How did you go about seeking visual differentiation among the acts?
The first act is about Steve's baby, the Macintosh, the product that
his arrival in the computing world and also put him on the map culturally. This
followed that groundbreaking "1984" spot and it branded him as the new
innovator. This was to be the first of innumerable media launches, and he's in
his element as brilliant salesman and showman on-the-rise. So, even with the
personal and professional challenges pinging off of him at every turn, he's in a
good place. We jump to the second act, three years after his
from the very company that he started. Now, we see a man out for revenge-
although it's clothed in the launch of the computer from his new company, NeXT,
it's really about showing up Apple. After a bad breakup, if you ever know you're
going to run into your ex, you make sure you look fantastic and the person
with is a stunner, right? The third act is a full decade later, and he stands
us as a renaissance man pointing the way to a future made easier and better by
his stream of amazing devices-and he's about to show us the machine that's
going to start it all. So not only do we have differences in period and
location, we have entirely different moods and tones.
It's great when you have as many amazing designers and department heads
as I have contributing their own visions, which also serve to make each time
and place pop. The way Alwin shot the acts-and his utilization of the different
cameras and systems-gives viewers a different "lens" through which to view
these launches. More than just reproducing the fashions of the times and the
various looks captured in real-life photos of these people, Suttirat dressed our
players with their characters' purposes and truths. Daniel-even during the
actual shoot-was producing a musical soundscape that amplified the situations
and conflicts coming into play, while not detracting from the characters'
immense amount of language spoken and information imparted.
Sometimes, an obvious choice turns out to be the best. Color was going to
serve as my way of delineating the acts. Thumb through any historical materials,
and there will be leading colors that stand out in fashion, architecture and
culture in any period. Color would be both the barometer of the time and
the indicator of the place. So for Flint Auditorium in 1984, we went with the
institutional greens and greys. In 1988 at the Opera House, it was to be reds-
the color of passion, of revenge-and the golds, signaling grandeur. Symphony
Hall in 1998 is a palette of natural tones in this open space that seems to
welcome and signal the future. So, for me, as a designer, it became about
"painting" the backgrounds to enhance what I felt each act was about.
Acts Two and Three were shot in producing performance venues, and
there was an immense amount of preparation involved just to get inside
for filming. Obviously, you and your department did not rush in with
sprayers and drop cloths.
True-while we were able to accomplish a great amount through dressing
and decoration, it was more about really pointing up the chosen colors as
they existed inside these places. There was more leeway in Act One. Flint has
this older, institutional quality, so grays, muted greens, and mustard feel very
organic to it-and we also included painted graphics and stripes, which were
very popular in the late '70s and early '80s. If you really want to be
about the Flint sequence, you would actually pinpoint the colors as being late
'70's-but that worked very well for us. The launch was really about blasting
away the hangovers from the past-so there they are-and also, I really didn't
mind creating a little more distance from Act Two, which gave the feeling of a
more equal spacing between the three launches.
It was such a gift getting to use the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House,
which is a gorgeous, glorious and beautiful building-it's deeply rooted in San
Francisco's history. We toyed with enhancing the golds and the reds, and
worked to heighten the reality backstage. We really did aim for operatic values.
The Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is a much newer building-it's open, it's
light. It mixes all of this very light-colored wood with these six-foot
acoustic tiles suspended above the stage inside this beautifully designed hall.
There's also the blue-grey of concrete. All of these materials are looked at in
truthful way, so the feel, oddly, is more natural. I think at this point, we see
a little more as he is, and also, there's a sense that he is more comfortable
with the person he's become. The design is likewise suggestive of the future,
without any intentional modernism. So hopefully, when you look at the film as a
whole, there will be a rhythm to the use of materials and colors, and how we've
addressed those in each of the acts.
How cautious were you in guarding against any visual anachronisms?
I'm forever paranoid. It was really interesting for me to look at the subtle
cultural differences and technological advances of each period, even though
they are actually rather close together. I was forever walking around these
spaces, paying attention to such things as safety mandated fittings, to make
sure they were of the period. We needed to ascertain just when certain kinds
of fire and smoke alarms-which weren't around then in Act One either-came
into use. At that time, we were just beginning to wake up to the physical
needs of the disabled, so there weren't ramps, handrails, lower switches and
fountains, all of the things that come into play today. People could smoke
pretty much where they wished then-we actually had to go around and
remove "no smoking" signs.
