- Magnolia Pictures
For Alex Gibney it all started with the death of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs on October 5, 2011.
“The motivation to make the film was why so many people who didn’t know Steve Jobs were weeping when he left,” Gibney told an audience last week who had recently seen his film “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.”
Gibney opens the film with footage of people all over the world crying at makeshift memorials for Jobs, lifting their iPads and iPhones picturing a single burning candle in remembrance. Gibney also included people giving emotional video testimonials online reacting to Jobs’ death, including a young boy who shouts in amazement, “He made the iPhone!”
- Kevork Djansezian/Getty
Gibney acknowledges that, like many of us, he loves his Mac and his iPhone. But it was more than that to him.
“I grew up on IBM and PCs, and when I switched over to Mac it felt like I’d been liberated,” Gibney told Business Insider. “I really did buy into that – I had entered a new zone and these were my people.”
That “sticking it to the man” quality Apple had, as Gibney perceived it, came to a crashing halt for the filmmaker when he started making the Steve Jobs documentary 2 1/2 years ago (financed by CNN Films).
“I do react differently now,” Gibney told Business Insider about using his iPhone since making the film. “I get a lot more pissed off.”
In the film he shows Jobs as a marketing genius who revolutionized the personal computer and then made us addicted to mobile devices. But behind the scenes Gibney paints him as a maniacal taskmaster who ruled by intimidation and mind games. In one instance, while giving the exit interview to a top employee who was leaving Apple, Jobs gave him a “Godfather”-like speech promising him he’d be hunted down if he took any other Apple employees (or in Jobs’ words, “his family”) with him.
And Jobs wasn’t any better in his personal life. The film highlights that in Apple’s early days Jobs repeatedly denied being the father of his daughter Lisa. Then, when a DNA test proved he was the father, he paid only $500 a month in child support.
“I didn’t want to do the official bio pic of Steve Jobs,” Gibney said. “In fact, just the opposite. I never really made a film like this before where you sort of go in and wonder.”
That wonder led him to many closed doors when he started out.
- Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
The Oscar winner is known for making unapologetic films that have exposed everything from Enron and Jack Abramoff to legends James Brown and Frank Sinatra to most recently the controversial Church of Scientology.
So needless to say when he reached out to Apple for assistance in getting people within the company to talk to him for the film he was given a swift “no.” Gibney also tried to speak to Jobs’ widow, Laurene, but was turned down.
“I had to go down different pathways to find interesting information, and that’s why you can’t call it a complete biography,” Gibney said. “It’s not that. It’s about an idea, like, ‘Why is he so important to us?’ That means you have to reckon with him, but we also have to reckon with ourselves.”
To do that, Gibney retraces the rise of Jobs from 26-year-old Apple CEO to an icon behind one of the top companies in the world.
But he also exposes some things that could make you think less about the company.
The film suggests that workers in China who were on the assembly line making the iPhone 4s, along with earning considerably low wages, suffered nerve damage while putting the phones together. Its top supplier, Foxconn, over a two-year span, had 18 workers kill themselves. The suicides allegedly got so serious that Foxconn installed nets around the building the workers lived in to dissuade jumpers.
Gibney also spotlights the company’s alleged elaborate tax avoidance. By enacting a loophole called a “Double Irish,” Apple uses holding companies in Ireland (a lower-tax country) to pocket around $137 billion in profits, according to the film.
These revelations have made Gibney rethink what his iPhone means to him, and he hopes those who see the film will do the same. But he knows it will be hard, as Apple products, particularly the iPhone, are now constantly attached to our hands. And with that comes a blind faith.
Gibney recalls the backlash by Apple workers and fans of its products after the premiere of the film at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year.
Here’s how Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, reacted to it:
Very disappointed in SJ:Man in the Machine. An inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend. It's not a reflection of the Steve I knew.
— Eddy Cue (@cue) March 16, 2015
Gibney believes what Jobs was incredible at was making Apple products a reflection of you. His goal with the film was to show that a company that makes so many people happy is still just a corporation at the end of the day – a corporation Gibney believes was trained by Jobs to be ruthless and unforgiving to succeed and make the most money possible.
“We are to believe that what you have in your hand is all good,” Gibney said. “I love my iPhone, but I have to look myself in the eye and say, ‘Is it turning me into someone that I like?'”
Watch the trailer:
Apple did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on this story.