Daniel Kottke and Bill Fernandez had front-row seats to the birth of the personal computing industry, as well as the most valuable technology company in the world. Both served as employees of Apple Computer in its earliest days: Kottke working with the hardware, Fernandez developing the user interfaces.
Both have some strong opinions about the new feature film, Jobs, which dramatizes the personal and professional escapades of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his more technically inclined partner, Steve Wozniak. Kottke consulted on early versions of the script, attended the movie’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in February, and is currently planning to see it again shortly after its release on August 16. Fernandez, on the other hand, hasn’t seen it and doesn’t intend to, because he considers it a work of fiction and thinks it will upset him. In a lengthy interview, both attempted to distinguish the facts and longstanding geek legends from the instances of pure creative license exercised by the filmmakers.
Daniel Kottke: Bill, did you not see the film yet?
Bill Fernandez: No, I haven’t seen it.
Daniel Kottke: You will laugh! You’ll think it’s funny.
Bill Fernandez: I don’t want to see it. I think it’ll just be too weird. I also don’t want to see someone else playing Jobs.
Daniel Kottke: Well, Ashton’s very good. I have no complaints with him at all, no complaints with his portrayal of Jobs. The complaint that people would rightly have about the film is that it portrays Woz as not having the same vision as Steve Jobs, which is really unfair. Woz’s reply this morning was, “If I see it at all, I’m going to have to see it alone.” The one scene that’s already been on YouTube, the scene of them walking through the Hewlett-Packard garage, and Jobs is all excited, Jobs is going, “Yeah, everybody is going to want a home computer,” and the Woz character says, “Nah, nobody’s going to want to buy one,” which really rings false.
V.A.: And aside from that one specific line?
Daniel Kottke: It very clearly and powerfully portrays the emotional note of the guy who was the co-founder [Woz] and feels betrayed by Steve Jobs lying to him about the payment for designing [the Atari game] “Breakout.” It’s a true story, and on the other hand, in real life, Woz has such a big spirit, he goes, “Oh yeah, it really hurt me, but I forgive Steve.”
V.A: Daniel, there are a lot of parallels between this film and The Social Network, the 2010 film about the early days of Facebook, but it’s almost like they split Eduardo Saverin role apart into the characters of you and Woz.
Daniel Kottke: Yes, and I want to meet Eduardo Saverin. I sympathize with him a lot. It’s therapeutic for me. It was a very difficult time in my life, and I didn’t think anyone would ever know or hear about that story. Bill, do you even know the story? It got to be the summer of 1980 and I never had a stock option. No one would ever talk to me about it. All I wanted was just to touch base with Steve about it, and he just would not talk to me. He kept me waiting outside his office for hours, on multiple occasions. It was very cold. And you know how he is, he would just be on the phone endlessly until I went away, because he didn’t want to talk to me.
V.A: There’s also the big dramatic scene where Woz quits Apple.
Daniel Kottke: Yeah. That never happened at all. At all. That was complete fabrication.
V.A.: Really? His lines there are some of the most poignant phrases in the movie.
Daniel Kottke: Yes, it is poignant, and so I think it makes sense in the film, even though it never happened. So, I don’t know, the reality was that Woz was welcomed and encouraged to be part of the Macintosh project, but then he had his plane crash and so he was out of commission.
V.A.: Which I don’t think is even mentioned in the film, is it?
Daniel Kottke: No, it’s not. Bill Atkinson put it very well—he said Woz’s sense of humor is completely missing. Which is a big part of his life.
Bill Fernandez: That would be really bad if that were true, because a big part of Woz’s personality is his sense of humor.
Daniel Kottke: Actually, you know what? Now that I think of it, there is a good scene in the film of Woz showing off his dial-a-joke to Steve Jobs.
V.A.: Yeah, and he actually rattles off several jokes in quick succession there.
Daniel Kottke: There was a really interesting article in the Chronicle the other day all about biopics in general and what a risky genre it is. If you’re famous enough to have a film made about you, we’re talking decades, usually, of a complicated life, you know? And so they try and put way too much into these films and they end up losing the emotional impact and losing the coherent thread. It’s interesting, in the same article it mentions that the Aaron Sorkin script for the upcoming Sony film about Jobs, the entire film is going to be about three scenes. Three scenes!
V.A.: How do you guys feel about the fact that there’s another one in the works right now? That’s pretty unusual.
Daniel Kottke: I don’t know. Somebody needs to make a film about Woz too. [laughs] I expect that will happen eventually.
Bill Fernandez: It’ll probably be an indie piece.
V.A.: One of my favorite things from the 2011 Walter Isaacson biography was the descriptions of the pranks that they’d play, like the fake brochure from the West Coast Computer Faire.
Daniel Kottke: It’s really kind of the really big scene in the movie. They spent several days shooting it, but they did an unbelievable job recreating the West Coast Computer Faire. There’s fifty different booths selling stuff relating to computers. Huge room. They did an unbelievable job reproducing it based on photographs that had been taken.
Bill Fernandez: Wow.
Daniel Kottke: It really blew me away. But anyway, that speech that Ashton does: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Steve Jobs, and I’m going to introduce you to the Apple II, blah blah blah.” That speech that he gives never happened, for sure. [laughs] It was just a booth at a computer show.
