It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The friends are named Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman. Their idea is so compelling that Tuzman quits a job at Goldman Sachs to move to the Internet. The story starts in May 1999, when instant Web millionaires were a dime a dozen, and ends in January 2001. The documentary's last shots were filmed only three weeks before it premiered at Sundance, still wet from the lab. As an inside view of the bursting of the Internet bubble, "Startup.com" is definitive. We sense there were lots of stories more or less like this one.
To film this sort of doc, you need access. The movie has it. One co-director, Jehane Noujaim, was Tuzman's Harvard roommate. She's also the cinematographer, and her digital camera has access to startlingly private moments. The other director, Chris Hegedus, has worked on such insider docs as "The War Room," the story of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. She co-produced that one with D.A. Pennebaker, the legendary documentarian, who is also the producer this time.
When the film begins, the new company doesn't even have a name. They settle on govWorks.com. Tuzman and Herman make the rounds of venture capitalists, and it's obvious that Tuzman is the expert pitcher, while Herman, more technically oriented, drives his partner crazy by bringing up bright ideas in meetings on the spur of the moment. Tuzman lectures him to stay on message. Dollar signs dance before their eyes. At one point in Boston they're offered $17 million but lose the deal when they can't get their lawyers on the phone.
Meanwhile, of course, there's the problem of actually writing the software. It would seem to me that paying parking tickets over the Internet would involve basic programming skills plus cosmetic packaging, but no, apparently it's rocket science: Eventually govWorks.com has 200 employees working on the site, and still Tuzman despairs that it's not good enough to be released to the public. How does a guy like James Berardinelli open one of the best movie review sites on the Web all by himself, and 200 people can't figure out how to collect parking tickets? Berardinelli even writes his own reviews.