Interview with Professor Frank Partnoy

 USD Law Boasts “Inside Man” on New Documentary Inside Job

USD Law Professor Frank Partnoy

Motions:  Morning, Professor.  Congratulations on your appearance in Inside Job.  I saw it last week and thought it was excellent.

Professor Frank Partnoy:  I’m glad to hear it.

M:  How did you get tapped for this movie?

P:  I think Charles Ferguson, the director, had read some of my writings on financial regulation, including a book I wrote called Infectious Greed, so he called me and we talked about the financial crisis and some history, and had a back and forth for a while.  And I went to New York and sat for an interview.

M:  So he must have just liked your manner of delivery, or what you were saying?

P:  I have no idea (laughs).  He talked to a lot of people, and I have a very small part in the film, you know, just a few seconds.  I think he wanted to rely on as many people as possible, so there was a lot of footage he didn’t use.  But he had about as wide an exposure to the witnesses and experts who are relevant to the story as, I think,
anyone ever has.

M:  So he got a good handle on what really went down?

P:  I think so.  He got every side of the story.  One of the strengths of the film is that it is critical from so many angles.  It’s not partisan.  It fires bullets in every direction, at just about everyone.

M:  It definitely does, and that goes to show just how many people were involved.  This film clearly doesn’t paint a lot of these bank executives in a very positive light.  Why were they so willing to grant him access and an interview?

P:  Well, some people were only willing to talk off the record.  But he knows a lot of bankers in New York, and he’s well-known and respected.  Some bankers wanted to tell him their side of the story, to try to persuade him.

M:  How long did you talk for?

P:  A couple hours or so.  He ended up using me mostly as a kind of setup guy for a few topics.  He was very clever in how he chose to use different people.  And you know, if you look at the movie as just art, as craft, I think he does a brilliant job of stitching together the material that he got.  It’s easy to lose sight of that skill, but it’s really hard to boil hundreds of hours of footage into 90 minutes.  There was an incredible amount of editing that had to be done.  After my interview, Charles Ferguson and I shared a cab downtown.  I was going to NYU, to give a talk, and his apartment is nearby.  He could not be a more interesting, delightful person.  He’s just a great guy, and I was really glad to be a part of his project.

M:  One of the things I think this movie does well is that it takes a really complicated topic and makes it easy to understand.  Fraud in the financial derivatives market isn’t the most accessible topic to the average moviegoer.

P:  Right, I think one of greatest strengths of the movie is that it is so entertaining.  And, in fact, I think the less you know about financial crisis, the more engaging the movie is.

M:  And hopefully it will inspire people to want to know more about it and understand more of where their money is going and who’s controlling it.

P:  I hope so.  Sony Pictures Classics asked me to write a lesson plan for teachers who want to discuss the film in class.  So I prepared one–it’s available for free on the movie’s website.  It’s designed mostly for high school and college students, but it can be useful for law school students, too.  It’s so relevant to the basic corporations class
in so many areas, and I think the movie helps facilitate an understanding of some of the key cases and concepts.

M:  So, this crisis, and the fraud that led up to it, it just seems like everyone from every company and government agency was involved, and it’s sort of discouraging.  What can the average investor or shareholder or voter do to make sure this never happens again?

P:  I think one of the most troubling parts of the movie is that it leads you to this angry and bleak conclusion.  It tries to end on an uplifting note about people becoming more active politically, but I think the overwhelming message is that whatever needs to be done probably isn’t going to get done, so I think what an average person
can do after the anger subsides is really not much.  Besides buckle up for the next crisis.

See also “Film Review: Inside Job (The Documentary That Cost $10 Trillion)”

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