Few can debate the huge impact Steve Jobs had on the world. So it’s no wonder that after Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, there was in influx of news and media surrounding the life of the outspoken Apple co-founder and CEO. If you listened to episode on The Social Network, you’ll already know how Aaron Sorkin dropped the true story for a good story. So how did he do for his movie about Apple’s famous CEO and co-founder? Let’s find out as we compare Hollywood with history for 2015’s Steve Jobs.
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- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
- Watch Steve Jobs’ First Demonstration of the Mac for the Public on Time.com
- Wozniak on the Steve Jobs Movie and Why Accuracy Doesn’t Matter
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
The movie begins at the 1984 launch of the Macintosh computer. We’re taken behind the scenes where Steve Jobs, who’s played by Michael Fassbender, is furious. The focus of his anger is on Andy Hertzfeld, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and the fact that the Macintosh computer won’t say “Hello”. Joanna Hoffman, who’s played by Kate Winslet, suggest they leave out this little detail. Everything else is working, so why is this a big deal? But Steve insists it’s a requirement for the launch. The Macintosh computer has to say “Hello” to the audience.
Probably one of the biggest issues comparing the truth to the movie is that the movie makes it seem like the Mac saying “Hello” was the only issue before launch. While the “Hello” demo certainly caused plenty of stress before the launch, in truth, it was just one of a number of problems. One of the bigger problems was actually with an animation that the Macintosh was supposed to play as soon as Steve pulled it out of its bag on stage and plugged it in.
Apple engineer Steve Capps is the one who managed to get the animation demo working just before midnight the day before the launch. Capps is hardly in the movie but is portrayed by actor Anthony Larice for the few moments he is.
In the movie, it’s while they’re preparing for the launch that we find out about Steve Jobs’ daughter, Lisa. Throughout the movie, Lisa is played by three different actresses at different ages. The five-year-old version, which is who we see at the Macintosh launch is played by Makenzie Moss.
This is also where we find out about Steve’s refusal to admit that Lisa is his daughter. Steve continues to berate Lisa’s mother, Chrisann Brennan, who’s played by Katherine Waterston, as she’s breaking down into tears.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if this exact conversation happened, but it’s highly unlikely to have happened at the Macintosh launch. Still, the truth is that Steve Jobs did deny being the father of Lisa. Chrisann and Steve met while the two were in high school together in Cupertino, California. This was in 1972. They had an on and off relationship throughout college that ended with Chrisann falling for someone else named Greg Calhoun. Greg and Chrisann went to India, Steve drove the couple to the airport, and stayed there for about a year together.
In 1977, Chrisann came back to California and back to Steve. The two fell for each other again, and their relationship started back up. This was about the time that Steve was starting Apple, but in the early days they stayed together. As Apple began to grow, Steve started spending more and more time on his new company. This meant less and less time at Chrisann’s home. As the summer of 1977 came to a close, Steve and Chrisann moved in together when they got a house near the Apple office in Cupertino.
But this was complicated by the fact that one of Steve’s friends moved in with them, too. This was Daniel Kottke, and one of the very first Apple employees. According to Chrisann’s memoirs, The Bite in the Apple, “Steve told me that he didn’t want to get a house with just the two of us because it felt insufficient to him. Steve wanted his buddy Daniel to live with him because he believed it would break up the intensity of what wasn’t working between us. Our relationship was running hot and cold. We were completely crazy about each other and utterly bored in turns. I had suggested to Steve that we separate, but he told me that he just couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye.”
Things didn’t get better when Chrisann found out she was pregnant in October. Again, according to Chrisann’s book, Steve “turned ugly” when he found out. He continued to distance himself and pour himself into Apple.
This was never mentioned in the movie, but Chrisann was offered an internship at Apple as a graphic designer. But she was afraid of what people would say when they found out she was pregnant with Steve’s child, so she turned it down.
