'Lost' interview shows charming, cranky side of Steve Jobs

"Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" contains a never-before-aired 1995 interview with the Apple co-founder.

Story highlights

  • "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" is based on a 1995 interview taped for PBS
  • Most of the 69-minute interview was never aired
  • In it, Jobs talks about Adobe, Microsoft and his ouster from Apple
  • The interview is now playing in a handful of movie theaters
Dozens of people, many tapping on iPhones and discussing the "Steve Jobs" biography, lined up at a shopping center here on Thursday.
But these Apple fans weren't in line to buy the company's latest gadget. They were here to see "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview," a documentary of sorts that's now playing in a handful of U.S. cities.
This particular screening of the never-before-aired interview with the Apple co-founder was set to be the final one at this theater, but producers extended its run after showings sold out. The film's interviewer, Robert X. Cringely, watched in the audience and answered questions afterward.
The 69-minute interview with Jobs was taped in 1995 for a PBS documentary called "Triumph of the Nerds." The program aired only nine minutes of Jobs' statements.
The master copy of the interview was lost in transit, but director Paul Sen had secretly kept a copy on VHS tape, Cringely said. After Jobs died in October, Sen went searching through his garage until he found it.
"It was the first time in 16 years he touched the tape," Cringely told the audience at Thursday's screening. "It won't be lost for another 16 years."
After the movie completes its brief run in theaters, "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" will probably be made available online and on DVD, Cringely said.
Over the course of one month while pitching the idea to Landmark Theatres, Cringely and a small team shot an introduction and tacked on a brief text recap that runs without sound at the end. The production is crude, as is the low-quality footage from VHS, but Jobs is captivating. He told stories with charisma, enthusiasm and his flair for dramatics. He spoke candidly and with emotion.
"He never sat for another interview like this, and what a shame," Cringely said.
The interview shows Jobs as alternately witty, charming, cranky and bitter toward those he believed crossed him. At the time, Jobs had left Apple and was running a small computer company, NeXT Computer, that targeted the education market. NeXT was purchased by Apple the next year, and soon after, Jobs was again running the company he founded with Steve Wozniak in his parents' Silicon Valley garage.
Cringely, then a technology columnist, managed to score a coveted interview with Jobs because NeXT desperately needed the attention and because Cringely and Jobs had a prior relationship. Cringely worked for Jobs in the early days of Apple, where he had turned down stock in the company for a $6-an-hour wage.
The filmed interview drew laughs from the audience at several moments. In one instance, Cringely asked whether there's a hidden meaning when Jobs uses a nasty four-letter word to describe his employees' subpar work. "No," Jobs said, it meant exactly what it implied, and he explained that the "A players" don't require him to "baby their egos."
Jobs reminisced about his early days with Wozniak, including the time they made a prank phone call to the Vatican and asked for the pope. He also panned IBM and Xerox, and was particularly nasty toward Microsoft. "The only problem with Microsoft is, they just have no taste," he said in a now-famous line.
Jobs predicted the meteoric rise of the Internet, which he said would be especially satisfying because Microsoft doesn't own it. He also described how he runs a business and the difference between workers who specialize in process versus content -- an imbalance he said tainted IBM.
Jobs was especially critical of John Sculley, the PepsiCo executive who he hired to run Apple and who later fired him. Jobs described Sculley as a corrupt marketing guy and a failed manager who was wrong for the job.
He also expounded on the importance of a strong leader but added that companies are not just about one person.
"People like symbols," Jobs said. "So I'm the symbol for certain things."