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WATCH: Aaron Sorkin on Taking Risks on ‘Steve Jobs,’ Directorial Debut ‘Molly’s Game,’ and ‘Best of Enemies’

WATCH: Aaron Sorkin on Taking Risks on 'Steve Jobs,' Directorial Debut 'Molly's Game,' and 'Best of Enemies'

Steve Jobs” rests on an extraordinary text by “The Social Network” Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, who structures a dense, dialogue-driven narrative around three “ten-minute” run-ups to Apple co-founder Jobs’ unveilings of the original Macintosh computer in 1984, his NeXt black cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Sorkin and a gifted filmmaking ensemble bring to life this complex man, who five years after his death still fascinates the billions of people around the world who are in love with Apple products.
It was a smart move to marry visualist Danny Boyle with Sorkin’s 200-page screenplay (most are 100), largely set inside the bowels of three auditoriums. The movie rides the flow of Sorkin’s dialogue with propulsive movement and varied settings, but it’s easy to understand why then-Sony motion picture chairman Amy Pascal twisted herself into a pretzel over green-lighting the picture. There were too many risks for a studio head already on the ropes.

In our recent flipcam interview Sorkin has nothing but praise for Pascal for believing in him. “Amy Pascal is awesome,” he said. He recognized how out-of-the-box risky his concept was, and obtained her go-ahead to write it. She might have made the film with David Fincher and Christian Bale—not Boyle and Michael Fassbender. Snapping up the package was Donna Langley at Universal (riding flush times), who pushed forward on the audacious biopic (loosely) based on Walter Isaacson’s bestseller. “It was incredibly risky,” Sorkin admitted. “I didn’t want to do a biopic. That’s journalism, a dramatized Wikipedia page.”

Sorkin stayed on set throughout “luxurious” rehearsals for each of the three acts and their separate shoots in San Francisco, watching the actors ingest and absorb his massive pages of dialogue (“the sound of Jobs’ mind”). “The rehearsal period was what allowed us to do the movie,” said Sorkin. Fassbender as Jobs and Winslet as Macintosh marketing chief Joanna Hoffman both dazzle with their fleet-tongued performances, unlike anything they have done before. Fassbender is playing a monster, in many ways, who is also a genius who believed his computer would change the world. But he reveals a damaged man who sacrificed himself to fight for his impossibly high standards.”You have to do more than remember it,” Sorkin said. “You have to own it.”

WATCH: How Kate Winslet Warms Up ‘Steve Jobs’

Boyle shot the film in three discrete parts. Part One, shot in gritty 16 mm with flashbacks to the famous garage where Apple was born, is an origin myth. The second section was shot in 35 mm, the third in hi-res digital. Sorkin jams the most dramatic moments in Jobs’ life into highly stressed pre-show encounters with his principal antagonists, masterfully managed by his personal timekeeper Hoffman with a Moliere-like efficiency as she shuttles her boss from one backstage location to another. “Points of friction became clear to me,” he said, after reading about a moment when Jobs freaked out that the Mac wouldn’t say ‘Hello’ before the 1984 launch. He decided to give Jobs other, personal, headaches before the three launches. “I’m a playwright faking my way through movies and TV,” he said. “I like claustrophobic spaces, especially when there’s a ticking clock.”

READ MORE: How Michael Stuhlbarg Plumbs Emotion in ‘Trumbo’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ 

Sorkin defends his fictionalized script, which is Shakespearean in its portrait of a flawed but compelling protagonist surrounded by supporting players, and takes quite a few liberties. For example, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told me that he didn’t interact with Jobs at these launch events and never called his “friend” “an asshole”; his call about getting credit for Apple 2 went to Jobs’ hand-picked CEO John Scully (Sorkin’s “Newsroom” star Jeff Daniels). But while Jobs mellowed in later years, Wozniak said, at the time of the iMac launch he was still “pretty brutal.” “I did not feel like I was distorting the truth,” said Sorkin. “It’s truly how he feels. I didn’t distort or invent facts about Steve Jobs. I’m a playwright, not a journalist. It’s my subjective take on Steve Jobs and these events. Any artist’s obligation is to be subjective, whereas a journalist’s is to be objective.”
Joanna Hoffman, who does not play a big role in the book, won prizes at Apple for three years for standing up to Jobs. Sorkin felt compelled to meet her and was enchanted. Sorkin also interviewed Scully, who had remarried and was ready to tell his side of the story. This betraying father figure pushed the Apple board to fire Jobs after the first Macintosh didn’t sell—after Jobs ignored Hoffman’s warnings not to overhype his product. 

There’s also Jobs’ ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katharine Waterston), who fights for support for Lisa, who he refuses to claim as his child. Jobs’ chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) did in fact advance $25,000 for Jobs’ daughter Lisa’s tuition to Harvard. Sorkin was able to interview Lisa, who did not participate in the biography because her father was still alive. Sorkin recognizes, as Alex Gibney does in his excellent Steve Jobs documentary, that Lisa humanizes Jobs. He’s tender with his daughter, at the same time that he insists that he did not name his computer after her. Sorkin’s take on Jobs is almost too warm and fuzzy as he seeks to redeem him via the adoring gaze of Lisa and Hoffman. “The relationship with his daughter is the emotional center,” he said.

READ MORE: Danny Boyle Unveils Daring ‘Steve Jobs’ at Telluride

Finally, the well-reviewed movie played best for critics and festival audiences; when the studio took “Steve Jobs” wide too early, it stumbled. It remains to be seen whether that negative taint will dampen the enthusiasm of Academy voters. Whatever its box office fate, “Steve Jobs” is must-see, one-of-a-kind cinema that cannot be ignored. 

Next up: Sorkin has signed on to direct his script for “Molly’s Game,” which he handed in to Sony producer Pascal this fall (after Sony hack-revealed email kerfuffles over adapting Michael Lewis’s “Flashboys”). “Molly’s Game” will not only be his directorial debut, it will also feature his first female protagonist: real-life competitive skier Molly Bloom, who ran a high-stakes poker game in Hollywood. That’s a coveted role for a top actress to play. (Especially during the run of HBO’s “Newsroom,” Sorkin has fended off accusations of misogyny.)

Going forward, the writer (who prefers movies and theater to the deadline demands of television) has picked up the movie rights to John Edwards expose “The Politician.” He’s also acquired rights to the documentary “Best of Enemies,” which made this year’s Oscar shortlist, as a feature. Of course he’s attracted to the ABC live TV confrontation of brilliant and witty fast-talking political opposites William F. Buckley (straight Conservative) and Gore Vidal (gay Liberal). “It’s the beginning of food fight television,” Sorkin said. 

And yes, many are clamoring for “Steve Jobs” to be mounted on Broadway. The stars still have it memorized. Your move, Scott Rudin.

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