Margin Call is one of several low-budget ($3.5 million), accessibly commercial smart films for adults debuting at Sundance that got made with a major cast willing to work for nothing against the promise of worthy material and a decent back end.
While film school dropout-turned-commercial director J.C. Chandor, whose father was an exec at Merrill Lynch, wrote the film about a fictional mammoth investment bank (modeled more on Goldman Sachs than Lehman Brothers) 24 hours before the financial collapse in 2008, producer Zachary Quinto kept the project on track through many twists and turns and support and packaging help from CAA. Because Chandor knew the world so well from the inside, he was always on board to direct his script. Cast members came and went; Ben Kingsley fell out at the last minute, replaced by Jeremy Irons, whose visa had expired. Never has anyone gotten a visa so fast.
Quinto learned a lot from the experience; so did Chandor. For more detail on how they got this movie made, see the two-part video below.
Shooting in New York with the latest Red camera in 17 days was possible partly because 85% of the film took place on one location, a vacated floor at One Penn Plaza with stunning panoramic views. The production was able to set up multiple shots on the floor, and the actors used offices as their dressing rooms. They didn't have to descend 42 floors to their trailers. "We were shooting 12-hour days, seven to twelve pages a day," says Chandor, who'd do several takes, say, "we got it," and move on.
Exec producer Cassian Elwes recommended, given that the film wasn't premiering until Tuesday night (so that Broadway performer Quinto could attend), that Sundance schedule an early press and industry screening. The place was packed with every buyer in town, and sure enough, Margin Call became the first major deal of the festival, selling U.S. rights to theatrical distributors Lionsgate/Roadside for just under $2 million. By the time of the packed premiere, the movie was already sold.
Part Two (cuts off when Flip Cam runs out of juice):