Chrisann worked cleaning houses, something that kept her constantly struggling to pay the bills. She eventually went on welfare. Although she asked Steve a few times for money, he always refused.
Then, on May 17th, 1978, Chrisann gave birth to a baby girl. A few days after she was born, the 23-year-old Steve Jobs finally came to visit her. Together, the two came up with the name Lisa.
Back at the Macintosh launch in the movie, we see five-year-old Lisa mention that she was named after the computer. She’s referring to Apple’s Lisa computer, which was released in 1983. Michael Fassbender’s version of Steve Jobs corrects her. Then he goes on to explain that it was a coincidence, nothing more. The Lisa computer, according to Steve, is an acronym for “Local Integrated Software Architecture.” It’s purely a coincidence.
Just before she leaves the room, Lisa has a line where she comes to the realization that maybe she was named after the computer. Frustrated, Steve reiterates it was just a coincidence. It’s heartbreaking to see the disappointment on her face.
The movie fictionalized the encounters, but the basic gist of what they’re talking about is true. The Lisa computer was something that Steve was working on back when he helped name Chrisann’s baby girl. Although he never admitted it, it’s quite likely that when he named Lisa he did so with his new computer in mind. But if he did, only Steve knew. At the time of the Macintosh launch, Steve Jobs vehemently denied not only that Lisa was his daughter but that the Lisa computer was named after her.
The movie’s first act during the Macintosh launch closes when Andy Hertzfeld finally gets the “Hello” demo to work—on an unannounced 512K version of the Macintosh, not the 128K version they’re showing on stage. With the “Hello” demo ready, John Sculley, who’s played by Jeff Daniels, meets Steve behind the stage. They enjoy a glass of 1955 Chateau Margaux together to celebrate the launch, then watch Ridley Scott’s $1.5 million 1984 Macintosh advertisement.
The 128K and 512K they’re referring to is the 128kB (kilobytes) of RAM memory the original Macintosh had. It was upgradable to 512kB, though, if you soldered on additional memory chips.
The details of how it happened are fictionalized in the film, but the basic idea is true. Andy did use a 512K Macintosh, but it wasn’t only for the “Hello” demo. Most of the other aspects of the demo wouldn’t run on the 128K, either, so they had to use the more powerful computer to pull it off. But this part isn’t really the most inaccurate aspect of this scene. Probably the biggest part the movie doesn’t show is how nervous Steve Jobs was. The Apple CEO at the time, John Sculley, who’s played by Jeff Daniels in the film would later recall the events of that night.
This is from an article written by the real John Sculley over on CNET many years later:
“You may be surprised to learn that as Steve and I stood behind the curtain moments before he was to go on stage, Steve was terrified. ‘I’m scared shitless,’ Steve whispered to me. ‘This is the most important moment of my entire life. Everything I have dreamed about and worked on for years will actually happen in the next few moments.’
“Steve was standing in the shadows behind the curtain, sneaking a look out at the audience. The room was packed. The first three rows of seats were reserved for the 100-person Mac team. To the right of us was a large platform with probably a dozen TV cameras. Off to the side were another dozen TV cameras. All around the stage area were many more TV cameras waiting for Steve to appear.
“Steve started to shake almost uncontrollably. He was wearing a gray blazer, white shirt, and a green bowtie. His black hair was long and flowing. At just 27 years old, he looked handsome and more like a Hollywood celebrity than a Silicon Valley geek. ‘I am so scared,’ he repeated. ‘I’m not sure I can talk.’
“I grabbed him firmly in a big hug. ‘Get over it,’ I said. ‘You are Steve Jobs. You have told us you are about to change the world. Now go out there and do it.’
“The rest is history.”
After the Macintosh launch, the movie skips ahead a few years. It explains that the Macintosh was a flop—only 35,000 units sold in the first few months. Steve Jobs is fired from Apple as a result. Separated from Apple, now we’re at another major launch in Steve Job’s career: NeXT Computers.
