Directors Chris Hegedus (The War Room) and Jehane Noujaim couldn't have imagined the drama that awaited when they began documenting the creation of the pioneering e-commerce site govWorks.com. For over a year they follo... more »wed the company, the brainchild of childhood-friends-turned-business-partners software geek and doting single dad Tom Herman, and ambitious young business-school-grad-turned-company-CEO Kaleil Isaza Tuzman. During the rise of the Internet investment frenzy and the subsequent crash of the dot-economy, the cameras remain keyed into the human dynamic: the lifestyle compromises, the personal sacrifices, and the clash of philosophies and personalities that ultimately tear boyhood buddies Tom and Kaleil apart...almost. Startup.com's portrait of the cutthroat nature of American business culture and the choices one makes (or doesn't) to succeed poses the one question most documentaries ignore: Is it worth it? --Sean Axmaker« less
Christopher J. Jarmick | Seattle, Wa. USA | 10/10/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Startup.com is one of the best 2001 films now available on DVD. It is a documentary and about the trials and tribulations of a start up internet company but it also a Heart-wrenching, emotionally involving story about hopes, dreams and friendships.We watch as a group of friends begin their company (in May of 1999) and in less than 2 years are running a 50 million-dollar corporation employing over 250 people (Govworks.com). And then it all begins to fall apart? rapidly. We watch as CEO Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and to a slightly lesser extent Tom Herman become famous via business magazine covers, columns, articles, television news programs, CNN interviews, and even a meeting with a President in which Kaleil suggests the President Clinton consider working for his company when his presidential term is over. It's all here and it really happened. The film-makers shot for over two years and were editing the more than 400 hours of video/film right up to their Sundance premiere in early 2001 and re-edited the last few minutes of the film just prior to it's theatrical release in May of 2001. Jehane Noujaim started the film. Noujaim became Kaleil Tuzman Harvard roommate and they remained good friends. After quitting her job at MTV with plans to go to her homeland Egypt to make a film Noujaim instead began filming Tuzman as he quit his job to begin this company with his old high school chum and a small circle of friends. She contacted Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker for help in financing the project. They were excited about the idea and Hegedus enthusiastically became a partner in the project. Hedges and her husband, D.A. Pennebaker made the excellent Moon over Broadway (about Carol Burnett's return to Broadway) and The War Room (behind the scenes of Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign) in recent years. Pennebaker is the legendary documentary filmmaker who made the famous film about Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back and Monterrey Pop. Pennebaker produced the film and Hegedus and Noujaim co-directed it. The filmmakers have access to some remarkable private moments, some confidential private meetings and some very special events (like Bill Clinton and in another scene with a speech from former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.). At times the film doesn't take quite enough time to explain some of the inner-workings of financing the company and we don't spend quite enough time on the problems and development of the software itself--but to do so would have meant slowing the movie down and focusing it more on the business and less on the people involved. Every once in a while you can be confused with what is going or why? but, life doesn't stop and explain itself to you as well as it should either. If it's a flaw, it's one that is easy to over-look. I wish the filmmakers did include a little more footage of the special relationship Tom Herman had with some of his co-workers. He was the one who insisted on hiring women in the company and he had a much warmer management style which we don't see much of in the film. There's some moments in the film, particularly at the end, where the film-makers deliver just the right balance of verite' and crossing over the line a bit for the sake of some much needed humor. I don't want to spoil a few moments by saying more than that, but there are several subtle pay-offs, which occur during the film's final moments, which end the film on a very human and ironic note. This is a film about a lot more than the rise and fall of a dot com company. The film was shot on digital video and is present in the original perspective it was shot in Standard 1:33:1. The picture is sharp and clear and free from any technical problems whatsoever but it is documentary film-making on the fly and cinema verite'.The Audio is a strong Dolby 5.1 mix The sound quality varies slightly because of the manner in which the film was shot and the sound originally recorded. However we can clearly hear all of the important dialogue and at times, when the film gets very quiet, we are aware how free from defects the audio actually is. The too short interview with the documentary filmmakers gives a face to the filmmakers. Some of the information they talk about on-camera is repeated during their feature audio commentary. The very thorough production notes are appreciated. It is a real shame however that not all of the pre-release extras that were announced by Artisan several months ago are on the disc. Extra footage, and commentary from Kaleil and Tom would be a huge asset to the DVD package and I can only assume there were last minute problems that meant the plans to include such commentary had to be scrapped.The feature length commentary track starts out by covering the same ground as the short interview featurette but after 30 minutes we start learning some interesting details and getting some insights into things we are not seeing on the screen. We learn some interesting information and even about a tragedy that occurred to one of the people we see during the film. It's well worth the time to listen to the commentary but it can't top one of my favorite commentaries of all time (the one on Moon Over Broadway).Christopher Jarmick,is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller"
How Not to Run A Business
M. Hart | USA | 02/24/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Startup.com" is a fascinating, but slightly flawed documentary following the lives of several men who founded a dot-com in 1998. (Work leading to its creation had started months earlier, but wasn't included in the documentary.) The principal dot-com founders were Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, Tom Herman and Chieh Cheung. Kaleil and Tom were high school friends. Shortly after the company's official launch, Chieh's involvement was terminated after Kaleil and Tom decided to buy him out. They believed Chieh wasn't doing enough, in spite of Chieh's time, work and money invested prior to the company's official launch.For the most part, the first third of documentary is devoted to Kaleil's efforts to obtain venture capitalist (VC) investment into the new company. The combination of his efforts and unbridled VC risk-taking of the 1990's succeeded in Kaleil securing $50-million in VC investment. At the company's launch, it had eight employees. After several months of hard work and the hiring of a lot more staff, the company's website was finally launched. Within about a year, the company's total employment exceeded 200 employees, but the joy didn't last long. Personality conflicts between Kaleil and Tom lead to some unpleasant consequences. Also, like most of the dot-com's created in the 1990's, the amount of money earned through the company's website paled in comparison to the amount of invested capital and the money squandered by the company. Sadly, the creators of this documentary (Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim) focused far too much on Kaleil, not enough on Tom and very little on Chieh. The quality of the documentary would have been far better had more time been devoted to Tom throughout the film, and more to Chieh at the beginning (prior to the company's launch). No narration was provided in the documentary. Instead, it was shot much like a reality television show using small hand-held cameras, but occasional subtitles provide the viewer with time references and employee counts. Highlights in the documentary include an actual CNBC interview with Kaleil (when the company was worth $50-million with venture capital) and his brief meeting with then U.S. President Bill Clinton.The real value of this documentary is fourfold:
(1) The eagerness of 1990's venture capitalists to willingly invest millions of dollars into companies with unsubstantiated and exaggerated business plans.
