The storytelling frequently jumps between interviews with the real people portrayed in the film and the events themselves performed by actors. In 2003 in Lexington, Kentucky, Spencer Reinhard is an art student who feels his life has no meaning, that he needs something exciting, even if tragic, to happen in his life to inspire greater artistry. Warren Lipkais a rebellious student on an athletic scholarship, though he does not care much for sports and is only pursuing the education to please his family. After Spencer is given a tour of Transylvania University library's rare book collection, the two friends begin to plan to steal an extremely valuable edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America and other rare books. Warren travels to Amsterdam to meet some black market buyers who express interest in buying the books. Upon returning to the US, he informs Spencer that they could make millions of dollars, much to their excitement..