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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      In the mid-90s, General Magic was one of the coolest companies in the Silicon Valley. Goldman Sachs led its public offering based on the team, vision, and fairy dust companies like Apple and Sony sprinkled on it.

      It was ahead of its time, but the people involved went on to invent the iPhone, Android, eBay, Nest—and to fill key positions in the tech industry's most influential companies. 20 years later, a few talented filmmakers produced a film about it that was rated as one of Tribeca's top 10 films this year.

      Here's the trailer. It played last weekend in San Jose to a sold-out audience of 1,100. This Friday it plays again at the Computer History Museum.

      Hopefully, some of the people involved will join this panel and I'll have some fascinating questions for them.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Here are a few questions for anyone who joins the panel:

      Why do you think so many General Magic employees went on to achieve such extraordinary things? How much of it came from hiring an amazing team versus some other factor like what they learned from working there?

      Why was the film 5 years in the making?

      How did you decide this story of a failed company was so important that it deserved such a serious commitment to making a film?

      Photo: former General Magic hardware engineer Megan Smith as CTO of The United States

    • Chris

      Hi Matt and Sarah, thanks for joining! Matt and Sarah are the directors of the film and had a fantastic interview with Kara Swisher on Recode's podcast the other day.

      Matt was the only person behind the film who wasn't involved in General Magic back in the day, or even in the tech industry. I think people would love to know what drew you to the story.

    • MattMaude

      Hello! First up, thank you for having Sarah and I on the panel! It's awesome to be here. You'll have to excuse the slightly weird hours I'm keeping whilst I'm here. I'm British and based in London and even though I've been back from the States since Saturday I'm suffering from the worst jet lag. I'm a champion napper (nap-er?) so keeping to a regular sleeping pattern is not one of my strong suits...

      I've also been brought up to believe that those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones so I'm aware of the dangers of correcting the moderator (even worse, offending the host!) but I wasn't the only person behind the film who wasn't involved in General Magic the company. We're an incredibly small team (see the photo below) but the majority of the crew who worked on the film didn't work at General Magic back in the 90's. I was 4 years old when General Magic was spun out of Apple. My brother Jay - the other cinematographer on the film - was two!

      Answering your question though...

      There was something in the original concept that drew us all to making this film. First up is the footage. You can't make a story like this without great access to both the contributors to the film and the archive footage. We couldn't have told the film without the help of the people who kept the footage for over two decades. The filmmaker (and wonder that is) David Hoffman, chief among them. David's team shot the original footage back in 1992. Once combined with home movie footage and photographs shot by 'Magicians' (General Magic employees) it made the documentary possible.

      What attracted me personally to the film was three things. One was the opportunity to work with Sarah Kerruish. She's an incredible filmmaker and over the last three years I've learnt so much working with her, both professionally and personally. She is AMAZING.

      The second was to address something I've always thought about Silicon Valley. As you mentioned I'm not a technologist. I'm not particularly interested in technology. But I'm fascinated by the idea that huge tech companies personify themselves as a single person. When you think of Facebook you think of Mark Zuckerberg. Tesla, Elon Musk. Still to this day Apple is personified as Steve Jobs. It creates this illusion that the entire success of the company is due to one individual. It creates this superhero like persona around the person. That's not real. The success of any company is built on the decisions, potential and actions of tens, hundreds or thousands of individuals. Watching through the original archive footage in General Magic I was struck about how 'ordinary' the scenes felt. Young people sitting on the floor discussing with one another. Taking the piss out of each other. The more research time I spent with the footage the more blown away by it I was. In the footage was the founders of Ebay, Linkdin and Nest in their 20's. The makers of Android, Dreamweaver, the Mac in the photographs. The question I began to form was, what were the lessons learnt at General Magic that helped create the technology we now use today? How did so many people so successful / influential come from such a small team?

      I fundamentally believe that extraordinary people are ordinary people doing something extra.

      With that in mind, what was the extra ingredients at General Magic that made this ordinary group people capable of the extraordinary? That was a question that many of who worked on the film wanted to both understand, capture and produce.

      Lastly, as a director I want to make films that move people. There seemed such a rich tapestry of emotions within the film. The joy of creating something with your friends, the Hubris, the desperation when it doesn't work. The grief of when something fails. What that devastation feels like. Overcoming that, learning from your mistakes. The success in changing the world. What these people and their ideas have brought to our lives.

      Hopefully that answers your question!

