Friday, October 24, 2014

Movie Review: Print the Legend

Print the Legend
Directed by: Luis Lopez & J. Clay Tweel.
Written by: Steven Klein & Luis Lopez & J. Clay Tweel.

I think the biggest takeaway from the documentary Print the Legend is that ideals are easy to keep when you have nothing at stake except your ideals. It is easy to say you will never sell out to “the man” when the man has no interest in buying you. But once they come knocking, what do you do is really what defines how strong those ideals are. Print the Legend tells a familiar story – one that we have seen again and again in different mediums over the years. This one focuses on a few companies – and their founders – who want to bring 3-D printing the masses. It focuses mainly on two companies – Masterbot and Form Labs – and their founders, and how they navigate a world that is ever evolving, and how their companies, and the people involved, change over the years. Everyone is idealistic when the film starts – but slowly, but surely, that begins to change. It doesn’t ignore the darker side of 3-D printing – represented by the controversial Cody Wilson, who designs gun parts that you can use a 3-D printer to create – the scary part being that they actually work.

The film starts with Masterbot – a startup company run by three friends out of an old ice cream factory. It mainly focuses on Bre Pettis, who becomes the face of the company, and in many ways the face of consumer 3-D printing. He says like everyone else, he wanted to be Steve Wozniack, but because he is charming, camera friendly, and smart, he wound up in the Steve Jobs role instead. Once in the Jobs role, he embraces it fully. As one of his former employees says that the worst thing that happened Pettis is that he read Steve Jobs biography – and took that as an excuse to be an asshole himself – because Jobs was. Masterbot started out extremely idealistic – even insisting that their hardware be Open Source – meaning that it was available to all to make changes and improvements that can then be implemented. But then, as often happens, money becomes involved – Masterbot gets some investors, and the reality of Open Source, becomes untenable. Pettis jumps at turning the hardware proprietary, and growing the company more and more and more, and leaves his partners behind. As often happens, what start out idealistically ends in hurt feelings, broken friendships and a company that grows so big that it becomes more difficult to get anything down.

Form Labs is somewhat different. It is, again, led by three friends – but the face of the company becomes Max Lobovsky – who is not suited to be Steve Jobs. He is quiet, shy and socially awkward. Like Masterbot, what started out small gets bigger, faster than they can handle. A Kickstarter campaign draws millions in pledges – promising a 3-D printer if you donated a certain amount of money – but the release of these gets delayed repeatedly. They also draw the attention of some of the bigger companies in the game – those focused on more commercial applications – and lawsuits follow. Again, hurt feelings and broken friendships follow – although at least here, things seem to be resolved somewhat satisfactorily in the end.

Then there is Cody Wilson. He doesn’t have a 3-D printing company – but immediately sees the potential in the technology. He starts designed gun magazines and receivers for weapons – and wants to make a functioned 3-D gun. He is an anarchist, and believes that everyone should be treated exactly the same – that if the military and police can have a weapon, than so can the average person. The scary thing about 3-D guns, is that they can be made out of plastic, and still work. He is on his own – but he draws a lot of attention.
As a documentary, Print the Legend is fascinating, if a little overlong. As it moves along, the film starts seeing patterns emerge, and scenes almost seem to repeat themselves. Interview subjects who at first seem nothing but enthusiastic, end up turning sour and bitter – but then the film dwells on that bitterness, and essentially has several people say the same thing over and over again. As a film, it is fairly straight forward – talking heads mostly – but done well. We have seen this story, and will see this story again in the future. Everyone thinks that their company will be different – that they will change the world, and do things differently. No one really does – but it is a pattern that is destined to keep repeating itself.

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