Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.
Posts in In Conversation
IN CONVERSATION: OK-RM
 
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In their studio in somewhere between Hackney and Bethnal Green, we sat down with Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath, founders of OK-RM - a design studio that takes a collaborative and uniquely multidisciplinary approach to their work. They are the Creative Directors of quarterly magazine Real Review, in partnership with the Real Foundation, and are responsible for the identity and design culture of the Strelka Institute. They were part of the team that designed the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale (2016) and founded InOtherWords, an imprint which produces books in close collaboration with artists, writers, institutions and other cultural protagonists.

There is more content produced now than ever before. The emergence of multiple platforms of distribution has afforded an equity amongst brands and individual users which now holds an intrinsic monetary and social value in our culture and economy. This radical change over the past decade has led to unusual behaviour - people are adopting the mode of a brand in their own communication and at the same time, brands are imitating people in the pursuit of authenticity. Despite operating mainly in the cultural sector, it was clear when talking to Rory McGrath and Oliver Knight (OK-RM), that they were aware of how these emerging spheres of communication present new challenges for brands and consequently the role of design within them. On discussing a current project with fashion brand, Alyx, Rory explained:

“It was important for us to establish an approach which would place ideology, meaning and narrative at the core. Everything that comes after that - a design, a typeface or a book - responds to it."

Shezad Dawood - Kalimpong (published by InOtherWords)

Shezad Dawood - Kalimpong (published by InOtherWords)

With content holding a central focus in OK-RM's work, their collaborative projects with artists and writers - such as FOS, Shezad Dawood and Jack Self - have fed directly into their approach towards design. Being involved at a conceptual level within the arts and cultural sectors has led to how they consider the role of a brand.

“Exhibition design has definitely been important for us to question the potential of space and spatial design,” Rory told us. “We think about how to create an environment for content beyond a book or a website or a specific object - whatever that may be. You start to think about space and suddenly you’re really dealing with someone’s whole experience. That sets you up for questioning space in a more abstract sense - the space of a brand lets say.”

On this, Oliver highlighted how the emergence of new platforms for content has expanded our expectations and interaction with the brand as well as the scope of possibility. “Historically, a fashion brand would communicate mainly through advertising. There would simply be an image consistently in each magazine with a logo placed on or near it. Whereas now our interaction with a brand exists across a multitude of contexts: online, social media, in print, physically. You can’t just repeat the same thing over and over again (well, unless that’s the concept). We now have the opportunity to question how we create a narrative in an incremental way, we can open a more dynamic discourse with the audience. This is something we’ve been really interested in and have focused on with Alyx.”

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1017 A L Y X 9SM

It is a deliberate intention of OK-RM that a narrative can be felt in varying forms across their body of work. Whether it is felt subtly in the arc of a design culture, as was implemented during their time working with the Strelka Institute, or as an actual storytelling mechanism in Leviathan and Home Economics.

Regarding a current project, Rory explained how they were taking inspiration from other places to establish narrative in atypical ways. “We're commissioning an artist to make what you could call a ‘narrative project’, which is conceptualising a fictional character and he then undertakes that personality and travels the world, looking at things through this perspective. So in that sense, it’s very akin to filmmaking or storytelling in general. We’re using the character as a protagonist to articulate the core principles of the concept, it’s a kind of tool really. It creates a mood rather than a didactic point. It riffs on and has a discussion with the contemporary."

What became clear during our conversation was the potential that OK-RM see for creating meaningful content for those that they work with, and simultaneously being able to design the frames within which it exists. The form and shape of content is now infinitely wide in scope and it could have big implications for the relationship between brand and consumer, hopefully leading to a more experimental exchange. With particular regards to fashion, Oliver highlighted the utility of this outlook. “Fashion isn’t just about clothes, it’s often a broader cultural project which encompasses various clues to the culture and context in which it exists. The ability to work closely with artists within this framework is a way of creating authentic content which goes beyond commerce.”

When discussing their projects, there was the feeling that OK-RM were continually expanding the reach of design and that they had created for themselves (and their collaborators) a freeing space in which to work. The motivation for this expansive approach seemed to stem from a respect for communication and a continuous cycle of critique with regards to their practice.

