Sachin Dharwadker is a senior in Film & Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As a filmmaker, he has won numerous awards, including Best Director at the 2013 All-American High School Film Festival. You can check out more of his work at sachinfilms.com.
Long before I got into filmmaking, I was a tech nerd. It probably all started at the age of nine when I first laid eyes on my uncle’s lampshade-style iMac G4, which, as surely intended by Apple, alerted my young and malleable mind to the possibility of a marriage between
technology and art. For a kid who had only ever used his parents’ clunky Dell machines and CRT monitors, it was a watershed moment.
Over the years, that seed grew into full-blown Apple-fanboy-ism, and eventually brought with it a larger interest in the technology industry. In addition to regularly watching Apple’s live keynotes, I extended my attention to web design, software, and the exploding app culture that accompanied the smartphone revolution. As someone who also enjoys writing, I channeled these obsessions into a blog — which I built with a then-unknown content management platform called Squarespace — and continued on my merry way. In high school, new passions arose, but my love for the tech industry never faded, even when I decided to finally axe Daring Fireball as my browser’s homepage.
Fast-forward to my most recent semester at NYU’s film school, when I needed a compelling subject for a short documentary. This was the first time I was essentially devoting an entire semester to one longer project, so I wanted something that would hold my own interest as well as that of an audience. As I sat and thought about what’s important to me, the tech industry came to mind relatively quickly, but what about the tech industry? There’s so much to discuss there, and broadness is the enemy of cinema — especially short-form cinema.
When I placed my thoughts in the context of location, though, it hit me: the tech companies of New York City aren’t like their counterparts in Silicon Valley. There’s something different about Vimeo, Kickstarter, Tumblr, and the others; a different flavor, per se, that gives New York companies a distinctive vibe from the all-conquering solipsism of an Apple or a Google or a Facebook. The question of this vibe’s nature became the driving force behind my film, Finding Silicon Alley, which you can watch below.
A combination of resourcefulness and luck led to me securing interviews for the film. As I mentioned earlier, I was an early user of SoHo-based Squarespace, and this paid off when I reached out to their press wing. In addition to crafting an email that strived — though not too hard — to convince them that the project would be worth their time, I mentioned that I had been using the service for close to eight years. The wait for a reply was long, but it came, and they gave me a generous offering of two short employee interviews and one longer session with Anthony Casalena, Squarespace’s founder and CEO. But for every hit, there are a few misses: Vimeo and Tumblr were unresponsive, and Kickstarter just plain said “no.”
Lucky personal connections did the rest. Tyler Payne is a friend who formerly majored in film, but is now pursuing computer-related concentrations in Gallatin; my friend Jon Epstein interns for Pundit, which is spearheaded by former NYU students Chris Aston Chen and Billy Shaw Susanto; I met Cyrus and Max of Push For Pizza through film school friends.
The contrast between these younger upstarts and the glossy sheen of Squarespace is palpable, but it helps elucidate the film’s point about New York tech’s diversity and freewheeling spirit. And plus, as Mr. Casalena says, he was like them once (he started Squarespace from his college dorm room), and ten years later, he’s sitting on one of the most popular web publishing platforms in the world — a company which has Jeff Bridges as its muse.
Directing Finding Silicon Alley did a lot for me. I learned that documentary and fiction filmmaking — my background is heavy on fiction — are more similar than you’d think. Sure, documentaries don’t have a script that tells you what goes where and rely more on structural intuition and painstaking organization, but in the end, with both forms, the goal is the same: to create a cohesive and affecting emotional arc. And then there’s my personal emotional arc: I combined two passions of mine, technology and filmmaking, to create something I’m genuinely proud of.