The Steve Jobs movies

Because I have been very busy with my studies in the past months, I haven’t been able to write a proper lowdown about the two Steve Jobs biopics that are currently being prepared for release in the coming months. Yes, for those of you who haven’t paid close attention to the news, there are really two Steve Jobs movies in the works.

1. jOBS: Get Inspired (official site)

The first project that was started is more commonly known as “the Kutcher movie” because the part of Steve Jobs will be played by Ashton Kutcher, as we learned in April. Being a Parisian snob, I had no idea who that Kutcher character was so I looked him up. Apparently he owes more his fame to his good looks than his acting skills. He is a former model and was Demi Moore’s husband for (only) six years. From his filmography I have only seen The Butterfly Effect (if you omit Robot Chicken episodes, that is). Since I have no preconception on the guy, I have yet to see the movie to judge him. I do find that physically speaking, he does bear a resemblance with Jobs.

The movie will be directed by Joshua Michael Stern, who appears to be a debuting director… Other members of the cast include Matthew Modine, who will play John Sculley, Josh Gad who will play Woz (via The Verge), and Ahna O’Reilly who will play Steve’s girlfriend, Lisa’s mother Chris-Ann Brennan (via Variety). These are all no-names to me.

Top: Modine as Sculley. Bottom: O'Reilly (L) and Gad (R)

According to the producer of the movie who was interviewed by Neowin, the movie “will focus on the early years of Apple, its founding and the up and down years: 1971 – 2000”. Those of you who follow this website closely know that I am hugely interested in Jobs’s NeXT years, which spanned from 1985 to 1996 — that’s almost 40% of the time period that jOBS will cover. However, if past books/documentaries/movies (Pirates of Silicon Valley) are any indication, NeXT should barely be touched upon in the movie, if even mentioned. The fact that the producer only talks about Apple to describe the 1971-2000 period is another indication. I also wonder if Pixar will be talked about — it wasn’t in Pirates. But Hollywood being so self-centered, we can hope that the movie will at least evoke Pixar.

The fact that NeXT is so often left out when telling the story of Steve is quite revealing. First, despite all the talk about the Silicon Valley/US entrepreneurship culture being not afraid of failure, it seems that failure does not appeal to the masses. It is also probably too difficult for journalists and screenwriters to explain that Steve’s failures at NeXT were the foundations for Apple’s success in the 2000s. Not to mention the absolutely crucial family events that happened to Steve during those years (his meeting with his sister Mona, then his marriage with Laurene and the birth of his son Reed).

I will write a detailed review of the movie when it comes out in the fall, but I start with low expectations, to say the least. For example, here is a picture that was taken on the set:

The anachronism of this image is painful. Kutcher is confusing all genres, sporting the same beard as Steve in his 20s… and the turtleneck/jeans/running shoes from this 40s and 50s. Duh.

The title of the movie is no stunner either. It is using the over-used, not-creative pun on capitalization to evoke the iProducts. It reminds me of the bad title of Fake Steve Jobs’s good book, oPtion$.


2. The Sorkin picture

The second movie has been discussed since the release of Walter Isaacson’s biography, only three weeks after Steve’s passing. Sony Pictures lost no time in buying the rights of the book with the intention to make a movie. In late November, rumors started to appear regarding the lead role: would it be Noah Wyle, who played Steve in Pirates of Silicon Valley (my personal choice), or George Clooney of Nespresso fame? Then on November 22, E!Online broke the news that Aaron Sorkin had been pitched the script, and was seriously considering it. His involvement was later confirmed.

Sorkin has a history with Steve Jobs because he was asked by Steve Jobs himself to write a screenplay for a Pixar feature. He declined that offer, unfortunately — perhaps that would have saved us from Cars 2. But I am digressing.

Sorkin is the brilliant writer behind the script of The Social Network, which tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his building of Facebook. I am very fond of that movie, which made the masses (re-)discover the meaning of tech entrepreneurship, in a compelling though dramatized fashion. That the same man (and same studio) will take over the adaption of Isaacson’s bio is encouraging.

