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Once Upon a Time in Cambridge:
A Conversation with Author Ben Mezrich

Once Upon a Time in Cambridge:  A Conversation with Author Ben Mezrich



Introduction to Ben Mezrich



Ben Mezrich (b. 1969), was born and raised in Princeton, N.J., graduated from Harvard University, and now divides his time between Boston and Miami Beach when not traveling.  I first met Ben when he was the guest of honor at a Breakfast Arts Salon at The Betsy Hotel, where Ben was the Writer-in-Residence as part of The Betsy’s Writer’s Room program.

A prolific author, Mezrich is best known for his two New York Times Best Seller books, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, about a group of students from MIT who bet on blackjack games using a sophisticated card-counting system, earning millions of dollars at casinos in Las Vegas and other gambling centers in the United States and the Caribbean; and for The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding Of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, the story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook.

Bringing Down the House was made into the successful movie 21, released in 2008, starring Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess.  And The Accidental Billionaires was adapted into the movie The Social Network (2010) – written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by David Fincher – and won Golden Globes for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best score, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three including best adapted screenplay for Aaron Sorkin. Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin shared a prestigious Scripter Award for best adapted screenplay as well.

In 2015, Simon and Schuster published Mezrich’s Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder, a drama about the obscene wealth, crime, rivalry, and betrayal from deep inside the world of the billionaire Russian oligarchs who plucked Vladimir Putin from obscurity, installed him as President of Russia, and suffered the consequences.  And following Mezrich’s tradition of books being made into movies, Once Upon A Time in Russia will be brought to theaters near you by Warner Bros. Studio.

While writing these true stories, Mezrich has been afforded access to worlds seldom talked about. During his research for Bringing Down the House, he taped $250,000 to his body and smuggled it through airport security with some of the most notorious card-counters in the world, getting to taste the lifestyle of the Las Vegas high roller upon arrival. While writing Ugly Americans, he visited exclusive “Japanese Only” underground sex clubs in Tokyo and juggled roadblocks and run-ins against the Japanese mafia.

Mezrich currently has multiple movie and TV deals on his plate. Sex on the Moon, Mezrich’s twelfth book, is being developed by the same producers and studio as The Social Network. Mezrich’s other New York Times Best Seller, Rigged, has also been optioned for the big screen. And his newest movie deal includes selling his non-fiction story The 37th Parallel to Newline Studios.

The videos below are organized by topic and run between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. Click on any video. You must be connected to the Internet to view the videos.




Describe the evolution of your career as a writer.



What did you learn at Harvard that helped you in your career?



In your books “Bringing Down the House,”  “Accidental Billionaires,” and “Rigged,” the plot line centered on an Ivy League school attendee who serendipitously gets involved in a big money-making phenomenon.  Is that a formula you want to repeat?


EDUCATION:  0:33 sec.

Who are the writers and critics who have influenced you?


IS A GOOD LISTENER:  1:16 min.

Why did the M.I.T. student gambling group take you home from a bar in Cambridge and show you $250,000 in cash?



You have said that you simultaneously develop your projects as books and movies Please explain.



How would you cast “Once Upon a Time in Russia?” What actors are your first choices?



Talk about the evolution of Vladimir Putin as the supreme leader of Russia.


EMPATHY:  1:08 min.

Can you explain the popularity of Vladimir Putin within Russia?



Serial entrepreneurs move steadily forward making timely decisions, believing that 80% of them will be correct.  Can you compare the decision-making of Vladimir Putin and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg?



Mark Zuckerberg did not cooperate with you on your book What happened after the book was published?


RESILIENCE:  0:40 sec.

How did you gather the material for “Once Upon a Time in Russia?”



What kind of interaction do you have with Miami?