J.C. Chandor possessed insider information immediately after the 2008 financial crash.
"My father had worked in investment banking, not as a trader, for years," said Chandor, director and writer of "Margin Call," his first feature film.
"I knew these characters, and I knew about their world. I thought I might be able to bring something to a film. There would be stories to be told."
Chandor also grasped early on that the collapse of large financial institutions, the government bailout of banks, and declines in the stock market would have a tsunami-size ripple effect on the United States and global economy.
"This was going to reverberate for years," he said.
And funding for his line of work, making commercials and documentary films, was going to become scarce.
"I knew times were going to get tough here, which they have," said Chandor, 36, who is based in New York City. "My survival instinct kicked in, and I thought this could be a really interesting story to tell, and this was the time for me to put myself out there and try to dive into this (feature film) world, the future world. I had a good story if I could do this on a tight budget."
Chandor crafted a taut script, a thriller, about employees of a Wall Street investment firm during a volatile 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 crisis.
An entry-level analyst (played by Zachary Quinto, Spock in the 2009 "Star Trek") unlocks information that could cause the firm's downfall, and staffers' immediate financial and moral decisions could save or destroy the firm and its employees.
Chandor honed his dialogue to laser sharpness.
"I never would have been able to make this at any other time in my career," he said of "Margin Call." "The situation came about when I had matured as a writer. The story was lightning in a bottle. Putting the whole film together was a leap of faith. I thought I could do it, but I didn't know."
The quality of the script, and the fact that Chandor planned a short shoot (which was all he could afford), caught the interest of big-name actors. His stellar cast includes Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Paul Bettany and Demi Moore. According to industry reports, the film was made for a modest $2 million.
"This is a very, very contained, small story, set over a short period of time," Candor said. "For the most part, the characters are trapped on a single floor of a skyscraper. The actors would be shooting most of every day, not waiting around. The time commitment was small, and they would be getting to do what they loved, which is acting."
In the editing room, "I realized I had something pretty good," Chandor said.
The future looks bright for "Margin Call," which at press time was sold out at every Sundance screening except Ogden. Wait-list tickets will be available at all sold-out locations.
And Chandor said the film's overseas rights already are sold. He hopes Sundance will help him find a domestic distributor. Sundance films cast with famous faces usually draw interest from distributors.
So Chandor's future seems bright, but what about America's? Does he have any inside info about economic recovery?
"It's easy to know that when a big rock gets dropped into water, there will be waves," Chandor said. "It's not easy to know when they will stop. I just hope for some lessons to be learned out of this."
* "Margin Call" (109 minutes, USA), 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29.