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Doc captures depths of Mac lust

by Adam Wills

May 7, 2009 | 1:59 am

(From left) Ron and Kobi Shely

In the early days of computers, there were no Geek Squads or Genius Bars. If you needed help sorting out a problem, you turned to a user group – a collection of computer enthusiasts.

The Macintosh was no exception. MUGs, or Macintosh user groups, provided new users with an opportunity to speak with folk who could expand their digital horizons by suggesting fixes, tricks or software. And while these groups still exist, the Internet has taken a major bite out of their support base. Many of those participating in MUGs today are the old guard – the die-hard Mac user 1.0, who remember a day when 64K RAM was a big deal. In an era where answers and support are a few mouse clicks away, it’s proving difficult for MUGs and other user groups to attract new blood.

This turning point is the focus of “MacHEADS,” a DIYer documentary about Mac fanboys by Tel Aviv filmmakers Kobi and Ron Shely, which is currently the No. 7 documentary VOD rental on iTunes and the No. 18 VOD doc download on Amazon—not bad for a film that’s been on the charts since its release in January, but has yet to be screened at a festival or shown in a theater. The feature-length film takes us from the earliest days of the Apple Macintosh to the moment when Steve Jobs announced Apple was dropping the word “computers” from its name at MacWorld 2007. (Today, Apple has totally withdrawn from MacWorld, reaching out to the public directly through its brick-and-mortar Apple Stores, the iTunes Store and its current Get a Mac television campaign – otherwise known as PC vs. Mac.)

The Macintosh was first announced to the world on Jan 22, 1984, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. The commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, cost $1.5 million, aired once and didn’t even feature the product (save for an illustration on the heroine’s tank top). The Mac went on sale two days later, generating an enthusiastic following across the United States.

“MacHEADS” director Kobi Shely, who grew up without a computer, didn’t encounter his first Apple product until 1997, when he saw a large post-production Mac system at an Israeli studio. Three years later, while attending Hunter College’s film school, he bought his first Mac based on a friend’s recommendation (a shiny Power Mac G4 Tower, 450mhz, with an Iomega Zip drive). He enjoyed its ease of use, but would never have described himself as a Mac fanatic.

The inspiration for “MacHEADS” came in 2006, when Kobi was shooting his short film “Intervention.” During a break, a Windows vs. Apple argument broke out among the crew, and Kobi was struck by the Mac users’ passion. He checked and found that no one had made a film about Mac fanboys/fangirls—those people who look to Steve Jobs as a kind of father figure.

Sony, Harley Davidson have their devoted followers, but Apple affects people’s lives in new, personal ways, Kobi says
.
Kobi and his brother, Ron, who served as the film’s co-producer and co-writer, set out to document what makes these Macheads so devoted.

“The interesting story that appealed to us is that it’s a love story between users and Apple,” Kobi said.

“There’s a feeling of belonging,” Ron Kobi said.

The brothers traveled the United States – mostly along the West Coast—shooting footage of Mac fanatics talking about their love for Apple, from the DigiBarn Computer Museum to a mammoth lineup for the first iPhone in New York. Early in the film, the brothers visit sex blogger/tech journalist Violet Blue, who confesses, “I have never knowingly slept with a Windows user.”

In the end, the Shelys sunk $150,000 of their own money into the 45-minute documentary, which blends original interviews with archival footage of Steve Jobs, The Woz and Guy Kawasaki as well as news reports and past MacWorld keynotes.

The story the brothers found is one of a changing, evolving relationship between the company and its devotees, many of whom have been boosters of the product for nearly 25 years, even during its decline in the mid-1990s.

“It was important [early on] for Apple to get feedback from the user groups, and try to have a dialogue with them to have better products and better solutions. Today Apple is more about one-way interaction,” said Ron Shely, referring to online forms and e-mail.
 
Both brothers insist Apple isn’t turning its back on fans by abandoning MacWorld. Instead, they say the company is focusing on a 2.0 outreach to Mac fans, especially the larger mainstream audience weaned on iPods and iMacs.

“When Apple pulled out of MacWorld, we got an e-mail from CNET asking what we thought about the move,” Kobi said. “When we looked at the film again, we kind of got our prediction right. We talked a lot about that there is Apple and there is the user group, but that they’re very separate.”

For more information about MacHEADS, which is available on DVD, visit macheadsthemovie.com.

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