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The current number one documentary on iTunes is the product of a financial analyst located right in our own backyard. About a month ago, Burke Koonce, an equity research analyst in Raleigh, reached out to tell me about “Betting on Zero”, a new financial docu-thriller, and the screening he had planned for the Rialto this Tuesday night. I was intrigued, so I watched the trailer.
As you can see, the film follows billionaire Bill Ackman as he goes up against Herbalife, a multi-level marketing company, by taking a $1 billion short position on their stock and asserting that the company is actually a pyramid scheme. “Betting on Zero” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been reviewed by the New York Times and the LA Times. I assume that Koonce, one of the film’s executive producers, reached out because he wanted coverage from a source that people could ITBelieve in. We recently met to talk more about the film and his involvement.
Koonce comes across a lot of interesting material as an equity research analyst that writes about stocks and financial matters for clients. “Sometimes the material I’m researching gets pretty interesting, even bizarre. So one of my clients suggested that we start a film production company specializing in Wall Street stories. And we did. We thought making a documentary about Ackman vs. Herbalife could be really interesting,” said Koonce.
So he and his partner teamed up with some film professionals who, like them, were drawn to the drama of the story. The filmmakers were given free rein creatively and Koonce and his partner promised not to be involved in Herbalife stock in any way.
“My client put up essentially all the funding. I handled the day-to-day responsibilities of running a production company and wrote weekly research reports to help keep the film team up to date. Fast forward to 2016 and we had actually made a documentary that was pretty good. It premiered at Tribeca last April, and we picked up a distributor last fall. The film opened in theaters in New York and LA in March, and we have another big deal to announce soon,” said Koonce.
The documentary currently sits atop the iTunes charts and is getting great reviews. John Oliver covered Herbalife and other MLMs on an entire episode of Last Week Tonight. He even created his own pyramid scheme to tell people about pyramid schemes.
Since that was such a great idea, I’m going to steal it. I want you to find 3 people to come to the screening on Tuesday at The Rialto. Make sure each of those people find 3 other people to bring to the movie, and so on. You can buy tickets here.
Koonce had more to share, including Herbalife supporters attempting to suppress the film, plans for other finance based films, and more. We’ll get to all of that in a few weeks once you’ve had a chance to watch the film. I watched it over the weekend so I could do a review and rating before the Rialto showing.
Betting on Zero
“This is the best managed pyramid scheme in the history of the world,” states Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management. It’s a bold claim, and one of many that he makes about Herbalife during the film, which was written and directed by Ted Braun. Ackman is confident in his beliefs and provides a lot of evidence to back them up, despite being doubted by critics. The facts seem to get lost on the general public as Ackman and billionaire Carl Icahn, who supported Herbalife after learning of Ackman’s short position, battle it out on cable news networks and in the media. The film also takes a closer look at many of the Herbalife distributors who lost significant amounts of money after being involved with the company. It’s a very interesting story that I knew little about before watching the film.
ITB Film Critic Rating: 5 out of 5 beltlines