyball, which, of course, eventually became the movie starring Brad Pitt. You can find Flash Boys here (and as long as you’re over at Amazon, you should pick up my book too. It’s only $4.99!).
Writer: Michael Lewis
Details: 289 pages (published March 31, 2014)


We’re going to do something a little different today. Once that glorious moment comes when you break into Hollywood (through a spec sale or just by writing a great script), your ability to stay in the club will depend on your ability to land assignments. You’ll have to read books like Flash Boys, then come in and pitch your take to producers.

You’ll be up against lots of other writers, so your pitch is going to have to be good. And when I say, “pitch,” I don’t mean your showmanship ability. That’s important, of course. But what’s more important is your take. How do you plan to tell the story?

Because the reality is, a lot of things you’ll need to pitch won’t be obvious stories. They won’t have that perfect narrative spine of a main character going after something and encountering obstacles along the way. In those cases, you’ll need to find a spine. Or decide if you even want a spine. Maybe you want to try something different? The Social Network, the way it bounced back and forth between the deposition and genesis of Facebook, wasn’t a straight-forward treatment of a story at all.

Take Flash Boys. While the characters eventually do come up with a goal, it isn’t until much later. At first, this book is all about numbers and equations and stocks and how stock exchanges work and individual stories of how this rag-tag team of men came together to fight the power. Then, it’s almost like Lewis realized, “Oh yeah, I have to bring this all together,” and came up with something for the group to do.

Flash Boys actually starts with the most fascinating story in the book. A man is secretly building a fiber optic line between Chicago and New Jersey (where the major stock exchanges in the country are located). But this isn’t any ordinary line. He needs it to be straight. Like perfectly straight.

You see, in recent years, trading stocks has become a game of speed. How much speed? The kind of speed where if you can gain at least 1 millisecond over your competitor, it could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. How is that even possible? That’s what much of the book is about.

But anyway, what this guy realized, was that the current fiber optic line that travels between New Jersey and Chicago zig-zagged all over the place. He hypothesized, that if he could build a straight line, he could save stock traders up to 7 milliseconds of time, which would allow them a huge advantage over their competition.

So his plan was to build this secret line, then go to all the biggest banks and mutual funds and traders, and basically hold them hostage. He’d tell them that if they didn’t get on this line, their competition was going to smash them. Everyone would have to join, and he’d be able to set the price. What would that price be? 10 million each. And guess what? They all signed up.

If there’s a hero in this story, it’s probably Brad Katsuyama. Brad worked for the biggest bank in all of Canada, but when his bank opened a branch in New York, which he’d eventually move to, he realized that nobody gave a shit. On Wall Street, the biggest bank in Canada was the equivalent of a hot dog stand outside of Mcdonalds.

Brad’s new branch meant the company needed a new trading operating system, one that could compete with the heavy hitters on Wall Street. But while Brad expected this new system to make his work easier, it actually did anything but.

Brad realized that whenever he made a trade on this new system, everything in the market would immediately change. Prices in that stock would shoot up or shoot down instantaneously, making it impossible to track the market on any sort of consistent level. In short, every time Brad would make a trade, chaos would ensue.

And he learned he wasn’t alone. When he’d go to other companies, he found that the same thing was happening to them. The crazy thing was, nobody knew why it was happening. Everyone just assumed that because technology was increasing at such a rapid rate, chaos was the collateral damage.

But Brad wasn’t so sure. He thought something fishy was going on. So he went to all the guys at all the top banks and all the top firms, asking them what they thought was going on. But nobody had a clue. What confused Brad is that nobody was that concerned about it either. Something nefarious was clearly going on inside the biggest financial machine in the world, and everyone either didn’t care or didn’t want to spend the time trying to figure it out.

Finally, Brad figured it out. The problem was High Frequency Traders. Now the book gets REALLY specific about what these guys do, which is super complicated, but I’ll try to simplify. Basically, these lone shark dudes figured out a way to see when one of these huge banks or companies was making a trade, then would zip in and buy or sell in order to profit off of it. They could make millions a day doing this. And every time they took that money, it meant the banks and hedge funds were losing it. And whose money do the banks and hedge funds use? YOUR money. So these guys were stealing from YOU.

How did they do it? SPEED. A bank may buy tens of thousands of shares of stock in one go. That takes time. And by time I mean seconds. But if a high frequency trader (HFT) has access to one of those connections that can make a trade in 7 milliseconds, they can buy and sell stocks before your order has even finished going through.

This is why speed became such an important commodity on Wall Street. Whoever had the fastest connection, even if it was by just .1 millisecond, they could undercut you. So HFT were willing to pay millions for those milliseconds.

Awhile back, you’d hear stories about how traders would have their routers set up in the building right next to the Exchange that made all the trades. This allowed them to make their trades the fastest. Savvy entrepreneurs figured this out, would buy up these adjacent buildings and sell router space INSIDE the rooms in the buildings.

But even that wasn’t enough after awhile. Traders would start paying money to get preferred placement INSIDE the room. They wanted their routers to be right next to the wall, so they were closest to the trading building across the street. Even if it was just .1 microseconds of an advantage, it was an advantage.

