General Magic

General Magic

General Magic

directed by Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude

starring Andy Hertzfeld, Joanna Hoffman, John Sculley, and Steve Jobs

They say “first to market” wins, but that’s not always true. Many times, the first person with an idea gets it very close to working, and yet goes bankrupt. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, but he saw how to improve it and make money. Apple didn’t invent the smart phone, but General Magic did, yet they failed financially as they just had too many dreamers and not enough doers. Apple snatched the iPhone out from under them after their years of hard work. And just to rub the engineer’s face in it, their stock options ended up worthless.

We meet the smartphone team in footage shot when the creative juices were flowing. It seems someone thought to document this early technology start up, but that doc sat in the can until Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude dug up the film and shot this fascinating “Where are they now?” documentary. In 1994 Apple spun off some of their brightest engineers to create General Magic. They were allowed complete freedom to develop products, and they built the touch screen cell phone that played games, held data, managed your calendar and offered about 1% of the basic function a modern cellphone has. But in those days, it was magical. The team worked endless hours, lived under their desks and almost but not quite make the debut. They did release product, but they only sold 800 to their friends at a loss-leading $800 a pop. That’s about $2400 today. They went public and were rich on paper, and they were one of the first tech stocks to immediate crater leaving everyone broke and embittered. On the upside, nearly everyone involved went onto found other monsters like Esty and Pinterest and eBay and Uber. Full of joy and full of pain, this is the technology dream turned nightmare. You commit to a project and pour your life into it, and it’s still the money men in suits that get the Mercedes. Fun and heart breaking, here’s a private tour of the seedy underbelly of the modern tech revolution.

This film was presented as part of the 2019 Florida Film Festival sponsored by the Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL.

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