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.

Related Pixar Articles:

23 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: A thing or two the movie industry can learn from Steve Jobs

  1. Ivan, very nice write-up! I hope that Cars 2 is not a foreshadowing of a Pixar rut. I’ve loved each feature they’ve made until that horrendous sequel. As you’ve pointed out, the power of those great Pixar movies was their ability to connect with people. I feel with their latest one they’ve missed the mark in a big way. Hope to see more write-ups in the future!

    1. pixelcrave

      Thanks Vince! I was quite concerned when reading about the reactions to Cars 2 — I may still check it out on dvd. But I’m in the same boat as you are, hopefully it’s not a trend to come from Pixar!

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Ivan. He married two very dissimilar industries with his expectation of quality and the power of seeking good ideas. His influence over Apple’s OS and products, along with the stellar films Pixar continues to produce, remains far-reaching. As long as either enterprise sticks to that ‘vision’, I’d expect them to continue their success. At least, that’s what I hope for.

    Fine piece. Thanks.

    1. pixelcrave

      Thanks Michael. From what I’ve read recently, Jobs is not a ‘one-man-show maniac’ as most would’ve thought. I could be wrong, but I got the impression that he’s doing all the stuff he’s done to really instill that ‘vision’ to prepare the enterprises to move forward without him around. So yeah, your hope is mine too! We shall see 🙂

  3. PrairieGirl

    Hi Ivan, very insightful post! I never associated Jobs with Pixar very much, only Apple, even though I knew of his involvement. And I haven’t seen very many Pixar films, but maybe now is the time to catch up ;-D

    1. pixelcrave

      Thanks Becky. We got a few Pixar DVDs at home that I’m sure Ruth can bring along so you can catch up if you like…

  4. Ted S.

    Great write up Ivan, Steve Jobs is one of the most influential people in the world. Apple released iPhone, then every other company started making touch screen smart phones. Then they came out with the iPad and everyone started making tablets.

    You’re so right about him not being micro managing on Pixar projects, he let the creative people have the freedom they need to make great products. Although, Cars 2 was definitely made only for the merchandise, like Vince mentioned hopefully it won’t be a trend for their future films. I still remember when he and the previous Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner got into a battle over the profit of Pixar’s films. Of course we all know how that turned out, Eisner was ousted as the CEO and Pixar is still with Disney.

    1. pixelcrave

      Thanks Ted! Yes, that whole Eisner-Jobs battle was quite fascinating! Interesting that at the end, as I’m sure you know, that Jobs became the single largest shareholder of Disney at 7% (Eisner had 1.7%).

      Truth to be told, there was a point when I secretly hope that one of Pixar’s movies is not as successful — just for the sake of bringing the company down to earth a bit. So I can only hope that they learn from the mistakes and quickly solve the issues next time around!

      1. Ted S.

        Yeah I remember when Pixar announced that Cars was going to be their last film with Disney and every other Hollywood studios were waiting line to welcome them with open arms. Fortunately Disney board members got smart and kicked Eisner out of the building, I don’t feel bad for him though since he got around $130mil as part of his severance pay. Ha ha.

        I’m always wonder what Pixar would have become had George Lucas still owns it. I watched the documentary about Lucas and how broke he was after he finished building his Skywalker Ranch, he had no choice but to sell Pixar or whatever it was called back then. We may never have seen any of the Toy Story films had Lucas still owns it.

  5. Steve Jobs has been one of the most visionary business leader of our era and certainly, those are Insightful, sensitive recommendations that any business, including movie studios, should heed. Nice post Ivan!

  6. I am so saddened by the news of Steve Jobs. It is horrid to look back at photos of him in the past and how ill he finally looked this year. Shocking. My thoughts are with him and his family.

    Great write up Ivan. I really enjoyed the read.

    (Nice to see ruth has finally given you a name, not just ze bloggers hubby heheh)


    1. pixelcrave

      I agree, Scott, it is sad indeed to see his physical condition deteriorate so fast… I’ve seen one tabloid pix of him in recent days and only hope I don’t see more of it. Thanks for reading & the nice comment!

  7. Pingback: Hit List: September 2-5, 2011 « IMDb: All the Latest

  8. Huffy

    What Hollywood can learn from Apple is branding. As any tech geek will tell you Apple products are overpriced and have a poor track record when it comes to products that actually last. Yet legions of people will buy anything and everything that has that little logo on it and that’s because they’ve used marketing to convince everyone that their products are the best and are the easiest to use (they really aren’t). Apple isn’t the most innovative company out there (not by a long shot), they’re simply the most effectively branded. That’s what more studios should be doing. Some studios are already doing it: whenever Legendary Pictures start developing a new project every geek site out there is reporting on it.

    1. pixelcrave

      Hi Huffy, thanks for your comments. Excellent point about Apple’s strong marketing and branding. But I don’t think branding in retail and in movies is quite comparable. The average moviegoers wouldn’t know who’s the studio behind the movies they’re watching. Legendary Pictures is mostly known to “geeks” — to borrow your word — because it has created a niche for its stylistic visual feast. Likewise, Apple’s niche is great design & simplicity, regardless whether products are easy to use or not (I have my own opinion, but that’s not the point here).

      Branding (retention & loyalty) definitely plays a bigger role in retail products like Apple than in movies. Although I’d like to think that consumers are much smarter than simply caving in to smart marketing when it comes to retails — at some points they have to stop buying crappy products if that is the case. While marketing (acquisition) plays a major role in movies industry, watching a movie is a much less investment of your time & money for most people to indulge in loyalty to specific studio brands.

      In the end, the guts of my post is mostly an appeal to studios to give just a little bit more thoughts into their creations beyond making them all in 3D.

    2. Ted S.

      Well Legendary Pictures produces mostly big budget films, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Watchmen, 300 and such so of course all the movie “geeks” out there will get excited about them. If they starts making smaller films with no expectations whatsoever than I’m can assure you all these “geeks” websites won’t care about it.

      Just my two cents.

      1. pixelcrave

        Ted, you word it better than I did about Legendary — and that was exactly my points about studios branding (which is not that relevant). I’m one of the geeks who get excited about their movies, most of the time not realizing some are coming from the same studio.

  9. rfk

    Pixar was sheltered from the pressures of Disney’s marketing and distribution appetite for many, many years; now they are much more likely to ship film to keep the theaters full of Disney product and keep the merchandise flowing to stores.

  10. Hi Ivan, really enjoyed your post, hope to read more from you in the future on Flix. One of my own guiding principles is simplicity, in blogging (inspired the name of my blog) and in life in general. I always find it easier be productive when I keep it simple.

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