The book covers how Brad figured all this out, along with his campaign for trying to explain to Wall Street how badly they were getting screwed. Nobody believed him though because nobody on Wall Street gives you information for free. They erroneously figured he must be trying to scam them. Nobody just tells you how to save money. They use that information to MAKE money. They didn’t realize that Brad was just Canadian.

After his knowledge campaign failed, Brad decided to do something unprecedented. He recruited a bunch of underdogs that Wall Street had spit out, and decided to create a new stock exchange. This exchange would have a built-in algorithm that would make it impossible for high frequency traders to game the system. Everybody who traded through his exchange would be on equal footing.

Of course, creating your own stock exchange was nuts to say the least. Up until a few years ago, there were only a couple (the NYSE and the Nasdaq). Some deregulation practice to increase competition came about after the 2008 finanical meltdown. But getting folks to trade on a new exchange was a whole other animal. Would Brad and his buddies be able to do it? That would become the ultimate question.

John+Cho+Children+Defense+Fund+21st+Annual+QGT1NkH9bpClJohn Cho for Brad?

Flash Boys is a fascinating book that both flies and stumbles in equal parts. When it’s telling stories about people trying crazy never-before-attempted schemes like creating your own stock exchange or secretly building a straight fiber optic line from New Jersey to Chicago (physically blowing up mountains in the process), it’s at its best.

But when it gets into the specifics of how high frequency traders are undercutting the bigger guys, the information is overwhelming. You have to understand how stocks are traded, the unique kind of orders traders can use (which there are a lot of), how “baiting” works, how using different stock exchanges affects a trade, how orders are put through (some all at once, some in bunches), mutual funds, dark pools. Flash Boys spends a lot of time on that. And at a certain point, it’s impossible to keep up.

Still, I found it fascinating. For example, you might wonder why the SEC hasn’t stopped this. It’s because THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND IT. The top people at all the banks don’t even understand what’s going on. These are people who grew up in a pre-computer-stock-driven world. They don’t understand how a bunch of smart tech geeks could sneak in and take advantage of their system (many of them from Russia, surprisingly).

The question is, how do you adapt this into a movie? There’s a lot of information in this book so there’s a lot of different ways to go. When you adapt something, you’re first looking for the best angle to tell the story from, and from there, you’re looking at all the potential challenges that direction poses and how you’ll address them.

So for example, the most obvious angle to tell the story from is to follow five Wall Street misfits as they try to create their own stock exchange. The question is, where do you start? Do you start with them already together? That allows us to jump right into the story. Or do you start earlier and focus on these guys as they meet each other one by one? Because in the book, Brad’s the one who figures all this out before he hires anyone. And the audience needs that information to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing in the first place. So do you cheat, start with everyone together, and have them learn all this stuff together (instead of Brad doing it alone?) or do you follow Brad first, even though that means it’ll take awhile for the story to get going?

Or do you come in with a weirder more ambitious take? Maybe you pull a Lost-style setup mixed with a little Scorsese. Start with these guys already together, have one of the characters be a narrator, then as they pursue their goal of a stock exchange, one by one jump back in time and tell the origin story of each player. Because each guy’s backstory in the book is pretty interesting (one guy realized he wanted to do this after going to work one day only to watch the two towers fall right before going inside).

Whichever way you choose, you’re going to have challenges. For example, Lewis portrays all these guys as underdog Robin Hoods. Their “thing” is that they could profit off this, but instead try to educate others on it. When nobody listens, they build a stock exchange to save them.

That’s very noble and all, but it seems to me that if you build a successful stock exchange, you’re going to make a lot of money. I mean, these guys aren’t donating all their profits to charity, are they? Lewis conveniently downplays this aspect, but it’s something you’d have to consider when adapting the script.  You can’t portray people as Robin Hoods if the end goal is to make a ton of cash.  And if that – the most obvious direction for the script – can’t be executed, then what’s the end goal going to be?  There’s no obvious substitution, yet there is no script unless you find the answer.

And then there’s all that information you have to convey to the audience. Talking about numbers and teaching people how stocks are traded, for the most part, is boring. Yet it’s essential to understand what Brad’s getting so upset about and what he’s trying to do to change it. A smart producer may even ask you that in your meeting. “How do you plan to convey all this information to the audience in an entertaining way?” And you better have an answer ready.

In the end, this is a really good book. Whether it becomes a really good movie is still up in the air. That could be up to you. In fact, maybe Mr. Rudin is watching right now (I know he’s been to the site). Pitch your best take on how you’d adapt the book. Most upvotes wins!

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: When it comes to adapting a book, you very well might pick only a small portion of the book to base the script on. It could total only ¼ of the story. The story that opens Flash Boys, for example, could make a great movie in itself (a guy risks everything by building a high speed fiber optic line between Chicago and New Jersey with no idea if anyone will actually buy into it when he’s finished). All you care about when adapting something is finding the best story within those pages and bringing it to life. What makes a book good often isn’t the same thing that makes a movie good.

