Research for Ben Mezrich’s latest book, “The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees,” began years before the now-infamous stock market drama began.
“I spent a lot of time going to GameStop on Boylston Street,” Mezrich said with a laugh. “I believe it closed, but my kids are in love with that store.”
The Boston-based Mezrich, author of “The Accidental Billionaires,” which was adapted into the 2010 film “The Social Network,” found his latest inspiration in the GameStop short-squeeze that made headlines in January.
To put the saga simply: A group of amateur investors — including Keith Gill, a Massachusetts man known online as Roaring Kitty — banded together on Reddit to pump up the share price of GameStop, a struggling, brick-and-mortar video game retailer. Several hedge funds lost out big, since they had bet that GameStop would drop in value and were forced to buy up the stock at an inflated price.
Wielding the collective power of social media, this scrappy group of online mavericks exposed major issues in the way Wall Street operates, a move that, Mezrich says, “changes everything.”
“It’s very clear now that a stock’s price is no longer tethered to its fundamentals — the reality is something is worth whatever we all agree it’s worth,” said Mezrich, 52. “I think going forward, Wall Street’s going to be very careful about shorting beloved companies or something that could become the next GameStop. The idea is really that sentiment trumps value.”
If you think this David and Goliath story sounds cinematic, you’re not the only one. MGM pounced on the movie rights to Mezrich’s proposal. The book, which came out Sept. 7 from Grand Central Publishing, wasn’t even attached to a publisher at the time.
Aaron Ryder(”Arrival”) will produce, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (of Facebook fame) will executive produce under the Winklevoss Pictures production banner, according to Deadline. “It’s a great team over there,” Mezrich said. “It’s going to be a really cool movie.”
But before the movie comes the book party, which will be held virtually on Sept. 20, streamed from the Mandarin Oriental, Boston. The event is free and open to the public, and Mezrich will be in conversation with Kristin Detterline, editor-in-chief of Boston Common Magazine. Signed copies of the book can be ordered from Brookline Booksmith, Book Ends Winchester, and Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, VT.
The Globe caught up with Mezrich to find out what attracted him to the GameStop story, what the short-squeeze means for the future of the stock market, and the saga’s translation to the big screen.
Q. How did you write this book so quickly after the short-squeeze?
A. I’ve always been interested in penny stocks and the stock market, and I’m a gambler by nature. When the GameStop drama was happening, I was watching it just like everyone else. Then I started getting a lot of emails and tweets from people saying, “You should be writing about this,” because it’s the kind of stuff I normally write about. So I started to make phone calls and reach out to people who were involved in the story to see if I could get into it, and then I wrote up a 14-page treatment, and there ended up being a Hollywood bidding war over it. So I landed a movie and a book very quickly. It’s the first time I’ve been writing a story while it’s happening.
Q. What drew you to the story?
A. I’m always looking for big dramas about revolutionary moments with lots of high stakes. I love it when young people take on the system, figure out a way to win. This is regular people [coming] together on Reddit, trying to take down Wall Street. To me, that’s thematically what I’m always looking for. I love these David-versus-Goliath type stories, and I love it when people outsmart something institutional. There’s lots of internal conflict and drama that drives the story — Robinhood [a stock-trading app] gamifying Wall Street, and, going back to 2008, this bubbling anger towards Wall Street, and then you have the pandemic. This could never have happened in a different time period.
Q. Which players in the story did you end up speaking with?
A. I got in as close as I could to all of the main characters. I got into Robinhood. I got very close to the hedge funds involved. Keith Gill, the [main Reddit investor ] from Brockton, [was] very difficult to talk to, so I worked around that as much as I could. I focused the story a lot on regular people, on a few characters: A college kid who ended up turning a few thousand dollars into a quarter-million dollar fortune, a single mother of two was just trying to make enough money to pay for her kid’s braces, and a third woman who was getting married, having a baby, and then the pandemic threw everything out the window, and instead she sort of found her way to Wall Street bets and to GameStop.
Q. How do you take such a chaotic, ongoing story and make it into something coherent?
A. The goal is to find the movie line in there and so as I approached it, I really was looking for this dramatic arc, which I think I found. The drama is really in this battle, which I think was very vicious, where people were trying to take down a specific hedge fund that they knew was shorting this company that they all loved. GameStop is a company that probably shouldn’t exist anymore, but people really remember it fondly and want it to survive. So when a hedge fund shorted it, that upset a lot of people.
Q. What do you hope readers learn from “The Antisocial Network”?
A. We’re seeing a revolution that can be quite frightening at times because the things that we thought were really stable are not. Wall Street was kind of the last bastion where you thought social media wouldn’t affect it to some degree, but the reality is that it’s very affected. The price of things is no longer something you can calculate using math or algorithms. There’s a power in the crowd, and a lot of people sitting at home, working together, can be as powerful as any Wall Street bank.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Dana Gerber can be reached at email@example.com