Just before the launch, the movie has a confrontation with John Sculley and Steve Jobs where they explain what happened to get Steve fired. According to the movie, the Macintosh was a failure but Steve continues to argue for it. Finally, in the board room, the movie implies it was John Sculley who gave the board an ultimatum when he said, “Alright, well this guy’s out of control. I’m perfectly willing to hand in my resignation tonight. But if you want me to stay, you can’t have Steve.”
While Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, it wasn’t because of the Macintosh launch as indicated in the movie. By April of 1984, the Macintosh sales were at about 50,000. This was behind Apple’s predictions of selling 250,000 by the end of the year. But a promising note was the Macintosh’s outselling IBM’s first foray into the personal computer market, called the PCjr, which launched around the same time as the Macintosh. By the end of the year, they’d made up that ground as they sold about 280,000 Macintoshes. IBM, on the other hand, only sold 100,000 PCs.
In October of 1984, Apple released an updated Macintosh. This time it was the 512K version, five times the amount of memory in the first version. The cost for the 512K Macintosh was $3,195. That’s equivalent to $7,500 today.
But the Macintosh was still considered to be an expensive toy by a lot of people. It might be fine for tinkering at home, but it just couldn’t do what businesses needed.
As 1985 rolled around, Apple wanted to repeat what happened in 1984. Just like they did the previous year, Apple launched a massive TV ad during the 1985 Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. This time, it was a disaster.
The ad, named Lemmings, portrayed person after person falling off a cliff—like lemmings. Instead of the empowerment which Ridley Scott’s 1984 portrayed, a lot of people considered this ad to be downright insulting. It wasn’t a good start.
And it only got worse. The ad was announcing the Macintosh Office. This was Apple’s attempt at matching the success of the original Macintosh inside the office. The idea was to take a number of devices and connect them together. This included Macintosh computers wired together into a local area network with a file server and printer. It was a great idea.
But it’s launch was tripped up right away with the Lemmings ad. Then it hit more problems. After poor sales and plenty of technical issues for both the hardware and software, the file server never ended up shipping. Compared to the success of the Macintosh, the Macintosh Office was a failure.
This failure hit Steve Jobs hard, and was his ultimate demise. In the 2013 Forbes Global CEO Conference, John Sculley recounted the events that led up to his firing Steve Jobs. According to John:
“Steve went into a deep depression. He came to me and he said, ‘I want to drop the price of the Macintosh and I want to move the advertising, shift a large portion of it away from the Apple II over to the Mac.’
“I said, ‘Steve, it’s not going to make any difference. The reason the Mac is not selling has nothing to do with the price or with the advertising. If you do that, we risk throwing the company into a loss.’ And he just totally disagreed with me.
“And so I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna go to the board.’ And he said, ‘I don’t believe you’ll do it. And I said: Watch me.’”
Steve Jobs’ idea was radical to say the least. And we’ll never know if it would’ve worked. The board sided with John Sculley, and Steve Jobs was fired.
Back at the NeXT launch in the movie, after the argument between John and Steve in the hallway, Joanna grabs Steve and on their way back she explains while they were at Apple she won the award for standing up to him.
While this is a minor detail, it’s actually true! For two consecutive years, in 1981 and 1982, Joanna won “the person who did the best job of standing up to Jobs” award at Apple. It may have been a joke, but it shows how powerful of an influence Joanna Hoffman was to Steve Jobs. What’s not true is that Steve Jobs didn’t know about it by the time Joanna mentions it in the movie. He knew about the award the whole time, and he actually liked it.
It’s also during this conversation in the movie that we find out Steve Jobs’ genius plan for NeXT Computers. It’s not to build a new competitor to Apple. It’s to build something that Apple needs so they’ll buy him out and bring him back.
While Steve Jobs never publicly admitted this was true, it’s not a far leap to make. The timeline in the movie makes it seem like right after the first NeXT launch is when Apple buys the company and Steve Jobs comes back. But in truth it was almost a decade.
