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April 04, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
When Sarah Kerruish filmed the initial footage for the documentary "General Magic," times were much different.
It was Silicon Valley in 1992, and she was tasked with documenting an under-the-radar startup that had spun out of Apple. Called General Magic, the company was motivated to not just transform, but invent, elements of communication technology.
The reality ended up unfortunately being much different. Although the company did develop cutting-edge software and an operating system, it closed in 2002. Still, in hindsight, Kerruish's early footage ended up being rather illuminating.
"Looking from face to face it was incredible to see the founders of eBay, LinkedIn, Android, and Nest sitting there," co-director Matt Maude says now. "Engineers and designers that now lead Samsung, Apple, Facebook, Google. Imagine one class at a high school and every single student going onto to change the lives of billions.
"It makes you think, what was in the special ingredients in this place that led to the technology we use today? What can we learn from this story?," he continues.
Those questions are central to "General Magic," which is built around Kerruish's archival film, which she amassed over the course of a few years. Her access was unparalleled and fruitful—"The engineers, designers and entrepreneurs who worked there, known as Magicians, became my friends, my family," she says. "I met my husband working there!"—and elevated the documentary.
"We couldn’t have made the film without the archival footage, and I think that’s what audiences have really responded to at other festivals," Maude says. "The footage allows audiences to really live at the company back in the 1990s, to really spend time living with the characters, discovering as they do."
Kerruish's idea on how to arrange and structure her footage was also crucial, he adds. "One of the great things about working with Sarah, and all the experience she brings, is that as soon as we started development she suggested that we script the documentary as if it’s a fiction film. It quickly became clear that the film was a three-act film. We built the documentary around that narrative spine."
Kerruish caught the Silicon Valley bug and still works there—in fact, she's currently the chief strategy officer of a med-tech startup—and her time in the trenches informs her thinking with the documentary.
"It wasn’t until I went through my own catastrophic failure in business did I begin to think about the role of failure in future success," she says. "I wanted to specifically understand its role in bringing big ideas to life. I knew this experience wasn’t unique to me and in many ways is a central part of creation. I also wanted people to understand the different contexts for failure."
Still, "General Magic" also captures a unique time in the internet's infancy, when possibility dominated all. "There’s a wonder in that creation time," Maude says. "It’s infectious. It makes each of the characters relatable. They are brilliant, but ordinary people doing something extra to create extraordinary things. The products we all use today to live our lives.
"By making 'General Magic,' I wanted to show the backstories, the earnest interaction and relatability of the people who have made the incredible technology we use today,” he continues. “It is when ordinary people do something extra that they create something extraordinary."
PHOTO: Matt Maude and Sarah Kerruish have teamed up to bring us a revealing look back in time, to the beginnings of a medium that now dominates our ives.
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