Wednesday, August 5, 2015

From Midtown to Wall Street: Screenwriter Amy Fox Takes on The World of Investment Banking in Broad Street Pictures New Film, Equity

Screenwriter Amy Fox talks about her new movie, Equity
Interview: New York City's Amy Fox Pens New Script "Equity" for Broad Street Pictures About Women Bankers On Wall Street, Discusses How Interviews with Women She Knew Influenced Story and How Hollywood Needs More Women

"I literally Googled, What is a stock?" - Amy Fox

Amy Fox’s screenplay, Heights, based on her original play, was made into a major motion picture starring Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden when she was in her early twenties. It was one of those rare success stories, and really, dream, of any aspiring writer:  write a play, watch it come alive on a stage, have it reviewed by the New York Times and then have a producer call you up to write a screenplay. Yes, this was Amy's story and her dream, so she started her resume listing a movie produced by Merchant Ivory Productions with an Academy Award-nominated/Emmy-winning actress in it.

Heights is the story of five people, working in the arts in New York City whose lives all intermingle. The movie peeks into their lives for 24 hours. Roger Ebert had praise for the movie saying, "Apart from the movie's mysteries and revelations, its chief pleasure comes through simple voyeurism. It is entertaining to see the lives of complex people become brutally simple all of a sudden."

Alysia Reiner, Sarah Megan Thomas and
Amy Fox at Movie Launch Event
Now Amy’s penned a new script, titled Equity.  Though still based in NYC, this story takes place on Wall Street. Like Heights, it has a strong female lead with other female protagonists and the viewer will see how all the lives intertwine as the story unfolds. However, unlike Heights, this story is about business, the underbelly of  investment banking, and it tells the tale of a female taking a company public. Heights had it's share of secrets, but Equity' secrets cause more than just tears.

Produced by Alysia Reiner (Orange is the New Black)  and Sarah Megan Thomas (Backwards Movie), who are the founders of  the new production company called Broad Street Pictures, LLC, this movie stars Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and James Purefoy (Rome, The Following). Carrie Preston True Blood, The Good Wife) and  James Naughton (The Devil Wears Prada), Broad Street Pictures founders Alysia and Sarah also star in this film. It’s in production now, scheduled to be released 2016.

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy at a pre-production meeting several months ago in midtown Manhattan. Her exuberance for this project really caught my attention, as this, she said, and buzz has it, is the first movie centered around women on Wall Street. 

Flash forward a few months, with production already having started, and I found out more about this groundbreaking film and the women behind it.

First, I asked this young scriptwriter  how she came to be involved in this project with Alysia and Sarah.

Amy Fox: I actually met Sarah and Alysia years ago doing theater, before they knew each other! I met Alysia at at the Players Club, and she immediately became an actor I was interested in working with. She's done several readings of my work, both publicly and sometimes around my dinner table! I originally met Sarah through our siblings who were in business school together. She acted in and produced several of my short plays of with her theater company Thirteenth Night. When Alysia and Sarah formed Broad Street Pictures, they contacted me about the possibility of working with them. They began talking to me about their vision for a Wall Street drama focused on a female protagonist and I was immediately intrigued and excited about the possibility.

So tell me about that research. Do you know someone like the character Naomi?  Who did you interview to get a true perspective on what it’s like to work on wall Street now?

Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn stars as investment
banker Naomi Bishop in the new movie Equity
Amy Fox: I talked to as many people as possible  in the financial industry – both men and women-- about their stories and their perceptions of the business.  I based the script on live interviews with several dozen women currently working in banking. I also had to do a great deal of reading about the financial industry and the concepts involved. I think the first day I literally Googled "what is a stock." I did actually know what a stock was but didn't feel confident enough to write about it. But I loved the challenge of learning about this world. Five months later when we had the reading of the first draft, I was thrilled when several people who worked on Wall Street told me my rendering of that world was 100% authentic.

One of the most fascinating things was the opportunity to understand more about what people I know actually do for work. I discovered that a woman I had been hanging out with on the playground (in NYC) was actually a US attorney who prosecuted financial crimes. She turned out to be exactly the person I needed to interview.

Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas are the
force behind Broad Street Pictures.
How did you collaborate on this with Alysia and Sarah? Were there a lot of late nights?

Amy Fox: Sarah and Alysia and I developed the story and then I wrote the screenplay solo. In the beginning we met frequently to go over our research and make critical decisions about the story – Was our protagonist a trader or a banker? What was she fighting for? Once we decided she was doing an IPO we had to consider what kind of tech company she was taking public. We knew she had to cross into an ethical gray area – what did that mean? Was it an innocent mistake? Who were the other players? We worked out all of these questions together and then I went off and began writing actual scenes. I think I sent them the first 10 pages and then the first 60, and then a first draft. One of the pleasures of working on this project was that Sarah and Alysia give terrific script notes and we all found ourselves very much on the same page about what this movie wanted to be.

Amy Fox on the set of Equity by Broad Street Pictures
So, after the script was done, did it go through another round of fact-checking? I heard that some of the biggest power women of  Wall Street and the financial industry looked over the script for authenticity. What kinds of suggestions did they make? 

Amy Fox: They helped with everything from providing inspiration and really specific anecdotes we use in the story, to fact checking our numbers and the way in which the day of the IPO unfolds.
Broad Street Pictures was founded by two women whose mission it is to create smart films with women in front of and behind the camera. _____________________________________________________

There's been a lot of talk in Hollywood now about the lack of roles for women in entertainment.  Equity is produced by females and directed by Meera Menon. How excited were you to write a story with a strong female lead as well as other strong female characters?

Amy Fox: Creating interesting roles for women is a personal passion of mine. I think all the time about my own childhood watching movies, and how rarely I saw women in powerful positions in the media.  It was important to me that our characters be fascinating and human and a bit surprising. I really wanted to understand what it means for a woman to define herself by work. I had a few conversations that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of showing a side to these characters we usually don't see. One woman I interviewed said to me that she had no interest in yoga because "she doesn't want to slow down." Another woman was talking about the difficulties of being a woman on Wall Street in the 80s, and when I asked her how she got through it, she said "I really like money." And I don't know if I've ever heard a woman own that before, so I really wanted to put that in the script and get underneath that to understand that drive.

Do you see a trend that this may be changing, or do we still have a long way to go?

Amy Fox: We still have a very long way to go. In terms of characters, we've seen more juicy female roles on television lately, so that is a start. And female writers and filmmakers are starting to organize to fight for the opportunities they deserve.  At NYU half of our graduate filmmakers are women, and I see their extraordinary talent and work ethic. The challenge is making sure that they can sustain careers and have access to the opportunities that allow people to fund their work.

Many of the women in this film, including you, Sarah and Alysia, have kids. What's that like?

Amy Fox: It has been amazing to collaborate with this team of women. I've been inspired by each of them along the way, and learned from watching how each of us navigates this industry and brings our strengths to this project. Sarah, Alysia and I also balance this work with raising small children, and it's been amazing to work with other women who understand those challenges and take on that juggle of family and career every day.
Behind the Scenes at Equity: Carrie Preston (The Good Wife,
True Blood) also stars in Equity
What do you think this film is bringing to the big screen that we have not seen in the past?

Amy Fox: This movie offers a fresh perspective in several ways: as mentioned above, three complex powerful female characters that we've not seen before. A look at post financial crisis Wall Street, where there is less focus on glamour and image than we've seen in the past, and a greater focus on people trying to do their work, keep their jobs, adjust to a new reality. It's also the first time we've seen a movie about an IPO of a tech company.

I’ve already seen several versions of the script, and it just keeps getting better. Do you anticipate more changes as you see it being acted out and with what each actor brings to your words?

Amy Fox: Absolutely. Some of this has already been happening during auditions. If scenes are not playing as we intended I've been tweaking them.

Equity is in production Summer 2015 in Philadelphia and New York City, with an expected release in Summer 2016.

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Written by Suzanne Ordas Curry

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