Hulu’s WeWork doc tries to recapture the energy of 2019 saga

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In fall 2019, the story of WeWork’s Icarian plummet—from the startup destined to change the method we work and dwell to the laughing inventory of Wall Avenue—performed out with all the drama you’d count on when at its middle are a messianic CEO and a Japanese billionaire enabling his reckless whims.

As you could recall, former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann had a imaginative and prescient of making a tradition of communal workspaces that was turbocharged by SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son investing greater than $10 billion in WeWork with a mandate to Neumann to suppose greater. WeWork soared to a $47 billion valuation and was on the precipice of going public till its prospectus raised a sea of pink flags—from the firm reporting $900 million in losses and $47 billion in lease obligations to Neumann’s spouse, Rebekah, being granted the energy to identify his successor ought to something occur to him.

It was a story of staggering hubris, lavish extra, and poisonous management that grew to become catnip for a storm of media protection.

Certainly, in at present’s insatiable marketplace for content material for video streaming and on-demand audio, the WeWork saga impressed a flurry of offers to flip this story into tragedy, farce, or a bit of each. Final yr there was Wondery’s deep-dive podcast miniseries WeCrashed, and New York Journal contributor Reeves Wiedeman printed the e-book Billion Greenback Loser.

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But to come is the e-book The Cult of We from Wall Avenue Journal reporters Maureen Farrell and Eliot Brown, which is being tailored right into a restricted sequence with Succession breakout star Nicholas Braun. One other forthcoming e-book, about SoftBank, from Quick Firm contributor Katrina Booker, was fast-tracked for a TV sequence from Blumhouse. An Apple TV Plus restricted sequence starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as the Neumanns has additionally been introduced.

Amid the frothy markets for each content material and shares comes Hulu’s documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn.

Director Jed Rothstein (The China Hustle) had the activity of not simply laying out the spectacular rise and fall of Neumann, but additionally discovering a brand new method right into a story that has (and will probably be) picked other than practically each conceivable angle. Add to that the undeniable fact that WeWork’s odyssey already looks as if a relic of a bygone period. It’s odd to say provided that it was lower than two years in the past. However, oh, what a two years it’s been. In the enterprise world, alone, the whole lot—from GameStop’s inventory mayhem to nonfungible tokens producing blockbuster paydays (and a doable bubble set to burst) to the frenzy over electrical automobiles that finally led to Volkswagen’s April Fools’ fumble—has been extra over-the-top ridiculous than WeWork ever was.

Provided that we appear to be getting a “This must be a film!” story with ever larger frequency, is it doable to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle second with one thing like WeWork?

Adam Neumann [Photo: courtesy of Hulu]

“I believe what a movie can do is join us with folks and their tales in a method that kinds a deeper bond and permits us to take into consideration issues with somewhat extra distance,” Rothstein says. “We don’t do this anymore. We don’t enable ourselves time to suppose. We simply react to the whole lot. And I believe there’s some worth in taking a breath, letting one thing sink into you somewhat extra, and serious about it extra deeply, and possibly developing with more practical and extra profound solutions to the questions we’re dealing with.”

Rothstein’s method into the WeWork drama was to focus extra on the folks in Neumann’s circle who purchased into his imaginative and prescient of altering not simply office tradition, however the world itself.

Sources in the documentary embody a filmmaker who moved right into a WeLive constructing, WeWork’s model of communal residing areas, and located himself slowly distanced from the exterior world. There’s Neumann’s ex-assistant, who moved to New York Metropolis to discover her function and thought she did so when she met Neumann, in addition to a quantity of different ex-employees who have been additionally swept up in Neumann’s preaching of “we,” till they have been laid off in the hundreds.

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“I used to be intrigued by the broader human story behind it,” Rothstein says. “Whereas the monetary fable of the firm was actually a backbone for the story and was a compelling factor to observe, there hadn’t been quite a bit of flesh placed on the bones in phrases of emotionally and narratively understanding what this phenomenon meant for the many different individuals who went by means of it.”

[Image: courtesy of Hulu]

Rothstein additionally needed to underscore his private perception in Neumann’s imaginative and prescient of constructing communal workspaces, one thing he feels might have been missed in the sheer collapse of Neumann’s ambitions.

“By the time [WeWork] began after the [2008] recession, work life had modified, particularly in New York the place they began,” says Rothstein, who’s based mostly in Brooklyn. “Lots of the bonds that held folks collectively traditionally in America, like working at one firm for a very long time or being half of church teams, had eroded. So we have been rather more of these solo impartial operators bouncing from one factor to the subsequent.

“I believe that disadvantaged us of these sorts of informal neighborhood relationships that truly are the bonds of life and that make life actually wealthy,” he provides. “WeWork hit on the want to try to re-create that in a method.”

Certainly, there’s an emotional coda to WeWork, from Neumann’s ex-assistant explaining how throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein the documentary was filmed, she feels the want for neighborhood much more with stay-at-home and social distancing mandates in place. Rothstein’s strategic use of behind-the-scenes footage of Neumann and candid testimonies from sources additionally work properly in the doc’s favor.

The WeWork story seems like a pure match for a streaming service, as it’s one which’s already confirmed its skill to seize the nation’s consideration. But there’s an inescapable feeling of staleness that colours the WeWork story total. With our consideration span being ever-more truncated, there could be the problem of a narrative’s fizz going flat.

Rothstein argues that as a result of the media was obsessed after which moved on, there are extra folks but to uncover the wonders of We. “The media circles you’re in, and that I’m in in some methods, we’ve plumbed this a bit extra. However I don’t know that in the common public that fizz has even handed by means of their radar very a lot,” Rothstein says. “I could possibly be incorrect, however I believe and I hope that the story is inherently attention-grabbing sufficient and the characters are fairly fascinating and attention-grabbing simply on their very own.”