How I was almost a Steve Jobs movie extra

CNET's Shara Tibken had on her finest '80s garb, but she didn't take into account the Apple fan fervor when she signed up to be an extra in the new Aaron Sorkin film.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
5 min read
The crew filming the new Steve Jobs movie hosted hundreds of extras on the Cupertino, Calif., set. Shara Tibken/CNET

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- It's not just Apple's iPhone that attracts long lines. It's also the possibility of being in the new Steve Jobs movie that gets Apple fans up at the crack of dawn.

I found that out the hard way when I showed up on a beautiful Saturday morning to be an extra in the unnamed Jobs biopic penned by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle. I thought I'd have no trouble getting onto the movie set at the Flint Center here since I was "confirmed" as an extra and arrived at the designated time. Silly me. After years of covering the lines at Apple events and product launches, I should have known better.

It turns out that Apple's allure doesn't just apply to its gadgets. It extends to every aspect of the consumer electronics giant -- even if it's a film about its legendary co-founder. Jobs, who spearheaded Apple's creation of products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad , built up a cult-like following in his years leading the company. Since his death from cancer in 2011, interest in him has only grown. Several books and films have been created about his life, most notably an authorized biography written by Walter Isaacson, the basis for this latest film.

The line of would-be extras for the Steve Jobs movie seemed to go on forever. Shara Tibken/CNET

Which is where I come in. Sporting '80s gear, I was among the hundreds on Saturday who were turned away from the production in the venue where Jobs unveiled the Macintosh computer in 1984. It's also the same venue where Apple CEO Tim Cook last September introduced the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch and Apple Pay. The venue holds about 2,300 people, but hundreds more showed up to be extras -- and many didn't make the cut.

"The response was absolutely overwhelming," said one man overseeing the horde of extras, which started gathering shortly after 5 a.m. despite a notice to arrive between 9 and 10 a.m.

The line seemed to have no beginning and no end as it snaked its way across the De Anza College campus. Most people looked like they probably do every day, but there were some people clad in acid-washed denim jackets and mom jeans, and there were more oversized blazers with shoulder pads than I've seen in one place in my life. The best were the people who had the hairstyles to match -- feather curves and big bangs on women; long, flowing locks on men, a la Jon Bon Jovi; or Tom Selleck mustaches.

The company that gathered the extras, BeInAMovie.com, didn't respond to my request for information about why there were so many extra extras Saturday. But one person manning the line noted that "never in my years of doing this has this ever happened."

Inside the Apple garage as Jobs film starts shooting (pictures)

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Jobs movie take 2

Three weeks ago, one of my colleagues got a notice over email about a new movie that was going to be filming in the Bay Area and was looking for unpaid extras. It was the Steve Jobs movie, and the production company needed people to help set the scene for one of the vignettes in the film. "Come support a Hometown Hero!" the email said.

Universal Pictures transformed the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif., to 1984, the year Apple introduced the Mac. Shara Tibken/CNET

"Our day on the film set takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, and the director, actors and us [sic] paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant, flawed man at its epicenter," it added.

The movie covers three major product introductions that shaped Jobs' life and the company he co-founded, which ultimately turned Apple into the most valuable company in the world. The scenes include the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1984, the unveiling of the Next computer in 1988 and the iPod release in 2001. Puzzlingly, the film will omit his pivotal iPhone launch in 2007.

The film began shooting in California last month. The product team has hit up the Los Altos garage where Jobs and partner Steve Wozniak started Apple in 1976, and they've also shot in Berkeley. According to line minders Saturday, they'll be shooting in the Bay Area for another six to seven weeks.

The Sorkin-scripted film is the second major Jobs movie following the charismatic executive's death. The previous film -- "Jobs," starring Ashton Kutcher in the lead role and Josh Gad as Wozniak -- was widely panned and even faced criticism from Wozniak.

The much-anticipated film based on Isaacson's tome has faced a lot of turmoil leading up to production. Sony had been developing the film since 2011 when it bought the rights to Isaacson's authorized biography shortly after Jobs' death. But the production company ditched it late last year. Then Universal Pictures picked it up. David Fincher, who directed Sorkin's f ilm "The Social Network," about Mark Zuckerberg and the early days of Facebook,originally was slated to direct it, but he also dropped out. And "Dark Knight" star Christian Bale, who was cast to play Jobs without even having to audition, also backed out of the project in November.

CNET staffers (from left) Caitlin Petrakovitz, Dara Kerr, Shara Tibken and Lynn La donned their finest '80s clothes to be extras in the Steve Jobs movie. CNET

Michael Fassbender, of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "12 Years A Slave," is playing Jobs, while Seth Rogen, of "The Interview" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," is starring as Wozniak. Kate Winslet of "Titanic" and "Divergent" has been cast as Joanna Hoffman, the former Macintosh marketing chief; and Jeff Daniels, of "Dumb & Dumber" and "The Newsroom," is playing former Apple CEO John Sculley.

Sadly, I didn't see any of those actors. But I did see hundreds of people looking like characters from a bad '80s sitcom.

Shoulder pads and pleats

According to the notice to be an extra, I was to take part in a scene from 1984 (which was evidently to be the Mac launch). It recommended that men have "big long sideburns" and that women should wear blouses that are "boxy in cut with larger shoulders." Everyone was supposed to wear layers. A visit to a San Francisco thrift store supplied me with appropriate '80s attire -- a pastel flowered dress with shoulder pads and pleats, and a baby blue boxy sweater layered on top.

There were plenty of Cosby sweaters and plaid, flannel button-ups. And many women sported side ponytails and leg warmers, which didn't seem quite appropriate for Apple shareholders (Jobs introduced the Mac during a stockholder meeting in 1984).

About 2,000 people succeeded in becoming extras in the Steve Jobs movie being filmed at the Flint Center. But hundreds were turned away. Shara Tibken/CNET

Along with three of my colleagues, I was supposed to arrive at De Anza College's Flint Center in Apple's Cupertino hometown between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. I strolled up at 9:30, just in time, I mistakenly thought, only to find thousands of people in line ahead of me. Very quickly, hundreds more filed in behind me.

I wasn't in line very long when people working on the film told me they had closed the line because of the "overwhelming response." No amount of pleading by other would-be extras got us anywhere.

I got close enough to see the vintage "Apple Macintosh" signs outside the Flint Center. And I watched as the couple of thousand lucky extras filed into the auditorium. Then again, they would be stuck inside an auditorium taking stage direction all day, and I would get to enjoy a sunny, 70-degree California winter day. No, I'm not bitter. Seriously.

The production crew reassured me that the film would be shooting in the area for several weeks longer and I could try to be an extra again. But they also warned that if I wrote about what happened, I'd no longer be eligible to be an extra.

I guess I'll just have to wait for the movie to hit theaters.

Watch this: See who's playing whom in the new Steve Jobs movie