Hysteric Glamour published by InOtherWords

Hysteric Glamour published by InOtherWords

“It’s driven by a genuine critical engagement, for instance with book making,” said Rory. “We have designed many books, some of which weren’t always commissioned with a huge amount of ambition to make the ultimate book. At the same time we were looking back toward the work of Pontus Hultén (who was director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in the 1960s ), we started to collect his books and realised that most of the time he was designing them himself, we started to wonder, how does he make such brilliant books? It was clearly because he was so intrinsically involved in the shaping of that content, likely closely with the artist(s).”

This was one of the significant realisations that led OK-RM to found InOtherWords in 2015, a publishing imprint creating books in close collaboration with the subject. It has served as a platform for reaching what Rory defined as “trying to create a ‘total book’ or ‘total project’”. InOtherWords has been a proponent for OK-RM to support artists, writers and collaborators to realise projects that otherwise may not have happened. As Oliver and Rory explained, in this way they are very much “protagonists of content”, occupying a role in which they are able to support a project from its inception to its end product. When referring to books and other items of design, they use the words 'Specific Objects' - a term eponymous with Donald Judd - somebody they cite as being an influential figure along with other ‘Total Artists’ Joseph Beuys, Sol Lewitt, Martin Kippenberger and Lawrence Weiner.

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'Specific Objects' has also become a helpful delineation between the different strands of OK-RM's practice as they have expanded in scope over the ten years they have been working together. On the changes that have occurred in design over the past decade, Oliver reflected, "Its a lot more open, a lot broader, there are many ways of working. Personally we are having a lot of fun right now, we enjoy the opportunity to question what we are confronted with and extend our discipline outwardly from graphic design. In fact one of the things that’s important to OK-RM’s trajectory is that we work collaboratively across disciplines with inspirational practitioners and individual characters, like Jack Self and Hesselbrand, but also reoccurring artists, collaborators or clients. In that sense, I think there has been change because when we started OK-RM, we started to question who would be within our sphere and now we’re surrounded by inspiring creative partners.”

The quarterly publication Real Review is centred around the proposition 'What It Means To Live Today'. It is a key example of the collaborative core that runs through OK-RM’s work. In this instance, they work closely with Jack Self, director of the Real Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of Real Review.

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One of the most impressive aspects of Real Review, beyond the content itself, is the realisation of placing content at the centre of the project. When discussing the simplicity of the design Rory pointed out that, "Real Review is simple but deceivably so." A key example of this is how the magazine differentiates between articles by changing patterns of text size. “That’s because we wanted to have this ease of hierarchy. You need to identify one article from the next and we wanted to do that with the most simple means possible. You have one big one and one small one big one etc. You don’t need other forms of hierarchy for the magazine to function.”

Much like InOtherWords, Real Review is emblematic of the experimental and reflective approach that OK-RM take towards design. This method of working not only results in a coherence across projects but serves as a dialectic for the role that design plays in relationship to form and content. There was a lasting impression that a key motivation behind OK-RM is to provide the cultural platform of which they have been a key proponent in defining over their 10-year studio practice. AG

 
IN CONVERSATION: IAN BONHÔTE
 

Ian Bonhôte is an award winning director and producer. Most recently, he directed McQueen with Peter Ettedgui, a powerful documentary that explores the life of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. It has just been nominated for two BAFTAs.

His career has also earned him credits spanning commercials for Gatorade, Puma, Nike and Pepsi, music videos and short films. He co-founded the Production Company Pulse Films with fellow producers Thomas Benski and Marisa Clifford and now runs Misfits Entertainment.

We spoke to him about his creative roots, his outlook on the current state of the film industry in London and how, in the midst of corporate, money making film distributors and illegal downloads, passion and emotion must still hold sway.

 
Bonhôte, centre

Bonhôte, centre

Ian Bonhôte has had a busy year. Having just arrived home (he has lived in London for the past 21 years) from a packed press tour promoting the critically lauded McQueen, he is quick to admit that the film has been shown ‘a lot of love’ since its release. “We have released it in ten territories now and it will roll out worldwide,” he tells us. “We can see that people need this film. They want to be fed this creativity.”

