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Sorkin: Writing about Jobs is like writing about The Beatles

The Academy and Emmy award-winning screenwriter chats at the D10 conference, noting that his work on the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic is still in its early stages.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (right) talks to D10 conference host Walt Mossberg (left).
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (right) talks to D10 conference host Walt Mossberg (left). Rafe Needleman/CNET

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says that writing the screenplay for the upcoming biopic of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is a lot like trying to write about The Beatles.

Speaking at the D10 Conference today, the award-winning screenwriter and producer said he's currently at the "earliest possible stage" of putting together the screenplay for the feature film, and that it's not just as simple as sitting down with the source material.

"What I'll do is go through a long period that would not look to any casual observer like writing," Sorkin jokingly told interviewer and conference founder Walt Mossberg. Instead, he said, it would "look a lot more like watching ESPN to the untrained eye."

Sorkin said writing the film has been a "process of procrastination," but also one that involves a completely different type of narrative structure than the source material, which is Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Jobs.

"Walter Isaacson wrote a terrific biography, but biographies when they're turned into movies -- and there have been some terrific ones -- it's very difficult to shake the cradle-to-grave structure of a biography," Sorkin said. "I'm instead probably going to identify the point of friction that appeals to me, and dramatize that."

During the interview, Sorkin noted that he's had hesitations while contemplating the screenplay, specifically because of how much people know about the intricacies of Jobs' life and personality.

"One of the hesitations I had in taking on the movie was that it's a little like writing about The Beatles," Sorkin said. "There are so many people out there who know so much about him and who revere him. I saw a minefield of disappointment, frankly, that I was going to do something [wrong] and -- hopefully when I'm done with my research I'll be in the same ballpark of knowledge about Steve Jobs as so many people in this room are."

Sorkin famously penned "The Social Network" from Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires," which chronicled the founding and rise of Facebook. The film went on to win critical acclaim, though it failed to pick up an Oscar for Best Picture at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, after being nominated. It did, however, win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Screenplay Adaptation, which went to Sorkin.

Sorkin said that Jobs and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg share similarities, with each one "an extremely complicated guy."

"With as little as I know about the Steve Jobs movie -- I know this for sure -- that I can't judge the character, he has to for me be a hero. I have to find the parts of him like me, I have to be able to defend his character," Sorkin said.

"To put it as simply as possible, you want to write the character as if they're making the case to God why they should be allowed into heaven," he added.

Isaacson's authorized biography of Jobs, details Jobs' life from beginning to end, and it is composed of some 40 interviews Isaacson had with Jobs, along with his friends, competitors, and colleagues. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to do a film adaptation from that book, and announced that Sorkin would be at the helm earlier this month.

Sorkin said one of the important things people need to think when viewing the end result of the whole process is that the film will have his fingerprints on it.

"All I can say at this early stage of the game is, I think any time you are at the movies and you see the words 'the following is a true story,' you should think of it as a painting and not a photograph," Sorkin said. "You're going to get an authorial point of view, and there could probably be many movies about Steve Jobs, and in fact there will be two."

Sorkin remained mum about who would play Jobs in the upcoming film, which will compete with a separate project starring Ashton Kutcher as Jobs that begins shooting in Jobs' childhood home next month.