Director: Alex Gibney
Topic: Inspired by the bestselling book “The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron” by Fortune magazine writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, doc explores the ins and outs of America’s largest corporate bankruptcy scandal.
Financing: HDNet Films
Budget: Close to $750,000
Shooting format: Sony’s high-end 24p HD camera the CineAlta 900. The Sony 1080i camera was used for a few verite situations.
Why it stands out: Equal parts entertaining and enriching, the doc dissects the Enron scandal by focusing on the personalities, foibles and ultimate fates of key players.
Memorable scene: Shortly before Enron would declare bankruptcy, chair-CEO Kenneth Lay predicts a rosy future for the company. He then reads questions from employees at a company retreat, including the query, “Are you on crack?”
Distribution/broadcast status: Premiered at Sundance 2005; opened theatrically April 22 via Magnolia Pictures and grossed more than $4 million; aired on HDNet and will be released on DVD in January.
On making the film: “I followed the story from afar and it didn’t immediately occur to me to make a film,” says Gibney. “My sister-in-law, who works at Fortune, gave me a copy of the book. Not only was the story so powerful, with a strong sense of moral outrage, but the characters were so rich and the canvas was vast. I thought people could watch and enjoy this from the standpoint of a drama.”
Thanks to the interest of top execs at 2929 Prods. and HDNet Films, finding financing was the easy part. Getting subjects to open up on camera was a different story. “There were a lot of people at Enron who wanted to talk, but it took some time. At the end of the day people came forward despite the advice of their lawyers.”
In the end Gibney hopes his film communicates a sense of moral outrage. “People get very angry at the end of the film, and I understand why. They should get angry. The film takes you through this story of hubris. What happened was deeply immoral.”