Dot-com mockumentary gets Vanguard Cinema video release

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Brett Singer (left) and Simeon Schnapper, director-producers of “Dot,” now in video release from Vanguard Cinema

When Simeon Schnapper and Brett Singer set out to develop their first feature film, “Dot,” they found the process eerily close to the subject matter.

A Chicago production, “Dot” is a sort of “Spinal Tap” of the dot-com boom, chronicling the short, meteoric life of Zectek.com (“the solution for e-tomorrow”), an Internet startup whose actual service is never revealed.

“Dot” has just been released on DVD through Vanguard Cinema. A cable deal is in its final stages, but official details are not yet public.

Singer and Schnapper both had first-hand experience in the trenches of now-defunct Internet startups, Singer as chief creative officer of WanderOn.com, and Schnapper as chief technical officer of Starbelly.com.

“You have no idea how many parallels there were between small-time startups and producing an independent film,” Singer says. “We went to the same people to invest in the film that we went to for the startups. We shot the movie in the office where I’d done the startup [for WanderOn.com, after that company went out of business.] The movie took over the rent.”

So what sets “Dot” apart from high-profile Internet docs like “Startup.com” and “E-dreams?”

“Ours is fiction, for one,” Singer says. “But ?Dot’ is really more true to life for the thousands of companies that were three college friends with a cool idea struggling to jump on the bandwagon and working out of apartments. Those companies were the weight of the dot-com gold rush. We get e-mails all the time from people saying that was me, that was my boss.”

“Also, it’s funny,” he adds.

“Dot” won the best feature award at Dances With Films 2002 and best comedy at Slamdunk Film Festival 2002.

Schnapper and Singer shot the picture on digital video in 13 shootings days over weekends in late 2001. They raised the $100,000 budget from friends and family, supplemented by Schnapper’s windfall from his share in sale of Starbelly.com. The movie takes place over the nine-month life of the company, concluding with the epoch-ending Nasdaq crash in April 2000.

The two director-producers conceived the film “over a bottle of sangria, as we were both coming to the end of our collective dot-com experiences,” says Singer, who still lives in Chicago. Schnapper is now in Los Angeles.

Schnapper, who also plays Zectek’s charismatic huckster Si, had been through training at Second City, the source of many of the picture’s cast members. Singer had worked as a creative director and visual effects artist for clients including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Total Living Network, and Ameritech.

The unscripted film takes the viewer through each step in the development of a dot-com, from finding a name, to assembling a business plan, to courting venture capitalists. “Each actor created their own character,” Singer says. “We would place them in time, like what was the Nasdaq doing on that day. We would relate to them the actual scene we went through in our lives. Then they ran with it, and the relationships that come out of their interactions is what’s really funny.”

Sneaky Kings have a few possibilities for their next project. They’re developing a straight documentary about a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. And they’re finalizing an actual script for a narrative film, a thriller this time.

Learn more at www.sneakykings.com or www.vanguard-cinema.com.?Ed M. Koziarski edk@homesickblues.com

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