The permanently upcoming Steve Jobs biopic has been hotly anticipated since it was first reported nearly three years ago. We're still waiting. And according to newly leaked emails out of Sony Pictures, trying to get it off the ground was a total clusterfuck: name-calling, Angelina Jolie-trashing, lying, and begging.
This was supposed to be the good Steve Jobs movie—the one without Ashton Kutcher's dumb face and dumb talking.
Hollywood trade outlets recently reported that Sony Pictures had lost Jobs, the much-hyped Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Walter Isaacson's plodding biography of the Apple tyrant, to rival studio Universal. No longer would we get the Social Network reunion between Sorkin and Fincher, nor would we see Jobs dead-ringer Christian Bale take on the role. How could a movie with so much going for it be derailed so, so far?
Reading through the leaked emails to and from Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal, it becomes clear—Apple HQ, this place ain't.
February: The Breakup Begins
Emails between Pascal and widely hated Jobs producer Scott Rudin show gallons of bad blood, starting this past February. The dust-up seems to have been over Angelina Jolie, who objected to David Fincher directing Jobs instead of her version of Cleopatra, penned by screenwriter Eric Roth (you'll see him mentioned as "Eric" below).
In the following exchange, Rudin's reply at the top, Pascal begs the producer to talk to Jolie, who was "upset" that Fincher would be directing Jobs and not her Cleopatra passion project.
It never gets more civil than "the masturbatory call is a wank I have no time for." Rudin replied demanding Pascal " Shut it down," "it" presumably being Jolie. It's a request he repeated over email: "YOU BETTER SHUT ANGIE DOWN BEFORE SHE MAKES IT VERY HARD FOR DAVID TO DO JOBS."
In an email to a Sony colleague just after this exchange, Pascal assessed their position with Jobs. It's clear that the situation with Jolie is stressing her out, but in her estimation Cleopatra is "not ready"—in part because screenwriter Eric Roth still hasn't written "a draft that could actually land a director" even "after all this money and time":
Setting aside Rudin for a minute, Eric, is mad about Fincher because he knows that after all this money and time we don't have a draft that could actually land a director. That's on him alone. So he's hiding behind outrage when he knows full well Fincher could get picked off by a good script at any studio. That's the truth.
Angie directed a movie and now she's ready for Cleo and it's not ready. Fincher is her silver bullet.
Except he's not.
He's perfect for Jobs and we don't even know what Cleo is, only what we want it to be. That's the same situation as Girl. A disaster.
Let's take a breath. Neither movie is going anywhere. Next weeks business. I will work on meeting.
This doesn't need to get crazy. We control the material. Jobs is awesome. Cleo can be a big commercial hit. They are ours. We don't work for these people.
"Spoiled Brat" Angelina Jolie's "Rampaging Spoiled Ego"
Later in the day, Rudin and Pascal's exchange escalated. "Do not fucking threaten me," Pascal told Rudin, who responded to re-iterate his objection to even engaging with "the insanity and rampaging spoiled ego of this woman"—Angelina Jolie. As far as he's concerned, Cleopatra isn't even a movie yet, and there's no point in groveling before Jolie:
After that, more threats. First from Pascal, who, in the form of some sort of furious email poem, explained to Rudin why she thought they needed to talk to Jolie: Fincher and Jolie "talk about [ Cleopatra] all the time."
You better shut it down
That is what you said
That sounded like a threat to me
You know Eric and she have always wanted David and I have been the one saying no for two years
I have asked you to talk to her with me and you don't want to deal with it
David is all over this and they talk about it all the time
He talked about it at dinner I've been trying to talk to you about it
They are all beAt and they play games with each other
We knew how pissed she and Eric would be that we gave him the jobs script and if you don't think he made. Big ducking deal out if that your crazy
Have you forgotten how this works
He was great on jobs but we haven't gotten close to he hard part yet
We can't even schudule one ducking meeting
You and I have have the two biggest fights we have has in years
And we haven't even had a meeting yet
I tried I get a word In tonight with her but she was pissed off
I liked the script we got in December so did you
Don't pretend all thoes things didn't happen cuz it makes me feel like I'm going crazy
And you bet she is gonna make it uncomfortable for him and so is Eric
I don't he cares about discomfort anyway
Rudin then returned fire, making his case that the "massive ad [ sic] pointless drama" of Jolie's maneuverings over Cleopatra is "beneath" them. "I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talent spoiled brat," he writes, "who thought nothing of shoving this [Cleopatra] off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie" (Unbroken—in theaters next week!):
This is the last communication we are going to have on this.
You're involving yourself in this massive ad pointless drama that is beneath you. You are entitled to say no. You've been consistent about it which was in fact your only obligation. If you engage in this again, we will end up losing Fincher on the one we want him to do and will be stuck with shoving him onto a movie with no script that, underneath it all, you know in your heart and your brain should never be made.
