Interview: Director Danny Boyle Talks About The Making Of 'Steve Jobs'

Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is my favorite movie of the year so far. I love so much about this film. I love how it's a biopic without being a biopic. I love how it captures the truth and essence of a person, but probably 90% of the events and conversations in the movie never happened (or at very least, not at a keynote). I love Aaron Sorkin's intense dialogue and Michael Fasbender's performance — he may not look like Steve Jobs at the start of this movie, but by the end of the movie he transforms into the man.

Hit the jump to read my Danny Boyle Steve Jobs interview.

A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to get on the phone with director Danny Boyle. The filmmaker was in London doing the junket for the film, which means I had to conduct the interview hours before I normally wake up over the phone. I usually shy away from "phoners" because the connection is usually bad and both sides aren't able to read the visual cues of a normal conversation, so the results are often stilted. But something just felt right about talking to Danny Boyle about Steve Jobs at 4am on my iPhone.

Part of it might be Danny Boyle's demeanor. I feel like this man is so likable and can have a great conversation with anyone. He's a filmmaker that consistently has great thoughtful answers and is willing to jump outside the publicity talking points. I wish I could have had more time with Danny to dissect this work in more depth, but I was able to talk to him about his choices for the look and feel of the film, the truth and fiction of his biopic, the previous adaptations based on Jobs' life story, following in David Fincher's footsteps, and a key moment in the first act of the film.

Danny Boyle Steve Jobs Interview

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DANNY: Hello, Peter, it's Danny.

PETER: Hey, Danny. Nice to talk to you again. I'd first like to ask you probably the most obvious question about the movie, about the three visual styles that you present in the film. How did that come about and can you talk a little bit about it?

DANNY: Yeah. The script is an extraordinary kind of like chunk. It's like three, 185 pages of dialogue and it's basically there's no instruction manual. There's no stage directions. It's just like three acts, interior day continuous, that's it, six characters. So you can kind of do, it's sort of what are you gonna do? I mean, are you just gonna do it like a play? It wouldn't work out. And so what we tried to do was to we obviously had these three periods essentially, and then so we tried to make those as dynamically different and various as possible. But also tell the story within each act. And hope that also we got a sense of forward motion and momentum and the differences. So the first one is a certain edge for the music and the shots are very narrow and we keep it feeling homemade. He did see himself as a pirate. And so it felt like that was an opportunity to work on 16 again. Bizarre working on it again. It's not easy to work on it these days. 'Cause not many places develop it anymore. But it gave a lovely homemade quality to it. Punkish almost. And the energy is across the world. I was thinking like Sex Pistols like... And then and the music is like early computer sounds and kind of odds yeah, like you somehow prepare it through that. And then you keep the edge and somehow using the illusion of world 'cause he's got this what we call subterranean rigor of intention like right the way through it. It's an opportunity to see Joanna's trying to find out what it is. But he's clearly on a ride.

And we filmed wonderful, 35 is it's illusionary, especially to go in a theater that's so ornate. The Bow Arts Theater in the opera house and it's gold and red velvet. So we went with that illusion and 35 is beautiful for that. And then for the climax which of course is the arrival of digital, which of course in the film world is the Alexa. And it's like you can see everything, man. I mean, there's no place to hide now. And so we made it clean and elegant. Everything that he wanted his products to be. And yeah, so that's a full dimension. And he's right where he wants to be. Except there's a big hole of course, which is a personal one. The products have worked, the career has reached... 'Cause he did change the world. The iMac brought the Internet in everyone's home. And he made that so cool, computers. And was just real daunting there really in that role really. And but there's a big hole. It's a personal one and it's a flaw in him clearly that he has to move to, like we all do about what to do next. On a personal level. So that was it. That was it. The idea of it. Yeah. And the need to begin, and the need to be very over-the-top almost in a way at times. So even with it being ornate, big. And then actually back to much more clean and elegant.

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PETER: Oh for sure. And I think a lot of people are concentrating on the three formats, but the visual styles and the music as you say is unmistakable. I was wondering with the digital side of things, did you ever consider shooting that on an iPhone?

