AVC: What sort of research did you do to get acquainted with the profession of foreclosing homes?
RB: I’m based in New York, so to start, I read about 400 or 500 articles, 20 books, got on the phone with a lot of people. But then I actually went down to Florida. I spent time with real-estate brokers. I was surprised they all carried guns. The same way people who’ve seen the film are surprised by the pace, or the mood, or the tone of it, how quick it is, I was surprised too. I didn’t expect violence down there. I didn’t expect so many mind-boggling scams. I didn’t expect that level of corruption. I didn’t expect the courts to be called “rocket dockets” because they’d decide your case in 60 seconds flat. That’s so fast. And the movie had to have that speed to it. I spent time with a fraud attorney—the banks made a huge mistake trying to foreclose on her, and she uncovered a massive fraud and led a lawsuit against the bank to the tune of $100 million and won. She opened my eyes to so much fraud, so many scams. I spent time in the motels on the way to Disney World. In the shadow of the castle, you have motels populated by gangbangers, prostitutes, migrant day laborers, and middle-class families. Not poverty. Mom and dad have part-time jobs.
AVC: The struggles that Dennis and his family face, as well as his own moral compromises, all stem from the need for money and the difficulty of getting it. Do you design99 Homes to be an anti-capitalist film?
RB: No, I think it’s against a rigged system. I think it’s against things like the heads of the for-profit banks becoming our quote “public servants” and running the National Treasury and the Federal Reserve banks, making decisions that benefit the banks and have nothing to do with the average person. I’m not for that. I’m not for policies that have been in place from 1979 onwards that do not benefit 99 percent of the people. Not one economist on either side of the fence will tell you that tax policies which benefit homeowners are a good thing. But no politician can get elected saying that. I don’t think it takes a genius to realize that when the Libor scandal hit, billions of dollars were lost from average people. The banks lost money, around $5 billion, but they profited tenfold. And nobody went to jail! We’re living in a world that says that if you engage in mass fraud, you’ll be rewarded, but if you go down the street and steal an orange juice, you get arrested. Of course Michael Shannon’s character will exist in a system like that. He’s not an Iago.