We all carry Apple co-founder and tech design visionary Steve Job’s legacy around with us every day, in the form of the iMacs, iPhones and iPads that sit in our pockets and briefcases, and on top of our desktops. Apart from revolutionising the way we communicate with each other, Jobs arguably embedded the Apple company and its products into the very structure of our language, his devices becoming a key part of the recognisable iconography of our modern culture. Parents regularly joke now that their infants take to iPads easier than crayons and paper.
After a series of twists and turns, failed product launches and a period where he was even booted out of Apple by the board, Jobs eventually took the throne as the company’s CEO and rode the success of the 1998 iMac home computer launch to a point where Apple bestrode the tech world and its stock became worth more than the GDP of many nations. But few people could get to that position without snagging some controversy along the way, something director Danny Boyle’s new film Steve Jobs, scripted by The Social Network and Moneyball writer Aaron Sorkin, fully engages with.
Working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the man, Sorkin’s script takes an interesting, non-traditional approach to depicting the tech iconoclast. Instead of a giving us a cradle-to-the-grave story, the film’s narrative structure is built around three seminal product launches overseen by Jobs – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each becomes a focal point for the many trials and tribulations surrounding Jobs at the time.
Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, and the rest of the main cast talked about the making of the film, and their thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs, at a press conference in London to promote the picture closing the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. You can read the full Smoke Screen review of the film here. Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.
On the objection of some members of the Jobs family to the film:
Michael Fassbender: To be honest, it did make me hesitate, the idea of playing somebody who really did live in the same world as we do and who recently passed away, who had close ones who would be worried how their late husband or father would be portrayed. It weighed on my conscience. But I spoke to my own father and close friends, and they said: “It is like journalism; you have a responsibility to tell stories. That is your job, so long as you approach it with the utmost respect.” Which I did. And as I’ve said previously in answer to questions, I have the utmost respect for Steve Jobs, and I had no intention of setting out to portray someone without that respect going into it. Hopefully when they [Steve Jobs’s family] see it, if they see it, they wont feel hurt by it. It certainly wasn't my intention.
Aaron Sorkin: Can I just say that, and this has been widely reported; while Laurene Powell Jobs certainly did from the get-go object to the film being made, Lisa Jobs did not; and she is the one portrayed in the movie.
On working with a ‘Sorkinese” script:
Danny Boyle: It was an amazing experience for all of us, I think, picking up that script. It was like 185 pages of dialogue, whereas your regular script would be 110 plus stage directions. There was no real hint as to how to do it, just a few notes like “interior: day” and such. But we wanted to make it a rich experience for the audience in two ways really. One was the acting, and the other was making it an immersive experience. I do love theatre, but I have to say I love cinema more; it has that weird, illogical thing where you can get lost in it. I did go to see Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch the other night, I loved it, but with a play…you’re just not quite immersed in it in the way you would be in a film.
Michael Fassbender: I just felt really lucky that it landed on my lap. It’s a one off when you get scripts like this. I remember thinking: “there goes my break”; which I had planned over that time. I just thought to myself “this is extraordinary writing, the best script that I’ve ever read”. Most scenes today comprise just ten sentences or something. Here, all of the electricity in this film is dialogue driven. So it’s rare,rare opportunity.
Kate Winslet: When I first read the first few pages my reaction was “Wow, these people talk for a long time!” Page 55: “yup, they're still talking! How the fuck are we going to get through this one?” But to be honest my immediately reaction was, aside from how incredible it was to read, and how solid each character was - and as Jeff [Daniels] has said, Aaron writes the way that these people think, and I don’t think I had come across that before to that extent - was the thought I was going to play Michael Fassbender’s friend! And hold his hand! Of course he didn't need any of those things!
Much has been made about the length of the script and such but, you know, you are an actor. You learn your fucking lines! You just get on with it. The pressure really comes trying not to forget your lines; the whole thing unravels and turns to dog shit! That was the pressure; and it is not just the actors you are walking and talking with. You’ve got the steadicam guy; who was just unbelievable holding that camera for 20-30 minute take sometimes. You’ve got the boom operators running after you with wires and such. There is so much concentration going on that it really falls horribly on the actors if they forget something.