  • Andrea Moss

    Well, Moneyball looked like an unfilmable book and Aaron Sorkin found the way, so I think everything is possible!

    P.S.: Hollywood, adapt this book! – House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. This novel is an HBO event waiting to happen. Seriously, read it.

    • Casper Chris

      I remember reading House of Leaves many years ago. It had a lot of buzz.

      The “expanding house” idea was pretty cool, but aside from that gimmick, I don’t remember much. Just a lot of footnotes and weird formatting.

      Seems like it would be a nightmare to adapt with all the stories within stories.

      But you could take that gimmick and make a nice horror movie.

    • Nicholas J

      (Posting this again as I think Disqus ate it, apologies if I double post…)

      Adapting House of Leaves? Talk about only using 1/4 of a book!

      People will go to it to be scared, and they won’t be. HoL makes for a disturbing read in a dark room at 3AM, mostly because of the atmosphere, the scattered mindset it forces on you due to jumping around pages and storylines, the concept of every law we know about reality being thrown out the window, stuff like that.

      The book is amazing and still gets to me sometimes when I have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, but vast spaces of dark emptiness wouldn’t translate to screen very well, much less scare the crap out of mass audiences.

      On the other hand, filming rooms of nothing would be an incredibly cheap gamble!

    • successor

      Mark Z. Danielewski has repeatedly refused to sell the film rights to his novel, so don’t expect it to happen any time soon.

      Actually, I think Danielewski refusing to sell the film rights is a good thing. Why do so many people want to see their favorite novel(s) adapted to the silver screen when Hollywood often messes up such adaptations big time? Not to mention them screwing original authors out of profits (e.g. Winston Groom) and cutting them out of the creative process.

      In my opinion, some books should just stay books.

  • leitskev

    I had read about this line tapping a few weeks ago. Had no idea someone would think to make a film out of it. The problem is addressed in Carson’s remarks: how do you explain this to an audience. I mean if you can’t explain it to the old guys who run the banking system…

    As far as what to do with the story, my only thought is to have the main character, the guy who first came up with it, be someone who has second thoughts when he learns of someone being hurt by this. Maybe he gets close to someone from a company being hurt. Though I don’t know if anyone really is hurt by this in a way that’s dramatic enough for film. Maybe he has to undo what he’s done to save his new friend or probably love interest. But the powers that be which he set the system up for are not about to let that happen.

  • brenkilco

    As a movie, I think A Beautiful Mind is a shallow cheat. But it does have one scene I admire. The Blonde Scene. How in only a couple of minutes of screen time do you give your lay audience even the most primitive grasp of something as complex as games theory? Well the writer managed it. Quickly, simply, visually and with a little sex thrown in. Very neat. Of course the explanation was simplistic to the point of simple mindedness. But the point is it made the audience think it understood. If this movie ever happens it’s going to need a very clever writer and probably more than one blonde scene.

    • Casper Chris

      Post a link to the scene please.

      • brenkilco

  • MaliboJackk

    Take a camera to the top of some of New York’s tall buildings.
    You’ll probably catch some techies installing expensive line of sight lasers.
    Why? To capture a few more nano-seconds for high speed trading.

  • fragglewriter

    I’m amazed that someone wants to adapt this book, because based on the news report, the topic really isn’t that interesting unless you’re telling the story from a different POV. Since I’m in the financial industry, I look for movies that put a spin on the financial sector. I don’t want to go to the movies or watch a TV program at home to see the stories that unfolded in the news be regurgitated (To Big to Fail). But if you put a spin on it, it can bring a fresh voice.

    I tried watch “Wall Street” recently, but turned it off after an hour. I’ve never been so bored. I loved “Boiler Room” the first time that I saw it. Watched it again, it was just ok. I would love to watch someone take this topic and spin it on its head.

    • klmn

      Yeah, the concept isn’t visual. The way to do it is to replace the programs running inside computers with robots on the floor of the NYSE. With death lasers. Think Scwarzenneger blasting the fuck out of a bunch of Wall Street types.

    • astranger2

      I actually liked Too Big to Fail. May have been the only one. Interesting though, how CEOs like Jamie Dimon from Chase, and Ken Lewis from BofA were sitting on their high horses supposedly above the fray, to both get their comeuppances later.

      Ever see The Prime Gig? Not about the stock market, but smaller film about telemarketing scam with a Boiler Room feel. Vince Vaughn, Julia Ormond, Ed Harris… nice little twist at the end.

      • Kirk Diggler

        What exactly was Jamie Dimon’s comeuppance? He’s still walking free, as smug as ever.

        • astranger2

          Yeah, you’re right. People like him never truly lose. They just take a salary cut from 75 million a year, or whatever, to 20 million a year. A little loss of face, while so many hard-working individuals lose out.

          • Kirk Diggler

            You want to know who gets sent to jail for insider trading? Martha Stewart. The real criminals are too well connected to both parties to ever lose a night’s sleep. Bernie Madoff went to jail because he stole from the rich, a big no-no.

