Ever since Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” hit the festival circuit, the film has encountered some controversy. Did screenwriter Aaron Sorkin invent truths, or was he simply just making an impressionistic take on Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs autobiography? It’s brought up questions of cinematic accuracy, which the New York Times expertly tackled here, and Sorkin has addressed the issue in various interviews. “It’s really the difference between a photograph and a painting,” he explained to Wired about this approach.
But in the most recent episode of Jeff Goldsmith’s The Q&A podcast talk, Sorkin has a slightly different take. “I didn’t want to dramatize a Wikipedia page,” he said of his unconventional method.
“To to make very clear,” Sorkin said with a pause. “Because I know that in the last couple weeks there’s been a lot of back and forth about it, I did not distort or pervert or invent a single fact about Steve Jobs in this movie except one: he did not have confrontations with the same five people forty minutes before every product launch he ever did. I just assumed that would be clear to the audience, it’s a writer’s conceit.”
Sorkin went on to reason that on a stage — he began as a playwright — audiences would never have an issue with imagined scenarios based on factual events. “It’s the kind of thing that happens on stage all the time, but which we’re not as used to in movies because movies are a much more literal artform. If this were a play, it wouldn’t be weird that [a] scene between Jobs and [Apple Computer co-founder,] Steve Wozniak never [actually] happened.”
Additionally, ever since “Steve Jobs” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day weekend (read our review), there has been criticism about the film’s ending, a flourish from the filmmaker that upended the narrative, which some pundits have put at the feet of director Danny Boyle. Sorkin put that topic to bed immediately, taking credit and/or blame for the scene in a self-deprecating manner.
Sorkin told a story of screening “Steve Jobs” in San Francisco to 1,000 tech people in Silicon Valley, and after the movie there was a Q&A. A “woman asked if I was pressured into writing that scene either by the studio or Danny or did I put pressure on myself [to write it] because I thought, ‘I can’t make an entire movie this cold, I’ve got to reward the patience of the audience somehow, I’ve gotta get you to like this guy,’ ” he explained. “And I [told her], ‘No, there was no external pressure at all, I wrote that scene, it was exactly the scene I wanted to write, as a matter of fact, on the page it was a little bit more gooey and some of the goo was cut out by Danny in the editing room. She looked at me [shook her head] and said, ‘heartbreaking,’” Sorkin laughed.
“The reason [you didn’t like the ending] is you felt like I betrayed the entire like I betrayed the entire movie,” he told Goldsmith’s audience. “The story of the movie is, ‘Will Steve and his daughter get together?’ The fact that in real life they did find each other isn’t even the reason that I did it, although I like that it’s supportable by facts. I did it because I just don’t think there’s a movie if you don’t do it. I think that what you would have is a theater full of people saying, ‘Why did you make me sit here for two hours?’ ”
Later, Sorkin cheekily admitted, “Bob Dylan lyrics did not appear from the floor when they speak about them, nor did the launch of Skylab fly upon the wall, but not one fact was invented, distorted or perverted about Steve Jobs or any of the other characters in the movie.”
Meanwhile, Danny Boyle himself recently addressed the disappointing box office showing of “Steve Jobs” in North America (after scoring the highest per screen average of 2015 in limited release, the film underperformed when it went wide). “It’s very disappointing that when it was released wide across America it didn’t really work,” he told the BBC Arabic, via The Guardian. “So it’s retreated back now to the main cities. It’s very easy in hindsight [to speculate], but I think it’s probably that we released it too wide too soon.”
Boyle added, “Universal should have built [the release] more slowly,” but praised them for the way they handled the film after Sony dropped it. “Universal have been exemplary in the way they’ve stood up for the film, promoted it and supported us throughout the whole process — and I think are genuinely very proud of the film. Sure, you might have done it in a different way … But you’ve got to get on now.”
The Sorkin/Q&A chat is great and you can listen below, but there are three more great related conversations worth listening to as well. Both are from The Close-Up podcast during the New York Film Festival. One is a 35-minute chat with Boyle — he talks about “3000 Degrees,” a film about firefighters that he almost made circa 2004 that had Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, and Billy Crudup attached (but not Tim Robbins, who turned down a role of a character that would’ve died midway through the movie) — and another 30-minute Close-Up talk with Kate Winslet about her role in “Steve Jobs.” Lastly, Sorkin sits down with CBC Radio‘s “q.”