The Disruptors (2024)


The Disruptors Review

Over the last couple of ages, Silicon Valley has grown from a sleepy strip of towns on the San Francisco Peninsula full with hardworking tech nerds to a powerhouse of American culture. The tech industry has touched almost every part of our lives. Venture capitalists have been among the biggest winners in this transformation, pocketing billions during the ascents of companies like Uber, Facebook and Tesla, and many have been all too happy to use their money and power to shape politics, policy, culture — and the destiny of civilization.

In principle, they can take an elbow or two. “Silicon Valley,” the HBO show that was gleefully brutal about these moneymen, finished its caustic run in 2019. Now comes “The Disruptors,” an independent feature film written and directed by Adam Frucci that takes a jab at these Silicon Valley kingmakers and their world.

The protagonists are Will (played by comedian Grant O’Brien), a ride-share driver; Glenn (comedian Ally Beardsley), an agoraphobic trans hacker; and Bruce Marcus (Marc Evan Jackson), one of Silicon Valley’s most famous venture capitalist billionaires whom they conspire to scam out of millions.

They hatch a plan to fake game-changing technology that would let humans control devices around them — phones, televisions — with their minds alone. (It’s not a far cry from Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology, which Musk says could let people operate their phones via thoughts.) Chaos ensues.

The movie doesn’t only spoof the founder-worship culture that deifies Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs; it also satirizes the funding model that has undergirded tech’s rise. Jackson’s character skips due diligence on his investments and uses friend-of-a-friend “warm intros” to decide whom he should throw cash at next — shortcuts that have seen VCs pour millions into Theranoses and WeWorks.

Frucci has been steeped in venture capital. He began writing about tech for Gizmodo, Gawker’s tech site, in 2006, and got a front-row seat to the Silicon Valley hype cycle: the birth of social media, the gig economy, the iPhone and more. But it was what he saw venture capitalists do to media that soured him on Big Tech’s promises — and led him to write “The Disruptors” during the early days of the pandemic.

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

Seven years back I moved to L.A. because I was offered the job of development manager at CollegeHumor’s streaming service Dropout. The stars of the movie Grant and Ally worked with me on a reality show called “Total Forgiveness.” It was an unscripted show about the student debt crisis. We were in production on the second season in January 2020, when IAC, the parent company of CollegeHumor, laid off 95 percent of the staff — us included. And then we know what happened six weeks after that. Writing the movie was my pandemic project.

Every company that I’ve ever worked for has been killed by tech and venture capitalists. I was a Gizmodo editor at Gawker from 2006-2010, so literally my first company was murdered by a venture capitalist [Peter Thiel-backed lawsuit that ultimately bankrupted the site]. Then I launched my own site under The Awl called Splitsider, which is where I got to see what it’s like trying to run a functioning media business that isn’t going for scale with hundreds of millions of VC dollars — impossible. Just seeing traffic go up and revenue go down month over month and just seeing all this insane money being pumped into websites that don’t exist anymore.

When I went to College Humor we were dealing with YouTube’s capriciousness and Facebook’s capriciousness, and that general tech arrogance was just something that I felt like I had been stewing in for a long time.

Venture capitalists are some of the most powerful people on Earth. Their choices and their ethos and how they make their investments have way more impact on how everybody lives their day-to-day lives than any politician does or any elected official does or any government does or any laws do — period! They are controlling our society. And they are remaking it in their image.

I feel like it’s just not talked about. These guys are these delicate narcissists, out in Northern California, and they’re just like: Not only do we not want to be criticized, but we would like to be celebrated because we are visionary geniuses.

The idea was to talk about this subject in a way that was funny and not pedantic or like a lecture. I didn’t want it to be condescending — let’s just show the effects of the world that these VCs have built on real people, people who don’t have power, and try to find the humanity and the joy and the fun and the comedy in that.

It was a bunch of famous VC guys. Paul Graham, Marc Andreessen, Keith Rabois. Just the most arrogant people who live in these bubbles where they’re surrounded by people calling them a genius all day long. All their reply guys on Twitter think they’re a master of the universe and deserve to be. They’ve got money, so they think this money proves “I’m a genius and that I’m special and that I’m better than everybody else.” Those are just really good villainous traits for a blowhard character. Writing Marc, I was very much inspired by real dudes who are out there being blowhards every day on Twitter. I went to their feeds and did some deep dives.

The timing has been interesting. From when I started writing and making this thing to now, things have changed quite a bit. Yeah, it’s not great for independent filmmaking right now — especially without big famous movie stars.

I love movies — as do many other people, I assume — so hopefully all the major streaming service stuff shakes out and we can return to some kind of happy medium where there’s a little bit of money for independent films that aren’t just comic book movies or horror movies to find their audience.

[Hollywood] is kind of like the VC mind-set of scale at all costs now. Everything has to be the biggest thing or it’s not worth doing. Actually, I kind of like small businesses that are self-sustaining and not trying to go public. And small movies that are for specific people; not everybody on the planet has to like it. So hopefully some business model reemerges to support that — but I don’t know, we’ll see.

I saw those [Sora] videos; they’re really impressive … but I am pretty skeptical of AI though because you can’t tweak those things — you put in a prompt and it spits something out? That’s not going to let a control freak obsessive director get their vision exactly right. You still need to have actors and sets and a camera shooting real people to have that control. AI is never going to give you that control.

It could help with like, special effects, I guess — but I can’t imagine somebody making a movie AI prompt by prompt. People will try, but it’ll just be weird jumbles of things that don’t have intent behind them.

What will happen if Steven Spielberg substitutes “shark daytime, guy I’m being thrown in mouth, guy saying we’re gonna need a bigger boat”? Is it going to work? No. He will frame that shot how he wants to frame it. He will direct that actor how he wants to direct them. He is going to have the special effects exactly how he wants them. And I think most directors would be the same.

Are there any takeaways you hope people have from watching this movie?

I just hope that it makes people think about the powerless people, the normal, average people who are getting thrown around by these decisions made on high by people with billions of dollars. The people in Silicon Valley who are running these companies and are operating the way that the world works. These people impact peoples’ day-to-day lives in such a massive way, and I don’t think that’s really taken into much consideration.

You can yell at your congressman all day long but your congressman isn’t actually doing anything. These guys [in Silicon Valley] are impacting your life. These guys who are rich and hiding behind their Twitter accounts, who don’t really have to answer to anybody. And they deserve a little bit more scrutiny I think

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