From analog to digital: How Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs' captures the rapid advancement of technology

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2015
The film "Steve Jobs" is set in three different time periods over a 14-year span, each presented in a visually distinct way by director Danny Boyle, reflecting the fast-paced evolution of modern technology.


Danny Boyle on the set of "Steve Jobs." Credit: Universal Pictures.


Boyle talked about his approach in bringing the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film to life in a Q&A session at the 53rd annual New York Film Festival on Saturday, where AppleInsider had the opportunity to view the upcoming movie. Like Apple's products have seen regular, speedy improvements over the years, the quality of the film's image itself becomes clearer over the course of three acts.

The first act, set in 1984 at the unveiling of the first Macintosh, was shot by Boyle in grainy 16-millimeter film. The smaller 16-millimeter film size is cheaper to shoot with, which is why it's generally used for television programs and not big-budget feature films.

Boyle said that 16 millimeter gives a sort of "homemade" feeling to the beginning of the film, which should seem somewhat "distant" to modern moviegoers.


Common film formats. Via Film Transfer Company.


With a reported budget of $30 million, "Steve Jobs" is certainly not the usual caliber of film to be shot on low-quality 16-millimeter, but the decision helps to reflect the early, raw days of Apple as the company --?and Jobs himself -- struggled to find their footing.

"It felt like it was early days, and he (Jobs) very much thought of himself as the pirate, the rebel," Boyle said.

For the movie's second act, set in 1988 at the announcement of the NeXT Computer, Boyle upgraded the film to 35 millimeters. This is the gauge most commonly used for major motion pictures, and was used for projection in virtually every movie theater up until recently.

The portion of the film in 35 millimeters finds Jobs ousted from Apple but refocusing his efforts, unveiling an ambitious new product that even Jobs himself (at least as portrayed in the film) admits is doomed to failure. But Jobs is also thinking about the bigger picture, and sees an opportunity for eventual success, and ultimately redemption.




Boyle said the use of physical film for this act helped to emphasize the beauty of San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, where the middle portion of the film was shot. Film can help create a heightened sense of illusion -- a dreamlike quality that has represented the experience of going to the movies for decades.

"Film loves that," he said. "It soaks it up."

Finally, the film's third act is set in 1998 at the unveiling of the first iMac, with Jobs's triumphant return to Apple. For this portion of the film, Boyle again upgraded -- this time to digital.




Apple, of course, is known for embracing future technology and discarding the old, sometimes to the chagrin of its most passionate users. The iMac itself is one of the most famous examples of this, having ditched the then-ubiquitous floppy drive in its all-in-one design.

While Apple's abandonment of the floppy drive was at the time controversial, the company's forward thinking approach would eventually prove prophetic --?something Apple did time and time again under the leadership of Jobs.

As for the film, the third act of "Steve Jobs" was shot with an Arri Alexa camera, which Boyle said captures images in "brutal HD." Actress Kate Winslet, who portrays Joanna Hoffman in the film, agreed with Boyle's assessment.

"It was so unfair," she said, earnings laughs at the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan. "After the joys of a perfect complexion (in the first two acts), they then f---ed us over."

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20



    They used to say that about HD too.

  • Reply 2 of 20
    rob55rob55 Posts: 1,247member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

    interesting.

     

    ...4k shows all your 'imperfections'


     

    And then there's reality.

  • Reply 3 of 20
    Clever visual cue to reinforce the eras shown in the film. Films that traverse long stretches of time can be jarring or even confusing. Makeup treatments and dialog cues obviously help, but a visual treatment of the whole era is unmistakable.
  • Reply 4 of 20
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member

    Cool story.

     

    Can I buy the Apple TV 4 yet?

  • Reply 5 of 20
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,136member

    Wonder why they couldn't have just run it through some filters?/s? (I don't know a lot about making movies)

  • Reply 6 of 20
    rob55rob55 Posts: 1,247member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by polymnia View Post



    Clever visual cue to reinforce the eras shown in the film. Films that traverse long stretches of time can be jarring or even confusing. Makeup treatments and dialog cues obviously help, but a visual treatment of the whole era is unmistakable.



    Wes Anderson did something similar with his film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" where the segments from the 1930s, 1968, and 1985 were presented in 1.33:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 respectively to differentiate the different time periods. 

  • Reply 7 of 20
    rob55rob55 Posts: 1,247member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cornchip View Post

     

    Wonder why they couldn't have just run it through some filters?/s? (I don't know a lot about making movies)




    I don't think that's how Danny Boyle operates. Who knows, perhaps shooting in 16mm was cheaper than CGI-ing the look.

