Some people spend their entire life dreaming of winning the lottery. Jerry Selbee figured out how to do it in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.
In 2003, Selbee had recently retired and moved with his wife, Marge, to the sleepy town of Evart, Michigan (pop. 1,900) when one morning he came across a brochure in a convenience store for a lottery of state. game called Winfall. Reading the fine print, Selbee — a math whiz who had spent much of his career as a materials analyst at a Kellogg’s grain plant — quickly realized the lottery had a math flaw that would mean guaranteed winnings if he bought enough tickets.
“I looked at the odds, I looked at what the payoff would be and I did a risk-reward analysis,” says pragmatic and outspoken Selbee, who is now over 80, by phone from his home in Michigan. “It took me less than two minutes to figure out that this game could be profitable.”
After Jerry tested his theory, winning nearly $16,000, he and Marge began spending countless hours buying and going through thousands of tickets in the Winfall game and later a similarly structured lottery. way in Massachusetts. As their winnings began to pile up, they formed a company called GS Investment Strategies LLC and invited a few dozen family members and friends to Evart to join. By the time the two lotteries were shut down in 2012, the Selbees and their partners had grossed over $26 million from the venture.
Then life for the Selbees became calm again, as they like it. Until Hollywood calls.
The story of the Selbees, told in a Article from the Huffington Post 2018 by Jason Fagone, became the inspiration for the new movie “Jerry & Marge Go Large”, now streaming on Paramount+. Oscar nominees Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening star as the couple in the sweetly comedic feel-good flick, which aims to provide a soothing, non-cynicistic balm to audiences in these troubled times.
“‘Jerry & Marge Go Large’ is not a story that will change anyone’s life, but you know what? It could change your day,” says Cranston. “Coming out of COVID, I feel like now is the time for this. We need a little mint entertainment just to feel better and reconnect.
For Hollywood, a heartwarming, too-good-to-be-true story that happens to be true can be as valuable as a winning lottery ticket. After the Huffington Post article was published, the Selbees’ story quickly became a hot commodity, with at least 17 bidders vying for the rights.
“It just blew up,” says “Jerry & Marge” screenwriter Brad Copeland, who got into the rights chase with “The Blind Side” producer Gil Netter. “There were different directors, there was Scarlett Johansson calling the family – there was a lot of interest because it’s a great story.”
Reading Copeland’s script amid 2020’s grim headlines, director David Frankel, whose credits include “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me,” immediately got into it. What the story might have lacked in thrills – no FBI agents kicking down doors, no exaggerated greed and “The Wolf of Wall Street” extravagance – it more than made up for in the charm of the House. (The film takes a few liberties with the real story, shifting the action to the present and amplifying the conflict between the Selbees and a group of college students who also discovered the lottery loophole.)
“The idea of two people over 60 finding a new adventure that reinvigorates their romance and their city seemed like the perfect antidote to the pandemic,” Frankel says. “This seriousness was important. They make money, which in many other contexts is the root of all evil. But here, it does a lot of good.
After spending a few days with the Selbees before filming began, Cranston and Bening were even more determined to do justice to their salt-of-the-earth values and more than 60 years of marriage.
“Marge didn’t have stars in her eyes or anything, which I loved about her,” Bening says. “She’s tough – she raised six kids and her family called her Marge the Sarge. But with Jerry, there’s a little spark there, and she really enjoyed their adventure.
For Cranston, Selbee represented the moral antithesis of his turn as drug kingpin Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” who used an equally demanding intellect to become a criminal mastermind. “When doing research like this, you just want to be open to receiving the essence of the people you’re looking at,” says Cranston. “There was a lot of time where we were just sitting with Jerry and Marge on the back porch swinging or going for a drive or having a meal with them somewhere. It was just really adorable.
Sweet as they are, Midwestern folk retirees aren’t generally considered Hollywood’s sexiest subject — or the most desirable cinematic demo. Going against the grain of this youth-obsessed grit, “Jerry & Marge” speaks directly to a segment of the audience that the industry often overlooks. The film is the first release from producer Amy Baer’s Landline Pictures, a label that was launched last year under independent studio MRC Film to develop film and television projects for audiences over 50.
“It keeps happening that people don’t realize this audience exists and go to the movies or stream them,” Copeland says. “The first film I wrote was [the 2007 comedy] “Wild Hogs”, which was about a bunch of 60-year-old guys on Harley-Davidsons. People weren’t sure there was an audience for it, and then the movie came out and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, there’s a huge audience for that!’ Then they just forgot.
For the Selbees, whose town doesn’t have a movie theatre, seeing their story made into a movie has been hard to fathom. “We’re just a retired couple living in northern Michigan with nothing special about us,” says Jerry, who knew Cranston from the sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” but was unfamiliar with Bening’s work. “Marge would prefer not to be in public too much. I don’t mind myself, but she’s much more reserved about it.
For the Selbees, who kept careful records of everything they did for the IRS and had never broken a single law, exploiting a lottery loophole was never about getting famous — or even getting rich. . As the winnings piled up, Jerry bought a new truck and trailer. The couple renovated their home and helped fund the education of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But there were no fancy sports cars, no new hot tubs, no lavish vacations.
“It really hasn’t affected our lives in any way other than giving us more financial security for our future,” Jerry says. “Other members [of the corporation] bought a timeshare or taken cruises. Marge and I didn’t do any of that. We just enjoyed life as it was.
Still, Jerry continued to keep tabs on other lotteries, looking for a similar flaw that could tip the scales in his favor. “There’s one in Florida that’s similar but not quite the same,” he says. “The Winfall was such a unique game. It was the only one you could win without luck, just based on pure mathematical and statistical probability.
These days, he’ll always pick up the occasional lottery ticket. But now it’s only for recreation.
“Once in a while I buy a Mega Millions ticket after the jackpot goes over $300 million, and I buy a Fantasy 5 ticket every once in a while after the jackpot goes over $250,000,” he says. “But I don’t spend more than $10. And I’m not going to go out and buy a new boat or anything based on whether I’m going to win the lottery.