James D. Scurlock (Director/Producer)
James attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania from 1989-1993 as an undergraduate and has no formal film training. An entrepreneur since his sophomore year in college, James opened several successful restaurants which he later sold. He has also contributed as a freelance writer to several magazines and newspapers. Maxed Out is his second feature documentary.

Jon Aaron Aaseng (Director of Photography)
A life-long artist with a natural eye for light and composition, Jon's early background in the fine arts led to his passion for Cinematography as a visual medium while attending USC's School of Cinema-Television in the late 90s.

Since completing his formal schooling, Jon has built his career shooting documentaries, indie features, short films, cable TV programming, and commercials. Jon currently lives in his home state of Montana with his wife and two daughters, where he runs his production company, Mountain Kid Pictures, as well as continuing his cinematography collaborations with other producers and directors.

Jon's awards include the 2002 Kodak Cinematography Award at Film Fest New Haven for his work on The Tower of Babble, and Best Cinematography honors from the Now Casting Film Festival 2005 for his work on Katrina.

Alexis Spraic (Editor/Associate Producer)
Alexis is a graduate of Columbia University where she studied philosophy, economics and non-fiction writing. She began working in long form documentary during college, training under documentarians including Alex Gibney (Enron, The Trials of Henry Kissinger), Kate Davis (Jockey, Southern Comfort), Bob Eisenhardt (Green Chimneys). In the past two years since graduating from college she has worked on the PBS documentary series, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues as an assistant editor, as well as Lightning in a Bottle (dir. Antoine Fuqua) in addition to Maxed Out and Stumped!, her second collaboration with James Scurlock. Her own documentary projects have taken her throughout the Americas and Southeast Asia. She and James have another documentary film in development.

Lee Thompson (Production Supervisor/Associate Producer)
Upon graduation from college and after a 6 month work experience in the U.K., Thompson left his home state of North Carolina for Southern California to pursue his career ambitions in the entertainment industry. He began as a volunteer production assistant on low-budget features (Thee Days of Rain, The Learning Curve) before moving on to higher profile projects for network television (Fox's The Family Guy, UPN's America's Next Top Model, NBC's Average Joe, TLC's Clean Sweep). His diverse background includes successful ventures into commercial production, scripted & reality television, games shows, and documentaries. He has worked in development, casting, writing, production & post-production. At present, Thompson's focus is to be involved with projects that explore the intersection of social policy and commercial viability (FX's Black.White. & 30 Days, Animal Planet's The Little Zoo that Could). Thompson is a graduate of Elon University where he studied Theatre Arts and English.



PRODUCTION HISTORY:

I got the idea for Maxed Out at Sundance in 2004 while waiting in line to see Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Until then, I'd hoped to do a film about fast food. But someone with a very similar name had beat me to it! So I thought, what is the bigger subject in our culture? And the answer was obvious—debt. We all use credit every day. Almost all of us are in debt. So I started searching for stories I could tell. I knew there must be a million but, unfortunately, most people don't like to talk about being broke, so I wasted a lot of time in bad hotel rooms waiting to be called back or bowling with the crew in some small town after another interview cancelled on us. As a member of Debtors Anonymous told me, people can talk about their sex life and their alcoholism and their drug addiction quite fashionably but debt is still not polite cocktail conversation. It's the last taboo, really. Still, I think we ended up, two years later, with a panoramic photograph of what the culture has become. We shot in pawn shops, at collection agencies, at Harvard Law School, in casinos, in the backwoods of Mississippi and in $6 million spec homes in Las Vegas. I can't imagine a more complete portrait of this country in 85 minutes.

In 2005, Congress held its first hearings on the credit card industry in ten years. Since I'd been totally shut out by the industry (they wouldn't agree to filmed interviews) I was very curious to see how they would spin their behavior in front of Congress. But the Senate banking committee adjourned without asking a single question. As it turned out, the Senators had to vote on a big transportation bill—including $250 million for the infamous "bridge to nowhere"—so the credit card companies got off the hook. The Senators never asked them back, either.

Alexis (the editor) and I became quick studies on issues like bankruptcy reform and predatory lending. It got pretty lonely working with footage of how poor and desperate a lot of people really are, and how the banks have just bled them dry. Then Katrina hit New Orleans and suddenly the whole world—especially Republicans!—were squealing, "Can you believe this is happening in America, the richest country on earth?" And Alexis and I start screaming at the television: "Wake up!" For a moment, we thought they'd finally got it, but then Bush didn't even mention Katrina in his State of the Union.

My favorite memory, though it's so disturbing, is visiting a shotgun house belonging to a retarded woman and her severely retarded son (he's 44 years old and still in 2nd grade). Citifinancial had gotten them to refinance their home, told this severely retarded guy to sign a document in big, block letters he had to copy one by one! So now they can't pay and Citi is trying to foreclose, put them out on the street. While the mother is telling us her story, the mailman drops off a $5,000 "courtesy" check in the mail from Citibank. Why? Because she's on their "preferred customer list." And she laughs and tells us, "this ain't the first one I got." It just shows how completely out of control the industry has gotten.

DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT:

In the days after 9/11, I remember turning on the television and seeing politician after politician deliver the same message: keep spending! George Bush wanted us to go to Disneyworld. Tom Daschle wanted us to buy that new suit we'd been thinking about. I thought back to my fifth-grade history book. Didn't it teach that when we're at war, we sacrifice, not spend? The economics of our culture have clearly changed and I wanted to find out how and why.

I have been reading The Wall Street Journal since junior high school and was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, the oldest business school in America. So making a film about money wasn't a stretch. But I soon realized that I had no idea how the modern financial industry really works—it's predatory, Dickensian and absurd, all in one. From then on, I knew that Maxed Out would be about the way we live and the way we treat one another. It's about where we set the bar for the least fortunate among us.

We're all led to believe that people get into financial trouble because they are irresponsible, but I've learned that most people are getting in trouble because the banks and credit card companies are setting their customers up to fail. Why? The more credit they give us, the more credit we need. When we inevitably fall behind, they can charge the huge late fees and the over-limit fees and the stratospheric interest rates that drive their profits.

My goal was to paint the story of our debt-fueled culture in broad strokes. The more people I met, the more I realized that this is an emotional issue as well as an academic topic. So many people are being abused and manipulated by the financial industry but so few are asking "is this what we really want?" When the film is released, I'd like to challenge the assumptions about the way we live our lives and shift the debate. Do we really want to be in perpetual debt? Do we really want to have a sharecroppers' society, as Warren Buffett calls it? Citigroup billboards shouldn't be the only voice we hear in this debate.