new documentary on Silicon Valley premieres today on DVD. It was directed by my friend Steve O'Hear, who I met over the Web earlier this year and now work with on my corporate blogging project called Micro Media Corp. 'In Search of the Valley' is a movie which tells the story of three friends' personal journey in September of 2004 into the psyche of Silicon Valley. Steve and his pals spent one month visiting and talking to many of the valley's luminaries, including Apple's Steve Wozniak, Adobe's John Warnock, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist.org. The film also features Apple alumni Guy Kawasaki, Sandy Miranda, Andy Hertzfeld, Dan Kottke, and the late Jef Raskin, as well as the computer pioneer Lee Felsenstein, Tim O'Reilly and Marc Canter.A
The DVD is being distributed via the Amazon-owned Customflix and is available to order from the film's website for $19.99 (available in NTSC only, which is region-free). What's more, R/WW readers save $2 when ordering by using the following discount code: JF9G55CU. I need to point out that I'm not getting any cut of the sale for this post. I'm recommending the movie because I watched and enjoyed an early preview - and I think R/WW readers will also enjoy it. Here is the film trailer, on YouTube:
The film really resonated with me - as someone who has also searched for the spirit of Silicon Valley. There is an especially poignant moment midway through when Steve played piano with Apple great Jef Raskin (the father of the Mac), who sadly passed away in Feb 2005 - just 5 months after Steve and friends visited him in his home.
Steve O'Hear with Jef Raskin
To celebrate the launch, I interviewed Steve about the making of the film...
Richard: What did you learn about Silicon Valley in the making of this video, being (like I was when I've visited) an outsider looking to find 'the spirit of the Valley'? Did you find it? ;-)
Steve: There is certainly an energy in the Valley, and an attitude and culture that is conducive to getting things done. As a result, very few of the people we approached for an interview questioned whether our small production crew could successfully make a film on Silicon Valley. Instead there were offers of help, and lots of people were willing to open up their contact books and put us in touch with relevant people. John Warnock (co-founder of Adobe) suggested that a key element of the Valley's success is that it is acceptable for people to challenge the existing ways of doing things (without fear of failure). Something which John referred to as Iconoclast. And I certainly think that this kind of counterculture - especially when applied to technology and business - is one of the main reasons why innovation is so prevalent in Silicon Valley.
Other important aspects to the Valley's success are obviously its long history of engineering and its strong ties with forward thinking universities, Stanford and Berkley. I also wouldn't underestimate the role of Venture Capital - without which it becomes a lot harder to start a new company.
However, before we set out to make the documentary, Lee Felsenstein (a pioneer of personal computing) advised me to view Silicon Valley more as a state of mind rather than a physical area. And he warned that capturing that state of mind, in its entirety, would be impossible because the Valley's always changing. In fact, very few of the people we talked to were originally from the Bay area, and so I'd suggest that the continuing influx of talented and creative people, who come to the Valley to pursue their own dreams and ambitions, is also a key driver of its success.
Richard: What were some of the key moments in the video - in terms of people you met or discussions that took place?
Steve: There are so many but I don't want to give them all away!
The film starts with looking at Silicon Valley's early history, with Andy Hertzfeld taking us to the original HP garage (the so-called birthplace of Silicon Valley). We then go on to explore the valley's culture, with reference to San Francisco and Berkley, and the story of the Home Brew Computer club - with Lee Felsenstien and Steve Wozniak giving us a really interesting insight into what drove the personal computer revolution.
Next up, we ask what motivates innovation in the valley. Is it making money or something more profound like changing the world? This is one of the key questions that the film attempts to answer.
We also retell the story of Macintosh and hear from many Apple alumni including Guy Kawasaki, Dan Kottke, and (as already mentioned) Andy Hertzfeld. In fact, one of my favourite parts of the movie is when I get to share the piano with the late Jef Raskin, who was responsible for starting the Macintosh project while an early employee of Apple. As I like to tell it, I jammed with the Mac Daddy!
Later, the movie takes on a more down-beat mood as we hear firsthand about the dot-com boom and bust. Our visit was in late 2004 and the Valley was still very much in recovery. Insights come from Tim O'Reilly, Brian Behlendorf, Bruce Damer, Marc Canter, Sally Richards, and Craig Newmark.
Richard: How did you get access to the people and places?
Steve: Before we got out to the Valley, we spent months researching the film. Lots of people were approached by email and we encouraged everybody who we contacted to give us the names of other interviewees who we should approach. For example, Tim O'Reilly (whom I'd met previously at a conference) was very generous in his introductions. The hardest to pin down was probably Woz, who actually asked us during the interview how we'd got through to him. Although he said he was glad that we did! A few of the people in the movie we made contact with once we'd arrived in the Bay area. The John Warnock interview was particularly fortunate as we met somebody who worked at Adobe and was friends with John's son. All we were were hoping for was a tour of the Adobe building, but luckily things escalated and we found ourselves interviewing John by his pool-side. Another highlight was when Bruce Damer gave us a private tour of his Digibarn Museum.
Richard: A continuing thread throughout the video was discussion of Steve Jobs - most people you interviewed had an opinion on him, not always favorable! What did you make of Steve Jobs after all that discussion?
Steve: I like and admire Steve Jobs, although I've never met him! In fact the closest I've come is to be in the audience during a few of his famous keynote presentations. So, what I tried to explore in the film was the aura and mythology of Steve Jobs - not Steve personally. Throughout the film we hear from those who have actually worked for or with Steve Jobs, as well as others in the industry who only know him by reputation. The overriding view is that he is a genius but (and perhaps because of this) he can also be difficult to work with.
Richard: How did you make use of Social Web technologies like blogs and media sharing? I hear you used customflix.com - what for exactly and why did you choose it?
Steve: We kept a blog of the trip and have used Google Video and YouTube to release teasers and a trailer for the film. I did attempt to set up a MySpace page, but that site really sucks when it comes to usability - so I gave up! For our DVD distribution we've chosen to use the on-demand DVD duplication service Customflix (which gets a big mention in Chris Anderson's Long Tail). It offers Independent filmmakers a low cost way of releasing their work on DVD.
In Search of the Valley is an enjoyable film and it's an excellent independent film project, which I know Steve has worked very hard on over the past few years. Don't forget that R/WW readers save $2 when ordering by using the following discount code: JF9G55CU. For more info, visit the film website, insearchofthevalley.com.