EXCLUSIVE: With Sony Pictures’ permission, Deadline Hollywood presents Aaron Sorkin’s full screenplay here for The Social Network. Also, my interview with this frontrunner for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar follows:
Aaron Sorkin set out to be an actor, but those early career plans were trumped when he began writing for the stage. In 1989, at the age of 28, he was named Outstanding American Playwright by the Outer Critics Circle for A Few Good Men. Just three years later, he wrote the screenplay for the film version which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. His subsequent success in film has included scripts for Malice (1993), The American President (1995), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) and the upcoming Moneyball. As an Emmy-winning television writer and producer, he was behind critically acclaimed Sports Night, long-running The West Wing, and the short-lived Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. But he has never been nominated for an Academy Award:
DEADLINE: This script about the behind-the-scenes of the founding of Facebook is technically an adaptation but not based on the actual book?
AARON SORKIN: Initially, I was given a 14-page book proposal that Ben Mezrich wrote for his publisher about these guys and the friction between them. The publisher wanted to get simultaneous film deals and took it to Hollywood and that’s how it ended up in my hands. And I said yes on page three. That’s the fastest I’ve ever said yes to anything. And it was because it’s set against this very modern backdrop of this very modern profession that I didn’t know very much about at all. It was a classic story of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, power, jealousy and class: things that Shakespeare and Chayefsky wrote about yet none of those guys was available so I have it.
DEADLINE: How did you write this without actually reading the book?
SORKIN: There was no book at the time, actually. There was just a book proposal, and I had assumed that the studio would actually want to wait until the book was finished. But they wanted me to start right away. So then I actually began, at the same time, but on separate tracks. As for my research, with people who are still alive there is obviously a tremendous responsibility. Everybody has an internal moral compass that says, ‘First, do no harm’ and if for some reason that compass is broken, there’s also vetting by a team of lawyers that could fill up a theatre. And they won’t allow you to say something that’s untrue or inflammatory. The research went very quickly. It fell into different categories. There were parts that I was helped with by two lawyers (an intellectual property lawyer and a courtroom lawyer) but finally and most importantly it was first person research — speaking directly to the people themselves.
DEADLINE: We know Mark Zuckerberg didn’t cooperate but did you ever meet Eduardo Saverin, the character played by Andrew Garfield?
SORKIN: Once Eduardo signed that non-disclosure agreement after his settlement, he disappeared off the face of the earth. We don’t know exactly how much he received, but it’s in the hundreds of millions. And it will probably go over a billion because he also does now own a lot of Facebook stock. But on October 1st, the movie opened and that’s the day I met Eduardo. I got a phone call from our producer Scott Rudin that a representative for Eduardo had contacted him late at night. He wanted to see the movie. So we set up a private screening for him in New York right before Lady Gaga’s private screening. It’s true. I went to meet him when the movie was over and you could have performed surgery on him without anesthesia at that point in time. I gotta say, he was a deer in the headlights which is an understatement. He did certainly expect to like the movie a lot, but you could tell in his face that he had just relived the thing. It’s an unreasonable experience that hardly anybody, including myself, knows what it’s like to have a chapter from your life suddenly written, directed, lit, shot, and performed by actors. That was the first and only time I met Eduardo.
DEADLINE: And what was Zuckerberg’s reaction?
SORKIN: He has seen it. Mark, I think, has been a great sport about this and I don’t mean to be glib. I don’t think that there’s anybody who would want a movie made about the things they did when they were 19 years old. And if you were going to have that movie made, you would want it told only from your point of view, and not from the points of view from the people suing you. And that is what happened. And Mark also saw the movie on October 1st. He shut down the Facebook offices, bought out an entire movie theatre, took the entire Facebook staff to the movie, and then took them out for Appletinis which was declared to be the official drink of Facebook. (What bar in Palo Alto has that much Appletini mix? But somebody did.) As it happens, Jesse Eisenberg’s first cousin works very closely with Mark Zuckerberg, which has got to be terribly uncomfortable. But over an Appletini, Jesse’s cousin texted Jesse saying Mark really liked the parts that he agreed with.
DEADLINE: The actors’ performances are more interpretative, right?
