The Steve Jobs bio is going to get turned into a movie. And Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The Social Network, is “strongly considering” writing it.
The Social Network is a great movie. We’re huge fans of Sorkin’s work on shows like The West Wing. But it would be a terrible thing if Sorkin wrote the Steve Jobs movie.
Two huge reasons:
- Sorkin doesn’t understand entrepreneurs;
- Sorkin can’t write Jobs.
Let me explain.First, Sorkin doesn’t understand (great) entrepreneurs.
It’s not just that The Social Network is riddled with lies—you have to change things to make a story work on the screen—it’s that it showed that Sorkin has no idea what makes entrepreneurs tick.
The most drastic changes in The Social Network from the real story of Facebook’s founding wasn’t ommitting the fact that Eduardo Saverin tried to scuttle Facebook and walked away a billionaire.
It was that it got the motives of the entrepreneurs totally wrong. In the movie, Mark Zuckerberg creates Facebook, basically, to get into a Harvard final club and get back at a girlfriend. He decides to expand TheFacebook beyond Harvard when he realises his BU-attending ex has no idea what his creation is.
And Sean Parker is a crazy paranoid lunatic who’s into screwing anyone he meets (literally or figuratively, depending on gender), the opposite of the real Sean Parker.
It’s not that (just) he wrote things differently from how they happened. It’s that, as the rest of his oeuvre shows, he’s obviously fundamentally incapable of believing that an entrepreneur or businessman can be something else than, at heart, a selfish shark.
We know that 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was far from a perfect person, but we also know that the reason he built Facebook was because he thought it would be really cool. (More cool than a billion dollars, in fact.) And he was right!
Steve Jobs was that way too: a deeply flawed person, but not motivated by money or some pop-psychology impulse like getting back at a girlfriend or getting his father’s approval or whatever, but simply, powerfully, making great things.
Sorkin actually wrote such a story, once: the tragically short-lived Sports Night portrayed what was, essentially, a startup. A team of passionate people building a product they love (in this case, a sports news show) with the ups, downs, stress and egos that go with that, but always with camaraderie and an abiding need to build something bigger than themselves. This is exactly what animates the entrepreneurs, at least the great ones. But the Sorkin of Sports Night is nowhere to be seen in The Social Network, or anywhere else.
First outside Facebook investor Peter Thiel diagonsed the problem best when he said The Social Network portrayed life as a zero-sum game, where you win when others lose. Even though there’s definitely some of that in the startup world, great entrepreneurs create positive-sum games, where you win by helping others win. This is something that seems to elude Sorkin, who prefers confrontational games. In The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The Social Network, the Good Guys must win for the Bad Guys to lose.
Another reason why Sorkin shouldn’t write the Steve Jobs movie is that Steve Jobs wasn’t a Sorkin character. To coin a phrase, I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way.
Aaron Sorkin is an immensely talented writer, but he has only one flaw: his characters all speak a certain way. We all know it. The long, implausibly eloquent monologue, the rapid-fire chatter. It’s Sorkin’s style. It’s awesome. (I watched way too many West Wing clips in the process of writing this post.) It’s also not at all how Steve Jobs behaved.
It was fine for movie-Zuckerberg to speak in Sorkinese because Zuckerberg is a hyper-smart guy who thinks really fast and whose words therefore tumble out of his mouth in streams. It wasn’t Zuckerberg, but it was reasonable for movie-Zuckerberg.
But Jobs was the opposite: he was a hyper-smart guy who thought really fast, but who, when speaking, pointedly collected his thoughts and used as few words as possible to hammer his point.
Look at this video of Steve Jobs facing perhaps his toughest public questioning, at WWDC 1997 when he’d just returned to Apple and plenty of people were anxious about the direction of the company:
What you see is a very eloquent man, but one who is eloquent in a way that is antithetical to how Sorkin writes eloquence.
It’s not a dig at Sorkin or any great writer to say that all writers have idiosyncracies and stylistic hangups that they can’t get rid of without writing crap. And in this case, Sorkin’s style makes it impossible for him to write Steve Jobs faithfully.
So to sum up, both intellectually (because he doesn’t understand entrepreneurs) and stylistically (because he can’t write Jobs), Sorkin is unable to write a good Steve Jobs movie.
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