The Dotcom Roller Coaster

S A N    F R A N C I S C O, May 9, 2001 -- When a director embarks on a documentary following real people doing real things, he or she always expects the unexpected. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine when I started "Goldrush-dot-com" last August that I would be documenting the crash of the dotcom boom. At the time the stock market was down, but no one suspected the carnage to come.

Originally I set out to chronicle the intimate story of a start-up company during the latter-day dotcom gold rush, an extraordinary moment when a group of smart people with a great idea could get millions of dollars to launch a new company.

I wanted to get a behind-the-scenes potrait of dotcommers at work and at home. What I got instead was a much more interesting — if unnerving — story: the drama of four people struggling against a Tsunami that quickly crushed their expectations and threatened to wreck their fledgling company.

From the beginning, Bizmetric co-founder Vik Chaudhary and his partners agreed to let me film them with virtually no limitations, and with a promise to let my cameras roll even if they failed. They also worked with me to convince investors and others to let us film meetings that would normally be private.

Most of the filming took place in a single 15 x 15 room where the challenge was to make five people sitting at desks visually interesting. To give the film a look of immediacy we shot almost everything handheld, with far more close-ups, zooms and sharp angles than is normally used in news reporting.

We shot the film using digital cameras, which tends to give a look that is grittier than traditional cameras. This — combined with a room that was nearly empty of furniture at first, and was often flooded with sunlight — gives Goldrush the look of something that seems unformed and raw — a visual metaphor for the start-up story.

What you will see is Vik and his fellow founders struggling mightily against incredible odds — a storyline that you will see in their faces as they grow exhausted and stressed out.

You will see it in the gradual chaos of their little room as boxes, computers, take-out cartons and other junk piles up. And you will see it as they try to cope with the unrelenting hours that threaten to upend their personal lives, even as those they love try to understand and to be supportive.

Will they make it? Watch and see — the ending, which none of us knew until it happened, may surprise you.

David Duncan is a freelance producer based in San Francisco.