On recreating an uncompromising real-life individual and his time:
Danny Boyle: I have to say, Michael is an uncompromising actor, and I think on some level I connected that to what we knew about Steve Jobs. I knew Michael would not be in search of some hatchet job or some deification, but the truth, in the way Jobs pursued perfection in his work. To watch Michael pursue perfection in his work, yes that was uncompromising. I think it lifted the level for all the actors and crew. When you get someone on set like that, who is willing to pursue something, everyone becomes like: “lets do it!” Michael even suggested we shoot the rehearsals. I’d never done that before! It’s an amazing thing; often it’s the best take. I’ll be doing that from now on.
Michael Fassbender: The script as I’ve said was exceptional, and there was lot of it! And I think Danny, coming from a theatre background, set it up so that it would be about the actors. He was just so generous and patient with me, many times! He set up an environment for us where we could do our best in the most supportive surroundings. For example; we got rehearsals. We had two weeks of rehearsals before we started the first act, we filmed the first act in two weeks, then we had two weeks to prep for the second. That is unheard of, accountants usually go apeshit. But Danny, coming from a theatre background, realised the importance of that, that we would be well-rehearsed, we would have worked out our mistakes in the rehearsal phase, and got to feel it out with one another. On the day, we could shoot fast and effectively.
We also shot it in San Francisco. Which is not cheap! There were other options. But Danny insisted it was important we set it here, where this whole thing was born. And I think that really helped. The feeling that we were doing it in the home of not only Steve Jobs, but of the new wave which we all live in now.
Kate Winslet: To me the word uncompromising is the opposite of collaboration. For me, what I felt was a fundamental sense of collaboration, and that came from Danny. Danny insisted on rehearsals, and also put all of us in the room for read throughs from day one. For the majority of the time we were all in that space. Michael and I would be thrashing a scene around, and sometimes we would run out of ideas, but we could turn to the room and ask how it played. It neutralised the entire environment and made everybody equal. With a small company of actors like that - which we were - it pulled all of us together. No hierarchy and no fuss. That tone was set by Danny and Michael. Michael didn't have any “stuff” around him.
The appeal and legacy of Steve Jobs:
Danny Boyle: I think the reason why we all made this film is that, well, this guy has changed our lives in an extraordinary way. Both in an obvious way; communication, but in so many other ways as well. The implications are huge and significant, even if we don't discuss them in the film. To see where it emerged from and to see who that person was, or a version of who that person was, was to me and all of us essential.
We were very lucky, in how we were able to illustrate it, we shot the first act on 16mm; it being the earliest act, and as Jobs felt like a guy fighting all these impossible forces stopping him getting to his vision, It felt like a rough and home-made version, as if they'd done everything in a garage themselves. Then we moved to 35mm for the second act, very much a storytelling act about beautiful illusion. Then we moved to digital. The 3rd act is set in 1998, but the Alexa camera we used wasn't generally used then in cinema. Jobs had already got there of course, as Pixar had released Toy Story in 1996. I remember going to see it at Odeon Leicester Square with my kids, and thinking; “the world has changed.” Like you had been reborn. It was great to pay him that respect, really.
On how truthful a portrait this is:
Michael Fassbender: The only thing I knew about the man was from his job, and through the prism of the media, and what other people were saying. I just really respected what was in the script; I know we were doing a dramatisation and not a biopic. All my information was in the script. I knew nothing about man really before we started. We know him as the guy in the turtleneck, but I find it curious how he kind of started wearing a uniform at a certain point in his life. I wonder if he was aware how that would venture into mythological status later on. Was that a conscious decision, or one less decision for him to make in the morning?
I just tried to take my own feeling from what was in the script, then I just watched whatever was available on Youtube, from interviews, to seminars and speeches. So I can’t really say. I just filled in my own blanks, but I they could be totally off. You hear so many good and bad stories about him, it seems to me there was a balance there.
Aaron Sorkin: The question I think you are asking is, would someone who came to this movie walk away with a fair sense of who Steve Jobs was? I don't know what a fair sense of anybody is really. I agree with Michael; if you asked a thousand people who knew Jobs what their impressions of him were, I think you'd get a thousand different answers. What you don’t see in this movie is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page. What you see is something that is a dramatisation of several of the personal issues that he had in his life, and they illustrate something, they give you a picture. Are they fair? I do believe they are. My conscience is clear.
Generally speaking, Steve Jobs did not, as far as I know, have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch! That plainly is a writers conceit. But I do think that the movie gets at some larger truths, some more important truths than what really went on during the 40 minutes before product launches, which I don’t think was the stuff of drama.
Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.