The trajectory Bonhôte’s career has taken began back in his native Switzerland – he was born and raised in Geneva. “I started as a child actor back home,” he explains. “When I was seven years old, I was a bit of a show off so my mother got me into acting. I was in a TV series and a feature film. I did manage to carry on studying and managed to complete a degree.”

Instead of going straight back into acting, Bonhôte immersed himself in the world of club visuals. In the mid-nineties, the electronic music scene was exploding and, along with friends he met on his art course, he began to experiment with images – projecting them on the walls of clubs in Geneva. “This was before you had clubs with 50,000 people dancing around a turntable. It was still very underground. It was always in small clubs or warehouses. There was also a big squatting culture in Switzerland so we would often go and project images in those places too.” In the pre-digital world, Bonhôte was using 16 mm projectors, Super 8 projectors and slide projectors. “It was like leaving an autograph,” he says.

Before moving to London, Bonhôte did a 6-month stint in New York studying film. He quickly realised, however, that London would provide a greater chance of success. “It was booming. I came in September ‘97 and there was no other place on the planet you would want to be as a creative person.” He is clearly frustrated, though, to reflect on how this culture has changed. “It’s sad to witness how there is a system where young creative people can’t afford to live here. Being young and starting with nothing can be an amazing thing, but now the debt that gets accumulated makes things so much harder. It feels like the passion and fire have gone.”

As we talk, he explains that the danger of this climate could result in people only being likely to succeed if they are from a certain class or have access to enough money. “We need the social classes to transcend it,” he says. With this in mind, Bonhôte has been proactive in trying to give chances to less well-known actors. His first feature film, Alleycats, is a testament to this way of working. The feeling resonates so strongly with him that he named his current production company Misfits Entertainment. “Despite the name being used constantly, we chose it because I am definitely more interested in the outsiders.”   

Bonhôte, left

Bonhôte, left

Back in ’97, when Bonhôte first moved to London, he put on a monthly night at The Blue Note on Hoxton Square in Shoreditch. He credits the club as being a main factor in the regeneration of the area. This was done in collaboration with other Swiss artists and Bonhôte began to make links with like minded people. At around 20 years old, he was taken under the wing of other ‘club visual guys’ and began to work across the London club scene. “I would finish doing the visuals at 3 o’clock in the morning, pack up and be in bed by 4:30 then up for filmmaking lectures at 9 am. It was tough.”

During this time, Bonhôte met a range of talented artists who have gone on to become acclaimed film directors, editors, writers and producers. He quickly lists Duncan Jones whose credits include Moon (2009) and  Source Code (2011) and Norwegian author Bobbie Peers as those he mixed with. “I was lucky to be surrounded by these people,” he says.

It didn’t take long for bands and musicians to ask him to make music videos for them. The experiences of projecting in clubs and experimenting with visuals in an aesthetic and technical way had given him a growing confidence to tell stories that are not driven by the same narrative as film. ‘I believe music is one of the strongest emotional narratives you can have. It moves people.”

Soon after, he met producer Thomas Benski and they started Pulse Films in his living room in Shoreditch. The company has now gone on to make films across a range of genres. Recent successes include the films  American Honey (2016) and The Witch (2015). They have also been responsible for some of the best modern music documentaries out there: 20,000 Days On Earth , Shut Up and Play the Hits and No Distance Left To Run.

He moved on when Vice Media bought the company in 2016, feeling that it was the right time for him to part ways. “The company is still managed by two extremely talented people [Benski and Clifford]. For all its quality, it was not the perfect fit for me.”  

Bonhôte is clear that when he set up Misfits, it was to be a company led by directors and producers, not to service one. “[To do the opposite] is very short sighted,” he explains. “A lot of directors see themselves too much as artists. This is an industry that needs a huge amount of business acumen. There needs to be a balance between money and creativity. If you have a great project and no money, it won’t be made. If you have a lot of money and a shit project, it can still be made, sadly.” And, within Misfits, diversity is part of their DNA. “We don’t value diversity because the BFI told us to hire black, Asian or gay people. We do it because that is our society and our company should reflect it.”

