Aaron Sorkin on Steve Jobs, Facebook, and why he ignored the iPhone

Steve Jobs is the third film about the Apple co-founder in as many years, and none of them has managed to set the box office alight. It seems not that many people are interested in the life of the man who created the world’s most valuable company.

But the latest attempt, from director Danny Boyle, has garnered rave reviews from critics, and with good reason: it’s a great movie.

Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing and The Social Network, took on the task of writing Steve Jobs back in 2012. It seemed like a match made in heaven, with the scribe having already adapted the Facebook story.

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Sorkin is well known for writing smart, witty dialogue for highly intelligent characters, making him a perfect fit for the job of writing about Jobs and the people he surrounded himself with throughout his time at Apple.

“I came up with this notion of doing the entire movie in three real-time scenes,” Sorkin explains.

“I wanted to take these moments of friction in Steve’s life and dramatise them by creating confrontations. Obviously Steve didn’t have confrontations with the same five people 40 minutes before a product launch three times over.”

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Steve Jobs isn’t a biography – Sorkin has made that clear. Instead, it takes a few key moments from the man’s life, each surrounding key products launched by Jobs – but Sorkin didn’t just choose his favourite Apple branded devices.

“I’ve heard people say ‘Oh my god, how could you not do the iPhone?’,” Sorkin says. “That’s not the point of this movie. That’s the other movie they’re talking about, the one where we land on all the greatest hits.

“I chose the first one, in 1984, because Steve was still denying paternity of Lisa. There were other bonuses in there as well.”

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“The Macintosh was the first product that Steve really felt complete ownership of. He got to make it his way, no slots. End to end control. He got everything he wanted and then it failed.”

It’s not just all about the hits – the iPod only gets a fleeting mention, while the iPad is nowhere to be seen (aside from a little hint towards an app-filled future) and there’s a lot more about the negatives of Jobs’ career. The second key scene features Steve’s own pet project, when he left Apple to set up his own company.

“The NeXT Computer is the king is in exile. Then in act three the king returns,” says Sorkin. That third act is when Jobs comes back to Apple to launch the first iMac in 1998.

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“If I had done the iPhone, it would have been [that] the king returned six years ago. I wanted to do the first launch after Steve came back.”

After The Social Network, Sorkin didn’t go searching for another tech behemoth to write about; it just happened that way.

“It was a blind date. Not literally, but metaphorically a blind date. In other words I hadn’t always been interested in Steve Jobs or wanted to write about him. I had just done The Social Network, with the same group of people and then Moneyball.

“They had just optioned Walter Isaacson’s biography. And they came to me and said they want me to do this.” The film is loosely based on the 2011 biography that was released only nineteen days after Jobs’ death.

Sorkin explains: “I was curious about the emotional connection people felt to his products.”

“I started meeting with Woz [Steve Wozniak], Joanna Hoffman, Andy Hertzfeld. I was very lucky John Sculley, that hasn’t really spoken to anyone that much since he left Apple, was willing to speak to me.

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“I was even luckier that Lisa Brennan-Jobs – who had not spoken to Walter because her father was alive at the time – was willing to speak to me.”

The Social Network was a big win for Sorkin, bagging him the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The story was based on Ben Mezrich’s book on the early days at Facebook. The film proved a critical and, unlike the Ashton Kutcher-starring Jobs, commercial success.

“I didn’t think of it as a biopic – at least The Social Network was literal. I didn’t take all of the conflicts in Mark’s life. With Eduardo [Saverin], with the Winklevosses (sorry, Winklevii), with Sean Parker, and dramatise them in the deposition room.

“They had confrontations there, but I also showed you chronologically what happened in the early days of Facebook.”

Sorkin doesn’t see it as a biopic of Zuckerberg though; he relates it more to a biography of Facebook itself. “A biopic would have shown Mark in grade school being bullied by bullies.

“We would have shown the moment that he and his parents discover he’s got the facility for mathematics and computers. We would have shown him on his first day at Harvard. We would have shown him meeting Eduardo – that kind of thing.”

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“I wouldn’t call that a biopic either – it’s more a biopic of Facebook.

“Through this lawsuit I told a story. One story that could be told about Mark Zuckerberg and, like all of us, there are a million stories I’m sure that could be told.”

But Sorkin isn’t keen to jump right back into technology for his next story. “The field doesn’t appeal to me the way it appeals to you and your readers,” he says. “I don’t have an emotional connection to technology. I use it – God knows I get a lot of use out of it.

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“If there was another really good story within the tech arena I would not shy away from it just because I have done two stories about tech titans.

“When I was asked to do Steve Jobs, the thing that I had going against it was it is another tech story. Part of my problem is every time I write something like this I feel like I have to go back to school and change my major.

“There’s so much I don’t know that I need to learn before I can even think about learning the story.”

But the man himself proved too interesting for Sorkin to back away. “Steve Jobs had actually just died a few weeks earlier and I was really taken aback by the size and the depth of the mourning. The eulogising that was happening, I hadn’t really seen anything like it since John Lennon was killed.

“I was curious about what that was about, and the emotional connection they felt to his products.”

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He was one of them – Sorkin has written all his scripts on different versions of the Mac. Steve Jobs was written across four different Apple products. There was a desktop in Aaron’s home, one in his office and two MacBooks he uses on the go.

He’s also got an iPhone, so he’s no stranger to Jobs’ work. He even still uses a black iPod Classic.

“I like the clicking wheel. It’s the classic one. And I just love that wheel – Steve really did know what he was doing.”

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But Sorkin didn’t just use his knowledge of the products. In a similar way to how he related to Zuckerberg in the script for The Social Network, Sorkin did the same when writing Jobs.

“You can’t judge them. I like to write them as if they’re making their case to God on why they should be allowed into heaven.

“And the way I’m able to relate to Steve is that he made things, informed them, endowed them with something that makes us emotional about him.”

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“I, like Steve, work in a collaborative medium – so I understand what it is when someone gets in between you and trying to make this thing that you think will get people to like you.”

“People felt an emotional connection to the things that he made. So he felt like he was liked, and he was. I want people to like the things that I make.”

Steve Jobs is in UK cinemas November 13 and out now in the US.

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