Luis Lopez and J. Clay Tweel deliver to us a documentary masterpiece in Print the Legend. A work of art that tracks the lives of entrepreneurs as they set their sights on changing an industry and the world.
In this film the directors went on a journey to capture what they dub the "Macintosh Moment" in 3D printing. This is that point in time and space when a technology moves from being a high cost niche product used only in specialized industrial applications into a low cost mass market consumer facing good that can be utilized literally by everyone right from the convenience of home. As the story is being framed in a modern context not dissimilar from the PC era of the 70's the documenters waste no time in introducing us to the Steve Jobs, Wozniaks and IBMs of this new age.
Our protagonists of the 3D printing era are the young founders behind the startups in the shape of MakerBot and Formlabs. The focus is on this group of six people split across two companies with disparate backgrounds that have the same goal. The goal of dominating the printing landscape. Particular attention is paid to the leaders of each group, Bre Pettis also known for The Cult of Done Manifesto and Maxim Lobovsky. They both hope to not just transform manufactoring but also change society along the way.
Given, that every good tale needs a villian there are ofcourse two gentle "baddies" in form of big corporations whose businesses are being impacted by the changing market forces. You didn't think for a moment that there wouldn't be bad guys? Hence, not to be left out in this saga are our IBMs in shape of 3DSYSTEMS and Stratasys. Each handles the disruption challenge in their own unique way. Should they go for consolidation and mergers or instead chose to crush and obliterate using legal manoeuvres. Which method is right? Watch the results and you decide!
Nevertheless, undaunted by the "Big Boy" incumbents, our founders go forth to conquer and disrupt. While they start at different times and tackle the problem from opposite angles, one pursues an extrusion process as the other does laser stereolithography, ultimately in the end they wind up in similar places. This is a story about how chasing the American Dream affects people at the individual level and the resulting consequences for their beliefs, those who love them, those that follow them and the teams surrounding them.
Photo by Formlabs.
There is no narrator in this drama. This is an epic told by the actual people in the scene. Those who lived the dream. It is a story of interviews. Interviews with our heroes and antiheroes. Done multiple times over the span of a few years.
We see not only how the products are perfected over the generations but also how people's perspectives alter with time. The effects of success and the pain of betrayal.
Finally, what really makes this particular documentary worth watching is the many subplots that start to unfold and the questions that pop up as the narrative progresses. These all confront us once the products are released into the wild and we the audience are introduced to another Hero/Antihero in Cody Wilson. Who along with his DefCad Defence Distributed organisation develop a 3D printed gun and endeavour to make the source files available to everyone.
Things get tense, teams grow, commitments are missed, priorities altered and most importantly everyone loses control. The world after all is its own instrument and will play the game how it sees fit.
Photo by Marisa Vasquez.
Liberation is not all it's cracked up to be.
This work poses several questions to the viewer. The writers and directors try to avoid the responsibility and where possible steer clear of a verdict. They really want you to make up your own mind and voice your opinion. However, I can't shake the feeling that subtly they are trying to convince us that everything comes at a price and that the price of accomplishment may not be worth the cost of compromising and sacrificing one's core values.
Photo by Netflix.
Success does arrive for those hardwarking brilliant few amongst us. Know your motivations and what's dear to you as you may have to give up the dream in order to save the friendship or alternatively abandon the friends to achieve the greatness.
I don't know if Steve Jobs's biography did a disservice. Nor do I know if having a license to be an asshole is the best way to drive a young firm or even whether 3D printing is going to be the next big thing. What I do know now is that if you are struggling to find something to watch this holiday season. Launch Netflix and watch Print the Legend.