UPDATE: As hoped, the Steve Jobs biopic has found a home at Universal Pictures, reports Variety. Directed by Danny Boyle and adapted by Aaron Sorkin from Walter Isaacson’s biography, the project was forfeited by Sony last week without explanation. Star Michael Fassbender remains attached to the project, with Seth Rogen in talks to costar as Steve Wozniak and Natalie Portman in the wings. More on the film’s long road below:
EARLIER: Why does a studio put in turnaround a high-profile movie based on a global bestseller that many people want to see? Because they think the picture won’t make money. It’s usually a smart move not to pay too much for an adult drama, much as I wish the studios would take more chances in this arena. Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal has not given any reasons for why she passed on Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic based on Walter Isaacson’s official biography, published in 2011 right after the Apple chief succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
Why is this project is so troubled?
The studio: First, Sony nabbed the movie rights after Jobs’ death in 2011 with producers Mark Gordon and Guymon Casady’s Film 360. When Aaron Sorkin was hired to write, Sony producer Scott Rudin came on board; they had succeeded on adapting Ben Mezrich’s Facebook saga “The Social Network” with Sony and David Fincher, which yielded eight Oscar nominations, three wins and $224 million worldwide. Fincher managed to race through 163 pages in two hours. When Fincher passed on directing, the studio turned to Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”).
The script: This time, Sorkin has penned a dialogue-rich 181-page three-act screenplay spanning 16 years, focused on three of Jobs’ keynote speeches introducing pivotal new products: the first Macintosh and NeXT computers and the iPod. Sorkin said at a D10 conference that writing about Jobs was like writing about the Beatles; he’s trying to skirt the conventional “cradle-to-grave structure of a biography,” looking instead at a “point of friction that appeals to me…I can’t judge the character, he has to for me be a hero. I have to find the parts of him like me, I have to be able to defend his character.”
This new material, possibly including the child Jobs did not admit paternity to–reporting beyond the book–is apparently causing friction with Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, who cooperated with Isaacson. That’s another wrinkle.
The casting: When Leonardo DiCaprio passed on “Jobs,” the filmmakers went to another foreign marquee draw, Christian Bale. But he recently withdrew, feeling he was not right for the part. Seth Rogen, who has been on a winning streak, may play a supporting role as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Michael Fassbender has agreed to take the title role.
The budget: Word is that with Fassbender, Sony Pictures wanted the interior talk-fest to cut back its $35 million budget –and save money by not shooting in Northern California.
Sony Pictures, once free-spending but now in belt-tightening mode, felt that it got burned on Rudin and Fincher’s $90-million “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which returned $232 million worldwide. (They’ve developed a second Steve Zaillian script; in September Fincher told a Swedish site that he was optimistic that the studio would pursue the film based on millions already invested, but a sequel has not yet materialized.)
On the other hand, Sony passed on Steve Soderbergh’s vision of Michael Lewis’s baseball book “Moneyball,” which was written sequentially by Zaillian and Sorkin and eventually directed by Bennett Miller on a $50-million budget; the success d’estime scored six Oscar nominations but grossed a modest $111 million worldwide.
New home: A week after WME’s Ari Emanuel shopped the movie to various players; Universal finally did pick up “Jobs.”