Movie Review: Steve Jobs

Steve JobsFor anyone who has worked in the speechwriting, executive communications or PR business and supported an executive who has presented at a major event, much about the new movie Steve Jobs will seem very familiar.

No matter how truthful a portrait it is of the man (played by Michael Fassbender) who founded Apple — debate rages among those who worked with him — it is an accurate account of life behind the scenes on the day of a product launch presentation. Actually, we are given a backstage pass to three events: the launches of the Mac in 1984, the NeXT cube in 1998 and the iMac in 1998.

Poetic license

At each event it is marketing VP Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet) who attempts to keep the tech guru focused on the product launch. His attention is continually distracted by a series of visitors to the green room, from angry and frustrated co-workers (chief among them Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and CEO John Scully) to angry and frustrated family members (chief among them his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann).

This is extreme poetic license. No executive could tolerate such emotionally charged conversations moments before stepping in front of an audience. Indeed, for the real story on the focus Jobs brought to his presentations, and the intensity of the preparation, read Carmine Gallo’s excellent analysis of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Familiar Details

Familiar details about life behind the scenes at a major event include:

  • The chaos of cables, monitors and cluttered hallways the audience never sees from the front of the house.
  • The auditorium before the doors open, with a random scattering of people watching the final rehearsal.
  • Swarms of black-clad, production people on headphones trying to keep everything on schedule.
  • The fruit baskets and cans of soda in the green room.
  • Techies frantically trying to get the demo to work.
  • The script outline spread on the floor, undergoing last minute edits.

The movie captures these universal aspects of the world of executive communications.

iBelieve

What is unique to Jobs and Apple was the evangelical fervor of the launches with enthusiastic audiences behaving more like those at a rock concert than the introduction of a new computer (one of which, in a memorable line, is accused of “looking like Judy Jetsons’ Easy-Bake oven”).

It also conveys quirky aspects of Jobs personality, such as using yoga poses to relax before going on stage; insisting the graphics person show him 39 images of a shark before selecting the specific one that he wants on the slide; and needing, over the fire marshals express prohibition, the exit signs in the auditorium blacked-out for a demo.

The movie is of the time and place that birthed Apple and revitalized Silicon Valley. We see flashbacks of Jobs and Woz arguing about the future in their Cupertino garage. The influences on Jobs — from the Bob Dylan soundtrack to knowing references to dropping acid and glorious images of the Golden Gate Bridge — are intertwined with the theme of reconciliation with his estranged daughter.

Much has been written about how confrontational Jobs was, and this film certainly highlights the difficult aspects of his personality. While not too many executive communications professionals have the challenge, or privilege, of working with as mercurial character as Steve Jobs, I believe all will enjoy this inside look backstage before the presentation starts.

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