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Based on the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, director Alex Gibney (writer and co-producer of The Trials of Henry Kissinger) presents the inside story of one of the greatest business scandals in history, when top executives of Enron, America's seventh largest company, walked away with over one billion dollars while investors and employees lost everything. Inside accounts and controversial tapes show the unimaginable personal excesses of the Enron hierarchy and the moral vacuum that posed as corporate philosophy and how their actions may shape our economy for years to come.
 

 Enron: The Musical

What happened at Enron was a great tragedy. However, in the details of the story itself there was more than a little black comedy. In the interest of that aspect of the tale, I am including here some of the elements I discovered, in the course of making Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, that might be useful for a do-it-yourself kit to make “Enron: The Musical Comedy.”

One of the most remarkable things about Enron is how theatrical the company was. This was a whole company of drama queens and kings. CEO Jeff Skilling was a masterful actor and orator. By the accounts of all the employees I interviewed, people used to hang from the rafters to hear him speak. The two soaring silver skyscrapers in Houston–the second designed by the great architect Cesar Pelli–were great stage sets. Many of CFO Andy Fastow’s illegal “special purpose vehicles” were named after Star Wars characters: “Jedi,” “Chewco,” etc. And the commercials Enron commissioned–by the talented director Tony Kaye–evoke a gaudy corporate phantasmagoria complete with floating executive heads as targets in a carny shooting range, competitors dressed up in puffy costumes as the three blind mice, and a tin woodsman gliding down the canals of Venice in a gondola. As one employee asks Chairman/CEO Ken Lay late in the film (Ken Lay reads the question aloud): “I would like to know if you are on crack.”

But for pure theater the most interesting materials at Enron were the company skits and presentations that each division spent months preparing. They included real elephants, toga-clad Romans on palanquins throwing, yes, dollar bills at the assembled multitudes, and female executives making grand entrances on motorcycles dressed all in black leather. But more important, many of the skits themselves actually revolved around the various frauds at the heart of the company. What were they thinking?

The editor of the Harvard Business Review hypothesized that these skits were psychological venting mechanisms that allowed employees to explore, unconsciously, the increasingly uncomfortable ethical territory they were forced to traverse as the company began to spin out of control. In other words, they were “acting out.” Many employees say they were just plain old fun. And I’m sure they were. But I think of that line in Mommie Dearest where Faye Dunaway says, “I am not acting!” Indeed.

Whether the skits were playful fantasy, mockumentaries or cinema vérité, most actual copies of these legendary works remain underground. (I was able to include one skit in the film that makes fun of Enron’s great fiction-making device, “mark-to-market” accounting. And I included many employee meetings that should be remarkable for cinema students because the production values are so high–jibs and cranes swoop over the audience.) I know where some of these “lost” films are, but the owners have declined to release them. Enron, of course, has all of them in its vast film vaults (except for one which I am told is buried in the back yard of one of the producers). The Department of Justice has copied the entire Enron archive but won’t release any tapes unless the DOJ makes use of them in one of the upcoming trials. But we know about these skits because recently, a few actual scripts have surfaced.

My two favorites are “The Wizard” and “The Anti-Trust Video.” In “The Wizard,” performed at an Enron International retreat, Sherron Watkins, playing the “wicked witch,” sprinkles glitter while casting a spell on the company. “All you need,” she says, “is a little smoke and mirrors.” When the great trio (Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion) finally go looking for the “man behind the curtain,” they find a black box! Out of which jumps–guess who–Andy Fastow! Fastow is delighted by the opportunity to work with a man without a heart, one without a brain and one with no courage at all. Why, Human Resources must have known just what he needed.

In “Antitrust,” which includes a trial scene, the writer imagines an energy trader fond of expletives and jokes about big-breasted flight attendants, with a license plate called “Kaching” who boasts that he “will control the market.” In a trading scene full of crackling dialogue, one trader says: “I feel like crushing the market today, man. Gettin’ ready to ruin someone’s day.” Then, a bit later, after outlining a possibly unethical strategy, he tells his friend, “If you want more, call me back on an untapped line.” In the climax, the FBI raids the Enron building and hands Jeff Skilling a subpoena. After the trial, Enron’s stock plummets when the company is convicted of price-fixing.

Man, could these guys write!