That Film About Money

Director – James Schamus
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What is the real value of a dollar?
You think that a dollar bill is money and that banks are where your cash is stored and safeguarded. Well, you’re wrong. Like, really wrong.

Written & Directed by: James Schamus
Produced by: Mridu Chandra and James Schamus
Associate Producer: Gustavo Rosa
Directors of Photography: Kirsten Johnson and Peter Bowen
Editor: Eron Otcasek
Design: Work-Order Co.
Original Score: Jay Wadley
Score Produced by Found Objects
Anat Admati
Mridu Chandra
Barbara Garson
Suresh Naidu
Gustavo Rosa
James Schamus
Richard D. Wolff
Location Sound: Judy Karp
Production Assistants: Pablo Tamarin and Djuna Schamus
Insurance: Reiff & Associates, LLC
Legal: Susan Bodine
Post Production Facility: Prime Focus Technologies
Online Editor: Eugene Lehnert
Coloris: Eric Alvarado
Offline Edit: Point Made Films
Re-cording Mixer: Rob Daly
Sound Design: Timmy Quinn

Archival Footage / Photo Sources:
Allstar Products Group/Snuggie Blanket
Archive Holdings Inc. / The Image Bank / Getty Images
iStock / Alandj
iStock / Claudiodivizia
iStock / Gerenme
iStock / Gregobagel
iStock / Peopleimages
iStock / Trekandshoot
Jeff Snyder / Filmmagic / Getty Images
Marshall / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Reuters/Ben Nelms / Ariadna De Raadt
Solent News and Photo Agency
Spencer Platt / Getty Images News / Getty Images
U.S. Department of the Treasury / Bureau of Engraving and Printing
WPA Film Library
Thank you:
Anthony Arnove
Brenda Coughlin
Tony Gerber
Scott Macaulay
Skylight Group
Production Junction
Deionna Wilburn
(c) 2014 Symbolic Exchange Ltd. all rights reserved.

James Schamus

JAMES SCHAMUS is an award-winning screenwriter (“The Ice Storm”) and producer (“Brokeback Mountain”), and former CEO of Focus Features, the motion picture production, financing, and worldwide distribution company whose films have included “Milk,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Pianist,” “Coraline,” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” He is professor of Professional Practice in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where he teaches film history and theory. He is also the author of "Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud: The Moving Word," published by the University of Washington Press, and is currently completing another book, "My Wife is a Terrorist: Lessons in Storytelling from the Department of Homeland Security," for Harvard University Press. He earned his BA, MA, and Ph.D. in English from U.C. Berkeley. His current projects include (as Executive Producer) “Suffragettes,” starring Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep, and (as Producer) “Alone in Berlin,” starring Emma Thompson.

Director's Note

“I have a conflicted relationship both with the topic of ‘the economy’ and with the premise of the series as a whole. Indeed, the concept of the ‘economy,’ even its constitution as an object of scientific study, as a thing, is relatively recent, and to me smells of an ideological maneuver wherein we replace what are essentially political relations with a mystifying body of social science ‘knowledge’ to be managed and manipulated by financial/political elites.

The premise of WE THE ECONOMY is to make otherwise complex, obscure, or academic ideas approachable and understandable by laymen, thus empowering us to participate more knowledgeably in public debates about policy etc. That’s a laudable premise I’m proud to be associated with. But the danger of it is that it already assumes that what is being made digestible - ‘economics’ — is somehow an ‘objective’ object of knowledge, rather than being itself already, in the very way it packages its concepts and ideas, a field of political decision and social action — one which helps naturalize the grotesque domination of people and natural resources of our current system.

My few minutes’ contribution to the endeavor, in the classic form of an ‘educational video,’ goes for a couple of takeaways: primarily, that no one who watches my films will ever again be able to think of money and banks as ‘natural’ objects, but rather will see them as sites of profound and enduring social and political struggles - struggles that everyone has a right to participate in.”


Which of the following Presidents does not appear on a U.S. bank note?

  • 28% John Adams
  • 46% William McKinley
  • 6% Abraham Lincoln
  • 20% None of these
28% of respondents chose the correct answer: John Adams.

Abraham Lincoln appears on the $5 bill and William McKinley on the $500. Most of the paper money we use today bears the likeness of a past President. Exceptions are: Alexander Hamilton ($20); Ben Franklin ($100); Salmon P. Chase ($10,000).

The U.S. dollar is backed by:

  • 27% Gold
  • 43% Nothing
  • 7% Silver
  • 24% None of these
43% of respondents chose the correct answer: Nothing.

President Richard Nixon ended the Gold Standard program in 1971, thus enabling gold to be traded at fluctuating market prices rather than the fixed price of $35 per troy ounce. American currency is considered fiat money; it is not redeemable for precious metal or anything else. Its value depends on the willingness of others to accept it as payment.

Before the creation of the Fed, American currency was issued by:

  • 45% Private banks
  • 10% None of these
  • 10% The Bank of England
  • 35% The Treasury Department
45% of respondents chose the correct answer: Private banks.

In the United States, the Free Banking Era lasted between 1837 and 1866, when almost anyone could issue paper money. States, municipalities, private banks, railroad and construction companies, stores, restaurants, churches and individuals printed an estimated 8,000 different monies by 1860.

Did you know?

  • Eight countries use the U.S. dollar as currency, including Panama, Ecuador and Zimbabwe.

  • All figures on U.S. bank notes were Presidents – except three: Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Salmon Chase.

  • In 2013, the government issued 26 million notes per day valued at about $1.3 billion.

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