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The movie The Big Short is based on the true story of the 2008 financial crisis as told by Michael Lewis in his book of the same name.

The movie does a very good job of telling a story full of strange and esoteric financial instruments and the people who deal with them.

But does it also simplify the people involved by changing their names or conflating their characters for the sake of making a movie version of the story?

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Probably... I haven't seen it but it's not uncommon for "based on a true story" films to combine several people into one character to simplify the story for the viewers. It makes individual roles bigger (which then makes them more interesting to higher-value talent) and reduces the number of people who have to be introduced and kept track of... they may also change names because they can't get permission to use the name of the actual person... and they don't want to be sued for defamation. – Catija Feb 1 at 15:41

There are definitely some name changes that take place.

Greg Lippmann became Jared Vennett (played by Ryan Gosling).
Steve Eisman became Mark Baum (played by Steve Carrell).
Ben Hockett became Ben Rickert (played by Brad Pitt).

Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale does not have his name changed.

Otherwise, the various linked articles show a lot of interview material which shows the various characters are quite similar to their real-life counterparts.

For example, Michael Lewis, the author of the book, said the following in an interview with Vulture:

The hair. The hair is their hair. I was shocked by how close, especially the principals, captured the actual people. Christian Bale was so much like Michael Burry that I thought it was creepy — he did a very, very good job. He was wearing Michael Burry’s clothes. That T-shirt and shorts. I asked Adam: How did he even know he was wearing that when I went to see him? The answer is he didn’t. That’s what Michael Burry was wearing when Christian Bale went to see him, and Christian was like, “Can I have your clothes?” I guess he has had to get new clothes now.

McKay, the director and co-writer, commented:

“The real people have been the biggest challenge,” says McKay, who had the duller job of fielding individual complaints: Why do I have to be talking about my balls? Does he have to refer to me as a dick? McKay had made some concessions: He’d changed Lippmann’s name — the character is now called Jared Vennett (“I pronounce it Ven-AY,” said Gosling) — and the last names of three attention-shy traders from Cornwall Capital. The biggest change was Steve Eisman’s character: In the book, Lewis reveals that Eisman lost a young child, which gives his character a necessary pathos, but Eisman didn’t want it in the film, so McKay replaced it with something else, and the character became “Mark Baum.” This didn’t prevent Eisman from coming to the set and advising Steve Carell on how to be a better him. “It’s, you know … interesting to have the person you are playing show up the first or second day you are shooting,” said Carell, who was roaming around the set in an uncannily Eismanesque hairpiece between takes. “It’s a little daunting to have the person staring at you. And offering notes.”

So, it appears a mixture of hiding the real people at their requests, and hiding parts of their life at their request led to the name changes (although, as the article states, despite the name change Eisman still advised Carrell on how to "play him".

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