Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin explain casting Fassbender, historical inaccuracies and three act structure in Steve Jobs biopic

Danny Boyle, Toronto International Film Festival, September 2008 by Gordon Correll

Tying in with Friday’s US release of the biopic Steve Jobs, the folks at the Verge have put out an interview with its director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin, talking about the decision to focus on three product launches in Jobs’ life, casting the non-lookalike Michael Fassbender, and historical inaccuracies in the film.

Many of the family and friends of Steve Jobs have criticised and even reportedly attempted to scupper the film because of Jobs’ record as a bit of an arsehole – so from the filmmakers’ perspective this acts as a time to explain their approach to capturing the technologist’s life.

Image Credit – Danny Boyle, Toronto International Film Festival, September 2008 by Gordon Correll

If the Steve Jobs film portrays him as an arsehole, that’s because he was

Steve Jobs, at WWDC 2007, by Ben Stanfield

When biographers probe the life of a celebrated figure the family will always wonder just how much of the bad stuff is going to hit the presses.

As such Steve Jobs, a biopic of one half of Apple’s founding team, was always going to cause trouble given the well-chronicled nastiness of one of the pioneers of consumer electronics.

Even before the film started shooting Laurene Powell Jobs, a critic of Walter Isaacson’s biography which forms the basis of the film, was reportedly lobbying film companies and movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale not to back or appear in it.

Then as its release approached Apple’s current chief executive Tim Cook dismissed Steve Jobs and the documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine as “opportunistic”, though he hasn’t seen either of the films.

And more recently Jony Ive, designer of many of Apple’s greatest hits, saw fit to divulge his opinions on the matter despite not seeing Steve Jobs, branding the movie “ridiculous” and complaining it ignored the “context” in which Jobs was operating.

“There are sons and daughters and widows and very close friends who are completely bemused and completely upset,” he added. “I’m sorry to sound a bit grumpy about it but I find it ever so sad.”

The trouble with these comments, aside from the fact they come from people who haven’t even seen the film in question, is that they ignore that Jobs was a man who denied he fathered a child with his childhood sweetheart Chrisann Brennan, forcing her to raise their daughter Lisa with only limited financial support from him for several years.

They also skirt over the fact he was often abusive and unreasonable to colleagues, and rude to hotel and restaurant staff, the kind of people who were obliged to be pleasant to him despite his misbehaviour.

Some of this is shown in the biopic, and indeed Ive himself once explained these flashes of temper to the biographer Isaacson:

“I once asked him [Jobs] why he gets so mad about stuff. He said: ‘But I don’t stay mad.’ He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn’t stay with him at all. But, there are other times, I think honestly, when he’s very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody.

“And I think he feels he has a liberty and license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.”

This view is backed up by Steve Wozniak, the other more technically gifted half of Apple’s founding team and a consultant on the film. He was asked by the Beeb what he felt the film showed well in terms of Jobs’ personality:

“It deals with what we are all very familiar with – a lot of his negativism. This comes about less with him doing negative things to other people, and more him just sort of standing [there] and not caring as much about others as himself, and not being able to have feelings very much.”

He added that whilst the film did not portray what historically happened in the events it covers, “it really conveys what Steve Jobs was really like inside… and what it was like to be around him.”

If you wanted to be generous about all this you would point to Jobs’ difficult upbringing. And nobody is denying that the techie later reconciled things with his daughter Lisa, or that he did not have a nicer side to him.

But whilst the family will no doubt prefer to remember the more generous side of Jobs, history should not be so kind. It is important people remember that even the most celebrated men can be bastards, and Jobs was undoubtedly one of them.

Image Credit – Steve Jobs, at WWDC 2007, by Ben Stanfield

Facebook’s ‘real name’ dilemma is just part of the battle for a public commons Internet

The Demise of Facebook, March 2013 by mkhmarketing

It is worth remembering that the explosion of the Internet was in part prompted by a donation from one Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist who decided that the World Wide Web would be gifted to humanity – a decision that cost him uncounted billions in profits he might have made by selling it.

I mention this a year after a furore broke out over Facebook’s decision to demand that users register with their “authentic identity” on the social network, by which the company meant your legal name.

This was and continues to be a problem for those wanting to use the social network under an assumed name, a group that includes victims of violence, political campaigners and transgender people. Apparently it also affects certain ethnic groups whose naming conventions don’t match up with the standards Facebook has set.

As such a so-called Nameless Coalition is campaigning to convince the social network to reverse its policy. Writing in an open letter online, the group said:

“Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in non-western countries, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.”

For its part the social network claims that the measure is necessary for security reasons. In a statement to the press an aptly nameless spokesperson for the company said:

“While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes. It makes it harder, for example, for terrorist organizations to hide behind fake profiles, school bullies to anonymously smear the reputations of others, or anyone else to use an anonymous name to harass, scam or engage in criminal behaviour.”

Of course Facebook, Twitter and their ilk are under considerable pressure from governments as a potent comms channel for miscreants. Over the last year security forces in Britain and the United States have been open in criticising Silicon Valley for its adoption of encryption, the boffins being more concerned about user’s privacy than spooks’ ability to pry.

Whether drag queens are a genuine security risk is a matter readers will be able to consider for themselves. But Facebook’s dominance on social media (its users number 1.5bn) is now exposing them to a regulatory quandary – when does a privately developed technology become so essential to life that it falls into the public realm?

That sense that Facebook is a public good was recently captured by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a drag queen from San Francisco, who wrote on the Huffington Post:

“Yesterday I received an email from a mother who is a survivor of domestic violence and prefers to use a pseudonym to safely avoid her ex; she told me she uses Facebook primarily as a means of connecting with other parents whose children have disabilities and have endured abuse. After trying to explain her situation to Facebook’s bot-like customer-service team, she – like thousands of others – is now cut off from very vital support systems.”

As Lil Miss Hot Mess goes on to say, Facebook is a corporation, and ultimately concerned about the bottom line. It’s inaccurate to say that the social network is “monopolistic” – indeed, its competitors are the likes of Twitter and Google – but demands that social networks have a public responsibility will only rise as people increasingly use them.

Silicon Valley is not without a sense of public duty. But it is also full of ambitious people wanting to make big bucks and maintain control of their babies. Reconciling these impulses will be a key political battle of this century. And for my part, I’m hoping more people will fall in line with Berners-Lee.

Image Credit – The Demise of Facebook, March 2013 by mkhmarketing