San Mateo County Times

Silicon Valley a hot property for more than just technology
Saturday June 19, 1999

By Liz Garone

SOMEHOW, geeks have become cool. And Hollywood and book publishers have noticed.

Silicon Valley and cybermoguls -- the wealthier the better -- are the subjects of a slew of upcoming films, television movies and books.

On Sunday, Turner Network Television airs the much-talked-about, made-for-TV docudrama, "The Pirates of Silicon Valley," starring Anthony Michael Hall as Microsoft's Bill Gates and Noah Wyle from ER as Apple visionary Steve Jobs.

Next week, William Morris releases the book "The Silicon Boys," by Newsweek writer David Kaplan. Newsweek ran a chapter from the book earlier this month, causing quite a stir in Woodside, which was prominently featured as "a town of ineffable wealth and monumental silliness."

"The Valley isn't just about techies anymore. It's gone mainstream. It's about larger cultural themes of celebrity and money, success and excess," Kaplan said in a recent interview.

"Jerry Yang and Marc Andreessen are as likely to be on the covers of glossy magazines as actors or ballplayers. The Valley today is what Hollywood was in the 1930s or Wall Street in the '80s. That's why everybody's interested."

But it's about more than just money, said John Whalen, a Hollywood screenwriter who used to live in the Valley.

"Computers and the Internet have become such a routine part of everyone's lives that stories involving digital technology -- the wonders and the horrors -- now resonate with a mass audience," Whalen said. "So Hollywood is now moving to cash in on a built-in audience."

Sometime in the near -- but hush-hush -- future, Miramax's Dimension Films plans to release "Takedown," the film version of the best seller, "Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw -- By the Man Who Did It."

"It could be this fall, it could be 2001, I can't say when, but 'Takedown' is coming," said tight-lipped Miramax spokesman Will Casey.

Visitors to, a Web site put together by supporters of the convicted hacker, can find bootleg text from the second version of the film's script.

Local authors are also coming into the spotlight. Next month, Random House will lead a Silicon Valley Bleeding Edge tour for three books by three Bay Area-based writers: Po Bronson, Gary Rivlin and Kara Swisher.

"The Nudist on the Late Shift," a nonfiction book, is the latest Silicon Valley offering from Bronson. The author's 1997 fictional satire of the Valley, "The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest," is already in script form under the name "Ironmen."

Also included in the tour are Rivlin's nonfiction "The Plot to Get Bill Gates" and a paperback release of Swisher's nonfiction bestseller ""

"It's clear that this stuff is in the zeitgeist," said Eamon Dolan, executive editor at Houghton Mifflin in New York. "Silicon Valley is a place that carries so many connotations. All of these books and movies are trying to unpack them for us and lay them out one by one."

Prescreenings of the much ballyhooed Pirates have yielded mostly thumbs up reviews. Gates and Jobs aren't commenting on the film that pits them as renegade pirates who steal the computer industry overnight from the more established Hewlett-Packards of the world.

"I thought the film captured the spirit of the Valley in the early 1980s, when Jobs and his ilk were spouting on about utopian visions and revolution and other hippie hangovers while at the same time pushing their workers to extremes, just like old-style fat-cat capitalists," Whalen said.

The film is loosely based on the 1984 nonfiction book, "Fire in the Valley: The Making of the PC" by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. A search of 2,000 book dealers yielded only one softcover copy of "Fire in the Valley," which is out of print. That single copy is fetching a high price tag: $110.

"When books are in the spotlight, the way this one is, they go fast and the price peaks," said Harvest Book Search's Stacey Pavlick.

In newspapers across the country, articles about Silicon Valley are no longer relegated to newspapers' business pages. Instead, they are thrust up to page one, said John McLaughlin, president of the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. Even as far away as China, television constantly airs specials about the magic that makes Silicon Valley.

"As technology moves more and more into the mainstream, we will take it more for granted," said Dolan of Houghton Mifflin.

"I'm surprised that there isn't a Silicon Valley sitcom yet. It's probably on some drawing board."

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