          • astranger2

            You’re spot on with that. But Martha was guilty on that ImClone incident. I don’t know if you know this, but earlier in her life she was a stock broker. So I don’t think she was unaware of what she was doing.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Yeah I don’t doubt she was guilty. BUT…. the actual gain was less than a million dollars if I recall. They made an example out of her instead of going after the real movers and shakers. And the whole thing smelled of institutional sexism.

            Has anyone been prosecuted for the rigged municipal bond market scam (manipulation of LIBOR)? Interest rates were deliberately locked in at higher levels in pre-arranged deals, skimming what could amount to trillions from communities all across America.

          • astranger2

            Well, as you point out — there’s no end to the unpunished corruption in the financial markets. Like you also said, however, no one seems to care. Think it was Goldmans that was actually packaging sub-prime derivatives they knew were garbage and recommending and selling them to their clients. Their OWN clients. Regardless of which way the markets move, they make money. Tons of it.

            I guess the sad part isn’t that no one cares — no one has a big enough club to smite these giants. LIBOR case was sad because they supposedly set the standard. Comes to the “who can you trust?” factor.

            As far as Martha Stewart, and the ImClone scandal, I remember watching 60 Minutes. The prosecutor was talking about Sam Waksal, and Stewart. He was asked if the two weren’t being made scapegoats.

            He replied “absolutely they were.” He made a good point. He said he couldn’t catch them all, but the ones he did would be made an example of… The Jamie Dimons and Tywin Lannisters of the universe will never be touched.

            Maybe that’s why we’re writers — they can only be punished in the fictitious worlds we create…

          • Ange Neale

            Maybe there’s a plot there for someone who wants it: Robin Hood shoots some poisoned arrows (could be literal, could be metaphoric) at a few of the a**holes who should’ve gone to jail and he’s the one who ends up getting the lethal injection for doing the world’s poorest 6.99 billion a favor.

      • fragglewriter

        Never heard of Prime Gig so I’m going to have to look for youtube clips.

        • astranger2

          Not a great movie. Fun little one. If you like Vince Vaughn and Ed Harris you might enjoy it. But, has that Boiler Room feel. Selling gold mines in Arizona over the phone.

  • Logline_Villain

    What I Learned: One more adaptation = one less spec…

    Reason #267 that one’s spec needs to be GREAT from page 1 through page 110.

    The competition is superheroes, books, graphic novels, in-house animation and… thousands upon thousands of other specs.

    A good script is simply not enough – rewrite that spec until it’s great!

  • Robert M

    I haven’t read the book, but it sounds interesting enough to read. So without knowing anything how it actually plays, I think this would be an interesting take on it.

    It seems to be about that one small man wanting to destroy the dragon. Not for money, not for love or glory. But because we all wanna be David defeating Goliat.

    The first act could start with the guy who worked at Goldman and sachs when he’s chased by the FBI for stealing the code. It’s thrilling, some mystery, you have doubts, fear, uncertainty, maybe some chase or hide and seek or something.

    So by the second act, you’ll then have your main character for the film, an underdog, already on the ground, being beaten up. We don’t even really know why the big baddies wanted him taken down. We think he is accused wrongly, but we don’t know for sure. We do know he’s smart. Really, really smart. But he’ s lost.

    So now he get notice of these guys building something to revolt against the stockexchange which he didn’t like, which he saw as corrupted and old – rigged. Still unsure about if he wants anything to do with this world at all, he agrees to come and see.

    We’ll meet these guys from his point of view, learn what he learns. The second act is about the building of things. The new stock exchange, the relationships in the group. We
    become friends with Brad, as this visionistic leader. There’s a few setbacks
    and so forth. And in the background, there’s this myth that no one knows if it’s
    true. This myth about the straight line between Chicago and New Yersey.

    The final act plays out as a climax when Goldman & Sachs guy wants to go longer than anyone else, further than Brad. He really wants to slay that dragon, not stopping for nothing. He’s not lost anymore to what he wants to achieve in life. It’s just that that clearness to what he wants makes him lose everything else.

    But maybe that’s too much like Fight Club… but without the fighting… and exactly how exciting does that sound… :-)

  • ChadStuart

    Whenever adapting a book, the key is to cut, condense and rearrange. Straight adaptations never work. You think the movie version of “Gone With the Wind” is long? More than half of the book was cut to make it a four hour movie.

    If I were pitching my take on this book, I would suggest making it a detective story. The big reveal is that the system has been gamed. That’s the one aspect that made the biggest splash in news reports when this book first hit. So, the main character, Ben, would essentially be sleuthing out the reason why purchases are so regularly being beaten to the punch.

    Then, I’d run the straight fiber optic line story as a parallel story. Make it a race against time. Make the audience think that Ben has to figure out the mystery before this new line is laid and it will neuter the solution to his mystery. Make it seem that even if he figures out how to do what the big banks are doing, they already figured out a way to one-up him. That way, the story becomes a metaphor for the literal story, i.e. big banks will always beat you to the punch.

