Trading places: From peak to FLOORED (a documentary)

Here's a film documenting the move from the trading floor to upstairs and some of those who were left behind.

In 1997, 10,000 people traded on the floors…Today, about 10% remain.

Thus begins James Allen Smith’s movie “Floored,” which will premiere on Futuresmag.com Sept. 6.

As we see in this sometimes harrowing, occasionally funny, often sad documentary is how electronic trading swept the futures industry leaving behind those who couldn’t adapt.

Released in theatres in early 2010, the movie captured this sea change that turned the world upside down for many who had been extremely successful on the floor but couldn’t, or just didn’t want to, make the move to computerized trading. No doubt there are many success stories, but this is not their story. For the most part, the movie tells the tale of a group of floor traders who describe in their own words how their world got smaller. In a business where Darwinism is a basic tenet, this movie shows the stark reality of what happened to those who couldn’t adapt.

Smith found himself in Chicago in 1996 after following his girlfriend of the time from Missouri. A graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Smith had adapted to a world that wasn’t hiring painters to one that needed web designers. Turning down an offer with advertising agency Leo Burnett, he took the riskier path and vied for an offer from a new company called Local Knowledge, co-founded by Ray Burchett and Steve Prosniewski, in which he had a six month gig to help grow the business with a website and other duties.

“Right away I was rubbing elbows with a lot of traders,” he says about the experience. “Local Knowledge had a bunch of traders on staff…[and I loved] the environment — that wave of intensity when you walk on the floor. That’s why I start the film with six or seven anonymous voices talking about the first time they walked on the floor. I [know I] got goose bumps.” This was back in the mid-1990s when the floor was still brimming with action. Despite Globex’s introduction in 1987, the floor was still king in the mid-1990s and a lot of money was still being made there.

One of the founders of Local Knowledge was Steve Prosniewski, whose brother Rob is one of the traders followed in the movie. Smith asked Steve about doing a movie about the floor in 2001 and Steve told him about a trader who had been profiled in Cigar Aficionado magazine, who talked about his sail boat and second home, and after the story came out, no one wanted to trade with him. In a world of conspicuous consumption, those who actually bragged about it were shunned. So Smith continued to work in the markets arena and worked with Steve on a smaller movie production. A few years later, Steve brought up the idea about the floor movie and told Smith that maybe now, with the floor dying around them, there was a story.

Unfortunately the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) wasn’t quite on board until someone who was close to CME Chairman Terry Duffy got permission to film on the floor. A movie three years in the making finally got the go ahead and Smith proceeded to interview some colorful (both in language and style) floor traders. A few either made the leap or retired, holding onto to their floor earnings. Others weren’t as lucky. Mike Walsh, whom Smith had worked for prior to doing the movie, provided a wincing portrayal of traders (almost) at their worst. “Anybody who knows [Mike] has a lot to say about him, both good and bad, me included. But seeing someone like him, or Rob or Jeff [Ansani] just really attracted me to tell that story,” Smith says.

Click here for information to watch the 9/6 web premiere of FLOORED

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