You wouldn't expect a goofy Will Ferrell comedy to be the place where you'd get a mini-seminar on the financial chicanery that's fattened Wall Streeters' and CEOs' bonus checks in recent years while impoverishing the rest of us. But that's what viewers of 'The Other Guys,' which opened at No. 1 at the box office this past weekend, got if they stayed through to the end.
The movie may be a silly farce about New York cops who stumble upon a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme that threatens to defraud billions from city workers. But buried in the comedy is a serious point about what really constitutes grand theft these days, a point illustrated over the closing credits by a PowerPoint-like presentation full of jazzy infographics and serious statistics outlining just how much Wall Street and corporate leaders have enriched themselves at the expense of American workers and taxpayers. (All this while agit-pop rockers Rage Against the Machine cover Bob Dylan's anti-corporate anthem 'Maggie's Farm' on the soundtrack.) Even for moviegoers who are connoisseurs of end-credit sequences, this one stands out as unique. div style="text-align: center;">
The movie may be a silly farce about New York cops who stumble upon a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme that threatens to defraud billions from city workers. But buried in the comedy is a serious point about what really constitutes grand theft these days, a point illustrated over the closing credits by a PowerPoint-like presentation full of jazzy infographics and serious statistics outlining just how much Wall Street and corporate leaders have enriched themselves at the expense of American workers and taxpayers. (All this while agit-pop rockers Rage Against the Machine cover Bob Dylan's anti-corporate anthem 'Maggie's Farm' on the soundtrack.) Even for moviegoers who are connoisseurs of end-credit sequences, this one stands out as unique.
It's a fascinating sequence, both from a design perspective and from the unlikely prospect of seeing a major corporation (in this case, Sony) release a mass-entertainment movie that also wants to educate moviegoers about the legalized wealth-grab that's benefiting major corporations. Moviefone spoke to the artists who designed the sequence to learn how it came to be, where its facts came from, and whether or not such serious info-nuggets can have any real impact when embedded in a splashy Hollywood comedy.
'The Other Guys' is a parody of old-school buddy-cop movies like the 'Lethal Weapon' films, but director/co-writer Adam McKay wanted to give it a realistically grandiose and relevant villain, which is the reason he turned to Wall Street. "All those old movies had drug-smuggling story lines -- if you did that now, it would be quaint," McKay told Entertainment Weekly earlier this summer. "Who gives a s--- about guys selling drugs at this point? Crime has taken on massive proportions: destroying the Gulf of Mexico, stealing $80 billion. Stealing a billion dollars is nothing now -- that's almost adorable."
So McKay approached Picture Mill, the design firm whose creative director, William Lebeda, has done the credit sequences for all of McKay's movies. Lebeda tells Moviefone that he and his team brainstormed half a dozen ideas and brought them to McKay, "and this is the one that really stuck."
"There was not a lot of finger-pointing in the movie. He felt this was his opportunity to point the finger," Lebeda says. "It brought reality to the comedy," adds David Midgen, who produced the sequence.
The figures cited in the sequence, for example, note the following:
- that the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) bailout cost every person in America enough to take a trip around the world
- that after the bailout, some $1.2 billion in taxpayer money went to pay the bonuses of just 73 AIG execs, while Goldman Sachs got a huge tax break that saw its tax rate drop from 34 percent to 1 percent
- that the average CEO earned about eight times the salary of his average employee a century ago, but earns more than 300 times his average employee's wages now
- that the typical American 401(k) retirement account has lost nearly half its value over the last five years
- that New York cops may earn a maximum pension of about $48,000, while the average retiring CEO reaps benefits of about $83.6 million.
"We knew the issues we wanted to talk about," Lebeda says. "We did a little bit of research. To get specific numbers, we hired a copywriter, Mark Tapio Kines. He found all the numbers through different online sources." The sources were official government documents, adds art director Grant Nellessen. "Sony had to vet everything to confirm we weren't making up facts," he says. "It wasn't just our opinion."
As for the presentation of those dry numbers, Lebeda says, "We wanted to do it in as colorful, fun way as possible, with cool transitions in between." Which was tricky, says Nellessen, because "we had to hope the names [of all the people who worked on the movie] would fit in with all the animation we had put together."
Lebeda says the result has been well-received, judging by the critics' reviews (almost all of which have mentioned the end credits sequence) and the audience response from test screenings. "Our anecdotal evidence is that it's been pretty popular," he says.
Still, it's unusual to see such heavy information presented in such a light film. "It's a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down," Nellessen says. "Adam really had something on his mind, and he thought this was a fun way to get a pointed message in there."
But how effective as an educational tool is this unexpected sequence likely to be? "People really do get the message," says Lebeda. "When you show somebody visually the relationship of how much each person's share is to the whole TARP bailout -- that it's enough for every American to take a trip around the world -- that's a great way visually to get the message to sink in. The absurdity of the statistics does connect to the movie." Adds Midgen, "People have heard of some of these things but they didn't know the numbers. It was all abstract."
It's also unusual for a major corporation like a Hollywood studio to finance such an anti-corporate message. (The last significant example I could think of was 'Fight Club' 11 years ago.) "Yes, it is a little ironic," says Lebeda, who adds that some suits at Sony were nervous about the segment. "It's not often that we get to put so much content into what we do," Lebeda adds. "Adam was terrific, very supportive. We're grateful to him for giving us that opportunity to take the ball and run with it."
"We're not trying to be too inflammatory," Nellesen says. Well, "maybe a little inflammatory."
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.