A Fort Worth native now based in Dallas, Mark Hulme has spent much of his first 50 or so years building a publishing business. He’s a newcomer to movies, but his maiden effort as a producer has made a big splash: an Ashton Kutcher-starring biography of technology guru Steve Jobs that played at the Sundance Film Festival and is slated for release in theaters in April. The movie’s title, jOBS, reflects the spelling of various Apple products that the late mogul brought to the marketplace, though Hulme expects a change to a more traditional spelling. “We didn’t realize what a distraction it would be,” he said.
Much like his producing career, his publishing business arose without a grand plan. After graduating from Paschal High School, Hulme took a job at the Fort Worth advertising agency Summit Group. In the late 1990s he founded Magnolia Media Group, a conglomerate of magazines targeting slices of the market such as pet owners and women’s shoe enthusiasts. He found great success with publications for the mortgage industry such as DS News, aimed at helping professionals understand rules related to properties in default. “We didn’t know anything about mortgages,” he remembered. “We hired the best experts to help us” launch the magazine.
His success in this field led to the founding in 2003 of The Five Star Institute, an umbrella corporation that puts on an annual convention in Dallas for professionals in the mortgage industry. Last year’s event featured former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the latter two days after delivering his celebrated speech at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton, Hulme remembered, “was exhausted, but he had committed to us. He was a hit.”
Hulme never considered making movies until Jobs announced his retirement in August 2011. “The whole office just came to a stop, because everyone was talking about it,” he said. “I realized this was a story that needed to be told.”
He had talent close by in screenwriter Matt Whiteley, who works as Five Star’s director of marketing and is Hulme’s son, writing under a different name to avoid confusion with his father’s name. Whiteley enthusiastically took up the task of writing a film about Jobs’ life from Apple’s founding in 1976 to his triumphant return to the company in 2001. The writing process was well under way by the time of Jobs’ death in October 2011.
Hulme sought out investors but provided the majority of the film’s financing himself. (“It was about twice what I expected,” he said of the movie’s $13 million budget.) The script started making the rounds in Hollywood in March 2012, where it attracted director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and star Ashton Kutcher. The actor looks startlingly like the young Jobs in publicity photos, but Hulme said it was more than Kutcher’s physical resemblance that qualified him for the job. “He’s been investing in tech stocks for 10 years,” said the producer. “It’s like his second job. He met Steve Jobs in real life, and he brought a lot of enthusiasm and expertise.”
Having moved forward at incredible speed, jOBS now comes out amid considerable buzz. Its Sundance screening met with middling reviews, while Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak criticized its accuracy after watching only one scene online. “We look forward to having [Wozniak] see our movie,” Hulme said. “I think he’ll like the way he’s portrayed” by Broadway star Josh Gad.
The movie beats out another Jobs biopic being written by The Social Network’s Aaron Sorkin, which doesn’t yet have a title or a director. Though Hulme has already turned a profit on jOBS from the sale of its distribution rights, he isn’t yet certain that he’ll ever make another film. “I don’t like reading about myself,” he said. “I’m not Harvey Weinstein. I don’t know if I want to put myself through this again.”
“A smart guy would stop,” he added, “but I haven’t decided if I want to be the smart guy yet.”