What really struck me was how much more "intelligent" spaces have become
around us through the decades-buildings, public places, our homes-and
how much of that Steve Jobs probably actually saw coming.
What was your initial reaction reading Steve Jobs-and what were your
thoughts on editing such a project?
In working with everyone on this and talking about our processes, I know that
every person had their own take on the script, but they all had a commonality-
it centered on the words. Everything else-the story, the history, the conflicts-
came from there. In my mind, I thought of it as "an action film of words." It is
setup and payoff, setup and payoff. You have to keep it flying. We needed to
create a tide of energy from beginning to end that takes the viewer through this
dialogue as these characters travel from room to room. It's our responsibility
keep each entrance into a different room or hallway revelatory in some fashion-
all of it plays out in spaces backstage before these three big moments in Jobs'
life-so that what the viewer stays with are the ideas and the language.
I think in some scripts, you arrive at a certain point and you have to let the
dialogue breathe, taking a moment to let this little bit of magic that the
have created land. This script had about 190 pages, and we wanted the film to
be about two hours-generally, you plan on a page a minute. Doing the math,
that meant the talk needed to be fast and furious. Aaron's scripts are brimming
with these wonderful setups and payoffs and there is a timing to it, a tap
dance-you have to stick to the dance or you miss things. So when we do stop
for a moment, editorially, it carries even more weight, because there haven't
been that many pauses preceding it.
Thanks goodness we had sound recordist Lisa Pinero on hand-she really helped
the cast stay true to the musicality of the writing. The script is full of
overlaps, and Danny didn't want to stop them from happening. Lisa captured it
so that I could edit it. We knew we wanted very little ADR in this film, so we
actors play out the scene. That was pivotal in capturing Aaron's language.
It's become customary for editors to put together a preliminary cut
of the movie as filming progresses. But wasn't your first pass a much
more refined version?
Yes, indeed. After the cast completed their first rehearsal period-they spent
three weeks rehearsing before we filmed Act One-and we moved into the
space, it was essential that all of the parts worked together as a whole. The
blocking, lighting, and camera operation-along with scoring and editing-it
all needed to produce this seamless 40-or-so minutes. I mean, everyone really
hit the ground running on this-even Daniel Pemberton, the composer, wrote
his own temp music from the beginning. And the only way to really ascertain
the success of our efforts was to see Act One, as close to screen-ready as
we could come. So I put together an assemblage and Danny, the producers
and I viewed it. Not only did we want to see how it all worked together before
moving on, we wanted to see that we had achieved the tone and quality we
were after, because each act needed to feel completely different. The viewer
needs to experience each of the acts anew. And since Danny was shooting
each piece a bit differently, I was cutting each one differently. For example,
there's a lot of energy, almost frenetic, to the camera movements in Act One,
plus it was shot on 16mm, so it gives it this cinema verite feel and harkens
to a less technically-savvy time; Act Two has a more classical technique to it,
so the cutting becomes a little slower in pacing. By getting a sense of what was
working, and maybe what wasn't, it helped define how we were going to shoot
the subsequent two acts and ensure we were creating an evolution for the
character and the story. We would not have been able to do this if we had shot
this film chronologically out of order, the way most features are.
And how was your experience working with Danny Boyle? What
impression did you come away with?
His reputation as an artist who prizes collaboration is well earned. I think
what Danny values least is conformity to his ideas-a stark contrast to our
main character, interestingly enough. He does not want you to follow his lead;
he wants you to bring something to the table. What he prizes most in his
collaborators is that each comes with a unique vision. He urges you to have
something new to suggest-it is by no means a one-man show. I think he gets
most excited when you show him something that he's not expecting. He really
likes to be surprised. I tried to always do that-obviously, everything can't be
huge surprise, but it's fun to try, to approach it that way. There's a great
of freedom under him, and you are allowed to make mistakes, because there
is a safety net. He doesn't care if, say, 10 things are wrong, as long as that
one thing is unique, interesting and different. It felt like the best atmosphere
foster creativity. I wish every one of my industry experiences were as
satisfying as this has been.
In the end, how would you describe Steve Jobs?
