In The Social Network, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher’s take on the origin stories of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Sorkin spoke to Recess’ Tong Xiang about his own experiences with Facebook, the movie as a modern Rashomon and taking on a true story with actors and a script.
How did you first conceive of the film?
I’d heard of Facebook like I’d heard of a carburetor; I knew that it existed but couldn’t point it out if you opened the hood of your car. When Ben Mezrich’s [The Accidental Billionaires] book proposal first came to the publisher, I was sent the first couple of pages. I read the first 14, and knew I had to write a screenplay. I worked with him, writing the screenplay as he finished his book.
Do you have a Facebook profile?
No, I don’t. I’ve got pages that fans and publicists have made me, but not my own [Laughs]. My assistant pulled out her iPad on the way here. Reading over her shoulder, looking at her wall posts, I couldn’t believe how inane they were! I’m an old man, but I don’t understand why anyone needs such continuous communication. There’s this narcissistic part of social networking, this “I’m doing something and I need to tell everyone I know that I’m doing it right now.”
Were there any plot changes made for artistic license? To what extent were the true events altered to make the film more engaging?
I didn’t embellish anything to make it thrillerish! Two lawsuits were brought against Facebook at the same time, and a bunch of people told a lot of different stories. I wanted to give the movie a kind of Rashomon feel. Nothing was “Hollywood-ed up.” I did this based on the available research—and legal documents—as well as first-person research.... What he writes in the movie, in the first blog post, was all true—comparing women to farm animals, calling [his ex-girlfriend’s family] self-hating Jews—all really true.
Did you work with Facebook at all during the research and writing process?
What we did was to make an aggressive attempt to have Facebook and Mark work with us… after a lot of deliberating, Mark decided that he didn’t want to. We told them during that courtship that whether they gave us that cooperation or not, there was going to be no retribution for not giving us cooperation. We told them that even if you don’t help us, we’ll still show you the script at the end. All their help was hacking—technical details with the script. Computer stuff.
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Do you wish you had gotten more help from Zuckerberg and Facebook? Would it have strengthened the script?
I think that it was smart of us to aggressively court Facebook, and I think we’re lucky that we didn’t get it.
How do you respond to Facebook’s statements about the film? That it’s fiction?
Well, we disagree that it is fiction. I think that Facebook’s PR team is just as good as our PR team, and they’re doing exactly what you’d expect. First they were ignoring this movie, hoping that it’d be bad. Now they know they need to respond.
What motivates Mark Zuckerberg?
[Other original Facebook programmers] tell us that Mark was never motivated by money. But what makes Sammy run? I don’t know Mark, but I’ll tell you what motivates him in the movie. He’s a guy with his nose pressed to the glass of social life in college, which reflects back on you, tells you who you are. The world told him he was a loser. He was a member of this small subset of angry tech geniuses who don’t understand cheerleaders, and wonder why they don’t like them, even though they’re running the world. After being dumped and failing socially, he becomes anarchic with [Facebook precursor] FaceMash.
It seems that The Social Network belongs to a new genre of film which blends the content of a documentary with a fictional style. What are the ethical implications involved in writing a script with characters that are real and alive?
I’m not a journalist or documentarian. My fidelity is to the story I’m telling, and not to the who, what, where, why of the story. But you’re very aware when writing non-fiction that more people are going to get their impression of these people from the movie. The first rule is to do no harm. But this was first done by authors: Tom Wolfe with The Right Stuff, and before then it was Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, which started a trend of non-fiction entertainment. This isn’t a documentary about Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg. There are disputed facts about the story—entirely contradictory lines of court testimony. What I do is connect those dots in the character. I would look at [the film] as a painting, and not a photograph.
With a movie as driven by one personality as The Social Network, lead actor Jesse Eisenberg will receive Zuckerberg-levels of scrutiny. Eisenberg spoke to Recess? Tong Xiang about Facebook, Fincher and becoming Zuckerberg.
First of all, do you have a Facebook profile? Why am I so averse to it? I’m an actor who really values my privacy because I value my time in public. I had a Facebook page, but deleted it.
How was working with David Fincher? David Fincher demands a high quality of work from every department. He’s a very deliberate director. The costume designer looked at all the photos available of Mark Zuckerberg, and found every piece of clothing that he wears for me to wear in the movie. The costume designer found the exact pair of shoes Mark wore in this one picture. There was one pair available online of these really rare shoes and [the costume designer] found them. And they were in my size! I only wore them for one scene and you couldn’t even see them in the shot.
What do you think motivated Mark Zuckerberg? I’ll speak for the real character, since I don’t know him personally. He’s so singularly focused on the creation of Facebook that the other aspects of his life become meaningless or irrelevant. My character is about disengagement, and [Fincher] was very involved in directing how disengaged my character was. The character to me is very complicated. I was really sympathetic to the character of Mark Zuckerberg. I’d carry an iPod around with me with Mark’s voice on it; it helped me stay connected with the character. I equated success I’ve had acting with Mark’s success.