SORKIN: They are definitely not impersonations. David and I both made it clear that we weren’t looking for physical impersonations. Justin Timberlake was playing an anti-hero in the movie, and Jesse was playing an anti-hero in the movie. Because I wrote these guys as anti-heroes. Jesse’s character is an anti-hero for an hour and 55 minutes of the movie, and a tragic hero for the final five minutes of the movie. But when you are playing those parts, when you are writing those parts, you can’t judge the character. You have to respect the character, and so, as you do that, you have to find the parts of yourself that are like that character. I’m awkward. I’m shy like most people. I’ve felt like an outsider.
DEADLINE: These interesting complex characters are made for you as a writer.
SORKIN: Absolutely, even better once there are actual actors doing it. This was a great experience from the beginning until right this minute. But first there’s a year or so that’s spent by yourself and you’re so grateful for anyone else to be involved. But then we got David Fincher.
DEADLINE: Few would have thought the combination of Aaron Sorkin, master of dialogue, and David Fincher, master visual stylist, would ever have worked?
SORKIN: It wasn’t an intuitive marriage in terms of director and material. Because as you say, David is peerless as a visual director, and I like people talking in rooms. But now that we’ve done it, I can’t imagine anyone else having directed it or directing it as well. He first did a great job of telling a story being told with language and he did bring a very distinctive visual style to it. He got extraordinary performances out of extraordinary, but young, actors and then, once it got into post production, was able to make scenes of typing. And sometimes just talking about typing look like bank robbers. So I can’t tell you enough good things about David.
DEADLINE: Can you talk about the structure of the film going back and forth between the deposition and the flashbacks?
SORKIN: The structure occurred to me, not instantly by any means. It was a long period after research was done. I just paced around climbing the walls on how the content was going to look and what story I was telling. But the defendants, the plaintiffs, the witnesses, they all walked into the deposition rooms and they all swore to tell the truth and they ended up with three very different versions of the story. So rather than just picking one side as the truth and the story that I tell, what I really like was that there were three different versions of the story, and I wanted to tell them all. I really like courtroom dramas that begin with you being convinced of somebody’s guilt or innocence, and you change your mind several times along the way. So I thought: I’ll use these two depositions as the pillars to tell the story. I wish I would have arrived at those ideas quicker. It took me a long time to get there. Other writers, better writers, understand immediately that that’s how you’re supposed to do that. So it just takes me a while to get there.
DEADLINE: How much did you play with the facts gleaned from the transcripts?
SORKIN: I’m not going to mess with somebody for the sake of making a flashier movie somehow. But, and I know that this will sound like I don’t have a conscience and I’m contradicting myself, but there is a difference between a non-fiction movie and a documentary. There’s a difference between a non-fiction movie and journalism. And I would tell anyone that if you are seeing a movie that begins with ‘The following is a true story…’, you need to look at that movie the way you would a painting and not a photograph. This is my take on what happened. You can put a bowl of fruit on a table and have 10 people take a picture of it and those 10 photographs would look pretty much like each other. If you ask 10 painters to paint it, you’re going to get a lot of different versions of the thing. And so I was telling a true story, but very quickly the people became characters to me and not historical figures. And people, and properties of people, and properties of characters, actually have very little to do with each other. I know people don’t speak in dialogue, and life doesn’t play itself out in a series of connected scenes that form a narrative. But that’s what a writer does.
DEADLINE: How did you shape your dialogue to make it work dramatically?
SORKIN: There are other writers who are great at writing incredibly realistic and very gritty dialogue. There are writers like Sam Shepard or David Mamet who are absolute virtuosos at writing dialogue where people have a lot of difficulty communicating with each other. Scenes where nobody is ever talking is not something that I can do. But what I do while I’m writing is, I’m playing all parts while it’s happening.
DEADLINE: Which comes first, the writing or the dialogue?
SORKIN: I became a writer because at a very early age my parents took me to plays all the time. A lot of the time I was too young to even understand the play. They took me to see Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf when I was nine years old. There was no way I knew what was going on, but I loved the sound of dialogue. It sounded like music to me. And I just wanted to imitate that sound and so to me, what the words sound like is just as important as what they mean.