Apple 2.0

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Aaron Sorkin on Steve Jobs: 'A minefield of disappointment'

May 31, 2012: 6:31 AM ET

The Social Network's screenwriter talks frankly about the perils of tackling Apple's story

Click for a 12-minute excerpt. Video: All Things Digital

FORTUNE -- I for one can't wait to see what Aaron Sorkin does with the Steve Jobs story.

The man who wrote some of my favorite movies and TV series (The Social Network, The West Wing, Sports Night, etc.) is at the earliest stages of adapting Walter Isaacson's Jobs biography for film -- a process that to the casual observer, he says, looks nothing like writing. "To the untrained eye," he told Walt Mossberg Wednesday, "it would look a lot like watching college football. It's a process of procrastination."

Sorkin's appearance, excerpted in the video clip above, was for me the highlight of this year's All Things Digital conference, and he spent much of it talking about the perils of telling the story of Apple's (AAPL) co-founder.

Some of what he had to say:

  • "To be honest with you, one of the hesitations I had in taking on the movie was that this was a little like writing about The Beatles. That there are so many people out there who know so much about him and who revere him, that I just saw a minefield of disappointment."
  • "People are going to say 'You really missed the big thing that he did.' That's bound to happen, certainly with any piece of nonfiction. All I can say at this early stage of the game is that you should think of it as a painting, not a photograph."
  • "Walter Isaacson wrote a terrific biography -- but in making movies about these kinds of things, it's difficult to shake the cradle-to-grave structure, so I'm probably not going to write one. Instead, I'll probably identify the point of friction that appeals to me and then approach that."
  • "By and large, I write about people who are considerably smarter than I am. I was raised that way. My family members and friends growing up were all smarter than I. I really fell in love with the phonetic sound of intelligence and the sound of a really good argument."
  • "[Jobs] is an extremely complicated guy, that I know that for sure. Mark Zuckerberg is an extremely complicated guy as well. As little as I know about the Steve Jobs movie, I know this for sure: I can't judge the character. He has to, for me, be a hero. I have to find the parts of him that are like me. I have to be able to defend this character. With someone like Steve Jobs, to put it as simply as possible, you want to write the character as if they are making the case to God why they should be allowed into heaven."
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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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