    Then, when the line is complete, and Ben figures out the answer to the mystery, I reveal that I’ve actually been playing with the timeline the whole movie. The building of the line was done years before, and Ben lost before he even began. Then, the conclusion is that he and his friends (many of whom helped in his investigation) determine that beating the system is impossible, and they must start their own game if they plan to win.

    You see, in my mind, the building of the new exchange has no end, so it’s not something you build a movie around. If you do, you’re trapped in a story without a proper conclusion. Also, you can condense the information about the different types of trading by having Ben
    “discover” them at the same time as the audience. Sure, he already knows about them, he’s a trader. But as he gets each new piece of the puzzle, you take that opportunity to explain the intricacies of the markets.

    Do I get the job?

    • brenkilco

      Interesting idea. Would it work? Dunno. Not a fan of divided storylines. And these would involve deceiving the audience into believing that they are actually connected. Viewers will be waiting to see who crosses the finish line first. And the twist is that there is actually no race. Would the response of the crowd be a surprised whoa or would they start throwing popcorn at the screen?

  • Jim Dandy

    I’d start with an opening scene in silence, where it looks like it’s a heist. The five guys are all on their knees whispering to each other and measuring things and moving mysterious things around, and using secret squirrel phrases. Then we get the reveal – that they are computer nerds installing something high-tech that is going to change The Way Things
    Are Done. Then we go into flashback to start the story.

    Then I’d cut to a lovable “Grandpa” trader who swears by the old methods. He’s the foil character who helps explain things so that we mere mortals can understand. The new methods can then be contrasted with his old-timey folksy devices like ticker-tape machines. This grounds the story and removes some of the Guys In Rooms Doing IT Stuff Syndrome.

    The stakes at play can be represented by a scene where someone at a Wall Street bank makes a routine high frequency trade and a small blip appears on his screen. He makes a comment like, “Not bad, scored a point zero zero three percent profit on these worthless stocks.” Then we cut to a factory in a small Midwest town being shut down and everyone being laid off. The audience can make the connection. You could milk this repeatedly, with the factory being turned into something funny overnight, just to show the fickle nature of the stock market.

    I’d play the whole selling the fibre optic cable to the banks angle like drug dealers selling their products to their clients, who are itching for a fix.

    The overall spine would follow the Outsiders Become Insiders And Ironically Become The Very Thing They Despise And Therefore Perpetuate The Problem model. This means showing our heroes butting heads against The System early on, personified by a man or woman who is thoroughly indoctrinated into the world of high finance, yet who was once young and decent like our heroes (a bit like Darth Vader). Each of the main characters represents a different take on things, so naturally their new relationship has conflicts. The team is put together from a bunch of rag-tag underdogs like a posse in a classic western movie. Each has a specific role in the team, which forms subplots to keep the story moving.

    The ending would be someone younger and smarter pointing out a better way of doing what they are doing.

    And whatever happens, don’t have your main hero on a computer monitor, like Johnny Depp in Transcendence!

  • Randy Williams

    The subject matter is beyond my grasp. I’d make it a Russian fairy tale complete with snow covered lower Manhattan, fur, faberge eggs. Everything centered around markets, opening with a bull at a livestock market owned by the farmer whose mountain needs to come down for the optic line. Everything about outsiders trying to grasp why it’s not clear to the town’s folk what’s going on under their noses. A Canadian quiet samurai, even a supercomputer as an outsider wondering why they don’t get it. It’s the speed, stupid. The tortoise and the hare. Each of the misfits in their own stories of realization that the market is rigged. The players only meet at the end when the bull is led into a trailer because someone wanted their own bull. All illusion, moral compass, this little piggy went to the market. This little piggy comes home.

  • craktactor

    I saw the 60 Minutes piece on this story (Ken and his discovery). The way Ken told the story would be the way to go. Intriguing tale. Trippy how millisecond(s) can make the difference between winning/losing millions of dollars. Mostly how rigged the system is by the banks and no one does anything about it. Until Ken does, that is.

  • MGE3

    It’s interesting, as an ex-Wall Street guy turned screenwriter, I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan. I’ve read almost all of his books, and while this one didn’t scream adaptation (unlike Liar’s Poker or Moneyball) there is a way to do it.

    The basic pitch is a ragtag group of misfits discover what’s going on around them, and must take on one of the world’s most powerful institutions — Wall Street.

    The world is one that’s clearly fascinating to audiences, proven by The Wolf of Wall Street’s wild success and numerous other Wall Street projects that have been setup over the past few months. To get the full immersion, you can’t shy away from the lingo, but you might take the JC Chandor/Margin Call method (“speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever.”).

    These guys are the ultimate underdogs, and I think that’s the key to getting audiences invested in this story. You want to feel that no matter what they do, they aren’t going to change anything. Wall Street perpetrates the largest fraud on the American public in 2005-2007, yet not a single high level banker, ratings agency or mortgage originator have been criminally charged. The audience must truly feel Wall Street breathing down our character’s necks the entire time, and that everything they do is futile. Our guys are going against the grain, while standing up for the everyday retail investor on Main Street.

