Factions Form For and Against Upcoming ‘Steve Jobs’ Film

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Controversy is building around Steve Jobs, an upcoming film based on Walter Isaacson's biography of the same name. While praised by critics, The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required) the film is being criticized by some of the people who were closest to him, including his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and long-time Apple board member Bill Campbell.

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, has praised it for capturing the spirit of Steve Jobs. Mr. Wozniak was paid some US$200,000 to consult on the film, according to a stolen copy of the film's budget.

Steve Jobs

The film was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, who also directed Slumdog Millionaire. It stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak. According to those who have seen it, it heavily features Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs's first child, though she was not prominent in Mr. Isaacson's book.

The book itself has also been criticized by Steve Jobs's inner circle, with several Apple executives stating publicly that it didn't portray the Steve Jobs they knew and loved. They instead have extolled the virtues of Becoming Steve Jobs, a much different book about the late tech icon, and a project for which many interviewed.

Those two books are completely different in nature. Walter Isaacson's biography was written in cooperation with Steve Jobs, who spent a lot of time with his biographer. Steve Jobs is more of an academic history, a linear telling of Steve Jobs's life that hews towards a dry recitation of facts and context.

Becoming, on the other hand, is more of a philosophical look at the many influences and events that shaped Steve Jobs and turned him into the great tech executive he became—all, as seen through the eyes of journalist Brent Schlender (Rick Tetzeli co-authored the book).

Pro tip: read both books if you are interested in Mr. Jobs.

Getting back to the movie, the most interesting aspect of The Wall Street Journal's piece on Monday is that Laurene Powell-Jobs reportedly lobbied to have the project canceled, working on both Sony, the film's first studio, and Universal Pictures, the studio that actually made the film and is releasing it now.

That information comes from sources close to the film—producer Scott Rudin—so take it with a grain of salt. According to him, the filmmakers tried to work with Ms. Powell-Jobs (like they did with Mr. Wozniak), but she declined.

"She refused to discuss anything in Aaron’s script that bothered her despite my repeated entreaties," Mr. Rudin said. "[She] continued to say how much she disliked the book, and that any movie based on the book could not possibly be accurate."

Bill Campbell, former coach, former Apple executive, the founder of Intuit, an Apple board member, and a mentor to Steve Jobs, was a little more circumspect. He said, "A whole generation is going to think of him in a different way if they see a movie that depicts him in a negative way."

But he hasn't seen the film, either, according to The Journal.

Preponderance of Evidence

What to make of all this? No one book or movie can capture everything about any human. If you want to understand someone you didn't know, you have to absorb as much source material as you can get your hands on. Read it all, watch it all. Then read criticisms of it all and decide what has value and what doesn't.

I found Steve Jobs and Becoming Steve Jobs both to reveal amazing and interesting insights on their subject (and others, too)—more specifically, I don't think Walter Isaacson's book painted Mr. Jobs in a negative light. I think it shined a light on many aspects of a great man. Some of those aspects were dark or negative, but the picture as a whole was bright.

Becoming, on the other hand, had a very unique angle. If anything, by focusing so intently on the mistakes and failures that led to Mr. Jobs's return to Apple, it painted the more negative picture of Mr. Jobs, yet Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, and other insiders praised it for revealing the real Steve Jobs.

The discussions on the Danny Boyle film are similarly drenched in contradictions. Steve Wozniak criticized the Ashton Kutcher biopic Jobs for being inaccurate, yet he has publicly given Steve Jobs a pass for capturing the spirit of Steve Jobs and the experience of working with Steve Jobs, even though many scenes are made from whole cloth.

My guess is that the legacy of Steve Jobs can survive this movie, whether or not it gets some aspects of his life wrong. It will probably even enhance that legacy as it adds to the body of work about the man.

Of course, I haven't seen it yet. So what do I know?

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Those whom were closest to Jobs are bound to be critical, as their views and memories are entirely subjective. Each view being only one of many. I don’t go to movies – even biographical ones – expecting to come away knowing the subject person of the story, but with a pretty good idea of what they were about; a feel for him or her.

It’s the same difference as between a photo-realistic painting and an Impressionist one.


Also, we are in a culture now where everything needs to be put in a positive light even if that light is artificial.

There are no “factions” going on. This sort of division among people is a very recent story created by the bloggers and “journalists” to create a story where there is none. Of course people close to the subject matter will have strong personal feelings about someone else’s film (and they have every right to). But this “division” is just as artificial as any Hollywood story. 

There was no debate about whether or not this film should be made just as ere was no debate on whether a book should be written. The debate only exists because the oncoming group of people “choosing sides” are people who only formed their own personal opinions AFTER Tim Cook voiced his perspective.  And that speaks much more about the lives of Jobs fans than it does about Jobs.


I think you’re right. This smells of hype. I suspect there are these kind of debates about any film, Ghandi, McArthur, The Patriot, heck The Hobbit has some some people saying it isn’t ‘accurate’. I don’t think this film is generating more than any other. I seriously doubt there’s enough to start calling them ‘factions’.

Personally I don’t plan to read the books or see the films. All I need to know about SJ is setting on my table right now. My Mac, iPad, iPhone. I don’t really need to see someone’s interpretation of SJ’s personal life, any more than I do Jefferson’s sleeping arrangements, Einstein’s family life, or DaVinci’s personal habits. Their works are the best reflection of them. It’s what they will be remembered for.


Of course it’s hype, but I also think it’s real. Woz gave it his blessing, Ms. Jobs, not so much.

The review I read about the film suggests that it’s fantastical. That it’s not trying to give you the be all and end of of a person (and can you really know everything about someone in 2 hours?) instead it’s an entertaining story that is based on a person’s life. That it’s not all skittles and rainbows is to be expected, who wants to see a movie like that?

Also, I have no problem thinking that I may not have liked Steve Jobs as a person, but I admire what he did as the CEO of Apple. Hey I have a healthy ego but I know I’m not Mother Teresa! (Who some say was kind of a Jerk !)

John C. Welch

Of course Woz gave it his blessing. He consulted on it and made $200K from it. Pay me $200K and I’ll explain in detail why “Showgirls” is a tour de force, a cinematographical masterpiece.

if we’re going to take the opinions of Scott Rudin with a grain of salt, then the opinions of someone paid by the moviemakers should also be taken with some skepticism.

Lee Dronick

As great as he was he was only human and just like everyone else he had some faults. There is a saying that great people have great faults, it is all how they don’t over weigh the good things.

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