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Danny Boyle had just finished reading The Circle, Dave Eggers’ novel set in a near-future in which one vast Facebook/Apple/Twitter-encompassing Internet company controls almost all perceivable platforms of digital communication, when Scott Rudin handed him Aaron Sorkin’s script for Steve Jobs.
“[The Circle] was terrifying. It was one of the factors I had in doing this,” the director, in London to promote the biopic, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought, ‘This is so f—ing incredible because it’s so benign. What are the drawbacks?’ But if you understand history, you know there will be drawbacks.”
For Boyle, taking on tech giants like Apple and Facebook is vital as they continue to expand in size and scope — no matter whether the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook suggest such artistic endeavors are “opportunistic.”
“These companies are so powerful now that governments are running scared,” Boyle says. “They have such influence around the world. They’ve replaced petrochemical companies, pharmaceutical companies — they’re bigger than all of them put together — and they have tremendous, terrifying power. And it’s important that artists and writers are not cowed by them — and if that means they’re accused of being opportunistic, then so be it.”
He adds: “It’s important that we put these people in the spotlight to examine their own business reasons or visionary reasons, and we need to keep an eye on them.”
In stepping into the director’s chair for Steve Jobs, not only did Boyle take on a film that he hadn’t helped generate himself for the first time — “I don’t normally do Hollywood films” — but he also had to deal with one of Sorkin’s wordy scripts.
“There was, like, 180 pages of dialogue, and three scenes and six characters, and that’s it,” he says. “There’s no stage direction telling you what to do.” The challenge was then to “engineer it,” clearing a path through the text so that it could comfortably fit into two hours.
“You’re not going to sit there for three hours. It’s a tolerance level with that kind of dialogue. … There’s one silent scene!” he explains, while adding that the script was “both dazzlingly brilliant and suffocating at the same time.”
Sorkin, he maintains, is the “greatest writer of dialogue” and an author he compares to Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.
Sorkin himself describes Boyle as a “visual master” and says it was the director’s creative input that saw the film switch from Sony to Universal.
“Danny wanted to shoot in San Francisco, but shooting in San Francisco added $8 million to the budget, and the movie was only supposed to cost about $25 million to $30 million,” he tells THR. “The studio was saying, ‘No, you can’t shoot in San Francisco.’ So [producer] Scott Rudin said, ‘Give me the movie back for a week, let me shop it around for a week — you have to let us do that.’ And Amy Pascal said, ‘I’ll give it to you for a week.’ Less than 24 hours later Universal had taken it, and at the same time Amy was saying, ‘I’ve made a big mistake. You can do it in San Francisco.’ “
But Sorkin says by this time there was “so much bad blood between Scott and Amy” that it stayed with Universal.
While Sorkin began writing the script after Jobs had passed away in 2011, he recalls speaking to the late Apple founder several years earlier on a couple of occasions, the first being out of the blue when the tech pioneer called to say he’d enjoyed an episode of The West Wing.
“I remember being flabbergasted that Steve Jobs was calling me to tell me this,” Sorkin recalls.
Steve Jobs is being released in the U.S. on Friday.
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