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Peek ahead: Now playing at a cinema near you...

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 30 Q3 2013

In the latest installment of Peek Ahead, we consider the long and sometimes uneasy relationship between markets and movies.

Now playing at a cinema near you…

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

That of course was Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street'. The film may be a work of fiction, but the way the financial community gets portrayed on the silver screen undoubtedly matters. Oliver Stone's dialogue came to define investment bankers for a generation and it would not be a stretch to draw a straight line from that movie moment to the politics of Dodd-Frank. In fact, we recently attended one financial conference where a European regulator was quoting lines from the film 'Margin Call' (a film we did enjoy despite a few clichéd moments).

Markets and movies have had a long, and occasionally uneasy, relationship. There are the moral fables, 'Wall Street' and 'Margin Call' being good examples. There are the slapstick sendups such as 'Trading Places'. And in the last several years, there has been a new breed of films focused on markets: documentaries.

Inspired by runaway successes such as 'Supersize Me', and helped by the advent of inexpensive video technology, anyone with a spark of an idea can now grab a camera and start filming. There's even a website devoted to the genre: www.financedocumentaries.com .

So after catching a screening of the latest financial documentary, a film called 'Ghost Exchange', we spoke to the filmmaker, Camilla Sullivan, to hear about her experiences trying to examine the far-from-simple subject of HFT for a wide audience, all within 84 minutes.

Sullivan convinced a number of market participants, former officials and academics to sit with her in front of a camera in a warehouse in Brooklyn for hours at a time to talk about the impact HFT was having on the structure of capital markets. Many - but crucially not all - of the interviewees were
HFT critics.

"No one expects you to put the technology genie back in the bottle, but there's definitely room for improvement in the way the US has handled regulation of the issue," Sullivan told us. She thinks regulators would be better off taking a more surgical approach to problems rather than trying to come up with holistic solutions. She boiled down
the message of her film to three words: proceed with caution.

Getting market participants to talk was not easy, she said.

And that points to a conundrum. Many lament the way the markets are depicted in the media, but ask them to set the record straight and they immediately become camera-shy. Peek Ahead can understand why. For instance, a film like 'Quants: the Alchemists of Wall Street' has some fascinating people in it, but it also has doom-laden music and slow-pans that are worthy of Tarantino.

But the good news is that we hear there are more financial documentaries on the way, so you definitely will have your chances to light up the screen.

All right Mr Gensler, I'm ready for my close-up.