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Our conversation turns to the implications illegal downloading and streaming has had on independent companies like Misfits. “The blame needs to be taken by those that consume it,” he says. “Anyone who downloads something illegally is making it one hundred times harder for companies to go out there and make anything good. One film we made was pirated three days before it came out. It’s destroying this industry.” He says he has even spoken to parents at his children’s school about the growing problem.

Although it is clearly a worrying time, Bonhôte seems passionate about the fact that there are people that still need an intellectual creative input, and there is still a chance for the industry. “I think there is space to do this. We are still making a living out of it and it’s inspiring. I have two little boys and I would like them to stand for things that they believe in. Always think about your name. When all is done, your name is your only asset. What you leave behind is the memories of what stands behind your name.”

Bonhôte has spent many months discussing the intricacies of McQueen so I’m intrigued to know  the answer to just one question: How has it changed him? “The basics of who you are don’t change but we had to analyse the place in which he lived and inhabited - the fashion world. The mental health issues that Lee was fighting with was certainly something we thought a lot about. You begin to make parallels with your own life: the commercial demands, the pressure of creativity, the praise or lack of praise. From the outside you think people like Lee have everything, then you realise they are just as fragile as you and I. The lesson is to not become lost in it.”

At 8 years old, Bonhôte saw holocaust drama Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987) and remembers coming out of the cinema emotionally moved and attempting to understand what had just happened to him. “The fact that images, sound and music in a dark room with loads of strangers had made me feel this way is something that has never left me. I felt alive. It blew my mind.”  Another film he cites as having a strong influence on him is Kids (Larry Clarke, 1995). “It was so raw and made me feel uncomfortable. It created such an emotion within me. Stories and characters are important but what’s most important is the emotion you convey. You don’t need the greatest budget to move people to tears or laughter. Money is an energy and sometimes too much of it can spoil something.”

In addition to this, he explains that during the making of McQueen, the core team was kept relatively small so that the clarity of the project remained. “A lot of the time it was just me, Cinzia [Baldessari, editor] and Peter in a room. When three people are emotionally connected, you often find the right answer to the problems you face. If you have twenty people in that room, the vision may get blurred.” At the same time, Bonhôte is clear that the process must be a collaboration, rejecting Auteur Theory and those that see the process as an individual crusade.   

After talking to Bonhôte, it’s hard not to feel buoyant and positive about how there are still artists out there that are driven by passion and emotion. Perhaps, with the unstoppable march of corporate, money making movie platforms, there is still life left in independent art. And, with directors such as Bonhôte, we can be hopeful that the art itself is valued above all else. TS

This article is featured in Cultural Bulletin Issue A. You can order a copy here.

Influences:

70s American Independent Cinema

The early work of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma

Alan Clarke / Federico Fellini

Films:

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)

Kids (Larry Clarke, 1995)

Le Grand Bleu (Luc Besson, 1988)

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)

Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

In Conversation: Filulas Juz

Hailing from Querétaro, Mexico, Filulas Juz are a band that fuse together an eclectic range of genres to create a truly unique sound, one that both is highly technical and grooves well. We speak with the three core members of the group, Luis Marin (bassist), Adriano Morales (drummer) and Armando Cuevas (guitarist) about their most recent album 3773, as well as the band’s musical direction.

This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated to English. 

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CB: Tell us about the origins of the band.

LM: The band’s origins are from around 2012, when we started to do our first rehearsals and to share with each other musically. We felt really consolidated as a band when we got it into its current formation, with Adriano on the drums, Armando on the guitar and me on bass. After we recorded our first album Astralopithecus in 2015, we felt the band had taken its true shape and had formed its vision for the future. We have always been trying to experiment with different genres, textures and ways of making music in order to express ourselves and to form our own voice.

CB: Where did the name 'Filulas Juz' come from?

