The $2,500 doco about FTX collapse on Amazon Prime… with help from mom


Richard Whittaker’s day job is editing films about Arctic reindeer and Pacific Ocean killer sharks — but when a massive crypto exchange collapsed in 2022 with the blame pointed at its awkward, curly-haired founder, he knew he wanted to make a documentary about it.

Sixteen months later, Whittaker’s home-grown investigation about the collapse, FTX: When Money Breaks, is streaming for free on Prime Video in the United Kingdom and available for rent or purchase in the United States and Australia. Not bad for a tiny production made with the help of his mom and with a budget somewhere in the vicinity of $2,500.

Whittaker — who had never touched cryptocurrency — isn’t the first person you’d think would make this kind of documentary. During the day, Whittaker is a full-time edit assistant for the BBC’s documentary department, editing wildlife footage on Adobe Premiere for productions like the Cate Blanchett-narrated Our Living World.

He laughs when we ask how a nature documentarian ends up making a film about magic internet coins. Like many people, he became interested in the topic due to the charismatic but weird personality of Sam Bankman-Fried, who became a public figure in the mainstream in 2022.

Richard Whittaker self-portrait. (Instagram)

“It was about six months before [the collapse] that he [Sam Bankman-Fried] started to pop up a bit more on my feed,” he said. 

“One of the clips that I use quite a bit [in the documentary] was that ‘Sam is the most generous billionaire.’ Which I thought was fascinating.”

The world’s most famous adherent of effective altruism, Bankman-Fried gave a lot of interviews talking about his grand plan to make billions purely so that he could give it all away to charitable endeavors. Magazine asked him back in February 2021 if he was trying to rob from the rich to give to the poor.

“Maybe without the robbing part,” he said, in a quote that drips with irony with the benefit of hindsight. 

Bankman-Fried was unusual in other ways, too. While most crypto influencers flex their Lamborghinis, massive houses and luxury watches, SBF’s public image was all about sleeping on bean bags at the office, playing video games during live TV interviews in a shirt and shorts and puttering around in a Toyota Corolla.

“It was an interesting antithesis to what I’d seen,” said Whittaker. 

So when everything collapsed in November 2022, Whittaker just had to find out how it all happened.

So he asked his mom

“It’s funny,but the first thing I did was tell my mom,” says Whittaker. Susan Whittaker played a key role in the making of the film. An academic, she’s also a former auditor at a mid-tier United Kingdom-based accounting firm. Throughout the documentary, Susan provides professional commentary about FTX’s shady business and accounting practices.

In the aftermath of the collapse, Whittaker and his mother began drawing up boards and sifting through court and company documents to try and figure out how it happened and where the money went — like Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, crypto edition.

Filmmaker Richard Whittaker’s mother, Susan Whittaker. (FTX: When Money Breaks)

“Yeah, I’m very lucky in that regard, I think, because Mom and I have very similar interests. It makes stuff like this quite fun to interact with her and get a good report.

“One of the things I really wanted to do with the When Money Breaks series is sort of make things more digestible,” he added.

On that front, Whittaker does a pretty decent job — though it’s obvious the film was trying to speak to a broader audience than just crypto-natives.

The main constraint on the film was the budget, which he says was “About 2,000 pounds, including legal and licensing and everything else. So the budget was stretched quite thin by the end of it.” 

Richard dressed up as a homeless man, as the stock footage he wanted cost $377.

That meant camera hire was limited, and even stock footage was out of reach in some instances. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice a brief shot featuring an apparently homeless man holding up a sign saying, “Lost all my money on FTX.” This is actually Whittaker himself.

“It was really funny actually because there was stock footage available on one website, and it was a man holding a sign. I was thinking of buying it and swapping the sign out […] but they wanted 300 pounds.”

“I remember I turned to my incredibly understanding girlfriend, and I was like, ‘Could you just film me on some steps in a hoodie?’ […] It was cooking [hot] that day.”

One big hint this is citizen journalism and not a fully-fledged doco is the lack of expert commentary. Apart from Whittaker’s mother, the only people interviewed on camera appear just to be members of the Bistrol public who don’t offer any insights into FTX. Many don’t even seem to have ever owned cryptocurrency. 

“I’m hoping if I make another film, that I’d be able to get more of the academics in front of the camera to talk a bit more, just to get a bit more variety in people being interviewed,” Richard said.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve making the documentary. Definitely, for the next one, we’re basically going to do a complete belt and braces and probably get a dedicated fact-checker.”

Richard shows up in his own documentary, giving a not-so-subtle wink at the camera to tell us what “freelance website” he visited.

Film review: FTX When Money Breaks

FTX: When Money Breaks starts with the premise that everything in our daily lives runs on money, with the narrator asking: “What happens when the whole system of money breaks?”

The documentary sets the scene for crypto trading becoming an attractive “side hustle” for many at a time of rising inflation, with FTX’s easy-to-use platform and 8% interest rates benefiting.

The 54-minute film attempts to explain the events immediately leading to the FTX collapse and the crazy revelations that came up in its wake. Sam Bankman-Fried’s personal life gets considerable screen time, with the documentary also touching on the beef between SBF and Binance’s co-founder Changpeng “CZ” Zhao that led to Binance dumping all its FTT tokens and precipitating the collapse.

It further brings up FTX’s top-heavy management structure, its complex web of interconnected companies (including Alameda) and the exchange’s shoddy accounting practices, which leaned too heavily on Quickbooks, among other things.

Unfortunately, the film’s release was delayed, so events have overtaken it a little. As Whittaker previously alluded to, there are also a few facts that could have been more thoroughly fact-checked.

Read also


Which gaming guild positioned itself best for the bull market?


Blockchain Startups Think Justice Can Be Decentralized, but the Jury Is Still Out

For example, the documentary states that the crypto exchange Binance is based in China, though the firm has no official headquarters. The film also suggests there have only been 120 cases of crypto fraud — but of course, the number is far higher than that.

Whittaker admits the film’s tiny budget only enabled about three to four days of professional camera equipment hire. As a result, it leans heavily on stock footage— people in business suits shaking each other’s hands, etc — and some footage looks like it was recorded with a smartphone camera, which can be a little jarring. 

To its benefit, though, some of the lower-budget shots give the documentary “citizen journalism” charm and are some of the most enjoyable parts of the film.

I especially liked some of the more goofy scenes featuring Whittaker himself, such as when he tries to use Fiver to hire someone to create a crypto token for him—and rather befittingly, gets rug pulled. 

A few off-facts aside, Whittaker’s documentary is a commendable attempt to explain a very complicated saga in a short amount of time.

There’s a wholesome charm to it all, and it’s obvious it’s made with a lot of love — which means we can forgive Whittaker for occasionally getting a few facts wrong.


The most engaging reads in blockchain. Delivered once a week.

Felix Ng

Felix Ng first began writing about the blockchain industry through the lens of a gambling industry journalist and editor in 2015. He has since moved into covering the blockchain space full-time. He is most interested in innovative blockchain technology aimed at solving real-world challenges.


Latest Crypto News

[wp-rss-aggregator sources=”2165″]

Popular Links