      (this is our team below, left to right)Adam Greenup - Associate ProducerJay Maude - CinematographerReynold D'Silva - Executive ProducerFawna Xiao - Production ManagerMabel Evans - Production AssistantDee Gardetti - CoProducer (former Head of HR at General Magic)Claire Ferguson - Senior EditorSteve Maller - Aerial Cinematographer (former Engineer at General Magic)Sarah Kerruish - Director / Producer / Writer (former filmmaker at General Magic)Emma Sinclair - Development ConsultantMe - Director / Producer / WriterToby Warren - Post Production Coordinator / Additional EditorMichael Stern - Story / Executive Producer (Legal Counsel at General Magic)Clare Willan - Production ManagerAnna Meller - EditorCeridwen Tallett - Story / CoProducerKeith Ferreira - Associate Producer

      (notable team people missing from this photo are John Giannandrea, the other executive producer of the film. One of our writers Jonathan Key, production manager Juline Hobbs. Our archivist Joanna Allen and the composer Benji Merrison.)

    • Chris

      What an incredibly great post! Thanks so much. I am so very glad to stand corrected.

      Here are a couple more questions for the panel as (hopefully) more join:

      1: After the San Jose showing, I spoke to perhaps a dozen ex-Magicians until late in the night who said General Magic was the greatest experience of their lives, their favorite company to work for. Why was that? And how could that be possible in a company that went bankrupt?

      2: How did you build such a gender balanced team back then?

    • ECS

      What has been the reaction of the Magicians on seeing the film? Have they all been in touch all these years or has this fostered a reunion? I imagine some of the memories are very painful, given the very public failure, so I'd love to know more about feedback you've received from the people who were working there at the time.

    • Chris

      Good question, @ECS. 🤔For those who don't know, ECS has become a close friend of General Magic and was invited to a few of the reunions I attended. ECS, I'll leave it up to you if you want to fill in more.

      To answer your question, I was embarrassed by General Magic's failure, so for about 10 years I don't remember participating in reunions. I also had a painful feeling that I let down the people I hired there and the developers we recruited who bet their companies and careers on us.

      However, I never lost my fondness for Andy, Joanna, Marc, Bill and all the rest because I could see how devastated they were and how hard they had tried to do something great. And I have never lost my sense of wonder about why the company didn't devolve into the kind of infighting and bitterness that usually comes when a company fails.

      In the showing in San Jose, I think Bill Atkinson had the most important thing to say after seeing it for the first time: the movie was healing. I know it is for me. Now I am tremendously proud to have been part of General Magic. I learned life lessons from it that will always be with me.

      👇Bill Atkinson and Kerry in my sidecar the other day during a General Magic reunion with tons of people there. We all had such an amazing time, and I think the movie is a big part of it.

    • stevemaller

      I was fortunate in my twin experiences of being at General Magic for 4 years beginning in 1991, as well as contributing in a small way to the making of this film for the last few years. In the nearly 20 years between the two, I harbored mostly negative experiences about the business of General Magic, but almost universally positive memories about the people with whom I had the great fortune to have worked. I am grateful for Bill Atkinson's brilliant observation at the post-screening Q&A in San Jose about the film providing a bridge of sorts that spanned the feelings of grief and loss to a place where he could remember the great things about the experience. I am grateful that Mike, Sarah, Dee and Matt gave me the opportunity to build that bridge for myself, and to help provide it for those who have seen the film. I'm so proud of the film team's vision and persistence because this film delivers a very important message about the relationship between failure and success. I believe this film is deeply relevant in today's world, and had we at General Magic had benefit of such a story, some things might have happened differently. Or at least we all would have understood it better.

    • Chris

      It was packed last night at the Computer History Museum. After the panel there was a sustained, thunderous standing ovation for the people on the panel—Dan'l Lewin, Megan Smith, Andy Hertzfeld, Bill Atkinson, Marc Porat, and Mike Stern. Chills.

      Dan'l was not at General Magic but has known most of the panelists forever. He asked great question and the panelists had amazing, touching answers.

    • Sa

      In late 1992, I found myself unexpectedly in Silicon Valley where I was hired by mentor, David Hoffman, to produce a promotional video for General Magic’s press launch. At the time, General Magic was the hottest and most secretive company in the Valley; people were sleeping on the doorstep just trying to get an interview.

      As an outsider from the Isle of Man via the East Coast, I was admitted into an extraordinary ‘land’ where people wore shorts, not suits, where a rabbit and a parrot roamed the halls, and where people built bunk beds in their offices so they didn’t have to go home to sleep. Most importantly, they were the most talented, creative and driven people I had ever encountered. The ‘Magicians’  believed that by making, essentially, what was the first smartphone they would truly change the world. And they did but it would take fifteen more years before their dreams were realized.

      Twenty years later, the deaths of two beloved Magicians and the unimaginable success of so many others led me to the realization that this was a film that had to be made. But I couldn’t have done it without the belief and unwavering support of Michael Stern, my executive producer, and the extraordinary creativity and passion of my fellow director and producer, Matt Maude.  

    You've been invited!