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Exclusive Interview: Joshua Michael Stern on jOBS

The director of the Steve Jobs biopic explains why his film doesn’t feature Bill Gates, NeXT, Xerox, Pixar or the blue box.

Jobs Ashton Kutcher

My first attempt to talk to jOBS director Joshua Michael Stern was the victim of a dropped call. I hope my iPhone wasn't responsible. That would be ironic. jOBS is the biographical story of Steve Jobs, who founded Apple and spearheaded a revolution in home computing, portable music and cellular phones. In many ways, jOBs is the story of modern entrepreneurialism and the evolution of the technology that now dominates our lives. But mostly it's the story of a guy named Steve, played by Ashton Kutcher, directed by a filmmaker with very difficult decisions to make about which aspects of Jobs' life to dramatize when so much of his biography is well known.

I spoke to Joshua Michael Stern about these decisions, the greater meaning of Steve Jobs' story and the earlier film about Jobs and Bill Gates, Pirates of Silicon Valley. I hope you enjoy it. jOBS opens in theaters on August 16, 2013.
 

CraveOnline: How are the reactions to the film?

Joshua Michael Stern: It’s been going really well. I think we’ve been getting some really good reaction. I think there’s always an element of discovery about this film, because there may be skepticism walking. I think that it’s very positive.
 

Where do you think the skepticism comes from? Is it because the film’s about Steve Jobs, or is it something more superficial…?

I think that there’s such a natural… Doing a movie about Steve Jobs is just generally a provocative thing to do, whoever does it, and it begs a lot of questioning and skepticism only in that, what is this going to be? What am I going to be looking at? And curiosity as well. I think that’s all positive in any film, because you want people to be curious about it.
 

When you were developing the film, what was your biggest concern about making a Steve Jobs biopic? What was the thing you needed to get right, or avoid?

I walked in with… Once you get over the initial fear that you’re climbing an enormous mountain, especially with a story about someone where there is so much expectation about what that is because he’s so close to culture, that road is all about finding out who that character is, as you’d find out about any character in any movie. You have to put aside the fear of it, and also the worries about the judgment of it.

A lot of Steve Jobs’ story is sort of reflective of how you make this movie. Steve Jobs just made a product. He started off where a lot of people were skeptical of what he was doing, and he basically just focused on the product and making it the best he could, and really focused on what it was that these products would take into your lives. When you make a movie, in many ways you have to do the same thing. You have to put aside what you believe the pushback or judgment will be on it, and just try to make the best movie you physically can, with all the care that you can put it into it.
 

Steve Jobs’ story had been filmed before, but it had a very different ending. I don’t know if you saw Pirates of Silicon Valley?

You know what? I never saw that, but they told me about that. I didn’t see it when it was out, and I purposely didn’t watch it [while making jOBS].
 

It ended when Steve Jobs was out of Apple, so it had a tragic ending for him.

Right.
 

But the other thing was, it dramatized the whole build-up to personal computing. Obviously your film was very focused on Steve Jobs, but I’m wondering if there was ever a temptation to include, for example, Bill Gates as a character. In jOBS he’s just someone on the other end of a phone.

Yeah. It was. You know, originally this script was 200 pages. Our movie is over two hours. We have a movie that for most studios is about fifteen minutes too long. So already you have to be very specific what it is your telling. This is just a story about Jobs, and just a story about him building Apple, and how a man creates a business and a company and at some point that company becomes part of him. Meaning, Apple and Mac and Jobs inextricably linked together, much in the way Ford is inextricably linked to his product. There’s not that many of them. There’s a few in our history, where the person who creates it becomes almost the product itself. Jobs is one of those. To me, the movie was about how he became his business.

There was a lot of decisions about what not to show, [like] the “pirates” stuff. A lot of people would have liked a scene with Xerox and getting a lot of the user interface that he did there, or having Bill Gates tour, the way the Jobs would let him in. There’s a lot of stuff. Gates invested $100 million in Apple when it was at its slowest. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not in there, especially those little moments. But we had to pick and choose, really, what to focus on and try to make it not about the whole world as it was occurring. It was really just about what was happening in those offices.

So for example, when Jobs is there, and [Arthur] Rock is talking about IBM, Jobs says, “Why are we so afraid of IBM?” Why are we so afraid of IBM, the Big Bad Wolf? We don’t need to go outside and see the machinations of what was happening in the world with IBM, we just needed to feel how that translated into a conversation in a board room at Apple. That’s kind of how we figured it out.