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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Oliver Stone: They Are All Sharks


To kick off the NY premiere of the much-awaited Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the cast of the film gathered to ring the opening bell Monday morning at the Nasdaq.

20th Century Fox

Having helped with the movie a bit behind the scenes, I thought I'd head over to the floor to say hi to the gang while conducting a bit of business for "Squawk Box." At the NASDAQ I pulled Director Oliver Stone aside and asked him how he assembled his cast of real-world market movers to secure the script stick to reality as much as possible.

"We talked to at least 30 or 40 people, we went everywhere. The producers, the actors, we all knew various people. I think one of the most earliest helpful figures was Eliot Spitzer actually because he investigated AIG and he knew a lot about Goldman Sachs so he could tell us where to look. And we went to Jim and he was brilliant," Stone said.

Jim, of course, is James Chanos, the head of the $6.7 billion hedge fund Kynikos Associates, who happened to be guest-hosting "Squawk Box" that day. Chanos served as one of the main technical consultants on the film, helping to ensure the story line was representative of what was actually happening out there on the short (and long) sides of markets during the financial crisis.

Stone described him as "A Yale boy" who "gave us the best analysis."

Stone went to Yale, of course.

"Oliver Stone asked me to look at the script to see if the financial plot devices were accurate," Chanos said. "I was happy to help, and he rewarded me with a cameo in the film. Unfortunately, Michael Douglas and Josh Brolin had already been cast in the leading roles."

In the film, rumors move markets with a head-spinning ferocity. A junior investment banker is able to crater the stock of a major Wall Street firm simply by spreading the lie that its investments in a third-world oil field were about to be nationalized.

"I found the rumor business fascinating to me and it ended up playing a part in the plot a few times during the movie in different scenarios," Stone said. "Jim plays a role in that too— in the movie, I mean, not real life. But short sellers do play a big role on Wall Street and he, of course, knows the price he pays for that. They get attacked all the time but certainly, short sellers are important," Stone said.

In addition to Chanos, other CNBC regulars like famed economist Nouriel Roubini, Anthony Scaramucci of Skybridge Capital, and Dan Loeb from Third Point lent their expertise and assistance to the movie in varying capacities.

When asked who the real villain of the latest crisis was, Stone said it was the trusted banks that that were the culprits.

"People in their hearts know that the bankers have been the 'banksters' in this case, but you know, the will for throwing them all in jail is not there. As long as Robert Rubin can be on the cover of Time Magazine and Larry Summers can be up there with Geithner, that is. You know, I'm shocked Obama didn't change the program with those guys," Stone said.

"They all are sharks," Stone said of the characters in the film. "But no one was black and white, except for maybe Josh Brolin, who played the evil banker. He was molded after Robert Rubin and Jamie Dimon — the kind of arrogant guys who have dominated the economy for so long calling for deregulation and then of course, when the s**t hit the fan, they run to the government to get their bailout. It's socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor."

When asked what America needs to do now to regain our economic footing, Stone paused.

"It's over. We cannot be a global power anymore. Not until we realize we need less, less. Banks have to accept that they will be making less money. People can no longer run up their credit. We all need less," he said.

Just before heading out I managed to snag a few minutes with Josh Brolin, who Chanos described as "a serious investor with a really thoughtful market view."

When asked for what Brolin's advice would be for investors in today's market with such continuing uncertainty, he replied, "I would never give anybody advice, that's what I learned being in the market. Never tell anybody what to do or how to trade because, you know, its' so precarious."

"The market has no foundation or infrastructure right now," he said Finally, a serious investor with a really thoughtful market view. 

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