This is very different from what one might expect-I think that's why there
been such great efforts on everyone's part to bring their best to this.
Steve Jobs lived, he was a real person-but it's my feeling that what we ended up
making was more a snapshot of the man's soul. It is much more a glimpse of who
he was as a person than it is a recounting of events-"and then this happened,
and this happened, and this." You get a sense of Jobs through his coming into
contact with all of these people, and his playing out whatever conflicts that
I think it's much more of a "why" than a "who"-why this person, whose impact
on our lives is immeasurable, was the way he was. It's my feeling that we were
trying to look at his soul much more than track his life story.
Perhaps more than anything, clothing styles place viewers in an era.
Steve Jobs takes place in 1984, 1988, and 1998. Beyond the obvious nods to
the periods, what else influenced your costume design for the three acts?
More than any other act, the period really announces itself in 1984. But instead
merely indicating "Ooh, it's the '80s" in Act One, it became more about what
launch meant to the participants-particularly Steve-that drove the designs.
Everything about the 1984 launch represents looking to the future. So the
clothes of the people presenting the Macintosh, as well as the clothes of the
people who are reacting to the presentation, have to be on this continuum
where that machine is the most futuristic thing in the room. Everything those
people knew in 1984 was being upended by this window into the future and
this new molded machine. Steve was almost assuming the part of corporate
leader-he looked to John Sculley as a model, and it's like he has a laundry list
of what one should wear to a stockholders' meeting. This is what he feels he
needs to wear to present himself to the world, so he buys a double-breasted
suit that's very broad-shouldered. I think of it as his Henry the VIII moment-
it's big and masculine-and then the showman in him adds a bowtie.
In Act Two-rather than try and realize the fashion trends occurring four
later-we really worked to signal the actual changes that have occurred within
Michael, and how his relationships with his team have developed. In 1984, team
members slept in their clothes to get this product off the ground. So no one-
other than Joanna, who has a great fashion sense, and a few key marketing
people-dressed up for Flint. But in 1988, Steve issued an edict that everybody
needed to be suited up. The idea emerged because I found a photo of Steve
with some of his people at a shoot for NeXT taken on the launch day. There
was one guy we didn't recognize from earlier pictures, until we realized it was
one of the engineers-we were seeing him for the first time in a suit. I tried to
bring the qualities that they were aesthetically trying to infuse in the
itself into how Jobs and his group chose to present themselves. It's a little
theatrical, more presentational, more sharp-edged than what we saw in '84.
In looking at photos of Steve at both launches, I noticed the difference in
jackets he wore-there's a shift in what seems like his tastes, I think beyond
just the period passing and a new cut of suit becoming more in style. He's more
confident, cockier, which is reflected in his choice of a slick black suit; he's
this almost internal/external branding of himself. The visual tenor of the whole
is slicker, not only reflecting the perfectly minimal cube, but also tipping the
the environment of the opera house. Everything about this act-the setting, the
production design, the product itself-proclaims surface presentation.
A decade later in Act Three, we see a more relaxed Steve. It's no longer
him impressing on the public his role as the emperor of technical design. That
is openly acknowledged. His return to Apple is a cause for celebration. The
world eagerly awaits his new vision. As far as his self image as a
business leader, he can relax and do whatever he wants-he is writing his own
rules. In Act One, he was trying to emulate Sculley; Act Two saw him trying to
distance himself and create his own branding; now, in Act Three, he is up to
It has been a wonderful opportunity to pour over all of the research and look
at facial expressions, group dynamics, even the composition of these group
photos-why choose that place, that posture, that grouping in a supposed
team portrait? Discovering those moments really helped dictate design choices,
even more than the actual period did, in most cases.
Unlike most films, where you watch a character go through maybe 37 different
costumes, our film presents these characters in a 40-minute window three
times, with each block of minutes separated by years. So the developments
of the intervening years, and the effects of those developments, are hopefully
somehow realized in the choices we have made about how the characters
look and how they present themselves.
Part of the trap of designing for someone as iconic as Jobs in this digital
age must be that everyone with an internet connection thinks they know
what Steve looked like, down to what he wore. How do you move away
from mere re-creation to your own interpretation of the character?
