How did you get involved with this project?
A friend of mine told me about an entrepreneur and publisher in Dallas, who had commissioned a script for a movie he was really passionate about. After seeing my film, Swing Vote, and after several conversations over phone and email, Mark Hulme flew me out to Dallas. He told me there was a very ambitious and amazing project he was embarking on to make a biopic on Steve Jobs, for which he already had a script – I was instantly intrigued. Here was somebody, from completely outside of the film industry, who really wanted to do something risky – embark in a space he hadn’t been in before, in a way the industry had never done it before. For me as a filmmaker it was just very interesting and very much in the spirit of Steve Jobs. That’s how it all started 11 months ago…
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
My approach was two pronged. First, given that this was a period of Steve Jobs’ life – his early 20’s to mid-40’s – which most people don’t know about, it was really our responsibility to tell the story as it happened, without informing it too much or embarking in speculation – letting it just play out. I think that’s what’s really intriguing about the movie as a whole – that most people don’t realize what this man went through up until that moment when the first iMac came out. This was a period of his life that was really untapped for most people.
Secondly, whoever the character is, he has to live in the film and breathe and exist, no matter how iconic he or she is. So on some level, I separated the pressure of having to tell the story of such a mythic man, and just tell the story of a man who did an amazing and inspiring thing – which is how I would approach any character in any movie. It’s the story of the struggle and the ambition of somebody who, against all odds, achieves a vision and introduces something that had never existed before. Something that has now become part of the fabric of our culture, which we can’t imagine being without – and that’s the story of Steve Jobs.
What sources did you use for background information?
Mark Hulme, our producer, had an expert team of researchers to comb through all public records and interviews that had anything to do with Steve Jobs. Mark, the screenwriter and the research team, also took it upon themselves to interview quite a large pool of people who either worked at Apple or worked with Steve to make sure we portrayed as accurate a portrait and telling of the events possible within the constraints of the films length.
What were your biggest challenges in developing the project?
I think the challenge when dealing with such a well-known and public figure is trying to get it right and to introduce a character who, by nature, was enigmatic – meaning that very few people really knew who this man really was. And that included people who were around him for many, many years. He was a bigger than life, single-minded, and very often mercurial man. So the challenge for a filmmaker is to present it without over explaining what you can’t explain, or hazard a guess that might be inaccurate. And that’s the truth with Steve Jobs. For example, one could potentially guess that he was who he was because he was adopted, and while he has admitted that he had the normal curiosities of an adopted child he always denied that it really had any major impact onto who he became. He had very caring and loving adoptive parents and he adored and never lived very far from them. So I really think the biggest challenge was to purely and honestly present a character, for whom everyone has great expectations to try to know and figure out and understand, and make it entertaining and interesting and hopefully produce a movie that will give the audience a sense of what the man was and a bit of an insight as to what he went through, and how he became who he became.
Steve Jobs is a larger than life figure and people already have their ideas about who he is. What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
I think that what Steve Jobs did – coming from a lower-middle class family, starting a business with Steve Wozniak in a garage that went on to really change the way all of us operate on a day-to-day basis – is a completely and totally inspiring story. It really goes to the spirit of innovation and of one-mindedness as far as achieving something that one might think is impossible. And that’s what he really did. And he had many obstacles. It wasn’t anything but his sheer determination through all those years that helped him to achieve what he achieved. That, of course, and the brilliance of Wozniak and others, especially in those early years. So I hope people really get a sense that this was not something that was handed to Steve Jobs but it was something that he worked for. And I also think it’s going to be interesting for people to see what he was up against because the “business” of a vision is always so difficult. How do you take the vision of someone who’s trying to create something that doesn’t even exist yet, and do that with a board of directors and stock holders overseeing? It’s very, very difficult and that’s what he was up against. It wasn’t until he was kicked out and came back that he got his bearings on how to really make it work. And I think there is something inspirational about that for everybody.
Can you talk about Ashton Kutcher playing the role of Steve Jobs?
When I first met Ashton, it obviously didn’t take long to realize there is a striking physical resemblance to Steve Jobs. More so than that, when I sat down with him, I felt he was already channeling the character – that intensity presented itself immediately. After that meeting, every question I had as a director was answered – some of it was instinct as well I’m sure. He worked tirelessly for a couple of months to really get into the character and research every aspect of Jobs’ personality and idiosyncrasies. Ashton is somebody who is very much involved in the tech industry and has a lot of contacts so he was able to do his own research. I really couldn’t ask for more. I also thought there was something very exciting about him playing Jobs. For a director, you’re always looking for an exciting combination that even goes beyond the film or the obvious casting choices; but having said that, it seemed like the second I sat down with him, he was the obvious choice.
What was your most memorable part of shooting the film?
The most memorable part of shooting the film for me was filming the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, which was the coming out party for the Apple II as well as Steve’s introduction to the world at large. I thought the production design was so spot-on, especially when Ashton walks in as Steve and is almost photo identical – he was so in the moment, and he gave the speech – we had all these extras clamoring around Jobs and it felt almost like we were in a time capsule. It really felt like we were there. Very often when you’re filming, even a period piece, you’re always a bit on the outside and detached from the actual experience. That was one day where we were filming and it felt like we were inside of it and it was really interesting and exciting to be a part of it all.