SXSW Interview: Director Cutter Hodierne on his crypto-meets-home invasion thriller Cold Wallet

After losing everything in a cryptocurrency scam, a ragtag team of vigilante Redditors attempt to kidnap the kingpin who screwed them over. But when the home invasion takes a turn for the worst, they become victims in a sadistic game.

Directed by Sundance-awarded Best Director Cutter Hodierne, Cold Wallet is a topically relevant genre blend of finance and fear that’s set to thrill audiences at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival; you can read our review here.  Ahead of its World Premiere through the Narrative Feature category, Peter Gray spoke with Cutter about both the real-world and filmic inspirations for his story, and how it felt to receive Steven Soderbergh’s “stamp of approval.”

Cryptocurrency is something that fascinates me, but it’s not something that I understand entirely, so I appreciate films like Cold Wallet that are like an access point to it.  And then on top of that, you incorporate a home invasion thriller narrative.  How did this story originate? And did you always know it was going to be a blend of these genres?

Yeah, so I got wrapped up in the whole GameStop stock fiasco a few years ago, and by wrapped up I mean that I was interested in these people and all the stories that came out of it.  Obviously I love seeing Wall Street take it on the nose a little bit, but then there’s this tragic element to the fact that they really didn’t take it on the nose.  They kind of get the best of that situation.  They always do.

I was co-producing a documentary called This Is Not Financial Advice, and it tracks some characters that were born out of that movement.  And so I’ve been weirdly in that world for a little while now.  I was developing a movie with my friend, Justin Staple, who I’ve known forever, and he’s a filmmaker in his on right, and he gave me the idea to make a crypto-heist thriller.  We brought in John Hibey, and he wrote the script, and we kind of developed the film together.  I would say it’s primarily a home invasion movie, with crypto as the MacGuffin.  Or, it’s a contemporary version of a heist thriller.

And I think because of the world that it’s coming from, it really lent into to the kind of hapless criminals that are in over their head.  That genre is one of my favourites.  You know, Fargo, every time I think if I have a new favourite movie, I watch that and I go, “It’s still there.”  I feel like these characters could be in an Elmore Leonard novel too.

At the beginning of the film it mentions it’s sort of based on a true story.  Did you do any research into specific stories of people losing big? Or even those that took revenge?

There are plenty of these kind of scams that have happened, and there are a lot of great documentaries that have been about this element of crypto.  When we were in production, three assailants showed up at Sam Bankman-Fried’s house when he was on house arrest.  They tried to break in. (Side note, Sam Bankman-Fried was celebrated as “the poster boy for crypto” at the peak of his success, before being convicted of fraud and related crimes last November). It was a total life imitating art type of situation, and we couldn’t believe it.  We knew we had to hurry up and finish the movie (laughs).

But there were a few things, like the town we were filming in, many of their restaurants were owned by the the kind-of whistleblower in the FTX case.  And that person happened to be from the town too.  There were a lot of coincidences.  But (Cold Wallet) has been pulled from a variety of true stories that have happened.  And there’s certainly been a lot of breaking and entering, or kidnappings, that involved cryptocurrency and whatnot.  There’s unfortunately been a lot of cases of scams.

If something like this happened to you, do you think you would go to the extremes of these characters?

(Laughs) Yeah, I mean I want to say I’m going to be the tough guy who gets revenge, but, realistically, I think the power of the camera and media is how I would approach the situation if I ended up in anything like that.  As a filmmaker, you’re sort of inherently bit of a gambler, and you’ve got to gamble your time and be under the burden of your dreams.  I’m drawn to salt-of-the-Earth underdogs and I’m drawn to bold, brazen characters.  Those people that take risks and get in over their head.  They’re all people I can relate to.  So I think that’s a place I feel comfortable.  I feel comfortable in high risk and I feel comfortable in following my heart.  Let’s just say you won’t see me with a gun breaking into someone’s house (laughs).  I’ll leave that to the movies.

You have actors like Raúl Castillo, Melonie Diaz, Tony Cavalero and Josh Brener at the centre of the film.  They have a substantial amount of work behind them, but they perhaps haven’t always been able to lead a project.  I love when actors get a chance to shine.  How did their casting come about?

Yeah, I feel like everybody, and that’s including myself, were all doing something that was a little bit outside of what we’ve done.  I think this is the first film Raúl has been the lead character in.  That’s just been a matter of time for him, you know? He and Melonie both came up the same way, doing more dramatic things, and they’re both just absolute masters of their craft.  But here they kind of teetered with comedy in a way that they hadn’t done.  And in the case of Tony and Josh, these are guys that are seasoned comedic actors.  They come up from the world of Groundlings, you know?

Tony is this total sensitive, really empathetic, sweet guy in this muscular build that looks like it’s been through some shit (laughs).  That kind of thing.  And Josh, to me, was the one that stepped the most out of his norm.  Not to give too much away, but he’s never played this type of role before.  But he’s brilliant.  He’s super, super smart.  And to see him play this tech wiz feels very natural to him, as does him playing those psychological mind games.  I don’t mean to say he’s playing psychological mind games (as a person), but he was able to do it in a very natural way.  He’s so talented, and so thoughtful, and he had so many great instincts that helped continually shape the character.

You mentioned Fargo earlier.  Were there any titles you looked at for inspiration when it came to the latter half of the movie? I immediately thought of You’re Next and Don’t Breathe.

Umm, The Shining.  I mean, I know that’s a bold one to try and borrow from, but there’s something really cool about the big mansion, or in the case of that film the hotel.  That starkness, mano a mano, not-in-a-hurry to cause pain…knowing the prey has nowhere to go.  I don’t want to give anything away, but I feel like we were restrained when it came to the story going off the rails and the chaos erupting.  But we still maintained a psychological urgency.  I think that’s another way Josh Brener knew exactly what to do with his character.  He knew exactly how to maintain this power of these characters.

When the film opens we see “Steven Soderbergh Presents…” How do you have someone like that involved with your film?

We were connected through this organisation called Decentralised Pictures, and they’re an offshoot of American Zoetrope and the Coppola family.  They are kind of helping to promote film financing through crypto, and they have an award for finishing funds.  You put a scene from your film and some of the materials up and this community essentially votes.  Once you’re in the top 5 or 10 finalists, I can’t remember, Steven then watches those and picks a winner from that.

He came onto (Cold Wallet) in that way.  He’s somebody I’ve idolised my whole career and whose films I love, and his whole attitude and approach I really love.  But he’s also a master of the heist genre.  His stamp of approval is extra meaningful to me, just as a director.  He gets the genre.  He knows the genre.  He’s helped shape the genre so much in contemporary films.  But to also have that come in the form of crypto financing felt so right for us.  I feel really blessed that the people on (Decentralised Pictures) helped support us and finance us.  It wasn’t some backdoor deal.  It was crowd support that got us through the door.  And I’ve had the chance to meet (Steven) and he’s just so generous and supportive of filmmakers doing their thing.  He’s just such an inspiration.

Cold Wallet is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival, running between March 8th and 16th, 2024.  For more information on this year’s festival, head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.