LM: Well, when we were looking for a name we felt that we didn’t want one that had a meaning in Spanish, English, German or any of those languages. Not even in an indigenous Mexican one to be stylish. We weren’t looking for anything like that. But there is a book by the Argentinian author Julio Cortázar called Rayuella, which has a chapter written in a language that the writer invented himself, known as Glíglico. The chapter is really an erotic scene, and we took out the word “filulas” from the phrase “filulas de cariaconcia” that gets used in it. And “juz” was a merging together of the words jugo [Spanish for juice] and jazz, so the name was born from a bit of a play on words.

CB: How would you describe your sound? Is there one genre label that covers it?

AC: [thinks] Well you see, the question of genre has been something we have had to battle with a lot. We’re not a purist band so to speak, not in terms of the style ‘jazz’. I think we are collectors of different genres, which maybe can be things like... I don’t know, rock, hip-hop, jazz (in terms of improvisation), progressive rock, alternative rock, electronic music. I think there are lots of different colours in our music, you know? So, I suppose in terms of a genre, well maybe it could be alternative instrumental music so to speak.

LM: Exactly.

AC: Even those from the eras of Miles Davis or Sonny Rollins didn’t consider themselves to be playing jazz. So, if you go to the roots of jazz you go to Louis Armstrong... and well, if you go to the roots of that you come to other forms of expression in New Orleans... I don’t know, what do you guys think?

AM: Yeah, I agree. I think the best way to describe ourselves is alternative instrumental music.

CB: What can you tell me about the creative process around your most recent album 3773? Do you compose collectively or is there one principal writer?

AM: Creatively speaking, the process doesn’t fall onto just one person. In fact, that’s one of the main characteristics of this group: there isn’t one person who is directing us, and we try to do everything that has to do with the music as a group. The process is very natural because we always come together to practice and rehearse. We usually start with one idea – it can be any idea, it’s often very small and not very developed - and then we find how to evolve it between all of us. We then decide if it is something worth continuing with, and afterwards we start to create the parts. That’s really how we do it, no-one comes to the band with something that’s already written and finished. That’s exactly how it happened with 3773, we were fortunate in that period to have a great creative streak, so we actually managed to compose the 10 long pieces in a really short space of time. I remember we managed to get the ideas practically ready in about 2-3 months, we just had to give them a bit more shape afterwards.

CB: Although you wrote the musical ideas quickly, it took about 2 years to get the album together. Why did it take so long?

AC: It was the studio work that took us the most time because we went in with some loose ideas that we wanted to somehow incorporate into the album. We wanted to work with those ideas digitally in order to play with what other sounds we could have in our music, more so than in our previous album, Astralopithecus. With that album we recorded live what we had been playing up to that point, whereas with this one we recorded each piece separately and everyone recorded their parts separately, and we incorporated more ideas whilst in the studio. We also spent this time learning about how to mix the sound properly, and we wanted to see how far our sound could go without placing any time limit on it. That’s why it took us so long.

CB: What are your thoughts on 3773 as complete work, rather than a collection of singles?

LM: Maybe because of the times in which we are writing, people are more accustomed to just having one track in front of them. Like, you catch my attention with just one single and that’s the only song I’m going to listen to. But to tune ourselves in and sit down because you are going to listen to an album all the way through is something special, you know?

CB: What musicians have had the greatest influence on you?

AM: Wow, good question... I want to go last so I can think about that.

AC: As a guitarist, Hendrix has been someone very important to me since I first started to play. Even now I am still watching the incredible things that that guy was doing. So, it would be Hendrix in terms of his instrumental approach and I think Miles Davis too for his discourse and improvisation. Luis Marin: One band that really had an impact on me as an adolescent, when I started to play a lot of music, was the group Tortoise. They are a band from Chicago who got categorised as post-rock, but who really thought outside the box and did stuff that was avant-garde, minimalist, you know? I’m always learning and taking in more music, but I would definitely say this band has been important to me.

AM: For me, it changes every week, I find it really hard to narrow it down... But I would say a big influence in terms of playing as a band would be any of the ensembles by Steve Coleman, that’s what has influenced me the most. It’s mainly because the first time I heard it I didn’t understand anything, it was too much for me. That’s what influenced me because I was like 'why can’t I understand any of this harmony?' And in terms of drummers, I have recently been really influenced by Christian Lillinger from Germany and Marcus Gilmore from the US.

