Documentaries can be the victims of bad timing, and that to some extent is the case with Floored—a 2009 documentary which chronicles the plight of veteran Chicago futures traders as they struggle to adapt to new, fast-paced computer technologies.
Floored offers an interesting insight into the world of stocks, high frequency trading and the people in the industry. Investment economics is pretty much mind boggling and even in movies attempting to make sense of that complicated enigma, Floored serves up stock culture at its most hardcore and ruthless in the raw, if not exactly market math for dummies.
A penetrating look into the brutal when not bizarre world of the Chicago stock trading floor known as ‘The Pit,’ Floored is a kind of horror documentary hybrid, descending into that secretive world steeped in money lust, booze, drugs and high end sex on demand.
Director James Allen Smith happened to gain unusual access to those compulsive trading floor players, as a web designer during that investment culture’s radical switch recently from-in-your-face stock transactions to the more impersonal hi-tech digital deals.
And within that bastion of naked claustrophobic capitalism, traders are caught on camera screaming, shoving, spitting in each others’ faces, and reportedly even stabbing one another with pens and biting a rival’s nose.
As Smith navigates that competitive buy and sell money game known as investment capitalism, he also uncovers like an avid psychological profiler, the reigning colorful and frequently scary personalities that inhabit The Pit.
They range within that mostly macho realm from a hard luck loser playing golf in the snow, drunks and decadent party animals, to one who actually runs off to Africa periodically to shoot animals. And then lines his luxuriant McMansion with the stuffed cadavers of scores of slaughtered wildlife creatures. But what they all have in common is money mania, and designer cigars dangling from their nonstop motormouths.
Smith interviews several long-term traders, some of whom have been very successful, to gain an insight into the industry and highlight their experiences. Some of the anecdotes are shocking, as the interviewees give no-holds barred accounts detailing the competitiveness of in-person floor trading and the lengths some would go to.
Many of those interviewed are brutally honest about the industry, with one describing it as a form of “gambling”.
It was shot during the middle of this last decade on a shoestring budget of only a few hundred grand. These are the final days of the floor traders, the descent of whom dovetails the rise of the machines.
The characters depicted in Floored are aware that they are dinosaurs, nobly plodding along toward their ultimate, collective demise. Their world is burning down around them but they carry their heads up high. There’s something to be said for that, I suppose.
I think the movie speaks more broadly to everyone in the industry. Those of you that work in finance don’t need to be told how dynamic a world it is. But overall I believe it to be a must-see about greed, material obsession, perpetually unfulfilled lust for loot, shoving matches, and suicide.
And where old traders go when their time is up, and the dreaded ‘Box’ known as the digital computer age moves in and takes over. Not to mention what Darwin might have had to say, if he lived to see this movie.