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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Another Film for Business Associations

Yesterday at the AALS conference Larry Ribstein gave an entertaining presentation on the pedagogical uses of the Oliver Stone film Wall Street.  As Prof. Ribstein describes in this post, "[t]he film is particularly useful for teaching because of Stone’s self-consciously didactic intent, and his quite deliberate use of technique to present a particular slant on the issues."  Ribstein uses the film as a foil, illustrating why the lefty economics presented in the film are ultimately misguided.  He has an article further describing his approach here.

I would add a further film to Professor Ribstein's list of useful films for Business Associations.  Startup.com is a 2001 documentary about the rise and fall of a small Internet startup company.  [For those who haven't seen the movie, there are some spoilers below.] We begin as one of the firm's founders is leaving his job at Goldman Sachs to devote himself to govworks.com, an Internet portal that connected people to state and local government services.    The film takes us through the founders' efforts to secure VC funding, their first corporate retreat, the development of the website, an episode of corporate espionage, and the eventual firing of one of the firm's founders.  There are a number of moments in the film that illustrate important corporate law events:

  • The firm's name.  One of the founders and the eventual CEO, Kaleil Tuzman, debates with the other founders over whether the site should be called govworks.com, nextown.com, or untocaesar.com, and does some market research at Gray's Papaya.
  • The buyout of one of the firm's founders at the VC funding stage.  He walks away with $800,000 after an intense and personal round of negotiations.
  • The VC negotiations.  At one point the two founders are trying to get in touch with their attorney and are berating him to the camera for his unavailability.  It turns out that their attorney, a partner at Wilson Sonsini, had been at the printer for another deal.
  • The firing of one of the firm's founders.  After a back and forth between the founder and the board, he ends up getting escorted out of the building, and the security guard is warned not to let him back on the premises.

Although the film is intended for a general audience, it is actually quite sophisticated, and even law students might not pick up some of the nuances without prompting.  But it is a real company with real people suffering real consequences.  The level of access secured by the filmmakers is truly astounding.  We see almost everything.  And for that reason, I think it dovetails nicely with a highly stylized film like Wall Street.

Posted by Matt Bodie on January 5, 2006 at 10:41 AM in Corporate, Film, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I worked as a PA on their TV commercial shoot. The director was a brit that shot the verve "Bittersweet Symphony" video. It was basically mayhem. I don't believe it ever aired anywhere (too bad for me as I was on film filling a glass at a water cooler). The angular looking marketing guy from the movie was the onsite client rep.

Posted by: 2l | Jan 5, 2006 5:06:50 PM

A couple further notes on Startup.com, which I also used in my Technology Startups and Venture Capital class at IU-Indianapolis. We ran it after having done a mock VC-entrepreneur funding negotiation, and I think the students caught a lot of the nuance.

1. The knife-edge on which a startup business walks - panic when the program is supposed to go live and the programmer cannot get it to process, as I recall, a parking ticket.

2. The competitor who visits (don't recall the name) passed away. The business, unlike GovWorks, still exists.

3. The amount of true belief and self-deception. Do you ever really know if an idea has merit? Is success serendipitous?

4. If you Google Kaleil Tuzman, you will see that after his glorious failure he now is on the web as a consultant for hire to hopeful startups.

5. You get a prize if you can correctly count the number of times Tom (the technical wonk who gets fired at the end) changes the style of his facial hair.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jan 5, 2006 4:16:31 PM

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