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Everybody knows about Facebook – but perhaps not about the bitter rivalries that spewed out friendships and generated friction on a massive, multi million dollar scale behind the façade, as it were. Indeed, The Social Network is not so much about the birth of Facebook but the death of friendships, of betrayal and jealousies, all classical themes, Aaron Sorkin tells Andrew L. Urban.

So you think The Social Network is about Facebook? Well it is and it isn’t. As the man who wrote the screenplay, Aaron Sorkin, says, “it’s really about friendship, betrayal, jealousy and loyalty, a classical story in which Facebook is the backdrop.” And what a backdrop, filled with conflicted characters like its central figure, the man who claims to have invented Facebook (first called Facemash), Mark Zuckerberg, and friends who become antagonists in the course of the story.

Sorkin, a smartly dressed 49 year old, is visiting Sydney to promote the film; he talks eloquently about the subject with the assurance of someone who knows their onions. To write the script, Sorkin pored through every available blog (including the text of Zuckerberg’s exchange with his girlfriend as they broke up), all relevant document and several cartons of legal papers, “and most importantly, I spoke to lots of people who knew Mark, many on the condition of anonymity.” The one thing he changed is the name of Zuckerberg’s girlfriend; “she doesn’t need to be embarrassed any further.”

The fact that neither Sorkin nor director David Fincher spoke to Mark Zuckerberg personally is not a drawback. “I wanted to give Mark the opportunity to defend himself but I fully expected him to decline,” he says leaning forward in his chair on the other side of the coffee table, “and in fact I was relieved when he said no. I didn’t want this to be a Facebook production, nor did I want any editorial restrictions to interfere with the screenplay.”

But Facebook executives did get a chance to look at the script after it had been greenlit for production by the studio (Columbia Pictures). “Facebook communications director Elliot Schrage sent back some notes, but these were mostly about hacking terminology, which I’m not too familiar with,” says Sorkin.

"it’s for the audience to assess"

After collecting all the research, including the all-important depositions by the key protagonists - Zuckerberg, his ex-friend and business partner Eduardo Severin and the Winklevoss twins - “we had three conflicting versions of the story, “ says Sorkin. And that’s what he grabbed on to as the structure for the script. “We’re not presenting what we think is the truth,” he adds, “it’s for the audience to assess.”

When asked if he’s a fan of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1950 movie, Rashomon, Sorkin nods and says, “I owe Kurosawa!” The film depicts the rape of a woman, the murder of the woman’s husband, but told through four differing accounts: one each by the bandit/rapist, the wife, the dead man speaking through a medium and the narrator.

There is a deep irony within the Mark Zuckerberg story in the fact that a young man who lacked all the social graces and was short of close friends would devise a way of infiltrating the intimacies of the lives of his fellow college students – and become wealthy as a result.

While The Social Network depicts Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) “as an anti-hero for the best part of the movie, by the end he becomes a tragic hero,” says Sorkin. “When writing the script, I had to care for the character and to empathise with him. And I could, because I, too, am shy and awkward socially,” which seems hard to believe as he breezes through his dozen interviews on the run. “You know that series Entourage about working in Hollywood – well, I appeared once on Entourage and I work in Hollywood yet I still feel an outsider doing it. So I did find ways of connecting with Mark.”

"casting was absolutely crucial"

Sorkin agrees that casting was absolutely crucial, and he sings the praises of Eisenberg. “There was no other actor in the conversation for the role – or any of the other roles, despite David and I having seen hundreds of actors. Somebody would have had to come in and beat Jesse …” One of the things Sorkin admires about Eisenberg’s performance is that he doesn’t “beg the audience to love him” and yet, by the end, perhaps audiences will feel something for him, even though he’s hard to admire or like.

One of the very few cinematic tricks in the film is the use of motion capture to replicate the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. Armie Hammer plays both roles, except for scenes where they have a physical interchange such as passing an object to each other. In those scenes, Josh Pence (“an absolutely terrific actor,” says Sorkin) stands in, with dot marks on his face, where the face of Armie Hammer is later overlayed in the digital backroom.

The proximity of the movie to the actual events depicted is unusual; “it’s not usual even in television,” says Sorkin. “But what we are talking about is not just the events – what we’re talking about is timeless.” As for an idea being trumps, Sorkin disagrees: “I believe that execution trumps everything else. People have ideas or what they think are ideas all the time. You can say, for instance, I’m going to write a movie about Facebook. That’s not the same as doing it.”

Sorkin (who wrote and produced The West Wing) is “as proud of The Social Network as anything in my professional life. You know, when I look at [the script for] A Few Good Men now, 20 years after I wrote it, I wish I could take it back; I could make it so much better. But I don’t think I’ll feel like that about The Social Network.”

A blogger for Salon.com, Tracy Clarke-Flory, expressed concern about the role of women in the film, stating: "The most important roles played by women in one of the greatest web innovations of the decade were as gold-diggers, drunken floozies and that 'bitch' who got away."

Responding on a blog post about the film, Sorkin said the film showed the very real and disturbing attitudes the protagonists have towards women.

"It's not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about. Women are both prizes and equal.

"born during a night of incredible misogyny"

"Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny," Sorkin said.

"The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who'd most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.

"More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the '80s. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren't women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)"

Published October 28, 2010
Published first in the Sun-Herald


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Aaron Sorkin


Dir. David Fincher Scr: Aaron Sorkin

In 2003, brilliant but socially awkward Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) conceives a way to replicate social networking on campus - via the internet. With his well off friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) providing some modest working capital, Zuckerberg and his small team develops the website into what soon looks like major web success and soon, Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes Facebook to Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists. But the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who tried to engage Zuckerberg for their own project, feel he betrayed them and stole their idea – and sue him for ownership.

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