Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movies About Hollywood Are Boring

Let's talk for a minute about Sofia Coppola's latest movie, "Somewhere". I'm not particularly a movie buff, actually I'm not a movie buff at all, but somehow this movie made it on to my radar around the time that it was in post-production. It piqued my interest enough that I actually started checking for it on iTunes, Netflix, Redbox, etc, periodically to see if it was out yet. Should be released in a few months tops, I figured.

A few months passed: nothing. So broadened my search, still nothing. Random news article here and there revealed that it had appeared in a few film festivals, and had been released on DVD in a few foreign countries, but no mention of when it might be available in the US for me to watch.

At this point it's worth noting that this is probably the most effort I've put into finding a movie, well, maybe ever. Though I do love watching movies, I am pretty easy to please and generally don't mind watching whatever smut is readily available. What can I say? I'm a fan of convenience. For some reason, I decided this one was worth the effort.

After over a year of searching, I FINALLY found it in the most unexpected place: A pirated movie stand in a small town in Mexico. How these Mexicans had come upon this DVD that I'd been so unable to find was a mystery, but finally, "Somewhere" was MINE! (sorry production studio, actors, etc, I would have bought a non-pirated copy had I been able to locate one!)

AT LAST! I rushed home and popped it in - this was the movie I'd been waiting so long for!

...

Now I know Sofia Coppola movies are slow, that's kind of their charm, so I sat watching with rapt attention waiting for all the pieces to slowly come together and make this moving into the amazing masterpiece that I knew it to be.

But they never did. The movie ended and still nothing. It was a slow movie with a slow beginning, middle, and end. Not only was it slow, more importantly, it was BORING.

Now every movie (or piece of art, or product, etc) has a target audience. Based on how boring I found "Somewhere" to be, it's safe for this movie I'm not it - which is fine. I'm also not the target audience for horrible slasher films, though I can respect the fact that they fill a significant market need. What troubles me about "Somewhere" is not so much that I am not their target audience, but who, I imagine, their target audience is.

For those of you who haven't seen "Somewhere", the movie is about the inner struggles and emotional journey of what I imagine to be a "typical" successful hollywood actor. For successful actors, people who know them, and even people in the entertainment industry in general, I imagine this story line resinates and proves to be a somewhat compelling narrative. Unfortunately, I am none of these things, which is why the movie missed it's mark with me.

SO WHAT?

A movie was made that I didn't like. It's not like this is the first (or last) time this has happened. Why take the time to single out this particular movie?

Because "Somewhere" is the movie equivalent of a bad startup. It is guilty of a crime that the startup world has been accused of a lot lately: Failing to make a product/company that is relevant outside the technology industry.

Startups in certain tech-heavy areas (notably Silicon Valley/San Francisco, New York, Seattle, etc) can easily fall into what I'll call the "somewhere" trap - they create a product or have a service that is not terribly relevant to the rest of the world. (I'm sure you've heard the elevator pitch: "We are the [blank] of [blank] with, of course, a totally revolutionary way to combine the successes of [blank] and [blank] to create a superior super-startup that solves a very pressing and highly relevant business need that we are personally incredibly passionate about." If this doesn't sound familiar to you, see http://itsthisforthat.com.)

Given the way a startup often comes to life (the founder sits down and thinks of previously unsolved or inadequately solved problems in his or her life that they would like to have solved and starts a company to this end), this isn't terribly surprising. If you are immersed in technology, you will tend to have and be passionate about solving problems related to technology.

The funny thing is, this isn't, historically, a bad thing. Microsoft began by developing a version of BASIC for one of the first personal computers. Google's claim to fame is creating the best technology to find technology (er, the best algorithm to location content on the internet). Intel makes (arguably) the best microprocessors, IBM made the best computers. These companies did ok, so what gives?

As the world of technology and "the real world" converge more and more (a trend I don't expect is going away any time soon), technology entrepreneurs are going to be forced to step outside their bubble and start to solve "real world" problems. We no longer have the luxury of developing technology for technology's sake if we expect to stay highly relevant (or be more than a flash in the pan) - we have to branch out.

There are movies made about just about anything you can think of. From romantic comedies to documentaries about the science of sleep, a movie is a vehicle for a story to be told. As technology becomes an integral part of almost everything that we do, we have the historically-unique opportunity to start a technology company in almost any industry, which really, when you think about it, is pretty amazing.

So when starting your company, bring your most valuable asset to the table: YOU. What are your interests, your passions? If someone handed you $1 million tomorrow, what would you spend your time doing? The barriers to entry in many industries have been dramatically reduced by the influx of technology, and there's no time like the present to do something you're truly passionate about. Who says your greatest passion can't be your most lucrative business endeavor? There's certainly no time like the present to find out.

Let "Somewhere" be a lesson to us: Movies about Hollywood are boring. Similarly, startups about startups are boring.

And no one wants to be boring.