Staid Annuities Get Star Treatment in Movie About the Importance of Guaranteed Retirement Income
The Baby Boomer Dilemma, a new documentary film by Doug Orchard, tells of the role of annuities in retirement portfolios to guard against “haircuts” to traditional pensions or Social Security, as well as potential volatility in defined contribution plans.
- Terrence Dopp
- February 2022
Ever ponder exactly what it means for filmmakers to have their movies obtain a rating from the Motion Picture Association? Probably not.
But for documentarian Doug Orchard, that was a key question for his new film The Baby Boomer Dilemma, which explores shortcomings in the current retirement system and the role of annuities within portfolios. Securing the film's PG rating meant it could be shown in theaters, but he said it also carried another component—an imprimatur from the MPA that the film wasn't just an infomercial or long-form sales pitch for a financial product.
In fact, it's the first movie about annuities to be rated by the MPA. The film's website describes the movie as “an exposé of America's retirement experiment.” It had a limited theatrical release late last year and is scheduled to hit major streaming services this month.
“I had a model in my mind going in, and my model for the framework of this film was I wanted to do a deep dive into pensions, I wanted to do a deep dive into Social Security, I wanted to do a whole deep dive into the deferred comp plans—which is where most people put their money—and then I wanted to do a deep dive into annuities,” Orchard said. “What I wanted to look at was what the guarantee is and who's the guarantor of that guarantee and how healthy are they.”
Throughout the film, Orchard takes an in-depth look at both public and private pensions, the rise of 401(k) retirement plans, Social Security and annuities. The latter is presented in the last half of the film as a means of preserving a guaranteed income stream to guard against an unexpected loss in retirement accounts or reductions to pension or Social Security benefits that may be instituted if those funds become too depleted.
Interspersed with traditional documentary footage and interviews are fictional scenes featuring Abe Mills, an actor and a singer with the band Jericho Road, his wife, Rachel Mills, and their children playing the family of a Florida driving instructor whose plans are muddied when the market drops two months before his planned retirement.
Experts interviewed for the movie include Nobel Prize-winning economists Robert C. Merton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and William F. Sharpe of Stanford University. Other notable names include Olivia S. Mitchell of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and executive director of the Pension Research Council; Brigitte C. Madrian, dean, Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University; and David F. Babbel, a Wharton School professor and Goldman Sachs alum.
"I had a model in my mind going in, and my model for the framework of this film was I wanted to do a deep dive into pensions, I wanted to do a deep dive into Social Security, I wanted to do a whole deep dive into the deferred comp plans—which is where most people put their money—and then I wanted to do a deep dive into annuities."
Government figures include David M. Walker, who served as U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008, a former Social Security trustee and former acting executive director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin who has introduced the Time to Rescue United Sates' Trusts Act to establish committees tasked with drafting legislation to strengthen federal trust funds on the brink of insolvency; and Eric Cioppa, the 2019 president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Maine insurance commissioner at the time the movie was filmed.
It also features industry experts like Ted Benna, referred to as the “father of the 401(k)”; Edward Siedle, a former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who pioneered forensic pension audits; Sheryl Moore, chairwoman and founder of Wink Inc., as well as the industry's competitive intelligence expert and fact-checker; and Tom Hegna, host of Don't Worry, Retire Happy! on PBS.
The Film's Background
Orchard is a documentarian who has directed seven films including The Power of Zero, about the national debt, and Fasting, a film that delves into intermittent fasting as a dietary practice. He said the topic of health has always fascinated him along with a focus on national debt that is touched upon in several of his movies.
For The Baby Boomer Dilemma, he chose a novel funding technique. Put off by a past attempt at crowdfunding a project through Indiegogo, this time he took a different path. He sold 13 executive producer slots for $15,000 each and a subsequent round of contributing producers slots for $10,000 each. To avoid any ties to the backers, real or imagined, he had two people handle the money and didn't learn the names of those who had donated until the movie was done and credits were being made. In all, the film raised about $310,000, he said.
The film began as a germ of an idea Orchard had while working on another documentary called M&A that has yet to be released. “It's people outside of the industry really, primarily, that are in the movie,” he said. “None of us had a financial tie to the industry. We really don't care how that film ended up. It really was objective.”
Orchard said the movie was a look in part at both what the retirement guarantee is and who is backing that pledge. He cited news accounts of pension deficits in public systems in places like California and Illinois, as well as looming deficits for Social Security, for sparking his interest and prompting the movie.
Ultimately, he said the health of those systems was what interested him. “That's what I felt like would ultimately be most interesting, because that's the part I don't hear anyone talk about,” he said. “What happens when it doesn't happen?”