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Hollywood occupies Wall Street: A love story

The Occupy Wall Street movement has now passed its one-month birthday, and the presence of such celebrity supporters as Susan Sarandon, Rosanne Barr and Alec Baldwin has added some stars to this still-in-development living movie.

But as the website Celebrity NetWorth points out, these supporters don't fit their roles: Roseanne Barr ($80-million U.S.), Susan Sarandon ($50-million) and Alec Baldwin ($65-million) are all too rich to be part of the 99 per cent that the occupation claims to represent. "Heroes or hypocrites?" asked Fox News on its website, and soon found an "expert" ( The Cult of Celebrity author Cooper Lawrence) who pronounced "they are indeed hypocrites" because "celebrities are nothing like us."

How literal. This battle is symbolic. Wall Street isn't even really being occupied; it's just a tent city in a nearby park. The individual stars stand for all their fans. Actor Mark Ruffalo, who took breaks from playing the Hulk in the upcoming Avengers movie to join the protests, told The Wall Street Journal: "I [also]feel like I do have a responsibility to the people who are my fans, to the people who actually make my life possible in a way."

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More pertinently, what do those symbolic realms of Hollywood (the film industry) and Wall Street (the financial sector) have to do with each other? There's a kind of love story here. Wall Street used to treat Hollywood as a risky playmate, until the economic boom of the mid-2000s, when studios came up with a new deal: a chance for investors in film slates, and a share in their revenues over the film's entire lifetime. Starting with Paramount in 2003, all the studios began collaborating in investment and revenue-sharing plans with the major Wall Street investment banks and affiliated hedge funds. According to The Hollywood Reporter, between 2005 and the 2008 meltdown, Wall Street put $15-billion into Hollywood.

After three years of keeping its distance during the recession, Wall Street is coming around again. Money has started to become available through multiyear, multimillion-dollar loans, against the values of studio libraries and future earnings, though the approach is more cautious. One of the most talked-about contemporary investors is Relativity Media, run by thirtysomething super bean-counter Ryan Kavanaugh. Working with a $2-billion hedge fund, Relativity has made many films with Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. A 2009 profile in Esquire ( Ryan Kavanaugh Uses Math To Make Movies) explains an approach whereby, before a movie is approved for financing, "Thousands of factors are fed into a Monte Carlo simulation risk assessment algorithm normally used to evaluate financial instruments."

This Moneyball approach to movie-making is not about exciting home runs, but lots of singles and doubles. This year, for example, it gave us solid base hits, Limitless and Bridesmaids, though it's not idiot proof – as Will Ferrell's 2009 bomb Land of the Lost attests.

If Wall Street tried to put Hollywood movie-making on a scientific diet, how has Hollywood influenced Wall Street? Mostly by providing a bad role model – and not just the movie Wall Street's sexy villain Gordon Gekko. A few months after the 2008 crisis, Neal Gabler (author of the superb history Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream) wrote a provocative piece for The Boston Globe about how Hollywood led Wall Street astray.

Financial soundness used to be associated with Brooks Brothers suits and prudent behaviour, not Armani and gold faucets, Gabler argued. But since the eighties, Hollywood gave the United States a deregulation-loving president, Ronald Reagan, and a celebrity-obsessed culture where success was not about substance but presenting the right illusion. Wall Street culture fell in line, giving us showman-hustlers like Donald Trump, or worse, Bernie Madoff. When money men start behaving like spoiled stars, it makes sense that celebrities would prefer aligning with common folk.

"In short," concluded Gabler, "you can blame the Hollywoodization of Wall Street for our economic woes."

If he's right, there's only one logical conclusion: Occupy Hollywood! Just be careful that, when setting up your tent in the nearby park, you don't accidentally find yourself in the middle of a pitch session.

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Opening next week

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In Time Andrew Niccol ( Gattaca) wrote and directed this sci-fi thriller, in which aging stops at 25, and the only way to stay alive is buy more years. The cast includes Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Alex Pettyfer and Cillian Murphy.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the Olsen twins) plays a young woman who struggles to reintegrate with her family after living in an abusive cult in this Sundance hit from director Sean Durkin.

Puss in Boots In this prequel to Shrek, we learn the story of the sword-fighting Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas), and his friends Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis).

The Rum Diary Adapted from an early Hunter S. Thompson novel, The Rum Diary follows a reporter (Johnny Depp) as he arrives at a shoestring Puerto Rican newspaper in the early sixties, falls in love and tries to expose corruption while drinking copiously. Bruce Robinson ( Withnail and I) directs, after a long absence.

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The Skin I Live In In the latest Pedro Almodovar twisted tale, a widowed plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas, again) who has invented a new kind of synthetic skin, keeps a mysterious beautiful woman locked in his house.

Sophie In this Canadian family movie, a 17-year-old girl, Sophie (Brittany Bristow) joins a travelling circus to recover her pet elephant, Sheba, which her parents sold to help pay for Sophie's ballet school.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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