Deconstructing pictures of JOBS


Now that I’ve covered most of my thoughts on the independent Steve Jobs biopic JOBS, whose premiere is today at Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to cover form i.e. production values.

Let’s review the official pictures that we’ve seen emerge from the film’s promotional campaign.

The first picture was that of Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs sitting on his desk:

Kutcher as Jobs


Which was trying to reproduce the below picture from 1981:

Jobs in 1981


Most people here would first see a striking resemblance between the two men. And I have to say, it’s really well done indeed. At a quick glance, they do look a lot alike, and it becomes obvious why Kutcher was picked to play the part of young Steve. But of course, being the obsessive-compulsive type with those pictures of Steve Jobs, I couldn’t help but notice a few things:

1. Physical build. The two men certainly have some things in common. But Kutcher’s build is very different from Jobs’s. Jobs was very wiry when he was young (in his hippie, fasting days especially), and in the mid-1980s, but he put on some weight at various points in his life. Not that he ate too much fat, of course; but probably more because he, like your fellow webmaster, was more into work than into sports. You can tell that in the picture above; and you can tell that Kutcher used to be a model, too. Basically, I wonder if Kutcher’s very athletic build will be credible as the impersonation of SJ on the big screen. Noah Wyle was better suited in that regard.

2. The watch. Look closely. In those days, Steve was a young millionaire, and showed off a little with his BMW motorcycle and his, yes, gold watch (after all, it was the 1980s). The watch that Kutcher wears is actually not bad, because SJ owned one very similar —only a few years later. So we’re dealing with a little anachronism here. Here is an example from 1984 that proves it:

1984 watch


3. The THINK poster. I would have been surprised if they had gotten that one right. But it’s the first thing that jumped to my eyes when I saw the picture of Kutcher. You see, that poster was not random. Its history was actually very well documented by Jef Raskin’s nephew —it is a variant of the Apple Syntax poster from 1980 (link from the Wayback machine). The original one featured Pascal syntax tips, and Steve Jobs was directly involved in its design. The version on his desk was using the same type as the Pascal header of the poster (3D letters with the Apple rainbow colors), applied to the IBM motto, THINK.

The Pascal poster

Unfortunately, the production crew of JOBS seemed to have bad eyes and to lack this information, as the type on their THINK poster seems to be dead flat.

My verdict:
Historical accuracy rating: 8/10


The second picture released by the JOBS team was one of the co-founders at the West Coast Computer Faire of April 1977:

Kutcher as Jobs in 1977


And, for context, two photos from the 1977 faire:




Steve Jobs was actually wearing his first suit that day, after the advice of Regis McKenna and Mike Markkula. I have very little to say here, the resemblance is striking and the costumes almost identical. (The same can’t be said of Woz though). Of course, I did find a couple things to complain about 🙂

1. The badge. A blowup of both pictures will get my point across:

Badges 2

You might think I am too harsh with the movie, but this is actually non trivial. The West Coast Computer Faire was actually Apple’s grand entry into the personal computing market, the first time they were ever considered seriously. And McKenna was instrumental in getting the young scruffy Steves to look like businessmen on that day. So having handwritten, diagonal names on their badges is actually far from the truth of what that show was. In addition, Jobs’s first name on the badge was “Steven”, not “Steve” (I’ll admit I’m picky with that one).

2. The booth. This is not about Steve, but the Apple booth, but again a small misconception on the importance of the West Coast Computer Faire for Apple. The movie makers couldn’t have guessed it from the black and white pictures (since they didn’t ask your fellow webmaster for advice) but that booth was actually lit by neon lights to look serious and attract visitors. Markkula put up heavy money for this, for a startup. Check this out:

Neon lights


3. The hair. Steve’s was a lot dirtier 😉

Historical accuracy rating: 9/10

I won’t comment on the third picture, since it takes place in the garage, and we don’t have any pictures from that time. But I will talk about the latest news from JOBS, the movie clip that got out on Thursday, two days before the premiere (and on the eve of the 29th anniversary of the Macintosh introduction).

I’d be interested to know what you guys think of this. I must say I was a little disappointed. With the great production values and all this talk of a ‘wow’ performance from Kutcher, I was actually expecting something close to the reality of Steve’s youth. That’s not what I saw in this clip.

Where do I start?

  • the weird, forced intonations. “That changes e-ve-ry-th-in'”. Steve spoke fast, especially in those days. And he certainly didn’t speak to Woz the way he did keynotes in the 2000s;
  • the depiction of Wozniak as basically a corporate stooge, in a suit, saying “Hi Charlene” to a colleague. He did like the comfort of a salary from working at HP, but I don’t think anyone could say Woz was the corporate type;
  • the exchange on “the operating system” as if the term was new and coined by Wozniak. Yes, seeing what you typed on a keyboard on a TV screen was extraordinary. But this had nothing to do with the expression “operating system” which had been around for a good ten years then. As an example, Gary Kildall’s popular CP/M had been developed in 1973, three years before the Apple I…
  • “nobody wants to buy a computer”… coming from Woz? It’s true that the idea of selling was stranger to him. But certainly not the idea of personal computing, since he was so familiar with it after attending the Homebrew meetings, where it was pioneered.

