A new film mixes comedy and finance -- and nobody could be more surprised that "The Big Short" has made it to the big screen than the author of the book that inspired it. John Blackstone offers us a preview:
In a way "The Big Short" is part of a Hollywood tradition: the disaster movie -- a disaster we all lived through.
"Wall Street took a good idea and turned it into an atomic bomb of fraud and stupidity," said Steve Carell's Mark Baum.
"The Big Short" looks at what caused the 2008 financial crisis that cost millions their homes, jobs and savings.
The movie, starring Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling, tells the story of a few investors who saw the bubble being created in the housing market when no one else did.
It's based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis. "You've got these oddballs who are kind of on the margins of the financial system," he said, "who saw this crisis as it was developing. And nobody wanted to listen to them. And they made fortunes betting on the collapse of the system."
"Your books are based on characters," said Blackstone. "Are you always on the look-out for a character?"
"Yes," replied Lewis. "It's a character in a situation. If you ask me what's the starting point for books for me, it's almost always that."
The characters in "The Big Short" are in a complicated situation involving risky mortgage bonds sold by big banks. They are trying to figure out what happens if homeowners begin to default on their mortgages and those bonds lose value.
"I did wonder while I was working on it, is this really a book?" said Lewis.
It turned out to be a bestseller, on The New York Times list for 28 weeks. But Lewis didn't write it with a movie in mind.
"I don't feel I'm responsible for the movie; I'm responsible for the book," he said. "It's a very nice situation. If it goes really well, people give me credit for it. And if it goes badly, I just say, HE did it!"
"He" is screenwriter-director Adam McKay. "You don't think of a book about that subject as being a page-turner," he said.
And you don't think of McKay as an obvious choice to write and direct a movie about complex financial issues. His previous works are Will Farrell comedies, including "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights."
"When you do big, silly comedies, you learn to kind of disengage from worrying about what the critical response is, and you just worry about making a movie that works," McKay said. "And I think it really served me in this case."
When McKay had to explain how banks disguised risky mortgage bonds to look like secure investments, he brought in celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The banks, stuck with unsold bonds, Bourdain says, were like a chef stuck with unsold fish.
"Whatever crappy levels of the bond I don't sell I throw into a seafood stew," Bourdain explained. "See, it's not old fish; it's a whole new thing!"
During filming of "The Big Short," Lewis never visited the set. McKay said, "I think later I found out he was a little dubious, until he saw the movie, and then he was overjoyed that it actually worked."