'Steve Jobs' film is a 'painting, not a photograph,' moviemakers say

At an advance screening of the movie in San Francisco, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle defend why they stretched the truth about the Apple co-founder's life.

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
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Director Danny Boyle (left) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin chat on the set of the "Steve Jobs" film. Universal Pictures

SAN FRANCISCO -- After a screening here Friday of the new film "Steve Jobs," writer Aaron Sorkin found himself defending his choice to fictionalize parts of the Apple co-founder's life, something he called making "a painting, not a photo."

Sorkin, who won a screenwriting Oscar for his depiction of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," answered questions from audience members who personally knew Jobs. The film's showing at the Castro Theatre was the first in San Francisco, not far from where the movie's events took place and where the film was shot. Sorkin was joined at a Q&A after the movie by the film's director, Danny Boyle, an Oscar winner for "Slumdog Millionaire."

"This was clearly an impressionistic thing," Sorkin said. "I hope the movie early on announces itself as being a painting instead of a photograph."

"Steve Jobs" is a cinematic portrait of the man who with Macs, iPhones and iPads was instrumental in bringing computers to everyday folk. The movie opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and will hit theaters globally in the coming weeks. Sorkin has said many times that he didn't want to create a biopic that followed Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, from "cradle to grave." Instead, the film depicts three key product launches in Jobs' life: the unveiling of the first Macintosh computer, in 1984; the introduction of the NeXT computer, in 1988; and the launch of the iMac, in 1998. Tying them all together as the "emotional center" of the film is Jobs' relationship with his eldest daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, whose paternity the famous technologist once disputed.

Inside 'Steve Jobs,' the movie (pictures)

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Other major characters in the film include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (played by Seth Rogen), former CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), former Macintosh marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and Mac co-developer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Chrisann Brennan, Jobs' high-school girlfriend and the mother of Lisa, is played by Katherine Waterston. And Lisa is played by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine at ages 5, 9 and 19 respectively. In the film, each of these characters has some sort of conflict with Jobs in the moments before an important product launch.

When asked about the movie's accuracy, Sorkin joked it was "100 percent accurate. In the 40 minutes leading up to those product launches, he confronted the same exact six people."

Watch this: Behind the 'Steve Jobs' movie controversy -- and magic

One notable diversion from reality is Jobs' relationship with Sculley, the former Pepsi CEO who joined Apple as CEO in 1983 and forced Jobs out of the company two years later. The two never spoke again after Jobs left Apple, but the film shows them having two more discussions, at the NeXT and iMac launches, while reaching a sort of uneasy truce. Jobs, during his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, called the firing "devastating" and never forgave Sculley.

"This is the difference between...journalism and art," Sorkin said. Journalists "have an obligation to be objective. I have an obligation to be subjective. There are stories there that should be written about."

He added that changing the truth of Sculley and Jobs' relationship didn't harm anyone.

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Steve Jobs, as played by Michael Fassbender, stands in front of a crowd before one of his major product launches. Universal Pictures

Sorkin also said he never considered adding a fourth scene to cover the launch of the iPhone or any of Apple's other devices. "The movie was never about the products," he said.

Sorkin chose the three launches because of what they show about Jobs' personal struggles and his relationship with his daughter. Comparing the film to a Shakespeare play, Sorkin said the first act, the Mac launch, centers on Jobs denying he was Lisa's father; the second act shows "the king in exile," after Jobs was ousted from Apple; and the third act lets us watch as "the king returns."

"The only consideration of the iPhone was playing a trick on Fassbender and telling him there would be a fourth act," Sorkin joked.

Sorkin also said he believed Jobs would have liked the film, if it "were about someone else."

"Steve Jobs" opens in US theaters on October 23 and in the UK on November 13. It's scheduled for release in Australia on January 14 2016.

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

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