Witness to a Scam

With his debut movie, Subprime, a story born of experience, James Repici is banking on filmmaking.

James Repici would rather spend money on making movies than on furniture for his Winter Park home. But the day will come when he has to buy new shoes, just not “banker’s shoes,” as he calls his worn-out wingtips.

What happens when a 22-year-old can make $500,000 a year by “qualifying” people for home loans they can’t afford to repay? In real life, you get developments littered with vacant homes and dead yards. On film, you get James Repici’s debut offering, Subprime, a low-budget morality play about how the seductive power of money led to criminal greed and corrupt lending practices that preyed on low-income homebuyers.

Subprime is Repici’s personal indictment of an adjustable-rate lending business he came to know in the early 2000s when the housing market turned white hot. He was a FSU graduate with a finance degree; he was working in a Los Angeles bank at the time when he began to notice an influx of young—and dumb in his view—customers cashing five-figure commission checks every month. The experience wasn’t any different when he went to work for a mortgage company in Maitland.

Then the real estate bubble burst and Repici had the narrative for a cautionary tale as told through his movie’s lead character, David Martin. Young and uneducated, Martin is manipulated by easy money and his boss, a subprime mortgage broker, to forge loan applications so low-income borrowers can qualify.

Martin ends up in jail, taking the fall because his boss used him to commit fraud.

Repici, 31, hopes that Subprime, which was shot for $10,000 in the Orlando area with a cast of locals, generates some buzz when it shows at the Central Florida Film Festival over Labor Day weekend and at the Orlando Film Festival in October. Central Floridians, after all, can relate to the real estate crisis all too painfully.

So can Repici, whose Winter Park home is underwater and barely furnished, the latter a reflection of spending money on filmmaking. He now works as a portfolio auditor for a credit-risk evaluator, but he has vowed that his current set of “banker shoes,” the increasingly ratty wingtips he wears to work, will be his last. The left sole has been worn through and the heels are down to the cork with the nails revealed.

“My heart’s not in it,” he says about banking. “I don’t care if I lose the house, I don’t care what I have to do, but I’m going to make it [the filmmaking career] happen.”

It was his screenplay, Cigar City, that got him thinking he could make it in film. In 2007, Cigar City was named as a finalist in the prestigious PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, and that success helped him land a backer for Subprime. Now he’s hoping Subprime will generate enough juice at film festivals to help him raise $100,000 for his next film, Dutch Book, the term for a betting scheme in horse racing that’s supposed to pay off no matter the outcome.

If only that were so, Repici could bankroll his newfound career.

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