As an icon and a public figure, the character of Steve does come with all
of preconceived notions. So I do agree that the challenge lies in making him
our own and keeping him honest, without resorting to an impersonation or
We had this great amount of research available to us-so then how do
we put it through our own filter and tell our version of the story in a specific
that's engaging and that differs from the customary biopic devices? Well, we all
took our cue from Aaron's screenplay, then Danny's interpretation-we're telling
this particular story in a particular way. Once you have that kind of example
for you by your director and screenwriter, the artist in you wants to add your
own interpretation, while also upping the ante.
I'll give you an example. When going for 1998, I started my look book with a
picture of the iMac. Then I surrounded it with pictures of Steve unveiling the
iMac. He wore a three-button suit with a casual sports shirt, open collar, no
tie. He has a relaxed air about him, even though he's in a suit...but that's not
how we necessarily think of Steve Jobs. It's almost jarring to see those photos,
because your reaction is, "Oh, is that what he wore?" It didn't register. We
want to end the film on that. To us, it felt more honest to present Steve how
we, as the public, understand him visually, which is the classic black
and jeans. You cannot see the iMac and not immediately see in your head
the hundreds of iterations to come, as well as all of the other products Steve
launched. And when your mind flashes on all of that, it naturally pulls you into
the future, up to that device that you silenced and stuck in your pocket before
the movie began. And you picture Steve in his trademark look, which is the
image we've left you with, so it makes sense visually and historically.
You mentioned that each period also has a tonality to it. How did that
inform your costume decisions?
I think very carefully about how characters play off each other in terms of
clothing, so that nothing can distract from what's coming out of their mouths
or what they are saying with their body language. Sometimes a script will call
for a certain kind of costume or look, and indicate that it should be the focus
of some attention. But in Steve Jobs, we want viewers' attention on who these
characters are and what they are saying-I don't want anything that I do to
take any kind of attention away from that. Without trying to downplay our
work, in many ways, it's invisible design. It's something that supports all of
performers and their work, their characters, the language and the story that's
being told. If something didn't fit with all of that, you would see it. If
were self-consciously flashy, you would see it. But if something is well
within the scheme of everything else, and it all works as a unified vision, then
you come away appreciating the art. I heard someone once say, "If you come
away from a movie talking design first and content second, someone really
didn't do their job."
What impact did the screenplay for Steve Jobs have on you, and what
were your initial thoughts about scoring?
I read it in one sitting-it was so compelling. I was buoyed along by this
of amazing dialogue. I did hear scoring possibilities as I read it, but I knew
didn't want to detract from all that was being said. Film composers
look for places where music can expand the story during wordless scenes,
action sequences, things like that. In this, every page is driven by dialogue.
Then I began thinking of the dialogue as the soprano of the score, in certain
ways. It's a fast, constantly flowing stream of information, and I felt it
some space to breathe. But at the same time, we didn't want the music to
become so nondescript or anonymous that it had no identity. So the challenge
became how to compose music, with a unique identity, that would support the
dialogue and allow it to "sing" on top of it.
What kind of discussions did you have with Danny regarding the film's
unique structure and its effect on your composition?
Danny began by saying that the film is quite clearly divided into three acts,
and each act would be differentiated not only by look-they were going to be
filmed with different camera systems-but also by sound. So, in essence, the
film would require three separate scores. The first act takes place in 1984,
when the concept of the Macintosh was completely new-a promise of limitless
possibilities through new technology-so its sound was to be "electronic
optimism." The second act, four years later, is set in an opera house, where
Steve launches a new product...and we have chosen to play that as an act of
revenge against the company that "ousted" him-warranting scoring operatic in
tone and scope. The third act is set in 1998, by which time entire movie scores
are composed on the computer-so the majority of that act I would produce
using Apple software.
How were the three product launches going to be differentiated
through music? How does your music reflect the main character
at each point in time?
We realized the conceit of Act One by using synthesizers of the period. Since
the obsolete technology limited how you could compose at that time, we
exploited that-synth music was built in layers, playing every note by hand.
