Lost Steve Jobs interview headed to the big screen
Steve Jobs is coming to a theater near you.
Missing footage from an interview Apple co-founder Steve Jobs did almost 20 years for a landmark miniseries that ran on PBS in the United States and Channel 4 in Britain has resurfaced and is the basis for a new documentary that will be shown in Landmark Theatres around the country on Nov. 16 and 17.
Curiosity about the always compelling and enigmatic man behind the Apple computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad has skyrocketed since his death from cancer a month ago. A new biography of Jobs by Walter Isaacson is on top of the bestseller list and a "60 Minutes" show featuring a lengthy segment on the book drew almost 13 million viewers for CBS.
The movie, "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview," is from a conversation Jobs conducted with Robert Cringely for the author and producer's 1996 miniseries "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires" about the origins of the personal computer industry and the emergence of Silicon Valley as a technology hub.
Although Jobs gave a 70-minute interview to Cringely, only 10 minutes of it were used in the finished product. When Cringely was making the sequel "Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet," he went looking for the rest of the Jobs interview, but the footage had vanished.
"We lost all the raw footage completely," Cringely said in an interview.
Unbeknownst to Cringely, Paul Sen, the director of "Triumph of the Nerds," had dubbed a VHS copy of the Jobs interview and chucked it in the back of his garage in Britain, where it sat collecting dust for years.
After Jobs died, Sen went looking for the interview because he thought it would be interesting to watch. He dropped Cringely a line telling him of his find and suggested that perhaps Cringely could put it on his technology blog I Cringely as a "gift to the world."
"He didn't see any commercial value in it," Cringely said. "I have three kids I have to put through college, so I thought maybe we could sell it."
Cringely sent Landmark Theatres co-owner Mark Cuban an email late one night to see whether there would be any interest in screening it on Landmark screens. Less than five minutes later, Cuban fired back that he was game.
The "Interview," which was in between Jobs' stints at Apple, captures all sides of the complex visionary. Jobs rips into Microsoft and Apple and goes into great detail about how betrayed he felt when he was fired from a company he helped found.
"He was great that day," Cringely said, adding that his emotions are on display. "He was a cranky guy. I think we see that."
There are also lighter moments, including one in which Jobs tells of a prank call he and a friend made to the Vatican pretending to be Henry Kissinger needing to speak with the pope.
The question is whether there is enough interest in Jobs to get people to a movie theater to sit through an interview. "We are all taking a risk here. Maybe no one will come," Cringely said.
It's not an expensive risk, though. The cost to give theatrical quality to a dubbed interview on VHS was only $6,000. Cringely's math tells him he needs only 1,501 people to see the movie to turn a profit and notes that he has a "large extended family."
Besides Los Angeles and New York, "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" will be screened in Landmark theaters in 17 cities around the country, including, of course, Palo Alto, where the movie will play for a week.
-- Joe Flint
Photo Credit: Robert Cringeley