Two weeks ago, Barton thought there was a zero chance the film festival would be canceled and as each day passed, the odds went up. “I had a brief moment thinking it was going to be a zombie zone,” Barton says until the City of Austin, Texas pulled the plug. “It’s definitely tough,” he said.
Barton scrambled to finish the film, working hard to make the deadline so hearing about the cancellation was a disappointment. “In the filmmaking world, we spend hours in a dark room with one or two people. Eventually, you live for that moment knowing it will be shown in a bigger dark room and there’s a part with people talking about the whole film,” Barton says describing the feeling of having the rug pulled from out under him.
“The Boy Who Sold The World” follows Ben Pasternak, a young entrepreneur who Barton learned about while at a party one day. Producer Jack Turner happened to be there too.
Turner and Barton went to meet Pasternak to learn more about the social media apps he was working on. When Barton sat down with him and asked him one question, Pasternak was still talking 30 minutes later. “He was ready to talk about the journey he was on,” Barton says.
That was in 2015, by 2016, Pasternak had also been named one of Time’s Most Influential Teens of the year.
As Barton started to film him and follow the teen on his journey to build a social networking app, the filmmaker found it difficult to keep up with the precocious teenager. Since Pasternak had a keen interest in documentaries, Barton left him with different cameras, a GoPro and other video blogging equipment.
Pasternak would shoot footage and Barton would incorporate it into the doc. When things took a turn with the app that Pasternak was developing, he started on another idea, Monkey, a place for people to make friends and meet online. “By the time we get there, things are evolving at this crazy pace. He had a room full of hackers and they opened this office, but things start to go poorly and it became this less than idyllic environment,” Barton admits.
As things take another turn, Pasternak sells his app and travels to India. Barton didn’t go with him, but this was where Pasternak stepped in, sending Barton photos and footage documenting his journey. “That was the hardest and most important moment and through the photos that Ben took on the iPhone, we were able to tell this visually dynamic story,” he says.
Barton and Pasternak had spent enough time watching the latter’s story unfold in real time. It allowed the two of them to have a relationship where sometimes Barton was the only adult present, and that helped build trust and conversation.
When Pasternak returned from his India trip, his entrepreneurial skills were still in gear. This time he wanted to put the same passion he had put into developing apps into an area where he could make a difference. He created Nuggs, a meatless chicken nugget.
Barton admits he had gotten to the point where he was uncomfortable following Pasternak during the Monkey development phase. “It didn’t seem like it was going to be great and it wasn’t, but then Nuggs was this big moral awakening and he pivoted out of something negative into something positive,” Barton says of the challenge of following Pasternak throughout his journey.
The creation of Nuggs was a success. The documentary shows how Nuggs go from being conceived and tested in an office to coming off the food production line as McCain invests in the meatless chicken nugget. “That was a revelation. And that whole moment shows how it all came together and how he really changed.”
When it came to telling the story of something that kept on evolving, Barton chose to keep editing and adding to the moving target until January of this year. And since he had the three-act structure of the different apps, it became easy to tell Pasternak’s story. “Now he’s on to retail and I have a lot of pride having followed him for all these years,” Barton proudly says.
He’s also taken Pasternak’s pivoting of negativity into positivity for the documentary’s future and he remains optimistic. Barton says, “We live in the digital age and so, we’ll keep pushing hoping to get the film out to a wider audience.”