The most important audience for a new documentary film on Minnesota's technology start-up scene will be the 500 or so mostly locals who gather for the world premiere in a couple of weeks.
Producer Nick Roseth said he didn't make this movie just to show to his friends, but on the night of the premiere many of the people watching will be veterans of our region's technology industry. Many likely have not yet gotten over feeling anxious that the Twin Cities maybe isn't major league.
This movie, called simply DocuMNtary, should help them relax. And they need to relax.
Hate to spoil the ending, but the gist of the movie is that the technology industry here is diverse, vibrant and sits atop a foundation of groundbreaking computer success, back to when a crew of former U.S. Navy code breakers built computers in an old St. Paul glider factory.
Ours isn't the only region with that we're-not-quite-major league anxiety, but some version of "Why can't we be more like Silicon Valley?" still seems to pop up in conversations with Minnesota-based technology entrepreneurs.
It's not just some sort of regional inferiority complex, either. It's long been understood that it can help to be located in a "cluster," a group of companies more or less in the same industry where talent and know-how seem to seep between them, helping all of them grow faster. Having people who know each other on both sides of the table also clearly helps when completing a financing round with venture capitalists or when big companies go shopping for innovative smaller ones.
At the top of the list of technology clusters is the area of Northern California called Silicon Valley. It remains a powerful draw for people who want to make their mark in technology, and they get plenty of encouragement to move that way, too, from the Harvard Business Review down to the chat threads on Reddit.
Although he doesn't say it in so many words, part of technology consulting executive Nick Roseth's motivation behind making this movie was helping people give up on the idea of having to leave the Twin Cities to realize their career ambitions.
The idea came to him in 2015, not long after the social networking company LinkedIn presented disquieting news in Minneapolis, showing that the region lost more LinkedIn members who worked in technology to places like California than it took in.
Yet Roseth also realized that Minnesota didn't have a bad story to tell. Of the top 39 metropolitan areas with at least a half-million LinkedIn members, Minnesota was 10th in the percentage of members with technology skills.
Roseth concluded that one of the problems was that people making software or other technology products here hadn't gotten around to telling anybody outside the region, or even each other, that their industry was thriving here. He decided maybe he could, "and in this case film was the most effective method of transportation."
When Roseth conceived of the movie he had no money for it, no production team and no script.
By now you've probably figured out Roseth was no more than a novice at making movies. He had dabbled with video production, but his day job is executive vice president of SWAT Solutions, Inc., a St. Louis Park-based company that provides testing and quality assurance for software developers, from big companies like 3M Co. down to start-ups.
He quickly found supporters for his project, though, including JAMF Software Chairman Chip Pearson, who readily agreed with Roseth that regional self-promotion was long overdue. "We've got the most critical part, and that's people doing really relevant work," Pearson said.
Pearson also came to admire the low-key way Roseth wanted to go about making his film, saying "Nick wasn't doing this to make Nick a star, Nick was doing this to make the subject matter a star."
With encouragement from Pearson as well as others, about a year ago Roseth launched a modest Kickstarter campaign. Along with some sponsor dollars, it was enough to bring videographer Eric Jenson on board.
When the interviews were done, Roseth realized it would be up to him to edit more than 1,800 minutes of footage down to less than 45 minutes. He started grinding away at it on his four-year-old MacBook Pro laptop computer.
"Really the story was in there, but I didn't know right away what it was," he said, adding that "looking back, I kind of wish I had some editing help. I can't tell you how much work that was."
The work paid off. One thing that makes the film fun to watch is the diversity of who tells a story, with nearly 60 people appearing on screen. Some come on to make the point that winters are not as cold as maybe some people out of state have heard. Others discuss events like Twin Cities Startup Week or maybe fill in the background of information technology innovation here in the state.
After the premiere on the 22nd, DocuMNtary will be put online for people to download, in pieces for use in recruiting or as an entire film. Roseth's early supporters hope his film finds a much broader audience in Minnesota than just other Twin Cities technology entrepreneurs.
"If you're on the periphery then you lack the data," said Casey Allen, a Twin Cities entrepreneur and tech conference producer. "You know things are good but you don't know how good. And nobody talks about how good because we're Minnesota. It took Nick to be a bit un-Minnesotan."
Roseth plans to soon be retired as a documentary film producer, looking forward to time with his family in the Florida Keys after the first showing. "What I want to be known for isn't as a filmmaker," he said. "More of a community evangelist."
After the credits roll on the 22nd and the applause finally dies down, Roseth is going to find out that his goal has been met in spades.