Woz actually confirmed what I felt in writing to several blogs, starting with Gizmodo, I quote:

Totally wrong. Personalities and where the ideas of computers affecting society did not come from Jobs. They inspired me and were widely spoken at the Homebrew Computer Club. Steve came back from Oregon and came to a club meeting and didn’t start talking about this great social impact. His idea was to make a $20 PC board and sell it for $40 to help people at the club build the computer I’d given away. Steve came from selling surplus parts at HalTed he always saw a way to make a quick buck off my designs (this was the 5th time).

The lofty talk came much further down the line.

I never looked like a professional. We were both kids. Our relationship was so different than what was portrayed. I’m embarrassed but if the movie is fun and entertaining, all the better.

As he says:

It’s only one clip. The movie should be very popular and I hope it’s entertaining. It may be very correct, as well. This is only one clip. But you’ll see the direction they are slanting the movie in, just by the dialog style of this script.

I hope he’s right.

Historical accuracy rating: 4/10

Excerpts from an interview with Apple’s first CEO

As you well know if you’ve read my Steve Jobs biography thoroughly, Steve Jobs was not CEO of Apple until January 2000. Apple’s first CEO was in fact Michael Scott, more famously known as Scotty. Scotty notoriously didn’t get along well with Steve in the early days (as most employees, to be honest), and his eventual departure of the company in 1981 gave Steve Jobs the necessary power to take over the Macintosh project.

In a fashion that was probably launched by John Sculley, BusinessInsider published an interview of Scotty last month, which is worth a read if you are interested in Apple history and have 15 minutes to spare. The piece is honest, though pretty light on the real reasons of Mike Scott’s departure, namely the lay-offs of Black Wednesday.

For those with severe time-constraints, here are the parts that were the most interesting to me:

BI: What were your impressions on meeting [Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak]?
MS: I never got to see the garage, I just saw it at Markkula’s place up on a hill. Jobs did the talking, and Woz was the quiet one, although more lately Woz has found his voice more. In the early days, we were all so busy, that it was well partitioned over who did what. Woz was doing circuit board itself, Jobs was handling rest of Apple II, Markkula was working on marketing, and I was working on getting us into the manufacturing and all the rest of the business parts.

BI: Was [Steve Jobs] as particular then as he is said to be now, or in the early days was he learning and acting differently?
MS: No, he was maybe more particular. The Apple II case came, it had a beige and a green, so for all the standard colors of beige available in the world, of which there are thousands, none was exactly proper for him. So we actually had to create “Apple beige” and get that registered. I stayed out of it but for weeks, maybe almost six weeks, the original Apple II case, Jobs wanted a rounded edge on it so it didn’t have a hard feel. They spent weeks and weeks arguing exactly how rounded it would be. So that attention to detail is what Steve is known for, but it also is his weakness because he pays attention to the detail of the product, but not to the people.
BI: Can you explain that? So was that your job to make sure you brought in all the right people and he wasn’t very attuned to that?
MS: I don’t know how much he’s changed being a manager, but he would not, for instance! he was never allowed to have much of a staff while he was there because he would not supervise them. He wouldn’t make sure they got their reviews on time or that they got their raises, or that they got the health they need.You have to take care of the people as well as the product. As they say he yells at people, at times you have to yell, but at times you have to be supportive too, and I would say that that’s still what makes Steve, Steve.

That was a dispute you get into — who gets number 1? One of the first things was that of course, each Steve wanted number 1. I know I didn’t give it to Jobs because I thought that would be too much. I don’t remember if it was Woz or Marrkula that got number 1, but it didn’t go to Jobs because I had enough problems anyway.

(Romain’s note: Steve Jobs actually managed to become Apple Employee Number 0)

The other argument at the meetings was would Steve take his dirty feet and sandals off the table, because he sat at one end of the conference table, and Markkula sat at the other end chain smoking. So we had to have special filters in the attic in the ceiling to keep the room filter. I had the smokers on one side and the people with dirty feet on the other.

That’s still the way it works, it’s still in the culture, you want to do things right, not just “good enough.” The alternative business model is like Microsoft, where something’s “good enough” to ship, instead of wanting it “just right.” It’s always been Apple’s goal to ship something we were proud of and something people would be proud to own, and I think that’s still true from thirty years ago.

A little side story that he and I would fight over. If we were negotiating price for parts, we could negotiate a price with a vendor and at the last minute, Steve would come in and bang on the table and demand to get one more penny off. And of course they would give him one more penny off. Then he’d crow “well I see you didn’t do as good a job as you could’ve getting the price down.” And I’m saying, “Yeah but that one more penny might’ve cost us a bit more ill will for times when parts are in short supply.”

BI: Was there tension with you being brought in as, what we call now, “adult supervision.” Did you get the sense that he wanted to be in charge of the company and resented you or anything?
MS: Steve just wants to be Steve. Steve’s never shy about telling you what he wants and where he stands. He’s very straightforward to deal with. Unlike other people that don’t tell you what they mean.

New Steve Jobs mosaic portrait + Resolutions leak

Today I come to you with three completely useless, yet entertaining, pieces of Steve Jobs trivia:


This mosaic portrait is from tsevis, not as great as his preceding ones, including that great one used in Fortune magazine

Source: TUAW.

2. Another Steve Jobs doll, but this time it’s cheaper – as a matter of fact, it’s DIY:

3. Pretty fun stuff that came out of spoof Apple news blog Scoopertino two weeks ago: “Steve Jobs’ New Year’s resolutions found on Starbucks napkin”

My favorite is number 6, what’s yours? 😉