“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” reads the film’s tagline. Based on what we’ll call a fact-based novel, “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich – which used recreated scenes and dialogue to tell the story of the founding of social networking website Facebook by a handful of Harvard students – THE SOCIAL NETWORK was initially mocked by Internet pundits when the screenplay leaked July of last year. They’re not laughing now. Using his trademark dim, yellow/green/black-tinted color palette, director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Zodiac”) has brought screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing”) robust, 162-page script to the big screen in a brisk two hours.
The Social Network stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the young man who founded Facebook at the age of 19 when he was a sophomore at Harvard with the help of some seed money from classmate Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield. The company soon eyes expansion, and enlists the aid of Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). This new partnership threatens Saverin’s stake in the company. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg is being sued for intellectual property theft from the inventors of HarvardConnection (later ConnectU) – blue blood rowing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), and Divya Narenda (Max Minghella).
Today, Facebook has been valued at $23 billion, and Zuckerberg, with an estimated fortune of $6.9 billion, is the king of Silicon Valley whose fortune is vaster than even that of Apple’s Steve Jobs.
Many questions have been raised about the film’s accuracy, and the movie’s makers and stars addressed those and other questions at the film’s premiere during the 2010 New York Film Festival at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. What people haven’t questioned, however, is how good the film is. See what the people behind The Social Network had to say about the best-reviewed film of the year.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Aaron, I think you’ve expressed your distaste for the electronic communication world. What is it that made you overcome that and made you want to write this script?
AARON SORKIN: My feelings about the internet are actually irrelevant to anybody’s enjoyment of the movie. But what made me overcome it was that I didn’t think it was as movie about Facebook, really. I thought it was a movie that has themes as old as storytelling itself – of friendship and loyalty and class, jealously, power, these things that Aeschylus would write about or Shakespeare would write about. Luckily for me none of those people were available so I got to write about it. And David really agreed, and you should talk about it.
DAVID FINCHER: Obviously, there was a lot of internet chatter when it was announced that we were going to make this movie. I think people thought we were making a sequel to “The Net,” or we were trying to do some kind of fad hopping. But I really didn’t know anything about the origins of Facebook; I just had a dry-read of a script that had a bunch of people in it that I felt I knew and knew intimately and could relate to and empathize with. I thought it was a lovely, wonderful, two hours.
MMM: Aaron, how long did it take you to figure out where to begin the film?
SORKIN: Once I had Mark’s blog, which you see in the movie and which is pretty much verbatim, I made it a little bit shorter but it was clear that he’d just gotten his heart broken by a girl and that this was going to be a night of drinking and blogging and this revenge stunt Facemash. I knew that I wanted to see him get his heart broken by a girl, that I wanted to see that scene, but since he brought up that it was nine pages, that it’s two people sitting in a bar. David, what he’s most known for is being peerless as a visual director. So intuitively this is an unusual marriage of director and material because I write people talking in rooms. And you would think that the director would come along and say “Listen, I just don’t know what I’m going to point the camera at. I can’t begin a movie like this with a nine page scene and two people talking at a table.”
FINCHER: It’s a good scene. There’s no problem in sublimating your desire to show off if what you’re presenting is something that you think is what it’s going to take to kind of steep the audience. Originally when the script began it was in black and you hear the voices over black, and I kind of wondered why don’t we just see the Columbia logo and start hearing them then and hear the jukebox and hear all the people talking, and let people know pin your ears back man, you’ve got to pay attention. I just felt that the scene teed up exactly who this guy was, exactly what the stakes were, exactly what the world was, and it taught you how to watch the movie. And also, when Aaron read it, it was four and half minutes. It was nine pages in four and a half minutes, so the whole thing was let’s get everybody used to the idea of nine pages in four and a half minutes.
MMM: I’d like to ask Jessie, Andrew, and Justin if your approach to the role involved much actual research into the people you were playing, or whether you took more of your inspiration just from what was in the script.
JESSE EISENBERG: I did a lot of research during the rehearsal process but if I didn’t and only had Aaron’s script that would have been perfectly sufficient. I auditioned for the movie prior to looking up Mark Zuckerberg online. I didn’t know what he looked like, I had never heard him speak, and all I had was Aaron’s incredible characterization and felt that was more that sufficient to make the audition tape. Then we had about a month and a half of rehearsal and in order to feel more prepared and to understand who this guy was I found every interview and watched every interview that was online and got every picture that I could find of him. But really, as Aaron said, it was not really a movie about Facebook as much as it is about these more substantive themes. And in the same way it was not traditional biography picture, we were trying to do kind of an imitation of the character of Mark Zuckerberg, and so I was really just focusing on playing Aaron’s characterization.