However, Sorkin tried to downplay my and many others’s enthusiasm at the All Things D conference where he was speaking last week:

On his turn on stage, Aaron Sorkin talks about his concerns that he’s entering “a minefield of disappointment” as he undertakes the task of writing the movie adaptation of Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs bio. It’s like writing about the Beatles—there’s a huge contingent of people who are emotionally attached. The screenwriter admits that he still doesn’t have a handle on Jobs—whether he should be, like most Sorkin characters, an aspirational hero or, like the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network, somewhat of an antihero. (Wired)

That’s the mystery of Steve Jobs. He is both an antihero and a hero. I’m not saying this is an easy paradox to depict on screen. Will Sorkin be able to write a masterpiece out of the 700-page long press article that was the Isaacson bio? That we will see.

As for myself, I have been thinking that Steve Jobs’s life would make an amazing movie to make for several years — perhaps since 2007. Having closely studied Steve’s life for so long, I am convinced that his unique personality and the remarkable turn of events of his life would make for outstanding movie material. However, I’ve always thought to myself that not one, but at least three, if not four movies would be necessary to appropriately depict his tumultuous life. They could be titled the same as the three-part eulogy that BusinessWeek published after Steve’s passing: I. The Beginning II. The Wilderness & III. The Return.


Johnny Grey remembers his work on Steve and Laurene Jobs’s kitchen

Reader Bertrand Hayotte pointed out to me a story by kitchen designer Johnny Grey about how “Steve Jobs and his wife Laurene almost had one of [his] kitchens.”

The story gives an insight into the “private Steve Jobs” with details of his taste for a simple and authentic design for his kitchen. Grey only worked on the design part, going even as far as showing the drawing he made for the Jobses:

It is not known whether his design was implemented, since Steve Jobs apparently “was a very private person and reluctant to have any building work done, powerfully disliking noise, mess and invasion of their home”.

Although I did know that Steve worked very hard on his kitchen and on his garden design, it is the first time that such details come out. The story also reinforces the idea that he  applied the same beliefs in all aspects of his life, from product design to kitchen decoration:

We once met in London at the Savoy hotel during one of his rushed, but highly publicised European trips. His comments, as you might expect knowing his track record at Apple, were brief and to the point, mostly in the direction of simplifying the design, staking out a more severe, monastic approach. Shaker simplicity was often his default position.

Thanks Bertrand!

A few Steve Jobs videos worth watching

I’ve been tweeting instead of blogging for the past three months and it’s time for this to end. Let me start with a number of videos you may or may not have seen featuring Steve Jobs.

Macworld 1997

The first of these videos is the keynote of Macworld 1997. Now remember, Steve Jobs came back to Apple in December 1996 as an “informal advisor” to the then-CEO Gil Amelio. He only became CEO in July of that year, after the disappointing results of Q2’97 were revealed — a loss of over $50 million — and Amelio’s failure became evident. Macworld, which took place in January 1997, was Steve Jobs’s first public appearance in his new role, back at Apple after the purchase of NeXT. His speech is short, but it’s focused and makes it clear that he has a vision for the company.

However, the rest of the show is very enlightening as a picture of how bad a state Apple was in back in 1997. Amelio is the anti-Steve Jobs: absolutely no charisma, complete and utter lack of professionalism, and of course zero vision. The “big reveal” at the end where the 20th Anniversary Macintosh (designed by Jony Ive who was already a designer at Apple, it is a misconception that Steve Jobs hired him) is unveiled, is so pathetic it’s not funny. Such amateurism is not imaginable in the Apple 2.0 era under Steve Jobs.

At the end of the keynote, Amelio tried to do a PR trick by having Steve Wozniak show up. He wanted Woz and Jobs to pose with him to symbolize the regained trust in Apple. Unwilling to show support to Amelio, Jobs stayed away from him and Woz, so the photo opportunity was lost. Amelio complained about it in his autobiography On The Firing Line.

Here is an embedded version of the video. I also put it on the website, in the keynote section:

If your time is limited, I suggest you watch Steve Jobs’s speech @7:00 and the failed introduction of the 20th Anniversary Mac, which quickly follows Woz’s onstage appearance @38:50 (the moment when Amelio tries to get them together for a picture is around 43:30).