  • Reply 8 of 20
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cornchip View Post

     

    Wonder why they couldn't have just run it through some filters?/s? (I don't know a lot about making movies)


     

    Not to diss filters, they have there place. I enjoy using them in still photography, I don't work much in film. I have noticed over the years, as I have developed better technique, I use fewer filters. I try to get better captures requiring less dramatic post-capture manipulation.

     

    I think a professional director with a professional crew is probably better off simulating film by actually shooting film. Get the look they want on-set rather than save it for later in post.

  • Reply 9 of 20
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rob55 View Post

     



    Wes Anderson did something similar with his film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" where the segments from the 1930s, 1968, and 1985 were presented in 1.33:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 respectively to differentiate the different time periods. 




    Perfect example. I remember that one. The time period cues were just one of MANY details that were baked into that film. Quite a remarkable film. Though I did not like it as much as I felt I should...Something about the characters and the way the story unfolded. It probably deserves another viewing.

  • Reply 10 of 20
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,588member
    I am honestly surprised that anybody still shoots on film. I know the visual quality differs but to 99% of the moviegoing audience it makes little difference. The Swedish film Festen (The Celebration - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0154420/) was shot on High 8 video and then blown up to 35mm. Only a very small part of the movie going public would ever realize in spite of the visual quality being atrocious from a technical pov. But I will be interested to see the movie now from this visual perspective.

    In terms of hyper resolution - I am no fan. Maybe it is just me but I just don't see reality in that kind of resolution and I think it can get in the way of the story. Whenever I used to see BlueRay in stores I used to think it was so ugly.
  • Reply 11 of 20
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member

    The same thing has happened in the music world. Today, almost nobody records onto analog tape. It's all digital for the most part.

     

    I remember buying and using analog tape a lot some years ago (before the days of digital), and it cost about $200 for around 16 minutes for one reel. Digital costs $0 for basically an unlimited time.

  • Reply 12 of 20
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,274member
    apple ][ wrote: »
    The same thing has happened in the music world. Today, almost nobody records onto analog tape. It's all digital for the most part.

    I remember buying and using analog tape a lot some years ago (before the days of digital), and it cost about $200 for around 16 minutes for one reel. Digital costs $0 for basically an unlimited time.

    Well, hard drives are not free yet, so there is some cost for storage.
  • Reply 13 of 20
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post





    Well, hard drives are not free yet, so there is some cost for storage.



    True, but they're relatively cheap, including SSDs now. And they can be recorded over and re-used time and time again, while an analog tape was only good for one use basically. I only used brand new analog tape if I was doing something important.

  • Reply 14 of 20
    rob55rob55 Posts: 1,247member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

     

    I didn't like the changing aspect ratios.  I have a 2.35:1 screen and that film made my 115 inch screen into a 55 inch screen.

     

    movie was entertaining but a bit too weird for my taste.




    Nice setup! As for the weirdness (or quirkiness), that's Wes Anderson for you.

  • Reply 15 of 20
    I can't wait to view this movie on a modern Samsung TV with "Costco showroom demo mode" digital processing which over-saturates and over-brightens the picture so people will impulse-buy the TV. It even inserts extra digital frames so that 24p becomes 120p. Movies look like a football game. I can't wait to ruin this movie! /s
  • Reply 16 of 20
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rob55 View Post

     



    Wes Anderson did something similar with his film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" where the segments from the 1930s, 1968, and 1985 were presented in 1.33:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 respectively to differentiate the different time periods. 


     

    The funny thing is that the wide formats were more popular in the 1950s to 1960s than in the 1980s.

    So, it should be 1.33 - 2.35 - 1.85 (maybe it was.... I haven't seen it yet).

  • Reply 17 of 20
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    I can't wait to view this movie on a modern Samsung TV with "Costco showroom demo mode" digital processing which over-saturates and over-brightens the picture so people will impulse-buy the TV. It even inserts extra digital frames so that 24p becomes 120p. Movies look like a football game. I can't wait to ruin this movie! /s

     

    And football games look like CRAP. Watching games on plasma vs LCD/LED is night and day.

    Motion is captured so poorly on LCD/LED that they have to process the hell out of it to make it look half decent.

  • Reply 18 of 20
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,136member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rob55 View Post

     



    I don't think that's how Danny Boyle operates. Who knows, perhaps shooting in 16mm was cheaper than CGI-ing the look.




    I guess that makes sense. I like to do things the "right" way too, so I guess if I were in his position... why not? Or maybe it was cheaper, who knows.

  • Reply 19 of 20

    Sounds pretty interesting. If there is one thing about Danny Boyle, it's that he doesn't phone-in his work. So despite what a dick Sorkin is, I'll watch this when it's available for rent. 

    For now though, The Martian is the one movie I want to watch on the big screen. And then there's Star Wars...

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