ANDREW GARFIELD: I think Jesse put it very well, I don’t know how much I have to add to that outside my own personal experience, which is that I had a photo to go from. But that was great in its own way because I could just invent something from inspiration, and I immediately saw that he, maybe this is my own projection, but he seemed very warm but kind of reserved. I kind of had minimal to go from which was actually quite liberating, even though I did try to find him in a very obtuse and uncommitted way. But it would have been really interesting because of course when you’re playing someone who exists and is living and breathing somewhere you kind of feel a massive sense of responsibility to not ruin them on screen because we’re all human and when you have empathy for other humans then it’s difficult to do that.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: I also have empathy for human beings, thank you. I think there was kind of a collective movement with Jesse and Andrew and myself that we all felt like so much of the information we needed was there on the paper, and then moving into the wonderful mind of David to find out exactly where this film was going to go. But I think just for playing my character I actually stayed as far away from anything on the internet that I could. You meet my character when he meets Facebook pretty much, so I wanted to be excited by that.
FINCHER: We had conversations about how it’s a biopic. A biopic is essentially there to tell you why somebody did what they did, and I wasn’t interested in that at all. I was interested in what they did, and because we saw it from the multiple points of view and all of those points of view of course were polarized by intense litigation I don’t know whether Eduardo was Mark’s best friend. I know the lawyer stated that he was his best friend and I know that Mark stated the exact opposite. So we had to find kind of a happy medium in there where both of them could walk away from the scenes that we see them in and one could righteously say “I was your best friend,” and the other one could look and be aghast by that. I wanted to stay away from mimicry. We cast the actors that we cast because of what they brought to it and we wanted to unleash them with as much freedom to make each of the parts of the movie, the story that they were supporting as human as possible, and give them the leeway to be human and not to trap them with “Well he normally starts with his left foot.”
MMM: What were the challenges of playing characters people may think are big assholes?
EISENBERG: It’s impossible to play a role and to look at it, not only in the way that you described it, but look at it objectively at all. I had the unique position in that my main responsibility was to not only understand where my character was coming from but to be able to defend all of his positions, his behavior, and ultimately sympathize with him. And over the course of the movie and really over the course of this publicity experience I’ve developed an even greater affection for my character. You have no choice; it’s impossible to disagree with the character that you’re portraying. We shot the movie for about five and a half months, they were very long days, and you’re spending a lot of time working hard to defend your character’s behavior. So even if the character is acting in a way that hurts other characters you still have to understand and ultimately sympathize with all of that behavior; it’s just impossible to play it any other way.
FINCHER: The character is an asshole is such a reductive, overly simplistic way. I have no problem saying that I think Eduardo Saverin had a fairly good imagination, and I think at some point there is going to be a fork in the road for those two guys and I don’t think that Sean Parker was overly Machiavellian. I think that what he’s saying, how he presents himself, is perfectly reasonable. As somebody who’s been through it, who has had a Napster and lost a Napster, here’s a guy who’s saying, “This is the big leagues. And it’s great that you have friends from your dorm, and it’s great that you have college buddies, and it’s great that you have somebody you can turn to and borrow $19,000. But this is the fucking bigs, and you have to now realize that if you want to protect what it is that you invested so long and so much of your energy; if you want to protect that you’ve got to have the support of people who know what they’re doing who can navigate these waters.” I think what Mark Zuckerberg said was probably: “I am up to my eyeballs trying to figure out how to make this thing work and how to get it on 60 million laptops. How do I do that?” And a bunch of guys came to him and said, “Hey, your buddy who put up $19,000, he can own 30% of something that’s worth a million dollars, or he can own .03% of something that’s worth $10 billion. Do him a favor.”
MMM: I was just wondering if any of you maintain personal Facebook pages and if so how addicted to them are you?
SORKIN: I put up a Facebook page the day that I signed up for the movie. I didn’t have one before; honestly I didn’t know much about Facebook. I’d heard of Facebook the way I’ve heard of a carburetor, but I can’t pop the hood of my car, point to it, and tell you what it does. So the first thing I did was start a Facebook account. I kept it up all during research, during writing, during photography, and then took it down.
EISENBERG: I had a similar experience. I signed up for Facebook the first day of rehearsal so I could understand what my character was talking about, and when we started shooting and I had to learn all those lines I stopped using it.
FINCHER: I’ve seen it over someone’s shoulder. No, I don’t have Facebook.
GARFIELD: I was your usual, general kind of Facebook user, I’m sad to admit, and I’ve been three months clean. I’m proud of myself too. But now I don’t use it because it was just negative for me, like it is for most people.
TIMBERLAKE: I don’t have a personal Facebook page, but it is nice to know that you through the world of philanthropy, for instance, that you can send out a message and, for instance, raise money for free health care for kids. But no, I don’t have a personal Facebook page. It’s hard enough to do voice work in animated films, so I took a double-duty of it all and I just didn’t have time to look at pictures of my friends. [Laughs]
MMM: I have a question for Mr. Eisenberg. A lot of people in the tech community comment on Zuckerberg’s personality as being somewhat of an Asperger’s personality, where he’s very not touching, very emotionally muted. Was that a part of your thought process in your portrayal of Mark?
