Guest Commentary: A thing or two the movie industry can learn from Steve Jobs

Thanks to my beloved hubby Ivan M. (a.k.a. Pixelcrave) for this special contribution.

I love Pixar movies! I have watched every one of them (except for the last one, Cars 2) and can honestly say each one is very much enjoyable to watch. Even the weakest one in my book (Cars) was still a fun experience.

With the recent news about Steve Jobs stepping down from his CEO role at Apple, the focus has mainly been of his “fruit” company and its ubiquitous gadgets that start with a lowercase “i”. But it’s hard to think about Pixar without acknowledging the fact that after all Jobs was the first to recognize its potentials, and made the investment in what would eventually be one of the best contributions to the movie industry.

A lot has been said since the news came about, including a few movies-related articles like this that highlight the “origin” story of Pixar — how Jobs purchased an almost defunct computer graphics division from George Lucas for $10 million, stroke a big distribution deal with Disney, and turned it into an animation powerhouse that has produced twelve feature films, most of which have received critical and financial success.

It’d be a very long post to even try to list all the things that you can learn from Mr. Jobs. But for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on only two things that are very much relevant to the movies & entertainment industry.

Quality over quantity

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 (after being ousted by his own company 11 years earlier), the company was in a big financial red. Jobs’ first order of business to return to black is by terminating a number of Apple products and only focus on a handful of core products that he believes has the most potentials to succeed.

Jobs applied the same principle to Pixar. He is not as hands-on nor micro-managing in Pixar as he is in Apple, but the one thing he made sure of was for Pixar to focus on quality movies — even if that means not producing as many movies as possible, despite pressure from analysts. Contrast this to how Hollywood studios have been operating, creating sequels after sequels in a ridiculously short period of time, all for the sake of generating profits even if it compromise quality.

“The great thing about Steve is that he knows that great business comes from great product. First you have to get the product right, whether it’s the iPod or an animated movie,” says Peter Schneider, the former chairman of Disney’s studio. In fact, Jobs admitted that Pixar often had to make a difficult decision to halt production of each of its movies, to first fix outstanding issues with a storyline or character. Think about it: there are only 12 Pixar movies since Jobs bought the company 25 years ago! That’s a minuscule number compared to Hollywood’s standard. Yet, the $602 million average gross of its movies is by far the highest of any studio in the industry (per Wikipedia). “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” Jobs often says.

Ideas first and foremost

Neither iPod nor iPhone were successful because they were the first in the market. They were successful because they were designed around the idea of simplicity — something that’s not typically associated with hi-tech gadgets. Pixar’s Toy Story was the first feature film that was made entirely with CGI. Yet its technology was not the big idea that eventually skyrocketed the company’s valuation into over $7 billion when Disney acquired it in 2006. Toy Story and other Pixar’s movies that follow simply connect with audiences — whether it’s children, younger/older generations, even people of various cultures. The storyline & strong character development behind every movie are ultimately what drive the company’s success. Talking about the working culture at Apple, Jobs once said in an interview, “you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”

I can only ponder how many movies out there today where the original ideas and vision have been compromised because of pressure from big studios who get the paycheck. It’s no surprise that a lot of the critically-acclaimed movies are coming from smaller, independent studios where ideas and creativity can be nurtured more freely.

Ultimately, the movie industry is as much about making money as any other for-profit business out there — Pixar and Apple not excluded. But what Steve has demonstrated through his two jobs is that he doesn’t compromise creativity and quality for the sole purpose of generating more revenue. For as many good quality movies out there, there are far more money-machine garbage out there that diminish the creative side of the industry.

Here’s hoping more non-compromising creative minds in the industry would share Jobs’ thinking when he says, “quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”


So what do you think about Pixar and Steve Jobs in particular? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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