It’s easy to forget that, before he was a multi-multi-billionaire with a penchant for phallic-shaped spaceships and whose record-breaking divorce bill barely scratched his status as one of the world’s wealthiest individuals (current position: number 2 behind Elon Musk), Jeff Bezos was just a regular Wall Street exec with a big idea.
But it’s this pre-global domination period, when Amazon was merely a glint in Bezos’ eye, that’s the focus of a new biopic being touted at the American Film Market.
Entitled Bezos: The Beginning and from Vision Films, the film is based on the book Zero to Hero and, according to director Khoa Le, looks to “tell a story about a person that works a 9-5 job, doesn’t have entrepreneurship experience, but has this idea of building something that was going to change the future.”
Le says the film begins in the early online days of 1996, when Bezos was a hedge fund VP looking for the next project to invest in, and when he realised that internet businesses were growing at the somewhat phenomenal rate of 2600 percent.
“The movie shows how, in its infancy, Amazon was all about books,” notes producer Armando Gutierrez, who also plays the soon-to-be billionaire in the film. “But even in his early presentations about the company, even before it was named Amazon, he did discuss several times how by using this website to sell through the internet you could potentially sell everything that ever existed. So he saw the potential in the early 90s, even when the technology wasn’t there to index that volume of stuff.”
Most features involving a rags(ish) to (unfathomable) riches story have some sort of lightbulb moment, when the big, life-changing idea flashes before the protagonist’s eyes. While Le says there’s no particular lightbulb moment about selling things online in Bezos: The Beginning, there are “several lightbulb moments” relating to him making the jump and starting his own business, particularly with the help of his then wife Mackenzie Scott (who would become Amazon’s first employee and was heavily involved in its early days).
“We have a moment in the movie where Mackenzie is trying to pick him up after he’s had an argument with his hedge fund boss and, during this pickup, he realises why he should be moving forward with his business.”
Gutierrez may not look instantly like the man in question as he currently appears, but claims that — with hair, which Bezos had back in the late 1990s — “he’s very, very similar.” However, with the film flitting back and forth between present day and 1996, he was required to shave it all off. Gutierrez also notes that he was able to get into the role of Bezos because he’s also an entrepreneur — “I know how hard it is, so it’s familiar turf” — although he acknowledges, perhaps unnecessarily, that he’s not as successful.
While Bezos: The Beginning is fully intended to be an inspirational story, pushing people to follow through with their ideas and dreams, it does also offer a few hints at what was to come later down the line. “You can see [Bezos] transforming a little bit,” says Le, who points to scenes where he’s arguing with Mackenzie and there are conflicts about his changing approach to business. “We didn’t want to paint him in a bad way, but I thought we did a good job of showcasing that this is what could be if you were in his shoes, being an entrepreneur.”
Gutierrez says the film will show the influence of his ex-wife. “He was somewhat insecure in the beginning, and I think if McKenzie hadn’t pushed him to quit his job, he would have regretted it.”
But at what key milestone in the Amazon chief’s history does Bezos: The Beginning conclude? When Bezos had his first billion dollars? When he went into space aboard Blue Origin? Not quite.
“What happened was there was a ‘ding’ for the first book order, and that’s where we end the movie,” says Le. “It was at that moment when it was clear everything was going to be ok, when there was chaos, internal, emotional chaos between staff and Jeff’s crazy ideas. And then there was the ‘ding.’”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 4 daily issue at the American Film Market.