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The writer: An overnight success, 15 years later

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 5:02 PM EST, Sat February 25, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • J.C. Chandor has an Oscar nomination for "Margin Call" screenplay
  • Script attracted name actors, but it was hard to get financing, he says
  • Movie concerns Wall Street firm holding bad paper at risk of going under

Editor's note: This is part of a look at some of the lesser-known Oscar nominees. Read a profile of "Descendants" film editor Kevin Tent and Q&As with "Dragon Tattoo" cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and "Artist" costume designer Mark Bridges.

(CNN) -- J.C. Chandor is one of Hollywood's hot new names.

For his feature film debut, "Margin Call," he wrote the script and directed a cast that included Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore. His work on the film, about a Wall Street firm facing collapse after an employee (Zachary Quinto) finds out its holdings are going to be worthless, has garnered him an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. His next film stars Robert Redford as a man lost at sea.

At 37, he may seem like a wunderkind, but the former commercial director has been looking for his break for 15 years. He spoke to CNN about how the film came together, the challenges of building tension and his promising future. The following has been edited and condensed from the original transcript.

CNN: "Margin Call" had a great cast. Were there problems in attracting it?

J.C. Chandor: Attaching actors was actually not really the challenging thing with the film. Getting actors to say yes is one thing, but having the money there and the crew there and have everything happen at the same time is where you run into quasi-impossibility. For a long time, we had the actors but no money.

Nominees: Original screenplay
"The Artist," written by Michel Hazanavicius

"Bridesmaids," written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig

"Margin Call," written by J.C. Chandor

"Midnight in Paris," written by Woody Allen

"A Separation," written by Asghar Farhadi

CNN: Jeremy Irons plays the head of the firm and pressures it to dump its bad investments on others so it can save itself. He's been characterized as the villain.

Chandor: The interesting thing is that Jeremy Irons' character is right, certainly following all norms of common understanding of business ethics. He has a piece of information before anybody else does, there's a fair market value set for something, and he has a responsibility to his shareholders and his employees and his company to do something about that.

The tension comes from (the fact) that the audience wants one of (the employees) to do something. Hopefully, as the information travels up the chain of command, you see (the characters) in their own way regretting, or glossing over and moving on, or all the different emotions that happen when you see your own role in a tremendously damaging event.

CNN: Your background was making commercials. Any we'd recognize?

Chandor: I never was a very prominent commercial director, to say the least. I did a lot of things for energy drinks and Subaru, rally racing and Red Bull. Lots and lots of different industrials. If it was underpaid and under-budgeted, I was doing it.

CNN: Now that you're an Oscar nominee, are projects now falling into your lap?

Chandor: Yeah. Amazingly, this has been sort of the cherry on the sundae. The reception to my script once we were in production was very strong. The biggest trick in the game, even at studio films, is to try and get actors attached to your piece. We had managed to attract this cast without any money, without a studio, without anything else. It's been a slow, pleasant climb over the last two years since we shot the film.

The film was very well received for what it was, which has allowed me to direct again, and everybody made their money back, so I've been pretty blessed from that standpoint. So now we gotta go keep trying to get the opportunity to do this again.

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