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Film frenzy : Jobs movie filming spotlights tech history of 'other' Los Altos

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town CrierFilmmakers shoot “jOBS” in Los Altos, the Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher.

For three short days, a neighborhood in Los Altos’ southern reaches enjoyed the glow of fame.

The Five Star Feature Films production company dispatched a film crew last week to shoot part of the Steve Jobs biopic “jOBS” in the tech pioneer’s early surroundings. They transformed Crist Drive – site of his childhood home – back to the 1970s, with vintage cars and new (old) paint jobs. It was there in the family garage that Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the prototypes and business scheme to launch Apple Inc.

Bonnie Osborne, who lives around the corner on Fallen Leaf Lane, said having a high-tech landmark inspires neighborhood pride.

“We’ve always been considered like the slums of Los Altos down here,” she joked, poking fun at an old stereotype. She said the city is more homogeneous now, but back in the day her neighborhood had a special feeling. “It’s funny, but it’s true. Property values were lower here. Technicians lived here – not supervisors, but the people who did stuff.”

She said an atmosphere of makers and doers permeated the neighborhood as she grew up.

“My dad was an electronics engineer and he used to bring stuff home, my brothers used to take radios apart,” she said. “It just seemed like a breeding ground for people to be innovative.”


Seeking a peek

Crowds of teenage girls joined curious local residents lining Crist Drive for a glimpse of the filming and movie star Ashton Kutcher, who plays Jobs. The afternoon of June 5, most of the bystanders came from Los Altos, augmented by press and a few out-of-town visitors who had heard about the filming.

Three girls from Gunn High School who stood watch on the set’s perimeter said they were involved in theater and thought it would be interesting to observe a film in production. As Kutcher drove past in a platinum BMW sports utility vehicle, he casually waved at the gathered students, who waved back and snapped photos.

Security held onlookers behind barriers when they inched forward for a better look.

As taping began, the crowd could hear Kutcher yell and scream (enacting Jobs’ legendary primal scream), but the cast only came into view for fleeting moments.

The production company paid off-duty Los Altos Police officers to provide traffic and parking control. Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis said the city does not have specific ordinances that govern film shoots, but the department required the crew to minimize community disruption and respect noise ordinances.

Gene Tankersley, who lives across the street from Jobs’ old house, watched the production crew pack up in the early morning hours of Thursday with some relief.

“I’m glad it’s over, quite frankly,” he said, noting that the project did have the positive effect of creating a “block party” atmosphere in the neighborhood, as neighbors walked the street and gathered in each others’ yards.

Perched in their living-room window, Tankersley and his wife, Joan, had front-row seats for the filming. But they had spent the previous few days with their modern cars hidden out of sight as onlookers filled their yard.

A mile away in St. Simon Parish’s parking lot, the crew set up a backlot with large trucks and trailers and opened a commissary for the cast in the church kitchen.

Huge frames looming above Crist Drive served as sunshades for the cast and crew. For the final scene the night of June 13, the production crew ran fire hoses with sprinklers up a 20-foot pole to simulate a rainstorm. As best as the Tankersleys could discern, the scene involved an older Jobs returning to his childhood home.

During the week of preparation, trucks carried off the furniture of Marilyn Jobs – Steve’s stepmother, who still lives in the house – and replaced it with ’70s simulacra.

Joan Tankersley peeked into the redecorated house and garage and reported that the re-created decor was cornier than the aesthetic she remembered. The outside of the house got a facelift as well, with new paint, shutters removed and the garage door retrofitted.


The early days

“I wasn’t really sure what Steve was up to,” Gene Tankersley said, remembering Apple’s early days.

He recalled a visit to the garage across the street: “Joan and I went over and looked in, but we basically have been dinosaurs as far as it comes to electronics and all new gadgets, so it didn’t mean anything to us. Major large computers were running the world and it just didn’t dawn on me that, like Steve said, everybody’s going to have one one of these days. It was just a simple keyboard and a little box with circuitry – it didn’t look like a lot.”

The Tankersleys were used to crowds looking at Jobs’ childhood home long before filming began. Visitors from as far as England, Norway and Japan have appeared in growing numbers since Jobs announced his departure from Apple and subsequently died in 2011.

Los Altos was the only historical location planned for the 31-day film shoot. The company returned to Los Angeles Thursday to complete filming. The crew told Tankersley that the film hasn’t found a distributor yet, but it will be shopped around film festivals looking for a taker. It faces a rival – Aaron Sorkin’s yet-to-be-named film adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography “Steve Jobs.”

The Five Star Feature Films production promises to be a “dark, honest and uncompromising” plunge into “the depths of Steve Jobs’ character,” according to promotional material. Los Altos neighbors remember Jobs as a neighborhood youth with a powerful fascination for new technology.

Osborne’s brother, Tim Lockyer, attended Cupertino Middle and Homestead High schools with Jobs, and they took the same electronics class. Lockyer reminisced about the day Jobs acquired a discarded laser tube from Hewlett-Packard and beamed it across the classroom. Lockyer also remembered a day that Jobs somehow obtained a contraband device that could hack telephone lines to make long-distance calls.

After graduating from Homestead in 1972, Lockyer left for college. He didn’t have the budget to buy Apple’s earliest product, the $666 Apple 1 computer kit, but he and his wife still proudly own the original 128k Macintosh computer that hit the market in 1983.

Ellie Van Houtte contributed to this report.

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