DANNY: I think if we'd gone later, you would have got all into that world definitely. You know, if we'd gone later in the story. When he's, 'cause obviously he hints at it the iPod, about the music.

PETER: Oh no, I'm not saying talk about the iPhone. I'm talking about like, did you ever consider shooting the digital side of things actually on an iPhone because some filmmakers have done so?

DANNY: What you mean shoot it on an iPhone?

PETER: Yes.

DANNY: No, no, no. Yeah, listen, I mean, people are starting to shoot stuff on all sorts of things, aren't they? No, we never did. We never did because we thought, because we thought what we did is design his dressing room. And a lot of space for the real dressing room in the Symphony Hall in the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. We actually redesigned it so it was like the inside of one of his products. And he believed the inside should be as beautiful as the outside even though you'd never see it. Elegance and simplicity and everything. So I guess we thought wanted to capture that being almost a kind of, not — brutal's the wrong word, but like there's nowhere to hide. It's all visible. There's no darkness anywhere. Everything is visible now. And so we wanted as high as resolution as possible. And although the iPhone's now beginning to achieve that kind of resolution, it'll be a little while before it catches up with the Alexa, which is 4K resolution. And it's interesting, I mean, it's a little teeny thing. We don't really deal with Pixar, we hint in the film. But of course by the time of the iMac he already released Toy Story. Now and I remember seeing that and being knocked back in my seat about how clean it was. There wasn't anything that looked like that before. And so we wanted to give that impression of exterior beauty, something so clear. Like a clear blue sky. That was the idea. Yeah.

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PETER: Before making this film, had you seen either Pirates of Silicon Valley or Jobs? And if you did, what did you think of those films?

DANNY: No, I did not. I hadn't seen either of them. I'd heard about them. I watched them obviously once. Once we were up and running. I obviously covered, you kind of do your diligence and do research and stuff like that. And it was great. I mean, it was wired obviously to literature. It was that, it was the originality of the concept of looking at the guy through a deliberately constricted point of view through the three launches. So it's not Internet, it's not trying to cover the whole launch. And it's not trying to emphasize... But when you do that, I mean, it's amazing the number of times we talked about how restrictive this thing is, and yet how much freedom it gives you because of the restrictions of that weird connection between kind of, it's almost like suffocation sometimes, because you go so much dialogue to get to. And yet when you get on and get really going with it, it's completely liberating. You can sort of do anything storytelling-wise with it. And I think that was a, to discover that was extraordinary. And the actors found that 'cause initially they were thinking holy s***, all I'm gonna be doing is just f***ing talking. There's not gonna be any time to do any acting. Good grief. Because when they get in harmony, they are one and the same thing. Especially when Michael got in that third part. He was, every day it was extraordinary to watch him. He was just on it really.

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PETER: And you captured so much of his life in those three periods. I was wondering, this isn't the first time you're doing a movie based on a true story. But this is the first time that you don't have the actual person around to help guide it. What kind of creative liberties does your film take do you think?

DANNY: We hope there we are honorable, but of course even a kind of, even a high factual biopic will take liberties. 'Cause it just will, even if it's an omission. I mean, you hope that our intentions are honorable. That they're in pursuit of the truth about him. That's for other people to judge. That's not, we had a lot of people around who did know him. And who advised us and guided us. And but not everyone will ever agree about some of the things about him of course. And but I do think that something I always used to say it was kind of Shakespearean really. It was what Shakespeare used to do. He would take some of the facts about a man of power and he would guess at a lot of the rest and just gotten away at actually getting at the human in it. And that's what's wonderful about the writing I think, is that it acknowledges the people who disliked him, the people he hurt. But in the end, he brings it back to a very simple father-daughter relationship that he has to admit that he has made some of the most beautiful things in the world. And that's the kind of self knowledge that we all hopefully we all get and we all have those flaws. We've all gotta work on them. And so we bring him back to us I think. That's the idea. Because you're right, there's some stories mixed about him that you can see another side already really. But if they are incredibly important people that shaped our world and you have to make, as artists you have to address them. Dealing with these companies, these companies are so powerful now. 'Cause always I'm talking about Facebook as well which is so concerned about this world. And you have to kind of hope that artists will all and documentary filmmakers all insist on making stories about them. Because otherwise they kind of go outside these companies, they're so powerful. And they're changing the world daily. And it's within our reach.

