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.