CB: What are your future aims and ambitions for the band?

LM: I think an important part of the band’s future is to play in other countries, to see how live music works in other cultures. That’s the next step we want to take. And also, to gain a greater international presence.

AM: I agree with that, but I also think it would be good to look for a way to make our music engage with the music of Mexico. At least for me, that’s something that is important for our project to do.

AC: For me, it is to be projecting visuals with the music and combine these very, very important disciplines together. That is something important for us which we can explore in a live setting.

In Conversation: Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude
 

In 1993, Sarah Kerruish was part of a documentary crew commissioned by a new tech firm in Silicon Valley named General Magic to shoot some behind the scenes footage for a promotional piece. They knew the company was potentially going to change the tech game forever. Kerruish captured the team (known as ‘magicians’) at their most creative and ambitious. Over the next few years, Sarah returned back to the company, again and again, continuing to follow their story.

Then, with the invention of the World Wide Web and the heat of their competitors attempting to keep up, the company failed. 

25 years later, Kerruish has teamed up with director and producer Matt Maude to tell an incredible story of how some don’t see failure as the end, they see it as the beginning. 

General Magic had its World Premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and is produced by Spellbound Productions.

 
Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

CB: How did you both meet?

SK: Aside from the film, I have two other full-time jobs. During the day I’m the CSO of a med-tech startup. I’m also a mother to three teenagers. I needed somebody to help me make this film. In 2015 we started to put out feelers to find a team of people who could devote their full uninterrupted time to the project. One of the film’s co-producers, Ceri Tallett, suggested that I should meet Matt. I had no idea what kind of person would be walking through the door during our first meeting. I hadn’t made a film in over a decade. The film industry has changed hugely in that time, especially documentaries. We met at the Tate Modern and we hit into this immediate working chemistry. It’s that amazing thing - and it happens very rarely in my life - where it was just instantaneous. Trust established very quickly. We didn’t miss a beat. Matt is an extraordinary co-collaborator. We feel extremely lucky that it happened like that. 

MM: The timing was perfect. I’d been making a lot of commercials and I felt like I was living in a constant whirlwind of nervous exhaustion. Nervous when you’re working: big budgets, big egos, short turnarounds. And nervous when you’re not - pitching yourself like crazy. I took a month off and went to New York to escape the phone ringing. At the time I felt like I could blink and it’d be 2025 and I’d have nothing but a series of 30-second clips to show for it. While I was in NYC I went to a friend’s hen do and re-met Ceri there. She told me she just started work on a feature doc and after I’d asked an avalanche of questions about it, she suggested I meet with Sarah. We got into the same slipstream very quickly. When you’re directing something together you have to not only speak the same language but also know how the other person is going to say it. 

Sarah once told me she worked with a cinematographer who had two deaf parents. He’d developed this amazing ability to know, just by seeing what Sarah was asking for or thinking. It was a massive compliment to be compared to his way of working. 

CB: What ties you to this story?

SK: For me, it’s a part of my history. I was there. In 1992 I was filming the company for a documentary. I knew that it was an extraordinary place but it wasn’t really until 23 years later that I realised these people, who were just kids at the time, would go on to change the world. Every year a new invention would come out or a new company would skyrocket into our palms, monitors or TVs. I’d be seeing all these products link back their trajectories to General Magic - eBay, iPod, Android, iPhone, Samsung, Google, Facebook - even the Obama White House. It took me that time to notice where the echoes had come from and that this was a story worth telling.

CB: So you needed that time to feel the significance of what they did at General Magic? 

SK: The more time goes on, the more things come from that group of people. It’s amazing what they learnt at General Magic. What to do and what not to do.

MM: It feels like you’ve been making this film for the last 25 years. It’s just the first 20 years you didn’t know you were.

SK: It certainly played around a lot in my head. We knew we had this amazing footage from when it all began. Footage I shot back in 1992 with David [Hoffman - the director of the footage shot back in 92’].