I went on a synthesizer-buying spree and snagged a variety of them, including
models like the Yamaha CS-80, featured prominently in Vangelis music-and
Steve Jobs was an enormous Vangelis fan. He incorporated "Chariots of Fire"
into the '84 launch, and the CS-80 is all over the famous "1984" ad. So we
basically built a synthesizer orchestra, layering in lines played on the CS-80;
the Juno-60, a Roland instrument from the time; the SH-1000, which even in
'84 was dated, as it could only play one note at a time; along with other
We spoke about Act Two being operatic, concerning revenge, but also really
about human relationships-so it would be composed on classical instruments
and, of course, include voices. As Steve grows as a showman, from Act One to
Act Two, the score expands from electronic minimalism to orchestral opulence.
Additionally, in the middle of this act, Steve and Sculley are drawn into a
argument, which is accompanied and punctuated by a 10-minute symphony.
Danny and I traded a stream of ideas back and forth, and we weren't quite
sure which ones would really work, so there was a lot of experimentation at the
beginning, and I composed a lot of opera. One little thing-the opera chorus is
actually singing about computers. We even wrote the libretto in Italian, which
is about machines. You don't really hear it, but I wanted it to feel authentic.
There's attention to detail in every aspect of this score.
Act Three is almost a return full circle, to creating as much of the music as
possible in the computer. But by 1998, you could sample, you could fully
sound design, you could create almost anything-you are no longer relying on
synthesizers or orchestras. The music here is really more sound design-based
and feels more internal, a little more abstract, somewhat representational of
changes and internal shifts that have occurred inside Steve. The third act is
sparse but elegant. It's stripped back and simple...just like Jobs' products.
What other influences show up in the music? What moments of scoring
stand out for you?
While it was key that the score support the language and provide a soundscape
for the characters as they develop, we also strove to bring in the era-mostly
1984, the first act, where I really wanted to capture the sound of that time.
introduction to the world of Apple through the Macintosh, the technological
optimism, even the landmark "1984" ad-they are inexorably linked to that
specific year. Not only did the use of the synthesizer perfectly capture the
feel of that moment in time, it also gave me the opportunity to compose as if
I were in 1984. Dealing with obsolete technology showed how spoiled we've
become with current advances-a great many of those thanks to Steve's
accomplishments. In going back to 1984, I wanted to use the 1984 technology
and work as if that were the cutting edge. It transformed my perspective
and changed how I worked on that act's music-I think more than anything,
composing within the limitations of the period helped me tap into the aesthetic
of that sound.
For the second act, the overriding goal was to convey the feel of the event,
that place, and where Steve was in his life. So rather than including cues that
signal, "Hey, it's 1988," the music underlines the larger-than-life tone of
his presentation of NeXT, his revenge against the company he founded and is
no longer running. It's a 74-piece orchestra with chorus. I really love when
claps his hands and this grand opera piece begins-he was constantly being
compared to a maestro in his career, and here, cinematically speaking, he is
The third act almost moves into the realm of sound design, rather than
scoring-it is 1998, but for all intents and purposes, it is the future. We
see Steve as the icon that he is, that he came to be, even in his signature
black turtleneck, more at home in his own skin than previously and seeking
reconciliation where previously he had no desire for it.
My favorite part may be the very opening of the film. It begins with a very
strange sort of sound-a machine whirring with electronic tones on top. I love
the way it works; it's completely different. There are maybe three notes in that
score-in the opera, there are more like 700. And when Lisa first plays with
the computer, there is a sound wave, the most basic sound you can have on
a synthesizer. It sounds like the beginning of computing, in a way. It's simple,
but one note going up a few octaves-the right notes-turn out to be far more
evocative than if I used a full orchestra.
As a musician and a composer, how have Jobs and his accomplishments
impacted your life?
In some ways, an orchestral score is one of the oldest pieces of computer
code. Computer code is instruction. But with an orchestra, you have the most
amazing computer that's ever been made-74 human beings responding to
what is, in effect, code, and bringing their own personality and emotion to that
code. That's why they still exist, because no one has ever beaten that effect.
The impact that he's had on me as a composer means I can be writing opera
music one minute, and then suddenly switch to designing electronic sounds
or composing for synthesizers. Now, alone, I can dream up and compose
anything-and then play it and hear it, every single note, without having to
involve anyone else and never having to leave my room. Don't get me wrong-
there is nothing like hearing your music being played by 74 musicians. But it's
great not having to rely on them to listen to your latest composition,
when you've just completed the work and it's 3:30 in the morning. That's
freedom in composition.
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