    The best part about pitching on an assignment like this — there is already a very similar script out there. For anyone who hasn’t read THE SPECIAL PROGRAM, I highly recommend it. It was my favorite script on last year’s Black List and could be the ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN of our generation.

    The Special Program is the true story of a group of misfit attorney’s at the Department of Justice uncovering the warrantless wiretapping, enhanced interrogation, etc being run by the White House (specifically the Office of the Vice President). Structurally, I think that’s how I would approach the story.

    • Jarman Alexander

      I would love to see it taken on from this angle. A group of friends enjoying the fruits of life in their prospective field, who discover something big and decide to correct it themselves after failing to convince others to join their cause. Wall street can easily be accepted by an audience as the biggest and baddest villain that cannot be defeated (as proven by the rampant fraud coming to light in the past decade with no repercussions). Very believable. Very much on the edge of my seat ready to lend my services to help these guys at any point throughout the movie.

  • Citizen M

    Explanation of High Frequency Trading from a review on Amazon by S. Yang:

    “My favorite analogy is my local farmers’ market. When I show up to buy strawberries, some farmers/dealers have way more information on the supply and demand, and have inventory to reflect their view. They will rightfully make a profit when I buy the basket of strawberries from any of them. What I don’t want to see is some jerk get in the way and buy up all the strawberries just before I hand my money to the seller, then turn around and sell the strawberries to me as if he had been the seller all along. The price quoted at my farmer’s stand should be the price I can buy strawberries at, not a new price some jerk just jacked up to after seeing my intention to transact.”

    • Linkthis83

      However they approach this, they need to make sure Sorkinisms are involved:

      • Scott Strybos

        I love these Sorkinisms videos (obviously).

        • Nicholas J

          For the longest time I thought your picture was of Zack Morris. (Don’t hold it against me, I have a small monitor.)

      • Citizen M

        I’m fascinated by how differently they each deliver the same line.

      • drifting in space

        This is cracking me UP! NOT SO GREAT ARE YOU MR. SORKIN?

        (he still is)

  • Mike.H

    I just read Carson’s synopsis of the review. Um… When electricity travels @186,000 miles a second, does all the “milllisecond faster” bit make real sense?

    Do you really have an edge over your competitor by buying a stock a millisecond FASTER, really? Not always, right? Does it? Please chime in.

    • Logic Ninja

      Basically, let’s say you know a certain stock is gonna go up. You’re a trader, so you’re gonna get your clients to buy that stock, right? As soon as you enter the trade, everyone else on the exchange knows you’ve done it. It’s in the computer system. But now, of course, because you’ve entered the trade, the stock’s price is marginally higher, so it’s less profitable to anyone else who wants to buy. If, however, another trader could get a faster connection to the exchange network, his computer will beat yours to the trading floor, and he’ll take advantage of the lower price. (My degree’s in finance, that’s the only reason I have a slight grasp of this stuff–most of it’s over my head). It might also help if you don’t think of it as people clicking mice to enter trades. These days computers enter most trades automatically and continuously. Traders direct the computer’s efforts, but the computer slogs through all the actual data.

      • Mike.H

        My degree’s also in Finance, and I don’t know squat about what I learned. It’s mostly bloated science and derivative equations in textbooks that’s borderline pompous… me think.

      • Citizen M

        I have a business degree but I don’t follow the stock market, having lost enough money to persuade me to leave it to the professionals.

        But I’d be cautious about an adaptation. The impression is given that the HF traders are bad guys because they somehow unfairly find out what you want to buy, and using their superior speed nip in in front of you, buy up the stock, and sell it to you at a higher price than you would have paid if they hadn’t intervened.. Basically a sort of insider trading.

        It’s that word unfairly that is problematic.

        My understanding is these trades are all driven by algorithms. So there might be a news report that heavy snow is expected in Guangdongalong and your computer knows Guangdongalong is the source of Unobtainium that Boeing uses and if the rail lines get snowed in Boeing will deliver late and pay heavy penalties, so you short Boeing, expecting the price to fall. A trading firm might have a couple of hundred different algorithms all running at the same time, culling those that aren’t working, and adding new ones they hope will work.

        So they are only guessing what you might want to buy or sell. They are using the same information that is out there in the market, only they are reacting faster. Nothing wrong with that.

        Rothschild made his fortune by employing carrier pigeons to get news from the Napoleonic battlefields faster than the other guys and anticipating market moves. He wasn’t cheating, he was smart.

        I find it hard to know who the heroes and who the villains are in this script.

        • Kirk Diggler

          I don’t.

        • mulesandmud

        • Logic Ninja

          Great point! I get so sick of Gordon Gekko types in Wall Street movies making an admission like: “We don’t actually CREATE anything. We’re just parasites.” When the exact opposite is true–without the supply of capital Wall Street provides, companies couldn’t innovate, grow, and provide new products and jobs. It’s tough to find a REAL bad guy operating within the market–you’d have to clearly show how these guys are breaking the law and harming the market. Otherwise your audience is left scratching their heads and vaguely bemoaning “Those greedy Wall Street con artists.”