I've told you exactly how I want to do this material. It's the ONLY way I want to do this material. I'm not remotely interested in presiding over a $180m ego bath that we both know will be the career-defining debacle for us both. I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat who thought nothing of shoving this off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie. I have no desire to be making a movie with her, or anybody, that she runs and that we don't. She's a camp event and a celebrity and that's all and the last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her that any fool could see coming. We will end up being the laughing stock of our industry and we will deserve it, which is so clearly where this is headed that I cannot believe we are still wasting our time with it.
If you want at some point to talk about this the way I pitched it to you —- which was a responsible way to make this subject with some proper cover for us all, and a proper price —- I'm happy to do it. I'm also happy to say all of this to Angie directly as I have no need to keep her happy and what I DO have is the right to determine for myself a) what I want to do with my own time and work, and b) what I want to do with material I incepted. I won't be part of this idiocy and I'm not —- and believe me, I am dead serious about this —- spending literally ONE more minute occupying one single inch of brain space with it.
There is NO relationship with any movie star — ANY one —- that requires our willingness to prostrate ourselves this way in the face of childish, irresponsible, willful and un-partnerly behavior. You don't want David Fincher on the movie. It's your right. Stop allowing yourself to be made to feel like a criminal for it.
That's the finish of this chapter for me. I'm done.
Of course that was not the last "communication" from Rudin. In another dense, four-paragraph email, he complained again that Roth was "manipulating the situation" because Jolie is "his friend":
David Fincher Stays Out of It
To cap off a shitty month, Fincher seemed to lie to Pascal after news leaked of him ditching the project. After sending him a speculative Wrap item about Fincher leaving Jobs, Fincher responded flippantly to the other news in the email:
August: Leonardo DiCaprio as Steve Jobs?
Fincher eventually passed, leading to studio to make a deal with Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle. In August, Sony marketing boss Michael Pavlic sent Pascal this love letter to Jobs, which at that point still basically just existed on paper. "It's brilliant. It's perfect," he wrote. "Sure it's got a marketing issues." LOL.
Subject: Steve Jobs
It's brilliant. It's perfect.
I will say it was a constant battle for me between movie lover and my actual job of marketer... but it's truly masterful.
Let's take the obvious off the table here - there are marketing liabilities to this script. It's long, it's claustrophobic, it's talky, it could be a play, it risks being all one medium close up, it's periody.
Doesn't matter. We release this over Christmas, let the award buzz and word of mouth buoy it to where it needs to go. While there are a bunch of reasons to try to revise it with some daytime exteriors, some establishing shots etc, it would topple the elegant house-of-cards-ness of it (I may argue the other way for marketing purposes when trying to put stock shots in tv spots etc but I get it and I love it).
It's a mediation on Jobs himself. It's one of his early computers - closed end to end. It's insistent upon itself, it's relentless. I kept begging for someone to walk outside, for some daylight, for an opening. But Sorkin is so brilliant with the structure. Of course, at the film's end he gives you that break into the parking lot. A convenient door to a different world. Just when Jobs lets up, the script finally breathes for the first time. It's really spectacular. All obvious stuff but I'm a sucker for layered, thoughtful filmmaking.
Sure it's got a marketing issues but I think it also has the panacea for those - I believe it will be brilliant. I do think the one thing that can hinder that is if it's too long. I think people will endure anything for quality but if it's 3 hours we'll lose out. But that's all way down the road.
It has to be able to be realized at a decent number right? Still DiCaprio and Danny Boyle? That's the other thing - this can't be without a star playing Jobs and can't be done by just anyone. Obviously. The script is a prefect 10 but in the wrong hands it grosses mid 30's. But it sounds like it's going with the full package and while tricky - people deserve this kind of movie and in some weird way we have a responsibility to take these kinds of risks. Not to make it seem like we're saving lives - but I actually think that. This is the kind of film that makes me thankful for movies and they're few and far between these days.
Thank you for sharing. It's really the kind of thing that gets in you and stays with you for days. It's exciting.
About a month later, Pascal received this unbeliveably ass-kissy email from legendary WME agent Robert Newman, practically begging Leonardo DiCaprio to consider the role of Steve Jobs for Boyle: "[E]veryone involved in this production desperately wants to help bring you the Academy award you so richly deserve."
From: Robert Newman
Sent: Sunday, September 21, 2014 1:42 PM
To: DiCaprio Leonardo
Cc: Yorn' 'Rick
I'm writing as I heard last week of the sad news that you may not be doing'Jobs'.
While I am of course biased, I nevertheless want to give you my thoughts with the hope that this somehow stays together.
Certainly on Danny's part, he's long wanted to work with you again, and in the 15 years since "The beach" you have both grown immeasurably in your craft and abilities.
With this text, Danny feels he's found a script that can be as enduring a character study and portrait of our age and times as 'Citizen Kane 'was for a previous generation, from a writer who is the equal of Paddy Chayevsky.
With Scott Rudin, you have a producer who is perhaps the greatest ever at making intelligent, important films in partnership with Sony who, as we've seen with films such as "the social network", "Capt. Phillips"and "Moneyball" ,will spend the necessary marketing and publicity money to get audiences and award attention.