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PETER: Oh what do you think is perhaps the most dramatic moment in the film that people might assume didn't actually happen, but you learned is something a real moment?

DANNY: Well it isn't really invented, it's pretty much truth. It's obviously because these are long conversations, the conversations are brilliantly imagined by Sorkin. But the events that they describe are pretty much true. So there's nothing in it that doesn't really exist out there anyway. That isn't documented in some way or other. And his screenplay's based on multiple conversations with all those people you see on the screen. Except Steve of course. He had passed away by that time. And he had to really on Isaacson's conversations with him and come up with, and obviously other people's memory, reportage of, which is subjective. We're all subjective. So actually it's what Kubrick says you, that the truth isn't necessarily in the facts, people remember the facts differently. It's like they say about the facts and the truth you can see with it, do you believe in it? On some level do you actually think, some details aside, does this feel truthful? And I gotta say I believe it did and they feel the performances are not fake. They're kind of big, huge, kind of brutal with truth whenever they could be. They're uncompromising actually all, and nothing's done to make anybody more likable or villainous or whatever. They're all actually truth in the writing.

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PETER: Sure. David Fincher was working on this film for a while before you became involved. And I was wondering how do you think that the film evolved in your hands compared to what Fincher may have been planning?

DANNY: Oh my God, I can't answer that. You can. But seriously, I love The Social Network, so when I came on board, I have no idea what happened. I have no idea what happened. It's none of my business really. I was like they all said oh don't watch Social Network, watch West Wing. I said no way. So I watched Social Network a lot. I mean, I loved it anyway. And it was hugely helpful to know he'd been through this process already. And looking at the decisions he made. I tried not to copy them. I tried to make my own. But I was very in huge reassurance actually that he'd been through this concept of making a film of dialogue. He wasn't as restricted like I was in terms of locations and stuff like that, but it was basically the same premise. It was 180 pages of dialogue in two hours. And so the idea of standing in his shoes, if I thought if I can make this half as good as Social Network, I'll be quite happy actually. It'll be very good indeed. That's what I felt and that's honest. I'm not saying that for any other reason for that.

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PETER: Okay. My last question is there's this moment in the film in the first act where Jobs is refusing to pay any more than the court requests. But then he sees his daughter's creation on Mac Paint. And he seems to change his mind about giving the mother more money. What do you think in that moment, what makes him change his mind?

DANNY: Oh... I think he's so complicated, because he obviously, what we're seeing really is that and we say this and try to say this in the third act in the way. But that his child is obviously this machine. The child that he wants to promote and bring to the world is this machine. And part of his philosophy was that a child could use it. That's the point of his whole shtick wasn't it? About it's intuitive, a kid could do it. Computers are not complicated, they're not frightening things, they're intuitive. Can we make them personal, truly part of us. Then, you get an iPhone, there's no instruction manual. You don't need one. That was what he dreamt of – You look it up and you go along. See you don't keep doing that. And these are the questions, which correctly you've asked, which is, is she part of a machine. You know, haha, I was right. His daughter was there and really to the end and obviously we have no idea whether that happened, that scene is one of the things that is invented, because we have no evidence of it. That we suggest that printout of that moment, that epiphany moment really. And in some kind of retrospective way shows that he did love her all the time. And did care for her. And it's only possible to act on that or express it but it was there all the time. And there's the evidence.

PETER: Well thank you very much, Danny.

DANNY: All right, Peter, thank you.

PETER: It's honestly my favorite film of the year so far.

DANNY: Oh cool, well I hope it stays that way.

PETER: Yeah. Thank you.

DANNY: Thanks a lot.

PETER: Bye.

DANNY: Cheers, man.