Earlier this week, SMU Campus Weekly was lucky enough to sit down at a roundtable with Aaron Sorkin, the writer of the new Danny Boyle film, “Steve Jobs.”
Adapted from a biography by Walter Isaacson, the film tells the story of one of the most pivotal figures in recent history, Steve Jobs. The movie follows Jobs, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, through three different scenes, each taking place in the minutes before one of his product launches.
Aaron Sorkin is known for his work on television and film, as his unique style of writing has brought him commercial and critical success. Having written films such as “The Social Network,” “Moneyball,” and “A Few Good Men,” Sorkin has proved himself time again as one of the top screenwriters in the business.
Having worked previously on adapting screenplays, writing “Steve Jobs” wasn’t a new experience for Sorkin, and he found his source material hugely important.
“It was not only authorized, it was requested. Steve and his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, felt that it was time for a biography to be done,” Sorkin said.
The Jobs’ family specifically chose Walter Isaacson to write the biography based off of his previous accolades, Sorkin said. Unfortunately, Isaacson originally said no, as he felt it was too soon.
“Walter didn’t understand the extent of Steve’s illness at this point, so once they made that clear, Walter said yes, and Steve gave him complete access to everything,” Sorkin said. “Steve himself gave Walter dozens, if not hundreds of hours, including when Steve was on his deathbed. So the biography is comprehensive and written by a journalist.”
Sorkin clearly expressed his appreciation and support of Isaacson’s work and how it ultimately influenced and helped establish his own. Adapting the screenplay was much more difficult of a task than Sorkin made it out to seem, however.
As the previous book was written by a journalist, it wasn’t in the correct format or tone for a film to be directly translated.
“I didn’t want to just dramatize Walter’s biography, because I didn’t want it to be a biopic, a cradle to grave story where we land on the character’s greatest hits along the way,” Sorkin said.
Sorkin’s vision is clearly expressed as the film has a very unique format for its subject material.
The entire movie takes place in real time and consists of only three scenes – each of Jobs before one of his major product launches. The film blends the interactions with colleagues and fabric of Jobs’ humanity, and lack thereof, between the three scenes. In this way, viewers are able to follow him throughout the years and still maintain a relationship with his character.
A deftly woven screenplay, Sorkin puts a very unique twist on the three-act structure, but it still turns out to be extremely effective.
“I was going to write a biopic, I was going to narrow the lens a lot, and what I ended up doing was writing a movie where that was just in its entirety, three scenes,” Sorkin said.
One of Sorkin’s most quoted lines from the film is one that is spoken to Jobs by Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen. In the film, Wozniak tells Jobs, “It’s not binary. You can be gifted and decent at the same time.”
“I hope it’s a question people are asking themselves after they see the movie…I think that sometimes, especially in my field, in the arts, that what you’ve just described is an excuse for bad behavior,” Sorkin said.
The film itself went through a long series of production issues in its creation, and Sorkin was candid about what it felt like to be the writer in that situation.
“I don’t write things that are meant to be read, I write things that are meant to be performed…so when I’m done writing the script, I’m not done,” Sorkin said.