Still, just like the movie indicated, the NeXT launch was yet another failure for Steve Jobs. The NeXT cube-shaped computer cost $6,500 in 1988. That’s a little over $13,000 today. For your $13 grand, you’d get a 25 MHz processor with about 8 MB of RAM and 256 MBs of storage with a massive 17” monitor and an 1120×832 greyscale display.
Two years later, NeXT Computers launched an update called the NeXTcube for an even $10,000, or almost $19,000 today. It was a NeXTcube that was used by a computer scientist by the name of Timothy John Berners-Lee as the very first server for the World Wide Web.
Despite this, the incredibly high price of NeXT Computers meant almost no one bought them. Yet again, Steve Jobs’ computers were an abysmal failure.
About a year later, in 1991, Apple CEO John Sculley formed an alliance with IBM and Motorola to develop the PowerPC processor. This would be a pivotal change in how Apple’s systems were powered, and it was something John would later say at a Silicon Valley conference was his greatest mistake as CEO of Apple.
In 1993, Apple had a terrible first quarter and the buck stopped with John. He was forced from Apple after the first quarter and was replaced by the COO, Michael Spindler. Michael was the CEO until Gil Amelio took over on February 2nd, 1996.
Apple wasn’t doing very well. Their stocks were dropping and Gil was forced to lay off a third of Apple’s employees. Part of those laid off included the team working on an updated version of the Mac OS called Copland. But they had to have an OS. So Gil entered discussions with Be Inc., to buy their operating system called BeOS. They wanted $275 million, and Apple was wanting to spend no more than $200 million. With neither side willing to budge, the deal fell through.
So it was finally in November of 1996 when Gil Amelio approached Steve Jobs to discuss Apple purchasing NeXT. In the movie, Michael Fassbender’s version of Steve Jobs says he’d sell to Apple for a billion dollars. That number isn’t right. After a few months of negotiations, Apple bought NeXT on February 4th, 1997 for $429 million.
That’s about $640 million today. Not a billion dollars, but still a good chunk of change.
By the second quarter of 1997, Apple’s stock hit a 12-year low. Four months after Apple bought NeXT, on June 26th, 1997, an anonymous person bought 1.5 million shares of Apple’s slumping stocks. It would later be revealed that this person was Steve Jobs.
A few days later, on July 4th, Steve met with Apple’s board of directors and convinced them to get rid of Gil. Just a few days later, Gil resigned and Steve Jobs became the new CEO of Apple.
At this point, the movie skips forward again to the final act. It’s a decade after the NeXT launch, 1998, and we’re at another major product launch. This time it’s the iMac.
In a scene that’s rather familiar throughout the film, again Steve Jobs gets into arguments with those around him. And again, his anger is centered around his daughter Lisa. But this time it’s not at Lisa. It’s at Andy Hertzfeld, who paid $20,000 so Lisa could stay in college. Steve is livid, saying he was going to pay it but was merely making a point—and Andy embarrassed him by paying it first.
Although this conversation didn’t happen before a product launch, the basic gist of this did happen.
The movie doesn’t mention this because of the jump from the NeXT launch in 1988 to the iMac launch in 1998, but in that decade Steve had reconciled with Lisa. At least enough that Lisa moved in with Steve and his wife, Laurene Powell, who Steve married in 1991.
So by the time 1998 rolled around, Lisa had left the house and was 20 and going to Harvard. While she was in college, it was common for the two to go for months at a time without talking over what you and I may think are trivial things. For better or worse, Lisa was a lot like Steve and when you get two people with very, very strong personalities you’ll get some head-butting. And they did. A lot.
It was during one of these spats and long periods of silence that Steve refused to pay for her tuition. Mostly because he refused to talk to her at all. So Andy Hertzfeld stepped in, and paid for Lisa’s tuition. As soon as Steve found out, he repaid Andy.