Steve Jobs in Sweden in 1985

A rarer video that you may have missed is one of Steve Jobs in 1985, flying to Sweden for a speech at Lund University:

The video starts by his arrival by helicopter, in then-traditional blue jeans and white shirt. After a strange performance by singers, Steve Jobs starts his (perhaps unprepared) speech by a joke about them, then goes on to talk about his vision of the computer as “a new medium” delivering not text nor movies but software. He goes on to say that in the future, computers should be able to completely absorb the mind of “the next Aristotle” so that you could ask him a question, using a computer — something books do not allow. Jobs ends his speech by talking about the tough economic period the PC industry was going through back then, and says it is only a delay of the inevitable revolution brought about by PCs. His good joke to illustrate his point is “I’m sure Henry Ford had a few bad quarters back in the 1920s”. 

Jobs then says the next step in his trip is to go to the Soviet Union to try and sell them Macintoshes. This is an indication that the video was shot only weeks before his departure from Apple. If you watch the video entirely, you will see the university dean making a joke about Steve’s arrival by helicopter, then explaining why computers are great tools for the mind (a metaphor Steve Jobs was certainly familiar with).

The Mac 1944 Promo video

This video was talked about a lot in the news lately. It is an “in-house” commercial (because it was never aired) from the Mac team making a parallel between 1944 and 1984. Just like the US Army liberated Europe in 1944, the Macintosh would free the desktop workers from the tyranny of the IBM PC. Steve Jobs plays the part of FDR, in a rather unimpressive performance.

The video wasn’t news to me. I had seen clips from it before, and the Steve Jobs clip was partially shown in his 30th birthday video which was made public after his passing. I believe that many news sites have noticed that mentioning Steve Jobs increased their pageviews, and took every possible occasion to do it. The only interesting (and new) thing that this news coverage has brought is an article by Michael Markman, the advertiser behind the video. He explains how the original idea was to use Charlie Chaplin’s character of Adenoid Hynkel (in The Great Director) as a metaphor for both Hitler and IBM, since Big Blue used Chaplin in its PC commercials. The money quote is

Glenn, Mike, and I marched into Steve’s office to give him the pitch. Pretty much the way I outlined it in the previous paragraph. Steve’s eyes were sparkling through it all. By the time I got to, “and you as FDR,” I had made the sale. In the binary universe of Steve Jobs, something is either a zero or a one. This was a one.

The All Things D videos

Finally, in the wake of this year’s All Things Digital conference, The Wall Street Journal has released HQ videos of all of Steve Jobs’s appearances at the yearly tech gathering as downloads on iTunes.

These videos aren’t new — in fact, they have been on this site for months. However they are revealing of what impact Steve Jobs had on this conference, and how profoundly his absence can be felt now. In fact, this is exactly the topic of Steven Levy’s great article on Wired: All Things D Is Haunted by the Man Who Isn’t Here. Levy, one of the conference’s privileged attendees, describes how the the ghost of Steve is haunting it this year. I love his ending anecdote told by Larry Ellison:

My favorite story is Ellison’s, about how he accompanied Jobs frequently to the prototype Apple store in a nearby warehouse, set up so Jobs and his team could constantly tweak the experience to approach perfection. Ellison noted how contrarian the effort seemed. “Don’t you read the newspaper?” he would ask Jobs. “They’re saying bricks and mortar are dead.”

“We’re not using mortar,” Jobs replied. “We’re using glass and steel.”

Steve’s mark on All Things D, the only context in which he would openly discuss his views on the industry publicly, is no coincidence. It is a reflection of Steve’s “special relationship” with Walt Mossberg, dating back to the late 1990s. Mossberg was an early supporter of Steve’s comeback at Apple and his efforts such as the original iMac. That relationship is discussed in the Walter Isaacson bio, and it has since been confirmed by Mossberg himself, who wrote a touching piece on his favorite shared moments with iLeader. As for me, I cannot help but think of this post by Fake Steve Jobs back in the days when Dan Lyons was funny and anonymous. His jealousy for Mossberg can be felt in his narrative, but the piece is so funny that it is excusable.