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Bard of the Boiler Room

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He spent two years interviewing brokers about every detail of their lives. "I was lucky enough to stumble on a new world -- they're getting harder and harder to find -- and if you actually lock down on one, you better represent that shit right, because otherwise it's like you had your chance and you ruined it."

Boiler Room is, at its core, a movie about playing the odds -- with cards, with stock, with life. This fascination with chance "comes from mine and the character's Jewish background," Younger says, "in which there's a belief in bashert, that what was meant to be will happen in the end." You get the sense that for Younger, it's pretty well true: His own story has the same feeling of things somehow falling haphazardly into the only place they could.

One day, while working at Steak Frites, Younger waited on Steve Kerper, who happened to be a television writer and producer. "Ben had the same look on his face that I had the first ten years of my career when anyone would give me five minutes of their time," remembers Kerper. "He was charming and sincere, and he didn't talk about connections; he talked about his script. Like a writer." So Kerper called Endeavor agent Adriana Alberghetti, a friend, and advised her to take a look. "I didn't hear anything again for about a year," says Kerper. "Then one day, he calls me and tells me, 'They're making my movie, and Ben Affleck is going to be in it!' And I said, 'You're kidding! That's great! You prick!' "

On the day Alberghetti called to tell him the good news, Younger was sitting in the "shithole apartment" in Brooklyn where he still resides, eating pasta in his boxer shorts. "She starts using all this baseball terminology like 'This is a home run, and I'm not just talking in-the-park home run!' " he remembers. "That's when I knew the shit was about to go down. I was freaking out, but I couldn't call anyone because Shabbes had already started."

Younger spoke with six producers before finally selecting Team Todd, the two sisters behind the first Austin Powers movie. As soon as his screenplay made the rounds at the studios, Younger started getting big offers to sell his script and walk away -- one for $800,000 -- but the young writer was interested only in a deal that would allow him to direct his movie as well. Eventually, New Line Cinema gave him his chance, but at a small fraction of the money. (Younger declines to reveal the exact figure.)

The final step in Boiler Room's transformation into a bona fide phenomenon came when Ben Affleck signed on. Last fall, Affleck was in Savannah shooting his fourth movie in a row, and though he'd specifically instructed his agent not to send him any scripts, he received the Boiler Room screenplay with a note saying, "Just read this." "At the time, it was a $2- or $3 million movie and had this 'kid' no one had heard of named Ben Younger attached to direct," says Affleck. "I just responded so strongly to the caliber of writing that I told my agent I wanted to do it."

The movie started shooting last January in New York, and at first, Younger was understandably nervous on his set. "We tried to get Affleck to come the last week of the shoot so I would be up to speed," says Younger, "but he came the third day."

But according to both Bens, everything worked out surprisingly well. Affleck says he arrived on set and told his fledgling director, "I think you're smart; I trust you; I'm willing to take this ride with you," though he also adds that producer Jen Todd "made up for whatever naïveté Ben had."

Fortunately for Younger, he had the added comfort of working with a crew he already knew from his first career in the film industry. "They were all my friends. The key grip was the guy who trained me as a grip. And nobody was wowed by me, that's for sure, which kept me from being petulant or fussy."

At first, Younger couldn't shake the air of unreality. "But," he says, "there are only so many mornings in a row you can wake up and say, 'I think I'm blessed.' " After a while, it starts to feel more plausible. It's like when your father gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, except good: At first, it feels like a parody, ridiculous in how little it resembles your actual life. But over time, the distance between the old and new shrinks until finally it's life before the change that seems remote and possibly fictional.

It's that promise of a magical new life that drives Younger's characters. "In America today, everyone thinks it's possible to become a millionaire," he says. "Everyone's thinking, I gots to get paid. They turn on the TV, they hear that some Internet stock went public today and anyone who was in the room when it went down is now worth a million dollars. People see shit like that, and they think it's possible. Nobody thinks, I'm gonna work for it. And what gives you the right to think that you're gonna be a millionaire without having some incredible idea? I mean, you have to be an innovator."


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