‘The Boy Who Sold The World’ director Adam Barton talks work with Ben Pasternak, SXSW cancellation

Brooke Sjoberg

In his 2020 documentary, “The Boy Who Sold The World,” director Adam Barton follows Australian 20-year-old tech entrepreneur Ben Pasternak as he makes and sells viral apps. Barton began working with Pasternak when Pasternak was 15.

Despite the cancellation of SXSW, The Daily Texan got the opportunity to speak with Barton about his experience directing the film.

The Daily Texan: What was working with Ben Pasternak like?

Adam Barton: So the first time I went, I brought a camera, and he was interested in telling me a story from the get-go. (Ben) was a child of the YouTube generation — he had a YouTube channel, which is touched upon in the film. I met him when he was just basically being dropped off by his mom from Australia and was setting up shop in New York on his own. I asked one question. He talked for 30 minutes, and that let me know how much he wanted to tell the story and how much story that there was going to be to tell.

DT: How do you feel about the SXSW cancellation, and how did it alter your plans for the film?

AB: It’s been disappointing, but for me, it’s all just in perspective. The measures that are being taken are all necessary. Two weeks out, I was like, “Okay, there’s probably a 10% chance to get canceled.” Every day, I raised that percent. My experience has been one of resignation, just sort of accepting it. We’re also definitely just missing an opportunity to share the film. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a setback for us in terms of the film. But again, it’s just part of a bigger picture. We’ll keep fighting for the film. My main hope right now (is) that we find a new normal and that we can overcome this.

DT: What are your future plans for the film? Will you try and take it to another festival?

AB: We’re still developing those plans. We’re in competition with all people in the industry, a lot of potential buyers. Just quite a lot of information at this point, getting people’s reactions to the film. We’re considering opening it back up to continue working just because we had a deadline and now we don’t. We can make a better film out of it. I’ve always taken some cues actually from Ben in terms of just being pragmatic and just having a lot of stick-to-itiveness. We’re missing out on a lot of press opportunities, obviously, with tech media, which is present in the film. One of the things that made us excited about SXSW as a festival was sort of the crossover between tech, perfect for the story. We’re missing that blend and looking for ways to replicate that at festivals. We sort of maintain the sort of premier status despite having gotten in the top five. We’re looking for another festival down the road, but we’re sort of in an evaluation mode and getting a lot of feedback and having a lot of conversations. So it’s not a clean answer.