(2) The squandering by dot-com's of millions of invested dollars
(3) The strain put on long-term friendships when money and cutthroat business practices get involved.
(4) Seeing some of the faces and narcissistic egos behind dot-coms.
For these reasons, I rate this documentary with 4 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend it to any former or current dot-com employee, to anyone that invested and subsequently lost money in a dot-com or to anyone that wants to form his/her own company."
An important historical document
Gareth | Ottawa | 03/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As I sit here, self-indulgently typing in my humble opinions, I cannot help but savour the irony of reviewing a film about the spectacular rise and fall of a dot-com hopeful... on the website of one of those who succeeded. Twenty years from now, when people look back on the "dot com bubble", and when those who weren't there can't fathom the hundreds of overnight paper millionaires, the irrational stock valuations, the revolutionary nature of what was happening, and of course the impending crash - this film will surely stand as an indispensable documentary of the time, capturing the excitement and the madness of the incredible Internet commercial phenomenon.Hats off to the film makers - this is a truly remarkable time capsule that, compelling as it is today, will only become increasingly important as our collective memories of that time, fade. So here I am - a regular person, with a regular job - self-indulgently broadcasting my simple thoughts to anyone, anywhere in the world who will listen, courtesy of the global communication network that made it all possible.This is it. This is how it was."
Dr. Zoidberg | New York, NY | 05/27/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A few days ago I heard in a radio show how they believe that this movie captured the Internet era. As a recent "Failed Startup Graduate", I was very curious to see whether that is true. After viewing it, I must say - VERY VERY true!!!
This movie is not a work of fiction, it is a documetary - everything is actual footage which was taken in more than a year. It tells the story of the founding of GovWorks.com, a startup company which connected its site users with government operations ("Made the government more efficient", as the founders say). The makers of the film followed the two founders, Tom and Kaleil from day one. The movie starts when Kaleil leaves his old job and becomes CEO of GovWorks.com, and ends more than a year after that. As you probably know, this has been a very ..interesting year, so to speak for the High Tech industry. But the movie isn't just about the company, it also tells the highs and lows that Kaleil and Tom had to go through during these tough and exciting times. I think this is a fascinating movie which really makes the viewer feel as if he is a part of the story, especially since Kaleil and Tom have been so generous in sharing what they've gone through with the viewers."
Primarily a historical doument rather than a documentry
T. Austin | Van Nuys, CA United States | 11/29/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary is primarily a cinema verite documentation of the personalities behind a ?start-up-dot-com? during the apex of the ?internet bubble?. In other words, the directors used non-actors, such as the CEO and his co-founders, small hand-held cameras, and actual homes and surroundings as their location for this film to capture the personalities involved. This includes: The tantrums, the broken friendships, the narcissism, the venture capital meetings, and the often obscene; (yes, obscene), amounts of money tossed out by venture capitalists to anybody with a website as if they were drunk sailors visiting a two-dollar brothel. My favorite part was seeing our CEO interviewed on a ?CNBC-like? program stating with a straight face that his company was worth 50 million dollars. Below him at the bottom of the screen was a stock-ticker going off with a myriad of internet ticker symbols rolling by which were all generally trading in the triple digit range such as, SUNW, or Sun Microsystems, trading then at $133.00 a share but now trading in 2002 at $4 a share. I often got angry watching this documentary primarily because of all the excess. However I am glad this film was made because it chronicles the personalities behind the history rather than the history itself. This is something we don?t see when we watch a documentary about the ?1929 stock market crash?, or by reading a dry dissertation of the Dutch ?tulip-bubble?. If you are looking for just the human story alone and what money can do to friendships and egos, buy this movie. If you are looking to observe the day-to-day management of a dot.com you will be disappointed."