MM: There are some definite Hitchcockian vibes because you can see Sarah in the back of the footage that was shot in 92'. 

SK: Wearing really bad jeans.

MM: You look incredibly fashionably conscious compared to the subjects you were filming.

SK: Even with David’s footage we knew we needed more archival material to tell the story. We needed photos, newspapers, more footage. We had a fantastic archivist, Joanna Allen and the most incredible post-production coordinator, Toby Warren, working with us to find these missing pieces. The most extraordinary thing that happened though was finding two caches of archives footage. One was 600 VHS tapes we found in a garage in Hawaii and the other was a handful of tapes that were shot prior to me coming to the company. When we found the latter we had to re-edit the film because it was so transformative. It was 40 minutes of the most amazing footage.

CB: This was earlier footage of the magicians in their offices? 

MM: Yes, and it wasn’t shot by a documentary crew. It was handicam footage, home video style, all shot by friends filming their friends. It’s all organic. All ordinary. But it’s that ordinariness that really shows the character of our characters: the humour, the geekiness, the friendship and affection they all had for one another. 

SK: It really enabled us to tell the story we wanted to. We were able to create that world and give people a sense of what it was like to inhabit that special world. When do you ever see footage of the walls of a Silicon Valley startup? It doesn’t exist. That footage also really helped us to not use a narrator. 

CB: Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen?

MM: Right at the beginning we were told by everyone around us that we needed a narrator to guide the viewer and hold their hand through explanation or exposition. We felt that as soon as you put a voiceover in there, you’re dictating an opinion to the audience. Although some films do need it, the fear is that you rely on this ‘voice’ too much and it can be to the detriment of the characters. We didn’t want our audience to be spoon fed. We want them to be making their own judgements about the characters and the decisions they are making. It makes it much more challenging making the film, particularly in the editing. The structure has to be more thought out. 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.

CB: This is a story about many things: failure, friendships, money, creative genius. Were you thinking of a clear message that you wanted the film to convey?

SK: Having gone through what felt like a catastrophic failure of a business that decimated many aspects of my life, 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.

Matt pushed the idea that there are a lot of problems to solve in the world and this is not just about the creation of one thing, but many things that affect our lives. It’s sort of a blueprint for how you affect change and bring ideas to life. Basically, how do we use this knowledge of technology and creativity to solve big, meaningful problems?

We wanted to give this toolkit to the next generation and say look, this is what we’ve learned. Please take this and go. Go and make. 

MM: There’s a hook to every film. It’s in the trailer or poster or byline. You purchase the ticket because you have got an interest in the concept. You come for that hook but you stay for the characters. Even when we were in the developmental stages of the film, we could tell that this was a story that contained a lot of different emotions: friendship, hope, promise, struggle, failure, grief. Some of these emotions have lasted a lifetime with our characters. 

Silicon Valley doesn’t tell these stories. We spoke a lot about the fact that most of the companies in Silicon Valley personify themselves as a single person. Steve Jobs is Apple. Mark Zuckerberg is Facebook. That’s great for the brand but it isn’t real. The whole success of a company isn’t attributed to just one person. Every company is a culmination of hundreds, thousands of people. Working on a story like General Magic lets you see these single people be young and earnest and real. You see their mistakes, lessons and successes. You see that these are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

SK: My favourite aspect of the story, which is subtle, is that these are the disciples of Steve Jobs. When he left Apple he went into the wilderness. These were his brothers and sisters. He was in exile and the General Magic team went through this huge failure. It was only when those forces came back together that this magic happened. I love that. 

CB: In the film, there is talk of how being in your twenties allows you to be creative. In the documentary, they call it ‘powering through’. There’s less baggage. I think people can take a lot from that.

SK: To an extent. The advantage you have in your twenties is that you really can give it all the time it needs. There’s less responsibility than there is in the rest of your life. You’re less likely to have dependents. Or a mortgage. In terms of risk, you may have to work ridiculous hours but you have less far to fall if it fails. That part is easier. I don’t think the passion or the creativity diminishes but you are probably more free to explore it then. 