    • astranger2

      HFT has been going on for some time and caused the Flash Crash a few years back. When you’re talking about millions of transactions, fractional prices can add up. Firms like Goldman Sachs make millions a day through this arbitrage with no down side risk. The controversy is some, like former Fed Chairman Greenspan and others, feel it makes for a more efficient market. Creates instant buyers and sellers.

      Think about it like Office Space. They made their fictitious fortune taking fractional pennies. Citizen M’s strawberry analogy is a good one.

    • jw

      Mike, go to Google and type in 60 Minutes Michael Lewis. He explained it in a perfect way. This is somewhat old news to be completely honest… the book came out in March.

  • drifting in space

    Funny how we make and watch movies about how we are all getting raped by large banks and Wall Street and no one seems to care.

    There needs to be a movie about Bit Coins. Murder, suicide, international espionage, car chases, etc. It’s a movie waiting to happen. And it’s fresh. And you can buy straight up drugs with them. Hmm…

    I could give a fuck less about the financial sector. Kanye said it best:

    They prolly all in the Hamptons
    Braggin’ ’bout what they made
    Fuck you and your Hampton house
    I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
    Came on her Hampton blouse
    And in her Hampton mouth


    Anyway, OT: Can someone send me the screenplay to Safety Not Guaranteed? I cannot find this one for the life of me. I have searched high and low. driftinginscripts at gmail dot com.

    Me love you long time (I’m a robot, so literally).

    • Linkthis83

      I think I sent it to you just now. No need for love. Not for any amount of time.

      • drifting in space

        Baller status.

    • astranger2

      What’s amazing is firms like Goldman Sachs pay their executives something like 16 BILLION dollars a year in BONUSES.

      Nice to be part of the lucky sperm club.

    • Midnight Luck

      Ironic, since Kanye has a Hampton’s house,
      along with a bunch of other houses
      and more money than almost anyone

      definitely agree, someone needs to write a Bitcoin movie

  • Scott Strybos

    You hooked me. I ordered a copy of Flash Boys from Amazon this morning from…

    • Mike.H

      or rent from the library for free?

      • Casper Chris

        Let him support a writer?

        Sincerely, a writer.

        • Randy Williams

          Like any government agency, don’t libraries pay a lot more for books than the general public? However, if the writer gets a part of that, I don’t know. I would hope. I requested that my library order Scriptshadow’s book. I thought it would help him more if I bought it for $4.99 on Amazon.

      • Scott Strybos


  • James Lion

    I’d stick to the goals – first – build the fiber-optic cable and – second – build the stock exchange. Integrate backstories and information as you go along (like “Lost” and “Kill Bill”), and show how participating in the goal of the group of five hotshots helps each of them deal with some personal issue they’ve been carrying around a lot. That’ll take some focus off the end game of getting rich, but that’s not a bad thing.

  • Citizen M

    I think the real story is how the traditionalists got undermined by technology and didn’t realize it. Not sure how to present the story, though.

  • Brainiac138

    I personally don’t care about this story, or any of its aspects. Who cares if loan shark traders are undermining banks? Didn’t 2008 teach us to take our money out of big powerhouse institutions and put it in local banks and credit unions? Anyway, the film could work if it was about the loan shark and he/she was made into a Robin Hood figure. Even if this story is based on actual events, I don’t think anyone is going to care that a stand up guy came along and put everyone on equal footing in his stock exchange, there is just too much distrust about the stock market and those who control it.

    • Ange Neale

      So it wasn’t just Bernie who Madoff with all the loot? Everyone’s in on the act except the poor sucker who’s pensions and life savings get scammed. Yet we put people who ‘steal’ in prisons. Seems to me the definition of stealing needs expanding a bit.

  • pmlove

    OT : Can’t remember who recommended Bobby Fischer & Understanding Comics but thank you! Good reads. Bobby Fischer is more indirect (but my chess is getting nasty) but the Understanding Comics raises a good point about the importance of


    They don’t seem to get much but a clever transition can work wonders in linking two unrelated scenes that could otherwise jar when you read them. That’s what I learned (or at least reinforced) today.

    Just think Lawrence of Arabia – how many of those are in your script (which I think was more of an editing thing, but there’s a reason it works)?

    • Kirk Diggler

      Perhaps the greatest movie theme of all time. Maurice Jarre.

    • mulesandmud

      You’re welcome!

      Editing and screenwriting are so connected! It’s absolutely correct that many people think of the editorial process as the final rewrite of a film.

      McCloud’s discussion of juxtaposition in ‘Understanding Comics’ reminds us that meaning in storytelling comes from the plotting of the scenes: the same moments, in a different order, might take the themes or characters in an entirely different direction.

      And if you’re going deep into chess, I’d try Logical Chess: Move by Move or Pandolfini’s Chess Challenges next.

      • pmlove

        I particularly enjoyed the differences in Japanese vs Western comics and the frequency of mood/tone scenes to tell the story.

        I probably need to start actually playing chess first, but it’s interesting just as a thought exercise, so who knows.

