Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin just tackled his most contemporary project to date with David Fincher’s The Social Network. It’s an adaptation of the book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal that exposes the behind the scenes drama that surrounds the site’s creation. Once the story was brought to Sorkin’s attention, he met up with producer Scott Rudin, and Fincher and the rest is Social Network history.
Over the weekend, Sorkin and several members of the cast attended the film’s press day in New York City. The writer was very open about his interpretation of the story, and the heavy research that went into it. This isn’t a film of fiction, it’s based on concrete material that was revealed via anonymous sources. Sorkin discussed the fast shooting process for the film, and his working relationship with Fincher. Most importantly, he spoke about the film’s intent, which is not to paint the picture of a bad guy or a good guy, it’s to tell a story from every point of view…
Facebook is a fairly recent development in our culture. When did you begin shooting this film?
Aaron Sorkin: The first draft essentially turned out to be the shooting script. There were just refinements made along the way but not the kind of ‘we have no third act’ changes that happened in the script development process. In fact David was adamant about not having was a script development process. He insisted to the studio that the movie be made right away. He didn’t want to go through 9 drafts and notes from the executives from the studio, they would have been very smart notes, but it would have homogenized the idiosyncratic nature of the writing and David didn’t want to do that.
Did any of the other Facebook founders cooperate with the film to help give a better perspective? Did you have to make any changes to appease them?
AS: There were a number of people who are portrayed in the movie, their real life doppelgangers as well as other people who aren’t in the movie but were there in the room for things happening who did talk to me. Most of them spoke to me on the condition of anonymity so I’m afraid I can’t clear anymore than I have. Let me clear up the thing about wanting to change Harvard and Facebook. That was more of a sort of comic overarching thing. Scott Rudin said Elliot Schrage, [the Director of Communications for Facebook] was the one negotiating. Scott said, ‘What would it take to get you to cooperate with us?’ He said, ‘Don’t set it at Harvard and don’t call it Facebook.’ In other words, we’ll help you out if you write fiction but we’re not going to help you out telling the true story.
You’re known for writing scenes with “people sitting and talking.” Can you talk about the dialogue heavy opening of the film?
AS: I got a lot of help from the actors and the director making it visually interesting. But I just love the sound of dialogue. When my parents took me plays starting when I was very little, often times too little to understand what the play was about like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? when I was 8 years old, things like that. Because I didn’t understand the story what was going on onstage, I fell in love with the sound of dialogue. It sounded like music to me. I wanted to imitate that sound when I wrote. I like dialogue that sounds like something. I wanted to start out at 100 miles an hour in the middle of a conversation so that the audience would have to run a bit suddenly just to keep up with us. Just doing that gives the audience the impression of rapid forward motion in the thing. And then David comes along for sequences like the one that follows where Mark is blogging, drinking, hacking, creating Facemash, Facemash goes viral, all the while cutting back and forth to this party that is in Mark’s mind. Maybe it’s in all of our minds as that incredible party that we never get invited to. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored it like it was a bank robbery, like it was an action sequence. It’s things like that that make it feel the way you wanted it to feel.
There didn’t seem to be a clear villain in the film. Was that intentional?
AS: I’m glad that you couldn’t find a clear cut good guy or bad guy, right or wrong. A person with the truth or a person who’s lying. The antagonist and protagonist in the story shifts as we go along. This movie I don’t think belongs to any particular drama. But the one that it’s the most closely related to is the courtroom drama. Where we are certain of someone’s guilt or innocence at the beginning and we change our mind 5 times all the way through. Mark is the antihero, which actually makes him the protagonist. Generally we equate the protagonist with the hero, with the good guy, that’s actually not what it means. He spends the first hour and 55 minutes being the antihero, the final 5 minutes of the movie being a tragic hero which means he has paid a price and is experiencing remorse. The antagonist again, which is the person without whom the story couldn’t get going are the Winklevoss,’ Sean, and even Eduardo. It’s to say simply that if nobody had ever sued Mark or Facebook there wouldn’t be a story. There was a protagonist and antagonist in this case that don’t relate to good guy and bad guy.
How do you and David Fincher work together considering your different styles:
AS: David and I at first glance, it’s not intuitively what you think of as the right marriage of director and material. David is peerless as a visual director and I write people talking in rooms. David first of all embraced the fact that this was going to be a story told through language. But he did bring a distinct visual style to this. And he did as a director, get sensational performances out of this talented but young cast. Our disagreements fell into two categories: things like the Screwdriver and the beer. We know from Mark’s blog, this is early on the blog that we hear in voiceover after the break up scene with Erica, that he’s drunk. He says so. He says, ‘I’m intoxicated.’ That blog was verbatim. I excised small parts of it just to make it shorter and to make my life easier with transitions. But it was verbatim, he says ‘I’m intoxicated.’ So what I had written in the script is that he walks in his dorm room, he turns on the computer, walks out of the frame, comes back into the frame, puts the glass down, ice gets dumped into the glass, vodka gets poured over the ice, orange juice gets poured over the vodka, and he begins typing. Shortly before photography began we found out that it was a beer that he was drinking and that it was Beck’s.
Did David want to change it?
AS: David came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to do the Screwdriver now so Mark’s going to go to the mini-fridge in his dorm room, he’s going to pull out a beer and he’s going to open it up’. I said, ‘Come on David, he was drunk, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter how he got there. And the vodka and orange juice is just more visually interesting to make than the beer and it also more immediately reads as ‘I’m trying to get drunk’ rather than you could drink a beer ’cause you’re thirsty or just because you’re a college student.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. If it was Beck’s beer, it’s going to be Beck’s beer.’ That is just one very small example of how serious we were about the facts. The fact that we know what brand of beer he was drinking on a Tuesday night in October, 7 years ago, when there were only 3 other people in the room should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and to the event.
During your research did you ever find out where Facebook’s 25 billion dollar value comes from?
AS: Yeah, the originally evaluation of the company came from when several years ago Microsoft bought %1.7 of the company for $270 million and you extrapolate that out and you arrive at the value of Facebook. The value of Facebook has gone up since then, in fact my recollection is that when I wrote the script that end crawl said $17 billion and in between my writing the script and locking picture really just a few weeks ago it got 8 billion dollars more valuable. And you’d have to ask someone who knows something about these things. All I know is that Facebook is now valued at $25 billion but that original $17 billion valuation again was because Microsoft bought %1.7 for $270 million and you math it out and you get its worth.
Speaking of value, Mark Zuckerberg recently made a huge $100 million donation to the Newark Public School system. Do you think that was genuine or a PR move to combat the film?
AS: I really do think that this has nothing to do with the movie. I really do think that it’s worth mentioning. I know we all feel this way because we were talking about it last night. Not just us, everybody involved with the movie, everybody at Sony, everybody involved with the New York Film Festival. No sooner had it been announced that he was going to donate a $100 million to the Newark Public School system, than cynical motives were being ascribed to it. And I just have to say that’s wrong. He’s made a great gesture that he’s done. Surely the students, the parents, the teachers don’t care why it was done. Somebody does something like that and the only response is ‘Thank you Sir, thank you very much’. I think it’s worth us [the cast] especially coming to Mark’s side for that.
The Social Network opens in theaters on October 1st.