The director Danny Boyle has called for more films to be made about the creators of influential new technology.
Speaking at the Telluride film festival, where his Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is winning largely rave reviews, Boyle said that those in the movie industry had a responsibility to examine the import of people such as Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook creator who was the subject of Sorkin’s 2010 hit, The Social Network.
“These films have to be made,” he said. “Benign as they may seem, they have created forces that are more powerful than governments and banks. And they don’t seem motivated by money. I find that extraordinary. It’s a paradigm shift we seem blissfully unaware of. They’re not interested in money but in data. Our data.”
The film is largely an interiors piece, unfolding in real time in the 40 minutes before three key Apple product launches: the Mac in 1984, the NeXT box in 1988, once Jobs has split from Apple, and the iMac in 1998, when he’s back in business with the company. Yet despite the offer of tax breaks from countries such as England and Hungary, Boyle was insistent that the film not be shot far from Silicon Valley. “San Francisco is the Bethlehem of the second industrial revolution,” he said. “It’s where the extraordinary forces emerged that now rule our lives.”
The film had a slightly bumpy production history: originally David Fincher was set to direct for Sony, before Universal and Boyle took up the baton. “I’ve been told not to say this,” said Boyle, “but for me it’s clearly the second part of The Social Network.” Boyle reported that he watched Fincher’s film closely in preparation and was struck by how much time people in the film spend sitting down. “When they do stand up it’s at incredibly critical moments.”
Steve Jobs inverts this model. “Like Jobs himself it’s a film of movement. We thought of the film as the sound of his mind.” The aesthetic of the three acts was, says Boyle, carefully delineated so as not to feel repetitious. Therefore the “punky” first third shows Jobs trying to forge a “creationist myth”, the second is all about elegance, while the third has even cleaner lines. “And simplicity is now seen as the ultimate sophistication,” said Boyle. “Products and world vision are both heading that way.”
Early notices have been struck by the centrality of Sorkin’s machine gun dialogue and a particularly strong performance by Michael Fassbender in the lead. Sorkin said he’d felt a great deal of anxiety embarking on the project. “[Jobs] is someone a lot of people have a lot of very strong feelings about. It’s a bit like setting out to write about the Beatles.”
His intention, he said, was akin to creating a painting rather than taking a photograph. “I didn’t want it to be a cradle-to-grave biopic or a piece of journalism. Art isn’t about what happened.” Sorkin also praised Alex Gibney’s documentary about Jobs, which was released in the US last week. “You can see a very good piece of journalism about him.”
By contrast, Sorkin said he identified points of friction between Jobs and five people – Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ right-hand-woman Joanna Hoffman, one-time Apple CEO John Sculley, original Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld and Jobs’ daughter Lisa (as well as her mother) – and chose to dramatise them. Sorkin spoke to key players in his research, including Lisa, whose paternity Jobs initially denied, and who his biographer Walter Isaacson had been unable to talk to, but said most of the dialogue was fictional. One scene in which Jobs rinses his feet in a lavatory was taken from truth, however - “gestural not slavish,” said Boyle. “And British films always have to have at least one scene in a toilet.”
And a key line in the film – when Jobs asks Hoffman how it is they’ve never slept together – was also lifted from dialogue with Hoffman herself. Winslet said she too had met with Hoffman while preparing to play the role and was struck by the sense that “she didn’t need anything from him. It seems to me everyone else did for personal gain - money or a job. She just needed him to be a decent man.”
A relatively traumatic childhood, starting in Armenia, had also given her a fearlessness in the face of a man many were intimidated by. “She said: ‘Steve Jobs was just like a frat boy,’” said Winslet. “She did genuinely love him. And spending time with her, when I was figuring out how to play this difficult fucking terrible part, she would become very emotional. She misses him terribly.”
Speaking about her lack of resemblance to Hoffman, Winslet said she’d first heard of the role through a make-up artist with whom she was working on another film in Australia. Eager to be considered, Winslet dispatched her husband, Ned Rock n Roll, to buy her brown-haired wigs – then later donned one, with spectacles, and sent a selfie to the producer, Scott Rudin. Then came the challenge of accessing the closely-guarded script. “It was like trying to get into King Tut’s Tomb, downloading five apps to access the fucking thing.”
The particular structure of the film, she said – one scene in the final reel especially – had her weeping with nerves as to whether she would be able to manage such extended sequence without recourse to easy edits. “I was like: fuck. I’m not going to be able to do that. If you can’t do it [then] you can’t do it. Then your name will be shit and your career will go down the toilet.”
Rogen, meanwhile, reported he’d done his first audition in eight years to play Wozniak but assumed he hadn’t landed the part. “I heard nothing for eight months and during which time i ruined the studio that was making the movie [after his North Korea baiting comedy The Interview triggered hackers to infiltrate Sony’s emails]. So they had to go somewhere else and I was a little worried that might affect things.”
The actor also met his character, and found him, he said, more than happy to speak about his experiences. “His feelings towards Jobs were very complex and interesting. Part of it was taking it at face value and part was reading between the lines.” After the premiere on Saturday evening, Wozniak had reported been pleased with the results, saying that if he didn’t recognise some of the specifics, he felt the film did capture the sentiment.
Not present was Fassbender, currently shooting the Assassin’s Creed movie. All cast and crew were united in their admiration for the actor, who they said they never saw look at the 200 page script on set, and who, according to Winslet, turned his “true white heat of fear into the most incredible determination we have ever seen.” Rogen echoed the sentiment. Watching Fassbender turn into Jobs was “horrifying at times … truly unsettling but it was also the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen an actor do. And I’ve worked with Danny McBride.
This article was written by Catherine Shoard, for theguardian.com on Sunday 6th September 2015 20.21 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010