Cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler discusses the bold choice for visualizing this unique biopic about the legendary Apple co-founder.
Steve Jobs is Citizen Kane meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the social media age. But by structuring his adaptation of the Walter Isaacson biography around three product launches, Aaron Sorkin has conjured a unique backstage biopic, exploring Jobs from the inside out with theatrical flair.
The trick was to come up with a bold visual style, so director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Küchler (Sunshine) decided to shoot three distinct looks for each launch (16mm for the Macintosh in 1984, 35mm for the NeXT in 1988 and digitally for the iMac in 1998). Thus, style becomes content as Jobs confronts his past (both publicly and privately) while plotting his grand tech vision for the future.
“I like films which feel internal, which are subjective…and it was very much on Danny’s mind to get inside the brain of Steve Jobs,” explained Küchler. And one of the very early things that came up was that Steve Jobs is always on the move, he’s always moving. Only in very specific moments will he be still [such as when he interacts with his first daughter, Lisa]. “
They shot in the real San Francisco locations during graveyard shifts, which cost more but provided authenticity (Boyle actually flipped the last two venues, the Opera and Symphony Hall, because it worked better psychologically). And they shot in sequence to allow the actors to attack Sorkin’s dialogue (Michael Fassbender is spellbinding as Jobs). But to avoid interrupting the flow of the visual language, flashbacks stay consistent with the look of each section.
“The Steadicam operator was crucial because it would be physically straining as we go up and down these corridors and on three floors of the San Francisco Opera. And there were lots of limitations but Danny likes limitations,” Küchler said.
It was all about keeping up with Jobs as he frantically prepares for each presentation and interacts with those closest to him in a crucible of Shakespearean proportions. Kate Winslet plays marketing head and confidant Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogen portrays Apple co-founder/chief engineer/erstwhile buddy Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels takes on Apple CEO/father figure John Sculley and Michael Stuhlbarg transforms into original Mac team member/brotherly Andy Hertzfeld. Perla-Haney Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss play Lisa at different ages. Interestingly, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” with its three-part structure for clouds, love and life, becomes the film’s central metaphor.
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