Bill Fernandez: There’s a whole other aspect that wasn’t even touched: the personal computing environment. The Commodore PET computer came out, and we were concerned that we might lose to them. And the Radio Shack TRS-80 came out. And from what I gathered, there’s nothing in the movie that sets the context; a lot of people were doing personal computing at the same time, and Apple wasn’t a shoo-in to win the race.
V.A.: What was the garage workspace like?
Daniel Kottke: Well, I’ll tell you what it wasn’t like. What you see in the film, and in “Pirates Of Silicon Valley”—you saw that, right, Bill?
Bill Fernandez: No, I didn’t.
Daniel Kottke: No? Oh, you would like that. That was a great movie. Noah Wyle was just uncannily close to Jobs. Just unbelievable. I found myself thinking it was actually Steve on the screen. But anyway, “Pirates Of Silicon Valley” had all these scenes of the garage where it’s like half a dozen people working, busily carrying things back and forth, and oscilloscopes.
Bill Fernandez: [laughs]
Daniel Kottke: I was really the only person who worked in the garage. Woz would show up once a week with his latest to test it out, and Steve Jobs was on the phone a lot in the kitchen. The current film also has these scenes where you, Bill, and me, and Randy and Chris and there’s a whole gang, and Bill Atkinson, and Rod Holt. We’re all in the garage.
Bill Fernandez: [laughs] We never had that many people in the garage at any one time.
Daniel Kottke: What completely cracked us all up is the scene where Rod arrives for the first time. Rod comes up wearing leathers, riding up on a motorcycle with long hair.
Bill Fernandez: WHAT?!
Daniel Kottke: He’s like this motorcycle dude. It just cracked us all up.
Bill Fernandez: WHAT?! [laughs]
Daniel Kottke: Rod thought it was hilarious.
Bill Fernandez: Did he ever ride a motorcycle?
Daniel Kottke: Rod was really into dirt bikes. And I never saw him riding one, but he talked about it all the time. So the author just had him riding up on a motorcycle. I liked that guy. I met him on the set. I had no idea who he was when I met him because he doesn’t look at all like Rod, he has long straight hair and he’s wearing leathers.
Bill Fernandez: [laughs] And you say, “Who could this possibly be in the Apple universe?”
V.A.: Who was left out of the movie entirely, and which actor would you cast to play them?
Daniel Kottke: Either Wendell Sander or Mike Scott.
Bill Fernandez: Yeah, for different reasons. Wendell Sander was like the second Woz, and Mike Scott was the guy who made the company run.
V.A.: And who would you cast in those roles?
Bill Fernandez: How about the guy who plays Doc Brown in Back To The Future? Actually, he’d be a better Rod, right? Wouldn’t he be the best as Rod Holt?
Daniel Kottke: Christopher Lloyd, you mean?
Bill Fernandez: It seems to me that there’s a lot of fan fiction about Apple Computer and about Steve Jobs, and I think that this is the biggest, flashiest piece of fan fiction that there’s been to date.
V.A.: Oh, wow. “Fan fiction” is quite a term to attach to this.
Daniel Kottke: [laughs] Well, I wasn’t thinking of it as fan fiction, because I was involved early on in the film, and they really, sincerely tried to make it as accurate as they could.
Bill Fernandez: That’s part of why I don’t want to see it, because the whole thing is a work of fiction, and I don’t want to be upset by all the things that the screenwriter has invented and don’t represent the truth.
Daniel Kottke: Did you come to the set during filming?
Bill Fernandez: Uh, no. Victor Rasuk, the guy who played me, interviewed me a couple times on the phone, and that’s the only involvement I’ve had.
Daniel Kottke: The early versions were painful. Really painful. I forwarded the first draft to Mike Markkula because they wanted his feedback, and Mike took such a bad reaction to it, he wouldn’t have anything more to do with the project. By the time it got to the fourth draft, it was okay. It wasn’t making me cringe. But they still had a scene of me arguing with Steve, which never ever happened, but, you know, in the realm of artistic license. I mean, the dynamic of my relationship with Steve Jobs is he just completely stopped talking to me in about 1980. And that’s not cinematic; arguments are much better on the screen.
Bill Fernandez: I talked to Victor Rasuk, the actor who was playing me, and he would say, “Well, did this happen?” and I would say, “No.” And ultimately I understood that they were not trying to create a historical document, they were doing a dramatic piece. From those variety of hints or clues, I formulated the opinion that I’d probably be really upset if I saw it. And it makes perfect sense, you know. They have their project, and it was to make a piece of entertainment around a popular topic. And I think that if they just told the plain truth—if anyone could actually figure out what the plain truth really was—that it would not be a really entertaining piece. Like Daniel said, when someone stops talking to you, where’s the drama? What can you put on the screen?
Daniel Kottke: No, they had all these scenes with me arguing with Steve over Chrisann, which really never happened at all. I never gave him a hard time, even though he was such a jerk to her.
V.A.: Steve Jobs’ persuasiveness was often referred to as a “reality distortion field.” Is it fair to say there’s also one surrounding this film?
Bill Fernandez: Oh, there always is, around any film. And especially around some kind of biopic like this.
Daniel Kottke: I think the filmmakers would wish that there was a reality distortion field, making it a huge success.
Images: Top two by Daniel Kottke, bottom one by Bill Fernandez; used with permission.