The team behind General Magic with Kerruish and Maude, centre. Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

The team behind General Magic with Kerruish and Maude, centre. Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

CB: Andy Hertzfeld said during the launch of their product, ‘The best part was not the invention, it’s working with the incredible team at General Magic.’ That was interesting to hear. Were they enjoying it too much that they didn’t have their eye on the end game?

SK: It was brave for him to say that.

MM: I’m not sure Andy would consider it brave. It’s so natural to him. The joy is in the creating something with others. You wouldn’t hear Steve Jobs saying that. Or Elon Musk. If you’re purely execution minded you leave friendship at the door. It’s about the product. Nothing else. It’s cold-hearted. Making this film, part of the exercise was trying to understand what went wrong - why it did and how it did. It’s a very Silicon Valley-esque aspiration to put a dent in the universe. That involves a huge amount of ambition and hubris. What we learned making the film was that arrogance, believing what you’re doing is better than what came before, needs to be paired with humility. Checking yourself. Looking behind you. Asking questions about what you’re doing. You do also need that person who is execution orientated. At General Magic, they tried to do it all too much too soon. They lacked that one person with the hammer who said, ‘stop trying to create perfection’. They tried to launch perfection before the technology or its audience was ready for it. The iPod is a perfect example of that. It launched in 2001. It took 6 years of iterating before the iPod became the iPhone.

SK: I agree. How you ship great products or create amazing inventions is all about the execution. I’ve just read this great book about the Wright Brothers and the number of iterations they did was ridiculous. They built a wind tunnel just to test one aspect of a wing. It was a micro-detail. Having the bright idea is just one of many components. The biggest question is, can you execute that idea? The 90s seemed to be a time when people were learning how to execute ideas. There are very few people who do it well. Steve Jobs is the best example of it in my lifetime. Tony Fadell is the best example of it today. He’s unbelievably good at breaking things down to understand what’s not working and why. 

MM: That all said, I admire Andy for that pride in the people he worked with. That humanness. It’s one of the reasons why he’s so admired and well-liked across the industry. People want to work with Andy because of that energy. That’s what makes him so likeable, hopefully, as a character. The cliché, ‘it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey’ rings true. If you’re working with people you love and are getting something from, the journey is so fulfilling. That was true of both the company and making the film. 

CB: So when you come against difficult things, if you have that creative understanding, you’re going to be more likely to succeed in those moments. You’re going to be more likely to care about the other opinions and move forward together. 

MM: That’s the hope. If you’ve created a culture in which anyone is able to question the direction in which you’re heading, ask what does execution look like or how it can be improved, it’s more likely to succeed. You need a diversity of thinking. 

CB: What was it like interviewing your old colleagues again after so much time has passed?

SK: Surreal. Especially when you’re spending all your time living in the edit viewing the archive footage. Watching them sat on the floor at General Magic to now being stood in the corridors of the White House or at Google. It was quite an amazing thing that they were all so willing to have us make this film that is ostensibly about failure and that they were willing to revisit it. 

MM: A documentary is 90% access. Making sure your contributors feel like they trust the filmmakers. All that comes down to Sarah, Michael Stern, one of our executive producers, and our co-producer, Dee Gardetti. All three worked at General Magic in the 90’s. Sarah, Mike and Dee have this amazing gift to make you feel like you’re family very quickly. Between Sarah, Dee and Mike and our characters, there was always this trust that made the film possible.

CB: There's a very tender moment in the film, and it's the only time we hear Sarah's voice, as she speaks to Marc Porat about his relationships at the time. It seems like an almost cathartic moment for him. 

SK: We didn’t expect that. I have eternal gratitude for everyone that spoke to us. They were very warm, open and candid. Especially Marc. He took complete responsibility for his role in this which is rare but also a sign of greatness. 

MM: We didn’t want to shy away from the feelings associated with failure. It’s so damaging - not just for the person going through it but also for their families and friends. It has a huge impact on people’s lives. Grief can be lifelong. These stories aren’t often heard in Silicon Valley or the business world. All we really read about are the endless success stories. This is a different kind of story.