Wednesday, 22 April 2009

An Inventor Biopic for our Age (that isn't The Social Network)

The still very much in-development Facebook movie was inevitable from the point the website took off. Three Harvard students work on limited resources to develop a modern cultural phenomenon, gaining fame and success in the process. There's certainly a film that can be made out of that story and the subject matter alone is likely to attract the coveted 18-30 market. It could well be the sort of feel good story so important to the industry in times of economic hardship; the 'average' guys who hit on a good idea and are successful against the odds. Its the sort of thing we can all dream of.

Except that's where the problem lies. Much like Tom from Myspace, Mark Zuckerberg and co. are too often portrayed as the 'average blokes who just got lucky' but try as I might I just cannot see them that way. As remarkable as Zuckerberg's achievements are, he is far from average. Much is made of the gamble he took in dropping out of university to pursue his dream but it was Harvard he dropped out of and he had already been courted by Microsoft and AOL. He may have stumbled on a very simple and brilliant idea but it was an idea born out of an incredible computing brain which knew exactly how to advance and spread the business. Don't get me wrong, this is still an underdog story, but not the sort the average cinema goer can dream of emulating.

So where am I going with this? Well I was recently struck by the remarkable success story of a company that was not just surviving in the recession era, it was thriving. It's a company that's main idea is remarkably simple but remains timeless. Born out of the most humble of beginnings its as universally recognised as it is iconic. It's Lego.

Yes Lego.

Its a story that deserves to be told and the type that a modern audience can really identify with and be inspired by.

You see, Lego arose from the ashes of the Great Depression. Its creator, Ole Kirk Christiansen was just a humble carpenter who in 1924 had seen his workshop burn down and had very nearly gone bankrupt as the world struggled in the early 1930's. He started making toys to get by and hit on a very simple, but very brilliant, idea in interconnecting building blocks. Its the sort of thing people look at and just think: "I should have thought of that."

The company's growth from such humble beginnings to what it is today is just as inspiring. With the help of his son, Godtfred, Christiansen set about building an empire, seeing the potential of the product and risking their livelihood on its success. There were setbacks along the way but Lego began attracting the attention, and the profits, to expand around the world.

Its hard to imagine a product that is so universally popular and so fondly remembered as Lego. Facebook may be phenomenally successful, but it's not universally loved. Does Lego create debates about a surveillance society? No. Is it criticised for its cynical policies on advertising? No. Is it accused of being hopelessly addictive and time consuming? Well yes. But the point remains its a company that everyone can get behind and a story that deserves to be on the big screen.

This is perhaps unlikely to happen. Details of the personal aspects of Christiansen are hazy, and of course personalisation is crucial in biopics. And then there is the fact that this is not an American success story, its a Danish one, and perhaps that is the only country where we will see such a biopic emerge from. I'd still watch it though because there are very few success stories that can beat the timelessness and true underdog quality of Christiansen's. Its a feel good, hopeful film we could all do with.

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