Steve Jobs was a man who came from nothing and nowhere to change the world ,as surely as Thomas Edison did, and and there's no better actor than you with the artistry and talent to help people understand what that must've been like.
Further, the production isn't set in the middle of the jungle, nor require a physical transformation, but will be shot in a city such as San Francisco, allowing you to give your sole creative focus to exploring the richness of the dialogue and character, with your pick of costars.
Just as you must surely feel great pride in helping bring Marty his Oscar on "the departed", everyone involved in this production desperately wants to help bring you the Academy award you so richly deserve.
I remember speaking with you years ago about 'boogie nights', and all you could have done with that wonderful part, and I truly believe this is an opportunity we will look back on with regret if we don't make happen.
Sent from my iPhone
In October, Sony and Rudin's team squabbled over financials. "A sking any of us to post one cent for overages out of our fixed comp," Rudin wrote, "is about as offensive an ask as I have ever seen. I think if you include that in the proposal the movie will go away. Nobody needs to make a movie this badly —— at least nobody in this group — to be raped in the process."
Even agency royalty Ari Emanuel got roped in on this reply all BDSM fit:
You guys ask us to find financing. Scott, Patrick and myself get Modi and we still get no respect. Amy, this is not what you want to hear - but this NEVER happens and any other studio. In fact they then would go out of their way to make a proper deal. Even Harvey.
Monday is fine.
Sent from my iPad
October: WME and Sony Discover Michael Fassbender's Huge Talent
But DiCaprio, like Fincher, eventually passed, and at the end of October, Pascal and WME were still trying to find someone to play the star role in what they considered the best script in their arsenal. Christian Bale, Pascal learned, "has been doing endless research and he is coming up empty in figuring out part." Fair enough! At this point the crew at Sony was just tossing out the names of famous men ("Fassbender? Bradley Cooper?") before agreeing to watch Shame and regroup. All they seemed to agree on was the size of Fassbender's dick:
Subject: Re: I am really concerned about Fassbender
I agree with Mike.
Fassbender is not a star yet, but a really fine actor who is putting together a terrific body of work.
He was sooo good in Prometheus and X-Men.
Remember Ridley told us he thinks he's the best actor there is. Loved him.
Making Jobs great is not about casting a movie star, it's about turning in a stunning performance.
The script and the take is the star in this one.
On Nov 3, 2014, at 10:52 PM, DeLuca, Michael wrote:
Shame just makes you feel bad to have normal sized male genitalia, unless Aaron is Johnny Wad Holmes he's in for a bummer of an evening. I'd steer mark to fassbenders roles in inglorious bastards where he's basically Cary Grant, Prometheus where he's basically Peter o toole, and x men first class where he's just very very good. His role in 12 Years and his performance of it rivals Ralph Fiennes' iconic depiction of twisted, racial sadistic violence as Amon Goeth for making horror watchable. Also very good as Rochester in Cary Fukunagas Jane Eyre. I'll tell him.
Sent from my iPad
"This Bipolar 28-Year-Old Lunatic"
The movie—especially if it was going to be made with a less bankable star like Fassbender—needed more financing, and Annapurna, the production company founded by Megan Ellison, daughter of Oracle CEO and real-life friend of Jobs Larry Ellison, seemed like a decent possible partner. But throughout the exchange, Rudin—true to form—trashed the young producer:
What the hell am I meant to say to him? 'Go have a meeting with Megan, the studio will approve Leo who you waited for for a year, and who's passed on the movie, and then maybe they'll go with Fassbender if you work this bipolar 28 year old lunatic who hasn't returned your call in 3 days, and maybe if she likes you and if she took her meds, there's some vague chance you can start this movie in ten weeks'?
No. You want that? You do it.
November: "Why Are U Punishing Me"
But Ellison declined to finance the movie, and Pascal couldn't commit to a Danny Boyle-directed, Michael Fassbender-starring version. Rudin was furious. By late November—only days before the still-unidentified hackers hit Sony—the studio let Jobs slip away. Though not before Pascal begged Rudin to let Sony have another chance with the film:
Pascal and Rudin's relationship was toxic to the very end. Rudin went out on a rank note:
I have worked something out for you with Universal and whether or not you take it is up to you— but so we are clear, I am done being your advocate here as you don't deserve one exhalation of breath on your behalf. You've behaved abominably and it will be a very, very long time before I forget what you did to this movie and what you've put all of us through.
You've destroyed your relationships with half the town over how you've behaved on this movie. If you don't think it's true, wait and see. Let's see the next filmmaker WME puts in business at Sony or the next piece of star talent. I'll bet my house I'm right.
Pascal replies, simply, "Get rid of him," forwarding Rudin's tantrum to a colleague. It seems like everyone involved with this project might've spent too much time with the source material—or maybe it was the prospect of bringing a world historical screaming asshole to the big screen that seduced this bunch to begin with.
Photos via AP and wikipedia