‘Steve Jobs’ film is a ‘painting, not a photograph,’ moviemakers say

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Director Danny Boyle (left) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin chat on the set of the “Steve Jobs” film.
Universal Pictures

SAN FRANCISCO — After a screening here Friday of the new “Steve Jobs” film, writer Aaron Sorkin found himself defending his choice to fictionalize parts of the Apple co-founder’s life — something he called making “a painting, not a photo.”

Sorkin — famous for the TV show “The West Wing” and films such as “Moneyball” and “The Social Network,” the latter of which netted him an Oscar for his depiction of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — answered questions from audience members who personally knew Jobs. The showing of the film at the Castro Theatre was the first screening in San Francisco, not far from where the events in the movie took place as well as where the film’s scenes were shot. Sorkin was joined by “Slumdog Millionaire’s” Danny Boyle, the film’s director, at a QA after the screening.

“This was clearly an impressionistic thing,” Sorkin said. “I hope the movie early on announces itself as being a painting instead of a photograph.”

“Steve Jobs” opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. The movie will hit theaters globally in the coming weeks. Sorkin has said many times that he didn’t want to create a biopic that followed Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, from “cradle to grave.” Instead, the film depicts three key product launches in Jobs’ life: the unveiling of the first Macintosh computer, in 1984; the introduction of the NeXT computer, in 1988; and the launch of the iMac in 1998. Tying them all together as the “emotional center” of the film is Jobs’ relationship with his eldest daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs (played by actresses Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine at ages 5, 9 and 19 respectively), whose paternity the famous technologist once disputed.

Other major characters in the film include Joanna Hoffman, the former marketing chief of Macintosh, played by Kate Winslet; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen; former Apple CEO John Sculley, played by Jeff Daniels; Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ high-school girlfriend and the mother of Lisa, played by Katherine Waterston; and Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of the Mac development team, as played by Michael Stuhlbarg. In the film, each has some sort of conflict with Jobs in the moments before an important product launch.

Inside ‘Steve Jobs,’ the movie (pictures)

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When asked about the movie’s accuracy, Sorkin joked it was “100 percent accurate. In the 40 minutes leading up to those product launches, he confronted the same exact six people.”

One notable diversion from reality is Jobs’ relationship with Sculley, the former Pepsi CEO who joined Apple as CEO in 1983 and forced Jobs out of the company two years later. The two never spoke again after Jobs left Apple, but the film shows them having two more discussions at the NeXT and iMac launches while reaching a sort of uneasy truce. Jobs, during his famous commencement speech in 2005 at Stanford University, called the firing “devastating” and never forgave Sculley.

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Steve Jobs, as played by Michael Fassbender, stands in front of a crowd before one of his major product launches.
Universal Pictures

“This is the difference between…journalism and art,” Sorkin said. Journalists “have an obligation to be objective. I have an obligation to be subjective. There are stories there that should be written about.”

He added that changing the truth of Sculley and Jobs’ relationship didn’t harm anyone.

Sorkin also said he never considered adding a fourth scene to cover the launch of the iPhone or any of Apple’s other devices. “The movie was never about the products,” he said.

Sorkin chose the three launches because of what they show about Jobs’ personal struggles and his relationship with his daughter. Comparing the film to a Shakespeare play, Sorkin said the first act, the Mac launch, centers on Jobs denying he was Lisa’s father; the second act is “the king in exile” after Jobs was ousted from Apple; and in “the third act, the king returns.”

“The only consideration of the iPhone was playing a trick on Fassbender and telling him there would be a fourth act,” Sorkin joked.

Sorkin also said he believed Jobs would have liked the film, if it “were about someone else.”

Inside the Apple garage as Jobs film starts…

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