      • pmlove

        Totally hooked. Logical Chess up next.

    • MaliboJackk

      I’ve used a couple of scene transitions which should be just as amazing.
      But here’s why they’re not.
      In both LOA and Kubrick’s bone toss — it’s a HUGE leap in both time and distance. And it’s jarring. It’s meant to be.

      • pmlove

        I was aiming slightly simpler – perhaps a poor example. More – if you have characters A and B who are at the moment, unrelated, how do you effectively transition between a scene with A to a scene to B if they don’t interact. Or, indeed, any plot A and plot B.

        And I suppose that way might be thematic or using similar visual images. You could have one character end the scene boiling a kettle, the next someone drinking a hot drink. Boring example, but you get the idea. Or transition through character A watching a TV which involves a news report of a scene that B is involved in. Etc.

        Something more than just A in scene – CUT – B in unrelated scene.

  • Magga

    “When you look into the eyes of a man giving advice, you’re looking into a mirror. Who you are determines what you believe. When I told the people at Wall Street I could stop them from being robbed blind, every single one of them told me to go fuck myself”

  • Wes Mantooth
    • astranger2

      Can’t believe I missed that one. Amazing story — there’s gotta be a film lurking in there somewhere. Thank’s for the link.

  • witwoud

    Oh come on, guys. This movie pretty much writes itself:

    “Uncovering a plot by High Speed Traders to take control of the Stock Exchange, a young programmer, aided by a ragtag bag of misfits, uploads his consciousness into a computer and launches a counter-attack inside the high-speed fiber-optic cable network. Despite being named Brad, will he manage to stop the rogue traders before their super-fast line reaches New Jersey and destroys civilisation?”

    Though I say it myself, I think we have a winner here.

  • mcruz3

    While I think John Cho is a talented actor and should get more work, he’s KOREAN. Katsuyama is a Japanese name. They are not interchangeable.

    • astranger2

      He’s closer than Mickey Rooney was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s… ; v )

    • Kirk Diggler

      Tell that to JJ abrams per Sulu.

    • A Tribe Called Guest

      All wrong. Cho is both KOREAN & AMERICAN. Brad is a Canadian.

  • Calavera

    So Scriptshadow is turning into a university, with readings, exercises and stuff… I like that!

    I was at this airport’s bookstore 15 hours ago and Flash Boys was in prominent display, so I bought it. My flight turned out to be soooo long, and the book soooo good, that I ended up finishing it before even reaching my destination! So thanks Carson for the advice :-)

    Here are my suggestions to turn it into a script:

    1/ Identify what works in the story and magnify it

    – Characters are great (misfits with interesting backstories willing to take on a powerful, abusive system)

    – The Mystery Box works awesomely in the first half (wait, something’s not right and this could be huge)

    – Stakes are major (the whole financial system might be rigged!), so are the Goals (stop a massive spoliation of savers’ money, fix Wall Street, avoid a potential financial meltdown)

    – I also thought the book had a few great punchlines which are worth keeping in the dialogue

    2/ Focus and streamline

    – I’d suggest dropping the side stories entirely (they bring context in the book but are too disconnected from the main plot)

    – The story should really focus on Brad realizing something’s wrong, Brad setting up a group of people bent on finding the truth, Brad making inroads in Wall Street’s highest circles, Brad trying to launch a revolutionary trade exchange

    – Perhaps some characters should be merged so that Brad’s group doesn’t exceed 4 characters: (1) Brad the idealistic prodigy; (2) the earthy no-nonsense fiber expert; (3) the algorithm wizard/repented high frequency trader; (4) the cautious trade exchange veteran.

    3/ Make it movie-dramatic

    – Obviously the information load must be considerably reduced, and the financial concepts needed to understand the story kept to a strict minimum

    – It’s tempting to start the movie with the construction of the straight fiber optic line, which is really intriguing, but I cannot see how you can build a powerful image with that. Because the book tells us that most main characters had a big “realization moment” during 9/11, maybe it’s better to start with that event, mixed with glimpses of characters we’ll get to meet later, and a voice over from Brad recalling the magnitude of the event, underlining
    that fortunately the New York Stock Exchange was still proudly standing at that time, but sternly warning that a few years later it would crumble as well, under another devastating and dramatic attack which is invisible to the naked eye…

    – I think more Urgency is required: we should have a stronger sense of Brad’s need to find a solution QUICKLY. For instance the investors who financially support the launch the new trade exchange could want to have results or their money back within 6 months. As the deadline nears, each member of the group gets 10 times more nervous (they all have a high personal stake of their own), putting Brad under intense pressure. In parallel, the banks and the trading companies hostile to Brad’s project should be a more tangible threat than they are now in the book (I mean a potentially physical threat, according to how much we allow ourselves to depart from facts).

    – I suppose the movie will end with the launch of the exchange trade and not linger further as the book does.

    4/ Prepare the pitch

    For a couple of reasons, I think the sentence that best epitomizes the story is one that
    appears toward the end of the book : “Nothing happens by accident”.

    That could become the movie’s tagline.