The Genesis of Arbitrage
"Will you give up the power you love to hang on to your last shred of humanity?"
Graduating at age 19 from NYU Film School, Nicholas Jarecki began his career as
author with Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start, a bestseller
that introduced him
to the subject of his debut film, a documentary called The Outsider, in which he
followed one of
the legendary writer/directors from his book, James Toback. He then began to
think about a
subject for his feature film debut; a natural place to turn was the financial
world. As a successful
business owner and the son of two commodities traders, it was a world he knew
well, a world
which, in 2009, was coming under intense public scrutiny. He began reading
everything he could
find about the ongoing financial crisis. Most intriguing to Jarecki was The
Great Hangover, a
collection of essays from Vanity Fair which analyzed the economic crash. "The
book got into the
personal lives of the players who were involved," says Jarecki. "At the same
time that I read these
articles, my friend Kevin Turen called me and said 'we've been trying to make a
movie for two
years - you aren't the kind of guy who can wait, we need to go now- just write
started discussing concepts we could make for no money and he said I should
write a script set in
one house where something goes terribly wrong. I said I hated those kinds of
movies and he said
stop procrastinating and just write something! So we started to work..."
Jarecki's began to think about the twenty-thousand square foot townhouses in his
New York City. "I thought about a man who lives in those mansions-what kind of
guy is he?
What does he do? Well if he lives in there, then I knew he had to be rich. And
with money comes
problems. What if he was once a good man, but as he grew richer, his life became
complicated and corrupt, since his money lets him live outside the boundaries of
morality. Now, who does he answer to when things go wrong and his world crashes
(as it did for everyone in 2009)? And what will he do to protect himself and his
how the character of Robert Miller was born."
Jarecki grew up in New York surrounded by entrepreneurs and financial traders.
fascinated by business. I've had my own company so I have the technical
knowledge, and I
learned about markets from my parents," he explains.
The director's New York City upbringing also gave him a familiarity with the
residents of the town, economically high and low. At the same time that he
character of Robert Miller, Jarecki also created Jimmy Grant, a young black man
who has a
complicated history with Robert. Jimmy became a central character in the film
and serves as
Miller's moral counterpoint and co-conspirator.
Writing the screenplay for Arbitrage took Jarecki nine months to complete and
project morphed from its original low-budget form into a thriller that would
also delve deeply into
the moral dilemmas facing a powerful and successful businessman. Producer Kevin
intricately involved in the fine-tuning and research stage of the script's
they would meet at Jarecki's house and act scenes out, to get different ideas.
"We'd invite friends
by and start reciting lines, asking, 'What if Robert does this? Then what would
he do next?' I
know they thought I was nuts, but actually I had this great group of friends who
listened to me
and let me play with ideas. I loved that process."
Jarecki's passion for the material attracted a strong and diverse producing
the development phase, Bret Easton Ellis (who had written a couple scripts with
introduced him to Laura Bickford (Traffic), a producer with extensive experience
worked with some of Jarecki's favorite directors.
"I was very passionate about the script. I'm always looking for movies that are
entertaining, but also take you into a world you may not have seen. Arbitrage
takes you on a great
ride into a world that isn't often filmed that realistically," notes Bickford.
"When I first met Laura I didn't know we would make a film together. But as the
got further along, I invited her to join us," says Jarecki. "She brought a
wealth of know-how
about getting a film made and how to create a great team behind it."
Around Thanksgiving 2010, the filmmakers' April 2011 start date fell apart when
lost their entire financing. "We had two months to raise millions of dollars or
watch the movie go
up in smoke. Laura kept saying 'We have to keep going, it's a strong script and
we will find the
money, cast and team to bring it to life'. She had a certainty everything would
work out and she
was right," notes Jarecki.
It was around this time that the team met Justin Nappi, a young producer who
significant capital in a matter of weeks. Nappi loved the script and came on
after meeting Jarecki and Turen in Los Angeles. "We had a kinship from that
first night and we
have remained close friends," notes Nappi. "The timeliness of the subject matter
of the world immediately drew me to the material," he continues. "Justin has a
dedication to film
-- he believed in the project and championed it from the start," Jarecki says of
The director was also looking for a producer to put the project together
introduced him to New York filmmaker Bob Salerno (21 Grams, A Single Man).
familiar with Jarecki's work as a documentary filmmaker and was confident of his
talent, but what
most impressed him was his knowledge of the world he was portraying. "I thought
it would be
interesting for Nick to tell this story because he has a special insight into
the financial world and
the characters who populate it. He's obsessed with conveying the fine details of
and the authenticity of the world they inhabit," says Salerno.
In addition to telling a story of a man caught in an ever-tightening trap of his
Arbitrage is also a timely reflection of the hubristic mindset that has driven
the world into its
current economic crisis. "There's a deep sense of reality in these characters -
the shady moves
they're making and how they make them, and that comes from Nick's research and
to portraying the truth as he knows it," explains Turen. Says Salerno, "It's
interesting for an
audience to get a glimpse into how that world works and watch a man like Miller
system." Adds Nappi, "I was attracted to the moral ambiguity of all characters
in this movie.
Rarely do you see that in movies these days."
Jarecki's script attracted an outstanding cast led by Richard Gere. "Richard is
talented actor with an accomplished body of work and he comes to any project
and significance. In this role, he puts on the suit and immediately embodies
this character, but as
he told Nick from their first meeting, he wanted to explore the dark side
underneath that glossy
exterior. He has the same focus, charisma, passion and drive as Miller, and we
get a sense of who
Robert is just by the way Richard carries himself. And of course everybody
knows" says Bickford,
"that Richard has the best 'walk' in the business."
The film went into production a year to the day the script was completed. "It
aggressive turnaround," admits Salerno. "But Nick is driven and he does not give
relentless, but he is open and he listens -- he knows the parameters of what he
has to do and from
there he just plows forward."
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