BOILER ROOM - Feature
Welcome to the infamous "boiler room" of J T Marlin - where twenty-something millionaires are made overnight. Here, in the inner sanctum of a fly-by-night brokerage firm, hyper-aggressive young stockjocks peddle to unsuspecting buyers over the phone - and are rewarded with mansions, Ferraris and more luxury toys than they know what to do with. In this unassuming Long Island enclave, Gen Xers chase the green at breakneck speeds, sometimes one step ahead of the law.
19 year-old college drop-out Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) has just joined the inner circle of the boiler room boys - fired-up young men who get off on the adrenaline rush, the silver-tongued lingo, the ego boost of finagling hard sales for outrageous commissions. Seth wants to earn just two things in life: a million dollars and his perpetually disappointed father's respect. After failing to do either one by running an illicit casino out of his Queens apartment, Seth has decided to go legit by joining the only brokerage firm that promises him a fast road to the top: J T Marlin.
At first the boiler room seems the perfect way to ride the monster economic wave of the '90s to riches, success and parental approval. Seth sports a suit and tie, works extreme hours and passes the stockbroker exams with record scores. He's fast on his feet, has a sharp cold-calling style and it seems as if his bank account - and his worth as a good son - are about to rise.
Soon Seth is hanging out with his boiler room buddies including Chris (Vin Diesel), a millionaire broker whose mouth is as fast as his money, and Greg (Nicky Katt), Seth's arrogant and envious mentor. He even begins to date the firm's receptionist, Debbie (Nia Long). And like everyone there, he feeds on the greed and fear of unsuspecting investors, selling them stocks they never wanted.
But as Seth watches his colleagues get richer and his customers get poorer, he begins to wonder just what makes the money go round at J T Marlin. His insatiable curiosity leads to a series of fatal choices and a Federal investigation that brings him to the brink of losing everything - not just his friends, his job and the millions promised him, but his father. The longer Seth stays in the boiler room, the more things begin to heat up.
BOILER ROOM is a riveting expose of one of the biggest and most lucrative scams in American history - and a dramatic look at a generation obsessed with the speed of wealth and success. The film is written and directed by newcomer Ben Younger. The ensemble cast also includes Ben Affleck as the head recruiter, Tom Everett Scott as J T Marlin's boyish leader, Ron Rifkin as Seth's father, as well as Scott Caan, Jamie Kennedy as the ambitious boiler room boys and Taylor Nichols as a victim of their ambition. Produced by Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, BOILER ROOM is a Team Todd production for New Line Cinema.
The reality behind the film
In the 1990s, the number of new American millionaires reached astonishing proportions. Today, one out of every 36 working Americans is in the millionaire category, and the numbers are rising not falling. We live in an age when being really, really rich is considered really, really cool. And, for some, the faster you get rich the better. Kids just barely out of college have ridden the cyberboom and the bull market to instantaneous wealth. 20 year-old secretaries at Microsoft have stock options worth millions. 19 year-old rappers have 400-acre estates. 30 year-old brokers are stockpiling Ferraris.
But for those without an Ivy League education or a Silicon Valley connection, for those like Seth Davis who want or need a quick way into the world of wealth and respectability, there is another alternative: the boiler rooms.
In the boiler room of a hard-sell brokerage firm, a hard-working, smart-mouthed kid off the streets can make a million bucks in mere months by selling dubious stock over the phone. Here's the way it works: employees of boiler rooms pressure their cold-call customers any which way they can into buying stock in unknown or bogus companies for huge commissions. Once the price of the stock is driven high enough, insiders sell, making fortunes for themselves and often wiping out the savings of innocent investors.
Few outsiders have ever seen the scams and pressure-cooker techniques of boiler rooms up close. They are seductive, secretive firms where only those trained and recruited to be loyal are allowed inside. Often staying just one step ahead of the law, the brokerage firms take no chances. (Recently, the North American Securities Administrators Association made prosecuting boiler rooms a top priority).
Bucking the secrecy, first-time writer/director Ben Younger wanted to crack open this hidden world. He saw the boiler room as the perfect setting for a high-wire drama about the new roving packs of unattached young men who find honor in the dollar, who chase after mega-fortunes without the faintest clue of what to do with them.
"The boiler room is a world that people have never really seen," comments Younger, "and I wanted to get this on the screen." Younger, a New York native, was himself recruited by a brokerage boiler room when he was a struggling screenwriter making the transition from being a grip and cameraman. "I went into the recruiter's office knowing nothing about finance and this guy just walks in and tells us we're all going to make a million dollars within two years of being hired," recalls Younger. "It was incredible. I looked around the room and there were lots of other kids there younger than me and I was only 20 years old at the time. It was like a Fascist Youth rally and I just knew right then and there this was going to be the subject of my first script. I started writing everything down."
Although Younger didn't take the boiler room job, he did observe first-hand the adrenaline rush, the foul-mouthed fraternity, the smooth-talking methods for making outrageous sales. He also conducted extensive interviews with boiler room veterans, many of whom spoke on condition of total anonymity.
Explains Younger: "In the beginning, what I wanted to do is just park myself in a boiler room and live there for eight months. But no one would let me inside. So instead I talked to people who worked there, sat for hours with my tape recorder as if making a documentary. I did this for a year, completely absorbing this world. I stayed true in the script to the way it really is - misogynistic rules like 'don't pitch the bitch' come straight from reality."
What Younger discovered in the boiler rooms was a secret fraternity with its own code of conduct, its own language, even its own three-step path to customer's pocketbooks: first the cold call, luring the customer in with fast talk and promises of free information; then a hot stock "tip" to get the customer excited; followed by the hardcore close which often pushes such psychological buttons as fear of missed opportunities and desire for financial stability and family security.
Younger also uncovered something else: the fascinating idea that the young men in the boiler rooms defined themselves entirely by how much they had made rather than what they had achieved. They were millionaires without a cause, street kids raised on films such as WALL STREET and GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS, chasing the green just for the thrill of it.
His reflection of this world in a tense, suspense-laden script immediately attracted producers Susan and Jennifer Todd. "I had never experienced anything like the Boiler Room before," says Jennifer Todd. "It was an amazingly well written script that took you somewhere you'd never been and I thought it would make a completely unique movie."
Adds Suzanne Todd: "It was a very entertaining concept. But it also poses the question of what you would do if someone offered you a million dollars to do something that is just marginally illegal. Would you do it at all? Would you do it and then get out? Would you feel bad about it? Or would you refuse? It's really about the questions we all face when it comes to the line between money and morals."
ABC - Stands for the motto "Always Be Closing," from David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," a bible of bad behavior for the boiler room set
COLD CALL - A sales call to a customer who does not know you or your product; the initial pitch to reel the customer in
IPO - Stands for initial public offering; a company's first offering of stock to the public, often followed by a rapid rise in price in the case of a "hot" stock
NASD - The National Association of Securities Dealers, the self-regulation body of the securities industry, which develops trading rules and conducts reviews of members' activities
OPENER - Usually a jusnior broker or trainee who "opens" the customer with a cold call, before a senior broker comes in for the hard-sell close
PIKER - A coward, a chicken, a spoil sport - in the boiler room, it refers to a customer who commits to a buy but then doesn't send a check
PITCH THE BITCH - sell stock to women, a boiler room no-no
RIP - The broker's commission for making a stock trade
SEC - Securities Exchange Commission, federal agency that regulates the securities industry
SERIES SEVEN - a standardized course of study that certifies a person to become a stockbroker
WHALE - A customer with a vast net income
WOOD - A cold call that gets no results for the senior broker