EISENBERG: I certainly don’t want to diagnose him but in Aaron’s script and then also in watching these interviews there’s a certain kind of disengagement that you see. It’s frankly not dissimilar to some disengagement that I probably express when I’m doing interviews because they can be incredibly uncomfortable, so to kind of attribute it to some extreme diagnosis doesn’t feel right to me. But there was a really interesting quality that I wanted to bring out, which is this difficulty connecting to others. It makes the character far more interesting to play, that he has trouble connecting with others and yet feels particularly comfortable connecting everybody else, and perfectly comfortable in the social environment of Facebook. And it was also something to make me feel the character was really a full person, so even though he maybe appears enigmatically or reserved or detached, there’s still something happening beneath that. At the end of the movie he’s a billionaire and he’s created something really out of nothing almost by himself and he feels still alone.
MMM: Did you guys encounter any problems from Facebook the company and Zuckerberg?
FINCHER: I know that Scott Rudin had conversations with Facebook, I know that Aaron, you were privy to…
SORKIN: Yeah we, we being [producer] Scott Rudin and me, aggressively courted Facebook’s and Mark’s cooperation in the film. Mark would end up doing exactly what I would have done, which was decline, but we also told them at the time that whether they participated or not we would show them the script when the script was done and we would welcome any notes that they had. So we did give them the script, and their notes largely had to do with hacking. There was a little bit of hacking terminology that I’d gotten wrong, unsurprisingly. I know that there was a rumor a day or two ago that Mark had been spotted at a screening; I doubt it. I don’t think there are any of us who would want a movie made out of the things we did when we were 19 years old. If Mark is going through an uncomfortable moment, that doesn’t give me any joy at all. So, I understand. I doubt he’s going to be first in line next Friday to buy a ticket.
MMM: A lot’s been made of the embellishment and sexualization of certain scenes in this film. Can you talk about what scenes in particular were very embellished?
SORKIN: None, and I don’t know where this is coming from. I’m not going to sell any tickets by making this statement, but I have to tell you that there is less sex in this movie than there is in any two minutes of “Gossip Girl.” Nothing in the movie was invented for the sake of Hollywoodizing it or sensationalizing it. As I explained, because of the three different versions of the story that were given not just in the deposition rooms, but there was a lot of first-person research that I did with people who are characters in the movie and people who were close to the event, most of whom were speaking to me on the condition of anonymity. And there were a lot of conflicting takes so there are going to be a lot of people saying that’s not true, that didn’t happen, just as they’ve been saying since 2003. The work that I did is exactly the same as the work that any screenwriter does on any nonfiction film. When Peter Morgan writes “The Queen” he’s going from fact to fact to fact, but Peter Morgan wasn’t in Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom when she was talking to her husband about their daughter-in-law. Moreover, and more important, people don’t speak in dialog and life doesn’t play out in scenes. There’s work that the dramatist does, but nothing was invented, certainly nothing was sexualized in order to amp up the temperature on the movie.
MMM: Even the early Harvard final club party scenes that depict girls making out with each other and dancing on tables half-naked?
SORKIN: Even the Harvard Club scenes. That is based on descriptions of parties given to me by members who have been at these parties. Those beginning of the year parties, the bus that brings girls to the parties, what goes on at those parties, but that particular scene again is an example of is that scene really happening or is that the party that Mark’s imagining in his head that he can’t be at? That kind of thing. But really, this is a nonfiction story.
FINCHER: You have to keep in mind that there is a point of view; there is a perspective. Certainly we did a lot of research and we had stories told to us that were far worse, far more salacious, far more demeaning to the participants than the stuff that we chose to actually show, and we had to temper it. We were trying to tell a story about somebody who is sitting at home doing something and going “Everybody else is having far more fun than I am,” and that’s the narrative purpose of it.
MMM: Mr. Fincher, a lot of the early word about this is saying that this is a departure for you and I’m curious what you think about that.
FINCHER: Because it doesn’t involve somebody aging backwards or because it doesn’t involve serial killers? [Laughs] You read scripts that you want to see the movie of and then you beg to be involved, and this was one of those. I know now and I felt it when I was shooting it that I was going to be able to make something that I could look back on 10 or 12 years from now and say, “I got to work with all these guys right as it happened. Right as they kind of coalesced.” It was a great opportunity to work with a lot of people who came to play, and it was an ensemble movie that was going to live and die by quality of whether or not you believed the behaviors of the people who were gifted this man’s words. And every day of the 72 days that I was lucky enough to be able to shoot this movie I got to walk away from it saying, “He’s good. That’s going to work. That looks like a marriage coming apart.” So I feel about it like would I have loved to have made “American Graffiti?” Now in its own weird way I’ve been able to. I got to do something where I got to look at nine people across the screen and there was a moment in time when they were all in the same movie.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK is in theaters nationwide.
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