For 70 raw, revealing minutes — a year before his comeback at Apple — Steve Jobs was captured on tape … wry, emotional and bitter.
The subjects: everything from early pranks with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, to matters of his taste in research and development, to John Sculley, the one-time protégé who ousted him from the company he created.
The wide-ranging 1995 talk with Jobs led by Silicon Valley historian Robert Cringlely, edited into the film, “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview,” plays Wednesday and Thursday in limited release. It’s must viewing — especially for readers of Walter Isaacson’s hit biography.
Initially, the interview was for Cringely’s three-part PBS TV documentary “Triumph of the Nerds.” Only 10 minutes of it were actually used, and the master copies were lost in shipping.
Until recently. After Jobs’ Oct. 5 death, the film’s director found a VHS dub in his garage. Cringely notified impresario Mark Cuban of the find in a late-night call, and they quickly agreed on a limited release in Cuban’s Landmark Theaters chain. (In Los Angeles, it’s playing at the Landmark Regent in Westwood.)
A veteran of what he calls productive “screaming” sessions with Jobs, Cringely actually worked with him three times — in the ’70s and the early ’80s, “and I worked on Apple 2 and the Lisa and later on communication products.”
Probing and often confrontational in the interview, Cringely talked with TheWrap about the interview, Isaacson’s book and much more.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard Jobs goaded quite so much in an interview.
I think what was good was that we had known each other for 20 years, and my questions were fairly well informed — and he knew that. So there were follow-ups that he had to respond to, and I think he enjoyed it. He liked being tested.
The back-and-forth gives a hint of how that almost brutal style worked for him.
What people don’t understand is that Steve was not a tyrant. Weak personalities, weak employees, certainly viewed him as such, but you know my entire relationship with him was based on screaming, and if you think about that that means that I screamed at him, too. So it’s doable. He could take it as well as give it, as a matter of fact I think he liked taking it.
On the other hand, a lot of people got fired, too, I got fired three times by him.
Has Isaacson’s biography has satisfied insiders like you?
I’ve talked to Walter about it a little bit. I admire his effort and his access. But Steve chose him as an outsider. He chose someone with some gravitas and success, but someone who didn’t know much, at the first. So though they talk about they covered the tough stuff, and Walter talked to a lot of people, I think Steve got off easy.
I wasn’t disappointed in the book, but I didn’t feel I was enlightened by it … I wish he had explored the grand plan, `cause honest to God there has to be a grand plan. That guy did a lot of random walking through technology and it all ended up going in the same direction, so what does the next 10 years look like in Steve Jobs’ mind?
In your interview, Jobs totes up his worth over time, and dismisses being worth $100 million before age 25. You can hear the brag.
It had kind of a nuance to it — the money didn’t matter to him, but he certainly kept score. He was able to rattle that off, and if money didn’t matter, how did he know that? He certainly didn’t display it, he didn’t flaunt it. [Apple president] Mike Markkula went out and started buying jets, and Steve didn’t. I don’t think spending it was important to him — then again, he never sold a share of Apple until the day he sold them all.
You’re talking about that moment when he was ousted 10 years before your interview…
In 1985, he resigned from Apple — he was put in purgatory, and then he resigned, and then immediately sold all 6 million shares that he had, he was the largest single shareholder, and he sold them in a single day, drove down the price, got a terrible price for them, and his rationale was, well without me this company is going to die.
Even as he’s knocking Apple, we now know he’s going to find his way back to them.
It happened about a year later, yeah.
Did he know that then?
No, he didn’t. At that time, Apple hadn’t started talking to either the other software company they were considering buying, nor to Next. And in fact, if you think about it, sort of proof is in the pudding here, is that when Apple bought NeXT, Steve got a big slug of Apple stock and he turned around and sold that away.
So he clearly was not expecting to come back and run the company — because he took the shares that he had been given in the sale and disposed of them instantly. And this is all saying that he didn’t have confidence in the management of the company.
Has he ever been more abusive about Sculley and what he considered the betrayal that led to Jobs’ ouster?
Not that I’ve heard. He was incredibly bitter about that, and justifiably so. Sculley was a political animal who did what he learned how to do at Pepsico. So he couldn’t help himself, but when he made himself the chief technical officer of Apple, that was the death knell.
Jobs was canny, but what made this emotional for him was that Sculley had worked him.
Well, Steve is a salesman, and salesmen want to believe. And he felt that he had created Sculley — he’d recognized him, plucked him from what he considered Silicon Valley obscurity, and made him the man he was. And it turned out he wasn’t the man Steve thought he was, and the lessons he did learn were some of the wrong ones.
Jobs calls Microsoft “pedestrian,” then says, Bill Gates will be mad at me … were you surprised at that?
I did an interview with Gates about his relationship with Jobs in 1998, and we talked about it. And he was hurt. He just didn’t understand why Jobs did that, and at the same time, he wasn’t surprised. There’s a very funny story that Andy Hertzfeld tells about Steve calling up Bill to apologize … and Bill said thank you for calling, I’m glad that you’re apologizing and Steve said, Yeah well, I just shouldn’t have said it publicly, but you know it’s true.
And that was at a time when he had $150 million of Microsoft’s money to help bail out Apple.
Jobs talking about how the web will explode in 10 years was a bit prophetic.
I think it was first of all, spot on, and secondly remembering at the time I think it was aggressive, more outspoken than we were seeing at the time.
Where does the legacy go from here?
I don’t think that there will be a tell-all book that will make him look terrible. I think this book is probably the end of the line for Steve jobs biographies, with a period at the end of the sentence. I wasn’t disappointed in the book, I didn’t feel I was enlightened by it…I wish he had explored the grand plan, `cause honest to god there has to be a grand plan. That guy did a lot of random walking through technology and it all ended up going in the same direction, so what does the next 10 years look like in Steve Jobs’s mind?
Lets talk about your business deal with Mark Cuban’s theater chain. Are you hoping the brief theatrical release sets the stage for some robust online sales?
You know, we didn’t think about doing anything with this until Oct. 14. And so far we’ve spent a grand total of $6,000. And they’ve said this is the cheapest movie in the history of movies. So our expectations are modest.
If I get a new car out of this that would be great.