'Steve Jobs' Cinematographer Explains Visual Transitions In the Three-Act Film

Alwin Kuchler talks about the style and structure behind filming the biopic of the Apple co-founder.
Courtesy of Universal
'Steve Jobs'

For his biographical drama Steve Jobs, director Danny Boyle wanted to approach the film as three acts, each surrounding a pivotal product launch in the Apple visionary's career. For cinematographer Alwin Kuchler — who previously worked with Boyle on Sunshine — it was about using the photography to visually "take us to the age of the digital aesthetic."

Act one, the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, was lensed with 16mm film, the second, the NeXT launch in 1988, was rendered in 35mm film, and the final act, the iMac unvealing in 1998, went digital with the ARRI Alexa.

"The acts are similar in the sense that they are all 30 to 45 minutes before launch," Kuchler said, adding that this was why he suggested a different format for each. "Danny felt to counteract the similarity of the structure, it would be great to have a visual difference in the feeling of the pieces."

Said Kuchler: "In the first act, Steve Jobs is young and raw; he’s not the mega-legend that we know. He’s more rock 'n' roll, so to speak. We though the 16mm would support that. ... The 16mm was also the lightest camera, and the most spontaneous tool. I think that also helped to reflect the arc of Steve Jobs."

"Danny referred to act two as 'the revenge act,' " he continues. "We’re at the San Francisco Opera with red tones — a mixture of The Godfather movies and David Lynch movies, with silky blacks and blood reds."

For the final act, said Kuchler, "things start to fall into place for Jobs. With Apple we associate white, black, grey and the odd special color (colors also emphasized in the photography of act three). It was meant to show that now Steve Jobs is starting to control the world around him."

Boyle shot most of the film on location in the Bay area, including the use of the stage at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco for the last act. "Danny felt it was really important that we are exposed to real environments where Steve Jobs worked and lived," Kuchler explained. "There a feeling that you inherit from shooting in the real locations, which I think is a beautiful thing. I admire his bold choices."