After dazzling audiences over the weekend at the New York Film Festival with the impressively executed “Steve Jobs,” Oscar winner Danny Boyle took to the Lincoln Center Amphitheater Monday night for an in-depth chat on the making of the film, its dynamic lead actor and, most enticingly, plans for the upcoming “Trainspotting” sequel.
With a whiplash of a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and a superb cast of Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg, “Steve Jobs” is an unconventional look at the life of the eponymous Apple co-founder. The drama takes place exclusively behind the scenes at three major product launches — Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998 — and features Jobs encountering the same five people all while facing obstacles in launching his newest piece of technology.
Check out the highlights from Boyle’s NYFF Live Talk below.
Boyle was blown away by Sorkin’s script, but questioned the purpose of a director in it.
“I knew about the stuff about Fincher dropping out. I didn’t know what was going on. [Producer] Christian Colson and I work together on a number of films and we generate our own material really…I’ve never done a Hollywood project. I’ve never done something that was generated elsewhere. Scott Rudin rang and up and said, ‘Do you want to read it?’ and I was delighted to. It was an astonishing experience reading it, just because it was so original and imaginative about how to approach biopics. I’m not a biopic fan, and we’d done one before about Aaron Rolston — the guy who got trapped in that canyon — but again, like this one, it wasn’t skimming along, it was an intense experience of one event — and in Jobs’ case, three events — as a way of looking at somebody.”
“This guy’s motto was ‘think different,’ so you’d expect somebody like Sorkin, with all that confidence he’s got and ability, to tackle it in a different way, and he did of course. It was exhilarating reading it. But what role is there for a director in it? It’s 181 pages of dialogue, whereas most movies are 120 pages of which half is dialogue and the rest description. There’s no description in this. There’s no manual of how to do it, there’s just ‘interior day, continues.’ You realize, quite quickly, it’s an invitation, or even a provocation to do anything with it.”
Boyle loves the challenge of being restricted.
“I don’t know if it’s a British S&M thing, but restriction is really liberating. We had a hit with ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ it was a massive hit, and after that you can sort of spend a lot of money if you want and do anything you want within certain limits, but we never did. There is something about [thinking in a different way]. If you limit your budget — which we tend to do, we always try to work below $25 million — it’s a self-imposed restriction because it influences the kind of material you do.”
“This is cyclical — it’s the same six characters you meet three times in the same 40 minutes before these launches. Whereas, you know, cinema, you want it to be progressive, linear and forward moving. Cause movies do that, they move forward constantly…it’s not a reflective medium in the way that a novel is. It’s always about forward motion.” For this reason, Boyle worked hard to make each act as different as possible through camera choice and music. The story was cyclical, but the changes stylistically in each act “make it feel progressive and moving forward.”
The studio wanted Jobs to be more likable, but Boyle had Fassbender to help the character remain truthful.
“You can’t really make this film and have [Jobs] in a likable kind of way, it would be ludicrous to do that. Although, that doesn’t stop the executives from calling up and saying, ‘Is there any chance he can be more likable?’ But we hired the wrong actor, because Michael is uncompromising in what he does. Those are his choices, that’s his whole working method…he wasn’t going to give him this likability factor, it’s a relentless pursuit of honesty and truth as is presented to him by Sorkin’s script. The studio was always trying to make things more likable.”
“Michael is a very intimidating actor. His screen persona is intense. He’s also — which you got a little glimpse of in the Tarantino movie ‘Inglourious Basterds’ — got a touch of a Cary Grant in there, he’s very funny, very witty. It’s not a laugh out loud film this one, but he’s setting up gags with Kate Winslet. They’re setting things up for each other.”
Boyle opens the film with Arthur C. Clarke to show just how revolutionary Jobs was.
Boyle opens the picture with archival footage of science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke standing in a room filled with one massive computer, a striking juxtaposition to the intimate machines Jobs would end up creating several decades later. “That’s why we start with Arthur C. Clarke and a wall of computers, because they were intimidating, cold, impersonal and frightening things,” said Boyle of the decision. “[Jobs is] this guy with this vision of something that you will fall in love with, that you’ll literally have a relationship with that’s like romantic. It’s true, isn’t it? I bet 98% of you take it to bed with you.”
“The iMac was the turning point, it put internet in everyone’s home,” he continued about the product in act three. “Even more important, it made computers cool. And improperly cool, like desirable, sexy cool, which you’ve never been able to describe a computer as sexy before then. That’s what he wanted, so the process by which we take these things to bed with us had begun.”
“Trainspotting 2” is moving full steam ahead, though James Cameron may stand in its way.
“We’re doing a sequel to ‘Trainspotting,'” Boyle confirmed of his next project. “We’ve got a very good script by the original writer John Hodge, who wrote the original screenplay, the first one. It’s like 20 years later, and it’s the same actors. You know, it’s 20 years later in a friendship. That’s what we’re going to do next year.”
“Irvine Welsh is involved as one of the partners on the film. We’ve set up a partnership amongst us all and he’s one of the partners. The idea of them coming back together again, in the book it’s 10 years and in ours its 20, and it’s very different. It will be called an adaptation, but it won’t be called ‘Porno.’ We’re going to try and call it ‘T2.’ If we can get James Cameron to permit us we will call it ‘T2,’ so we’re going to have to do something crafty.”
Boyle and composer Daniel Pemberton took a cue from Ennio Morricone and scored the movie beforehand.
“When you make a film, especially with a guarenteed release, you do test screenings. So the habit has grown, which is in the last 20 years, of temp music. So you shoot the film and you put temp music on it from another movie or songs, and you test it, and if you’re testing well than your composer is in a terrible place because you go, ‘Daniel, this has tested really well when it’s sounding like this,’ so can he do something original or just an imitation of that? We tried to avoid all that. Daniel worked on stuff like Ennio Morricone, which is that he wrote a lot of it before we started. We talked about the three acts and what we wanted. Elliot would cut the film to the music, so that when we were ready we’d show it to Daniel.”
“The Social Network” was Boyle’s biggest inspiration.
When asked if he had watched the lambasted Ashton Kutcher biopic “jOBS,” Boyle admitted that he did once he took on the project, but only so that he could avoid repeating certain elements and keep his film feeling fresh. “The big thing for me was ‘The Social Network.’ A lot of people said don’t reference that, look at ‘The West Wing,’ but the fact that Fincher had done one of these I found enormously helpful. It was a film I loved when it came out and I studied it quite carefully. I saw what amazing work he did to actually deliver it and enhance it. It’s amazing movie because it is a sitting down movie — a major motion picture and people rarely stand, that’s amazing actually if you think about it. It’s very clever. I found that helpful. Ours was a standing up movie because Jobs was in to the walk and talk, which is featured in the other film. That was the bigger influence. I felt that we are in lineage with ‘The Social Network’ with this film and I’m proud to be like that. If it’s half as good, we’ll come out well.”