2008 meltdown plays like disaster flick in HBO film

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The 2008 financial meltdown may sound like a dry topic for a TV movie, but the team that turned best-selling book “Too Big to Fail” into an upcoming HBO film say their project plays out more like a disaster movie.

Based on the book of the same name by journalist Andrew Sorkin, the film version recreates tense meetings in the corridors of power on Wall Street and in Washington where banking executives and public officials grappled with the U.S. economy as it went into a tailspin fueled by toxic mortgages.

The movie version, which airs on cable channel HBO in May, uses real news reports and video of events that took place during the fast-moving weeks of September 2008 but it takes no overt political stance on what happened.

“I think we are trying to tell the story as accurately, factually and dramatically as we can,” screenplay writer Peter Gould told television writers at a brief preview last week.

“Making it dramatic wasn’t that much of challenge because the events were extraordinary. We were trying to tease out a view of what it looked like from the inside.

“It is ultimately a disaster movie because you have people coping with disaster and under a lot of stress,” Gould added.

The top-flight cast includes William Hurt as then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Paul Giamatti as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, James Woods as beleaguered Dick Fuld, then chief executive of Lehman Brothers, Ed Asner as investor Warren Buffett, and Billy Crudup as current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Oscar winner Hurt said the cast spent a couple of weeks absorbing a glossary of complex economic and financial terms before filming began. But his best preparation was meeting Paulson himself.

“I spent a lot of time with him. He was very generous with his time. He was open -- I think. That was a thrill, to be able to ask some very pointed questions and get some answers.”

Director Curtis Hanson, best known for Hollywood movies “L.A. Confidential” and “Wonder Boys”, said the film was as much about characters as economics.

“There is great emotion in this story. Most of the pictures I have done are about people in difficult circumstances, trying to figure their way out, and this is very much that kind of a story,” Hanson said.

Sorkin said he was “over the moon” with the movie, but was anxious about the reactions of the key players.

“I think some of them read the book and liked it,” he said. “It is hard to read about yourself in print but it is even harder to see yourself on the big screen with famous actors depicting you. I expect to be getting a lot of phone calls.”

But Sorkin said he hoped Americans would watch the film, and learn from it.

“This film was really an opportunity to try and take the public inside the room, so they could see what happened, what decisions were made, and what the choices were.

“You get to see really what we were up against and how this was perhaps the most catastrophic thing to happen in our economy, and how close to the edge we really were.”

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte