May 12

Steve Jobs, The Movie(s)

Apparently, there are two ways to make a Steve Jobs movie.

You can do a low-budget indie film using director Joshua Michael Stern (who?) and first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely, and give it an appropriately cheesy name like Steve Jobs: Get Inspired.

Or you can pay Isaacson a million bucks for the rights to his book, and prepare to pay far bigger bucks for everything that follows. Which is what Sony Pictures has done, bless their little hearts.

Honestly, I’ve been surprised that no major studio has tried to make a movie about Steve before. Maybe that’s because there wasn’t a good book to base it on, like The Social Network was based on The Accidental Billionaires.

Just as Steve wanted a name-brand writer for his biography, Sony wanted a name-brand screenwriter for its movie. So it grabbed Aaron Sorkin, who was not only responsible for The Social Network, but also penned Moneyball and The West Wing TV series. Between Sorkin’s brain and Sony’s bank account, I’m feeling pretty good about this one. Let’s cross our fingers for a great cast and great director.

Now if you’re one of those people who hated the book, and you’re prepared to hate the movie because it’s based on the book… just relax.

This is a movie. It’s entertainment. Sorkin’s mission isn’t to document Steve’s life for future generations. It’s to write a killer story. In the process, he must show us a personal and emotional side of Steve that we’ve never seen before. In large part, he’ll do that through words Steve never used and conversations he never had. That’s what screenwriting is all about.

Sorkin has already said that cradle-to-grave biographies don’t work. He’s got to figure out what part or parts of Steve’s life to focus on. He has to find a core idea upon which he can build the movie (like the lawsuit he used in The Social Network). And in Steve Jobs, he must create a character who has a goal, but must overcome the obstacles thrown in his path.

So if you owned the rights to Isaacson’s bio, how would you turn it into a two-hour movie? When Sony announced its plans, it got me thinking. Here’s my idea:

Act One. Steve builds Apple with Woz. Following his moment of glory with Macintosh, he suffers a crushing defeat when Sculley outmaneuvers him in a chess game involving moves and counter-moves, conspiracies and alliances. Steve is thrown out of his own company and it hurts him deeply.

Act Two. Steve picks up the pieces. He starts NeXT. He buys Pixar. He matures as a leader, as Apple begins failing without him. He also meets the love of his life. But something is still missing. He needs Apple, and Apple needs him. He hatches an almost unbelievable plan to get back to Apple and become its leader once again.

Act Three. Another chess game, only this time the stakes are way higher. Steve needs to seduce Apple into buying NeXT for over $400 million, gain a foothold in the company, win the confidence of the board and push out the current CEO. There are dark turns and moments when it looks like it might all fall apart. But Steve wins. He’s reunited with the company he created, in the one place he feels truly happy and empowered — with a world of possibilities before him. The end.

What about iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad? Screw ’em. We all know those stories. In fact, the movie could end with all those nifty i-devices flashing by in a montage leading into the credits, indicating the many glories that would follow.

The human side of Steve’s story isn’t about the devices he created. It’s about his very public failure when he lost his company, and his long road to redemption. In the end, he really did win — and the world was the beneficiary of his victory.

Of course, Sorkin could focus on Steve’s later years, when he had to face the ultimate challenge — his own mortality — even as he was achieving his greatest successes. That’s the version with the tear-jerker ending.

But personally, I’d like to see Steve have an uplifting ending. After his incredible journey, and all he accomplished, he deserves one.

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  • GadgetDon

    I think your Act 3 needs the iMac, because that was the triumph of Job’s new plan for Apple – simplify the number of models, create something where the design was key and the design went beyond “pretty” to functional (that handle on the top, for example). If the iMac had tanked, we might not have seen the stuff that came later.

  • ksegall

    I could roll with that. Very true that if Steve didn’t succeed in that first year, there would have been no Apple to succeed in later years. When Sorkin calls, maybe I’ll modify the idea :)

  • Jason Parry

    Jobs: Get inspired i think will be about his early life (has to be with the young ashton kutcher). I think the Sorkin movie should be later on (i think it will be seeing as they were talking noah wyle or george clooney. I think the Sorkin can tackle the tearjerker one – realizing his mortality and using that as the greatest “change agent”. The first scene – the call (whomever called whom) to get Steve back at Apple. Then the interplay of heathy success and unhealth that motivates steve. Last scene is the hospital redesigning the EKG machines and the final scene the Stanford speech 

  • myonlinelifenow

     i agree but adding on you can’t just leave iTunes, the iPod, iPhone and iPad out of the mix.  ” the movie could end with all those nifty i-devices flashing by in a
    montage leading into the credits, indicating the many glories that would
    follow.”  I don’t think so.  I’m only 36 and as much as Act 1 and 2 gives me the base, I need to see the beyond kick ass attitude of taking down music industry, leveling the teleCo field and upending the computer, entertainment and education worlds.  Or Sorkin could just do it Lord of the Rings style and make three movies?

  • ksegall

    I like the trilogy idea! At least that would make the fans happy. But again, Sorkin needs to focus on something, and he’s already said he’s not going to tell the whole story. He’s going to find the one part that provides the most drama and intrigue. One reason he might go with the later part of Steve’s life is that the old TBS production of “Pirates of Silicon Valley” and the new Ashton Kutcher Steve Jobs movie both focus on the early years.

    I just don’t see the great storyline for the Steve character in the last 15 years, other than “merely a string of amazing successes that changed the world.” Big a story as that is, a screenwriter might not find the necessary evils in there for Steve to be fighting, in order to create the tension that makes for a great story.

    Guess we’ll find out in a year or two. I’m really super-curious to find out what an objective observer and great screenwriter decides is the most compelling story to tell about Steve Jobs.

  • Pyewacket


    You think you know how to write a scene play better than Sorkin?


  • ksegall

    Never in a million years would I suggest that I could write a better screenplay than Sorkin. You might want to re-read this article. I’m asking my readers what they would do, and I’m sharing what I would do. It’s for fun. Like everyone else, I’m eager to see what Sorkin will do. I’m actually hoping it’s something that none of us would think of.

  • Well written. But I wouldn’t want to see a movie without showing what happened after the first iPod. Pirates of the sillicon Valey already showed us the story of his ego and public failur.

    So maybe the movie can start showing a very brief of how and why he was fired, the start the from after building next, up till the last day of his life. That would be a great story with little sad ending.

  • ksegall

    Yeah, but you still need a single focus for the Steve character. He’s got to be on some path toward the future, and have to deal with the obstacles that get thrown in his way. Sorkin has already said he was looking for that core idea upon which he could build a story. I doubt that he’d feel compelled to included any of Steve’s great achievements — unless they advanced the story he wants to write.

    Then again, as you point out, “Pirates” looked at the early Steve already. Plus that other Steve movie is going to be about his younger days. So … who knows!

  • Gonji

    Act one: Astronaut (Steve) finds a tablet like shape on the moon. (envisages the future).
    Act two: Steve goes on long journey to realise dream. Defeats evil computer (software maker) along the way. Quote: “Open the pod bay doors, Bill.”
    Act three: Steve faces his own mortality. Movie finishes with iPad floating in space with face of young Steve on screen.

    However, I feel something similar has been done before.

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  • DanDan

    Ken, great post.

    Personally I think there should be definately some additional focus in the movie on the products Steve/Apple has introduces to the world. For instance:  the triomphant return of Apple with the iMac , some of his most famous keynotes (imagine an “behind the scenes look),  product development , product ideas , which shaped Apple over the years and those products being loved by the public at large. Of cours the focus of such a movie is how Steve struggled with his ideas/inovations, with Apple, with his family life and with his health,  but you can’t simply say “screw ‘m” (regarding the products Apple introduced over the years).Perhaps in the US “one knows all the product stories”, but in the rest of the world people might be really interested in getting some more insight …

    Many people who love their iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad don’t probably know the story behind it either , and of course the movie should definately not be about Apple’s products only (on the contrary) , but you can’t just leave them out. I think the most interesting story about > 1997 is how Steve got his beloved Apple back where it belonged ; at the top , using those great products to begin with and the struggle it took …

    What do you say?

  • ksegall

    I totally get why people would want to see the behind-the-scenes stuff, and the creation of world-changing products. I just think that Sorkin’s priority as a screenwriter is to create a compelling drama about an amazing person. I doubt that he feels any obligation to cover one product or another. He’s one of today’s great screenwriters and his mission is to write great story and flesh out one of the world’s most interesting personalities. We’ve got a bit of a wait ahead of us, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does!

  • DanDan

    I agree. An amazing person lik Steve Jobs is a combination of his personality, his insight , his creativity, and the way he introduced products to us that “we” never thought we needed. Let’s see what the movie will bring us l…

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  • Sam

    And who will play the young copywriter and creative director Ken Segall?  It’s too bad that Jerry Mathers is too old.  That would be fun.

  • dear Henri

    Who should play Steve’s role?

  • bradgutting

    Sorkin’s a great writer who has a tendency to completely miss the point. I’m reminded of something like the Hyundai Veloster–an amazing design draped over an engine that totally doesn’t get it.

    I think that Marc Andreesen nailed it when talking about The Social Network: “Aaron Sorkin was completely unable to understand the actual psychology of Mark or of Facebook. He can’t conceive of a world where social status or getting laid or, for that matter, doing drugs, is not the most important thing.”

    Not saying that he can’t make an entertaining movie out of it, but my bet is that he’ll pander and simplify and not get what Jobs was seeking. For all of Steve’s apparent narcissism and bouts of cruelty, I think there’s something deeply humane about him. I still think Sorkin’s best work was Sports Night, and if he channels some of the wonder associated with the characters on that show, then maybe he’ll pull it off. Easy for me to say–I’m not the one under pressure to write a brilliant script for a big-ticket movie!

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  • David

    I think you nailed, Ken.

    To put it more simply, (a word I believe you’re familiar with) in the classic movie story-telling vernacular:
    Boy meets girl. (Steve Jobs creates Apple)
    Boy loses girl. (Jobs gets ousted from Apple)
    Boy wins girl back. (Jobs ends up running Apple, and in the process saving it, his vision, and everything it eventually would come to stand for… to the tech industry and the hundreds of millions of insanely happy Apple consumers around the world)

    Not to mention Apple stockholders, of which I am one.

  • dearHenri
  • poke

    I’d do it in a similar way except your Act 2 would be Act 1. I’d completely leave out the founding of Apple. The biggest problem with telling the story of Steve Jobs now is that the story was already told when people thought it was over and that story revolved around the founding of Apple. I think the movie has to serve as a kind of corrective to the pervasive misunderstanding of Apple and Jobs and that’s best done by leaving that part out. So the movie would start with Steve Jobs being kicked out of Apple. Maybe it could literally start with him packing up his stuff and leaving his office. The first act would be his “wilderness years” and is basically your act two. He tries to build “Apple done right” in the form of NeXT (and this is where we can learn about the Mac and Apple team members as he tries to lure them away from Apple) but he doesn’t find much success. Pixar is a consolation prize, but it’s not enough. Act 2 sees him getting Apple back and covers the iMac, etc, all the way up to the first signs of illness. Act 3 is coping with morality, discovering what’s truly important, etc.

  • ksegall

    I think this is an excellent idea. One problem with the Apple-founding part is that it’s been done already (and is about to be done again). Quick, get me Sorkin on the phone.