Readers have been asking me about the news that actor Ashton Kutcher is going to be playing Steve Jobs in an independent movie about the Apple co-founder to be filmed this summer. It’s fine with me, I suppose, but if we’re going to get all Hollywood about this, the business implications are interesting, especially for Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, because it probably means a film based on Isaacson’s book will never be made.
The reason I say this is because the last time a movie was made about Steve Jobs it was Pirates of Silicon Valley, which was originally titled Triumph of the Geeks. Sound familiar? I made them change the title, but that’s where my success story ends.
Pirates of Silicon Valley, while officially based on A Fire in the Valley, contained plenty of material that was only covered in my book Accidental Empires and documentary Triumph of the Nerds. These were events that happened after A Fire in the Valley had already been published. But you can’t copyright facts and my book was already optioned by another studio at the time… an option that was never exercised because Pirates came on the market first.
That’s exactly what I predict will now happen to Walter Isaacson. This Ashton Kutcher movie is not based on Isaacson’s book. Walter’s $3 million deal with Sony Pictures only pays off if a movie is actually made. Isaacson has only received an option payment. I don’t know how much that would be but it’s unlikely to be more than a tenth of the total amount — nice money but nothing like what he’d get if a movie is actually made.
The presence of this Ashton Kutcher vehicle in the market will make it very unlikely that Sony’s Steve Jobs picture will ever be made for exactly the same reason that Pirates killed my chance of success in Hollywood 15 years ago. Kutcher is a legitimate star and millions will have been spent on this movie. If the Kutcher film is good, well then the story’s been done. If the Kutcher movie is bad, well then maybe there wasn’t much of a story in the first place. That’s how Hollywood thinks.
Lots more movies are optioned than are ever made.
Whether one or both Jobs films are made I still see room for a really good feature documentary on Steve Jobs. My little Jobs film gives a glimpse of both the audience demand and possible depth of material, but Steve Jobs — The Lost Interview is something else — more of an artifact than a documentary. It’s fascinating in its own right, but it isn’t a complete story.
There’s still room for a really good documentary on Steve Jobs to give the greater depth and understanding of this character that I think Isaacson never quite achieved in his book, possibly because of his outsider status.
If anyone in Hollywood is listening, I’d like to be the guy to make that Steve Jobs documentary.
Have your people call my people.