After the college tuition fiasco in the movie, we’re back at the theater, and we see something that we haven’t talked about much yet. It’s Seth Rogan’s version of Steve Wozniak who is in the theater. He’s been in the theater for each of the launches, even showing up for the NeXT launch.
And throughout the movie, Woz keeps asking Steve Jobs to publicly recognize the Apple II team. According to Woz, the Macintosh wouldn’t be what it was without the Apple II. Steve Jobs wouldn’t be where he is. Apple as a company wouldn’t be where it is. It comes to a head at this point in the film between Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs and Seth Rogan’s Woz. He pleads with Steve to acknowledge the top guys on the Apple II project. Steve refuses. Then Woz loses it. In front of everyone in the theater, he goes off on Steve: “This whole place was built by Apple II. You were built by the Apple II.”
“Actually, I was destroyed by the Apple II,” Steve replies as he references his getting fired.
Shaking his head Woz turns to leave, “I’m tired of being patronized by you.”
This whole exchange, and really the mere fact that Steve Wozniak was at each product launch is completely fictional. In fact, since the real Joanna Hoffman left Apple along with Steve Jobs to work with him, there were no Apple employees at the NeXT Computers launch. And Steve Wozniak certainly didn’t have it out with Steve Jobs at the iMac launch.
After the movie was released, Bloomberg did an interview with the real Steve Wozniak. In that interview, Woz set some facts straight: “Every scene that I’m in, I wasn’t talking to Steve Jobs at those events. I don’t even say things like that and I didn’t say them. But they were based upon things…for example, there’s parts of me saying, ‘Steve, please, please acknowledge the Apple II team.’ all the way for 15 years through the movie. Like I would do that? And all it’s based on is there was one shareholder’s meeting, they didn’t mention the Apple II and the people in the Apple II division were ready to quit. And I don’t complain, but on their behalf I was their only voice. So for them I called John Sculley, not Steve Jobs.”
Woz continued, explaining his influence on the movie as he met with the film’s writer, Aaron Sorkin, “We had meetings on multiple occasions and just talked for hours and hours, anything I could think of saying. Little tiny, tiny bits that were somewhere else kind of got used by him and painted in a different way, a different place.”
And Aaron was happy to admit that the film isn’t historically accurate. For example, if you’ll notice, the similar theme throughout the movie is that Steve Jobs seems to have confrontations with the same few people before every product launch. Or at least those in the movie.
In an interview with CNET, Aaron spoke about this, “Steve Jobs did not, as far as I know, have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch. That’s plainly a writer’s conceit. What you see is a dramatization of several personal conflicts that he had in his life, and they illustrate something, they give you a picture of something. Are they fair? I do believe they’re fair. My conscience is clear.”
For his part, the real Woz was okay with this form of art. Again, speaking to Bloomberg about his conversations with Aaron Sorkin, Woz said, “As a matter of fact, we never talked about the scenes. I never looked at the script after [Aaron] wrote it. I didn’t feel it was appropriate for somebody that’s in a movie to look at a script and say, ‘No, it didn’t happen this way.’ Because it’s his art.”
Despite this, and many of the other factual inaccuracies we’ve covered in the movie, Steve Wozniak was impressed by Steve Jobs the film.
“This movie isn’t about reality, it’s about personality,” Woz said in the interview. “Maybe everything in the movie didn’t happen, but they’re all based on things that did happen.”
Woz continued, “When you’re close to something, you always see a movie…every movie I’ve seen about Apple, they’ve got all the scenes and people’s personalities are wrong. This is not what we said. This is not how it went down. These are not the things we would’ve done. And after a while, you realize it’s the artistic freedom to make a movie that’s enjoyable.”
Finally, Steve Wozniak summed up the film by saying: “This movie is a product. If Steve Jobs were making movies as a product, this is the quality that he would’ve had. Absolutely.”
Oh, and was the Lisa computer named after his daughter? Speaking to the biographer Walter Isaacson, who’s biography the movie is based on, Steve Jobs said, “Obviously it was named for my daughter.”