Danny Boyle had quite the challenge with his latest film, “Steve Jobs.” Not only was he making a biopic about one of the major tech gods, and not only was it structured in only three, very long, very chatty scenes. It was also written by Aaron Sorkin. A heavily visual director, the man behind “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and “Slumdog Millionaire” had to make language primary. That’s a little easier when you have people like Michael Fassbender, as Jobs, and Kate Winslet, as his right-hand-woman, doing the talking.
In one sense, “Steve Jobs” is a return to your early days. It’s a film where language is one of the primary factors. So were “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting,” which were filled with hyper-articulate and quotable dialogue.
The guy who wrote those, John Hodge, he writes like Aaron, except very sparsely. But he writes like him. He just writes dialogue; he doesn’t give you any indication of how to do it. He gives you as few clues as possible, which is both intimidating and liberating. Because you realize [the dialogue is] inviting you, either by design or instinct — just inviting you to make a film of it. And that was what this was like. I’d never read anything like it: 185 pages of dialogue between six characters in three places. And that was it. It was so bold, the approach — so simple and bold. It’s very Jobsian, because it doesn’t do the usual conventional thing with the biopic. It makes you think different.
It’s also bringing you back to the days when you shot on film. Each of the three sections in “Steve Jobs” is a different format: Super 16mm in 1984, 35mm in 1988 and digital in 1998. It must have been amazing using 16 again.
You can hear it going round in the camera. We did long takes, and if you’ve got a hair in the gate it’s really disruptive. Of course, now you don’t even have that. The key thing is Aaron had written so sparsely, the instruction, so we decided to make each act very, very separate. That would allow the actors to concentrate on one act at a time, because we shot in sequence. We’d shoot one act, then that was it. 1984 was done and we weren’t going back there. We wanted the actors to bring a different energy to each section.
What was the motivation behind each of the format changes?
We shot in 16 because it felt like it was homemade. It felt like it was made in a garage. It felt like a format appropriate to the early days. He’s a battler, he’s a rebel, he called himself a pirate; he was like a punk or a fighter. The second act is 35 because it’s about storytelling. It’s an illusion, act two. We always said it was a “subterranean river of intention.” We’re swirling through it and you couldn’t quite perceive what it was. It’s all about show and display and a slightly heightened sense of realism. And then you move to the Alexa, which is the digital camera that we now all use, which is brutally revealing about everything. All the detail is there and you can’t hide from anything. That felt like a wonderful way to make his dressing room feel like he’s inside one of his products. The clean lines and everything he aspired to were now possible. What you’re left with is, “You got what you wanted, Steve.”