‘The Disruptors’: Adam Frucci discusses his new tech satire and AI and filmmaking.

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Over the past few decades, Silicon Valley has grown from a sleepy string of towns on the San Francisco Peninsula to a powerhouse in American culture. The tech industry has changed almost every aspect of our lives. Venture capitalists have been among the biggest beneficiaries of this shift, raising billions amid the rise of companies such as Uber, Facebook and Tesla, and many have staked out the future of politics, policy, culture and civilization. has eagerly used his wealth and stature to influence

In theory, their ribs could withstand an elbow or two. The HBO show “Silicon Valley” was happy to let the industry’s moneylenders do it, but that sharp satire ended in 2019. Now comes “The Disruptors,” a new independent film from writer-director Adam Frucci that criticizes these Silicon Valley power players. and the world they have entered.

The film’s protagonists are Will, a rideshare driver played by actor and comedian Grant O’Brien, and Glenn, an agoraphobic trans hacker played by actor and comedian Eli Beardsley. Two best friends conspire to swindle one of Silicon Valley’s most famous venture capitalist billionaires, Bruce Marks, played by actor and comedian Mark Evan Jackson, out of millions of dollars.

They plan to simulate game-changing technology that would allow humans to control the devices around them, such as their phones and television sets, with just their minds. (That’s not far from the promise of Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology, which Musk claims could one day allow users to operate their phones with their thoughts.) Chaos ensues.

Not only does the film spoof the founder-worship culture that places Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs on a pedestal, it also criticizes the funding model that has fueled the tech boom. Jackson’s character avoids due diligence on his investments and relies on friend-of-friend “warm introductions” when deciding who to spend his dollars on next. In real life, such shortcuts have resulted in VCs pumping millions into failed startups such as Theranos and WeWork.

The venture capital industry has played a large role in Frucci’s life. He began blogging about tech for Gawker’s tech site Gizmodo in 2006, gaining a front-row seat to the Silicon Valley hype cycle. It witnessed the birth of social media, the gig economy, the iPhone and more. But it was what he saw venture capitalists doing to the media that made him feel pessimistic about the promises of Big Tech — and led him to write “The Disruptors” in the early days of the pandemic.

“The Disruptors” is out now on video-on-demand. Frucci spoke with The Washington Post about making the film, the state of Silicon Valley and what the tech industry is doing to our lives.

How did the film come together, and what did you come up with?

I moved to LA seven years ago to take a job running development for College Humor’s streaming service Dropout. I worked on a show called “Full Forgiveness” with Grant and Ellie, the stars of the movie. It was an unscripted reality show about the student loan crisis. We were working on the second season in January 2020, when IAC, the parent company of College Humor, laid off 95 percent of the staff, including us. Then, we know what happened six weeks later. Writing a film was my passion project.

Every company I’ve worked for has been killed by tech and venture capitalists. I was a Gizmodo editor at Gawker from 2006 to 2010, so my first company was literally killed by a venture capitalist. [Frucci is referring to a lawsuit backed by investor Peter Thiel that ultimately bankrupted the site.] After that, I started my own site called Splitsider Awl, and I got to see what it was like trying to run an active media business that wasn’t going to scale to hundreds of millions of VC dollars. Is. It was impossible. I had the experience of seeing traffic increase, revenue decrease month after month and just seeing crazy amounts of money being pumped out [other] Websites that no longer exist.

When I went to college humor, we were struggling with the cheesiness of YouTube and the cheesiness of Facebook, and that general technological arrogance was just something I felt like I’d been dealing with for a long time.

What made you want to pursue the venture capital industry?

Venture capitalists are some of the most powerful people on the planet. Their choices and their ethics and how they make their investments is more about how each person lives their daily life than any politician. They control our society, and they remake it in their own image.

I feel like it hasn’t been talked about. These guys are these fragile narcissists in Northern California, and that’s exactly what they are: not only do we not want to be criticized, we want to be celebrated for being visionary geniuses.

I find this really frustrating. When you really look at their track record, I don’t see them as visionaries. I see them having mutual followers and a large circle in their WhatsApp groups. You see it happen. They’ll all be investing in blockchain technology, and then next year, they’re all investing in the metaverse. Now it’s all in AI. It’s like, if you’re a visionary, why are you all doing the same thing at the same time, all the time?

Why did you choose to make this film a comedy?

The goal was to treat the subject in a way that was funny and not pedantic or lecture-like. I wanted it not to be insulting, just like, let’s just show the real-world impact that these VCs have made on real people, people who don’t have power, and trying to find humanity and happiness and fun. do Comedy in it

Elon Musk is mentioned in your film, and Mark Evan Jackson’s character is very Musk-like. What inspired you for his role, and how much did you draw from a real Silicon Valley venture capitalist?

It was a combination of a bunch of famous VC guys. People like Paul Graham and Marc Andreessen and Keith Rabois. These people who are so arrogant and so in these bubbles where they’re only surrounded by people who call them geniuses. Everyone who replies to him on Twitter thinks he owns the universe and deserves to be. These people have money, and so they think that money proves that “I’m a genius and I’m special and I’m the best.” I just think those are really mature character traits for a blustry villain. While writing the character for Mark, I was inspired by real friends who are blowhards on Twitter every day. I Went to their feed And just did some deep dives.

What was the process like making an independent film in this era of Hollywood that has also been influenced by Big Tech?

The timing was interesting. Things have changed a lot since I started writing and creating things. It’s not a great time for independent filmmaking, especially films without big, famous movie stars.

I love movies and I know there are a lot of people out there who do too. So I’m hoping that all the streaming service stuff shakes out and we can get back to a happy medium where there’s a little bit of money for independent movies that aren’t just comic book movies and horror movies finding their audience. to do

[Hollywood] Now at any rate is like a VC mindset. Where everything has to be the biggest thing or it’s not worth doing. Actually, I like small businesses that keep to themselves and don’t try to go public. And I love the little films that are for a specific people, not for everyone on the planet. I hope a business model will re-emerge to support it, but I don’t know, we’ll see.

There is a lot of concern among entertainers about the rise of AI. As a filmmaker, how are you thinking about the challenges and opportunities of these new technologies?

I looked really impressive [Sora] Videos that have come out, but I’m pretty skeptical about AI. The thing is, you can’t tweak these things. You gave a prompt and it would just spit something out, and that’s not something that would allow a control-freak-obsessed director to perfectly fine-tune his vision. You still need actors and sets and shooting real people to overcome that.

I can see AI helping out like special effects, but I can’t imagine someone making an AI prompt movie right away. People will try, but they’re going to end up with a weird mess of things they didn’t intend.

Imagine Steven Spielberg saying, “Shrunk Daytime, boy I’m getting punched in the mouth, man saying we need a bigger boat.” Is it going to work? No, he’s going to frame the shot exactly the way he wants to frame it, he’s going to direct the actor exactly the way he wants to direct them. His special effects will be exactly as he wants them. And I think most directors would be the same.

What are some takeaways you hope people will take away from watching this film?

I hope it makes people think about the powerless people, the ordinary, average people who are being upset by the decisions of people with billions of dollars. The people in Silicon Valley who are running these companies and operating the way the world works. These people have a huge impact on people’s daily lives, and I don’t think that’s really given much consideration.

You can yell at your congressman, but your congressman isn’t actually doing anything. these people [in Silicon Valley] affecting your life. These people who are rich and hide behind their Twitter accounts, who don’t really have to answer to anyone. And I think they deserve a little more scrutiny.

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