The scene at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City’s Zuccotti Park last Friday was a familiar one from the many news reports that have covered the demonstration since it began in mid-September. Sidewalk orators informing passersby of the economic travails endured by the poorest ”99%”? Check. Aggrieved placard messages (”ARREST THE BANKERS”)? Check. In fact, the only surprise was the lack of a famous face.
Over the past few weeks, the demonstration has played host to a raft of celebrities, including Alec Baldwin, Mark Ruffalo, Russell Brand, Kanye West, Susan Sarandon (who was also spotted at a related union rally), and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed a set for protesters on Oct. 13. And the day after EW’s visit, Brand returned to the demonstration with wife Katy Perry and another repeat visitor, Russell Simmons. ”I’ve played at hundreds of demonstrations, but this one is different,” says Morello. ”It’s not just the usual suspects of aging hippies and young anarchists. It’s firefighters, it’s longshoremen, it’s families.” Occupy Wall Street volunteer Justin Stone-Diaz says that appearances by celebrities are doing much to raise the profile of the campaign. ”They helped get [us] the attention first,” says Stone-Diaz, who joined the demonstration on its third day, ”and now they’re the key to getting the truth out there.”
Another truth? The entertainment industry’s interest in the economic crisis is by no means limited to financial-district pilgrimages. Last weekend saw the release of Margin Call, which stars Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Zachary Quinto, and concerns a stricken investment bank, loosely based on Lehman Brothers. The plot of Brett Ratner‘s Eddie Murphy–Ben Stiller comedy Tower Heist, which opens Nov. 4, hinges on the collapse of a Ponzi scheme operated by a Bernie Madoff-style investor. If that sounds like a familiar plotline, you’ve probably been watching 2 Broke Girls. The new CBS sitcom stars Beth Behrs as a Manhattan socialite forced to work in a Brooklyn diner thanks to the Ponzi-scheme-running activities of her father. And — Holy anti-Wall Street demo, Batman! — Christopher Nolan‘s latest superhero epic, The Dark Knight Rises, is rumored to be shooting near the protest over the next couple of weeks, although a source close to the production says there are no plans to shoot in the actual park. Margin Call writer-director J.C. Chandor says he is delighted his film is being released at a time when so many media eyes are on Wall Street. ”Putting the film out into the world when there’s a conversation happening about this is all you can ask for from a filmmaking standpoint.” Ratner is similarly pleased that Tower Heist is in tune with the zeitgeist, even if he is keen to point out that his movie is not an economics lesson. ”We’re definitely in a place where the concept [of the film] seems relevant to the 99 percent of the world who are feeling this way,” he says. ”But our movie’s a comedy.”
The trickle (down) of financial-crisis-related projects may yet become a full-on flood with a recent Craigslist post encouraging protesters to try out for the next season of MTV’s The Real World. (If you can’t wait for the new cast, MTV is also set to broadcast an OWS-based episode of its True Life documentary series on Nov. 5.) For those who don’t relish the idea of being guided through the complexities of capitalism by some MTV-picked anarcho-hipster, there’s always Michael Lewis. The journalist and best-selling author of Moneyball has two books about Wall Street being developed into major-studio movies. Lewis himself is writing the screenplay for Warner Bros.’ adaptation of Liar’s Poker, the writer’s semiautobiographical account of ’80s bond traders, which the company initially optioned way back in 1990. Love & Other Drugs co-scribe Charles Randolph is penning a big-screen version of Lewis’ recent financial-crisis book The Big Short for Brad Pitt‘s production company Plan B and Paramount. ”Brad and I did a day of media together for Moneyball,” says Lewis. ”He said the [Big Short] script had just come in and was amazingly good.” Lewis has no doubt Hollywood’s current interest in finance-oriented projects has been inspired by the ongoing fallout from the economic situation. ”Wall Street having created this debacle creates a climate where you can dramatize Wall Street,” he says.
Back in Zuccotti Park, Stone-Diaz has no problem with projects such as Margin Call benefiting from the brouhaha. ”I hope our media buzz helps bring them people,” he says. ”We’re trying to create situations that are beneficial to both.” While the precise objectives of Occupy Wall Street remain vague, Stone-Diaz says he can foresee the protesters remaining on site for at least a year. With winter approaching, the movement is finding inspiration in a TV show that would seem to be, literally, a world away from that of bonds and derivatives: HBO’s Game of Thrones. ”Our rallying cry here at the park is ‘Winter is coming,”’ Stone-Diaz reveals. ”It’s the motto of the Stark family.”
(Additional reporting by Kyle Anderson, Grady Smith, and Keith Staskiewicz)