The Director and his cast
Bringing Sorkin's screenplay to life is a director making a departure: David Fincher, perhaps best known as the dazzling visual stylist who forged the atmospheric worlds of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Seven and Fight Club, but who in The Social Network focuses the camera more intimately on the human nature of the real-life young anarchists who came together - and flew apart - as they set in motion the Facebook phenomenon.
Fincher wasn't certain at first he would be drawn to the story, but when he read the script, that instantly changed. "Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal kept saying to me 'you have to read this, it's an amazing story and a brilliant script,'" he recalls. "When I did read it, what I really liked is that it was tearing into the fabric of a myth that's only a few years old - that was very intriguing to me."
He goes on: "In some ways, The Social Network is an age-old story - a classic battle over whose contributions to an invention should be valued. But what makes it so interesting is that it avoids siding with anyone at all costs. You don't do that by trying to recreate every detail. You do it by looking at events from different points of view - from the point of view of the person who was wrong and the point of view of the person who won. That's the magilla of doing anything that is based on real events in the world - and the whole Rashomon thing of it was very interesting to me. The important thing is that the movie is about how a group of people set off to do the right thing by each other, and the right thing by an idea, and how they eventually decide they can't, and that they won't, complete this journey together. Our job was to take those facts and make a truth from it, or rather, three truths from it."
Fincher, like Sorkin, perceived the film as operating in a gray zone, where heroes and anti-heroes switch places with each other as these youthful, barely formed college students turn, almost overnight, into the innovators the whole world is watching. He says that "truth" is a slippery concept when you're dealing with so many diverging memories, tricky motivations and strong personalities.
"I don't know that the truth is knowable," says Fincher, "but what I do know is that a lot of people have gone out of their way to explain their version of it - and that the behavior and reactions of the people in Sorkin's script felt true to me."
He came at it knowing the consequences of treading into disputed territory. "I knew that if we did our job, if we did the story justice, everyone involved in the story would likely disown it," the director comments.
Fincher's approach to the film was grounded in crafting the worlds of Ivy League life and Silicon Valley start-ups in which Zuckerberg, Saverin, Parker and the Winklevoss twins moved as Facebook was launched and began growing algorithmically into the giant it is today.
"The time and the place had to be palpable," he says. This was especially true of the Harvard dorms where Zuckerberg wrote the original code for Facebook and where it first went viral. "It's a fascinating world where a kid could go into a room with a case of Red Bull and come out a few days later with something that would instantly be on 500 computers and then a few years later, on 500 million. I knew that I needed to make the surroundings of everything - where these people are, what they're wearing, all those details - feel right for Harvard, and right for these kids and their expertise. The fun of it was not only to find a handful of really bright, incredibly watchable actors, but also to forge a world around them that makes them look like the kind of kids that would be saying this stuff. It builds the drama - the inevitability of the fact that these kids are one day going to have to divide the spoils - by seeing this place that they all come from, with its bad prefab furniture and scratchy sheets and fire alarms in the middle of the wall and fireplaces that don't work."
Though he does not come from that world, Fincher could clearly see elements of himself in the characters' dissident attitudes and youthful ambition. "I could relate to these sort of creative cliques and the way they are couched in intimate moments between friends and soon-to-be ex-friends. I could relate to being 20 or 21 and trying to sell yourself and your vision to the people you need to get money from in order to make your thing as grand as you know it can be, and that whole condescending thing of having to ask adults for permission because you're too young to do it for yourself and all that frustration," he explains. "In some ways, what Mark does is no different than directing a movie: you grow something, and your job is to grow it well and to make sure it gets enhanced and to take care of it. That's the subject of the movie. And if you have to hurt people's feelings in order to protect that thing, then that's what you have to do. It's a responsibility. I also related to how Zuckerberg never pandered to anyone's idea of who he should be - and I related to the irreverence of these characters and their disdain for authority, because without that, we wouldn't be telling this story at all."
He goes on: "I've been Mark Zuckerberg - there are times in my life where I've acted that way. There are times in my life where I've been Eduardo Saverin - where I've gone and made a scene and regretted it and where I've been emotional and felt silly and stupid. And there are times when I've felt self-righteous and I've acted out in that way."
Fincher knew that creating these moments on screen would require assembling a tightly matched ensemble cast capable of collaborating and clashing in engaging and revealing ways. "The hope in putting together this cast was that you have people who can show both sides of the characters and who can make the relationships completely real," he says. "Everyone had to be equally part of the collision of billiard balls for this to happen. They had to be very distinct from each other but also work well together. I wanted to find something human about everybody, and I never saw Mark or Sean or the Winklevosses as the villain. I don't see Eduardo's lack of imagination as villainy. I look at them all and think, they're kids, they're going to make mistakes, they're going to fall into the right things for the right reasons, they're going to fall out of the right things for the wrong reasons. So the thing was to find a bunch of people who were willing to experiment, and not know what they were going to do. I wanted to be able to take them right to the edge and push them over so they would find this other thing that's not the preconceived notion of who they are."
His audition process was intensive. "First we put the word out and asked people to send us auditions on their phones or on tape," he says. "Then we began bringing people in to talk about their backgrounds. Every person we cast had to come in and read several times. We were looking to form an ensemble, and every facet had to work in support of the others."
Before production began, Fincher started rehearsing with the cast in small groups for several weeks, allowing them to get into the rhythms of the character's unique speech patterns and to inhabit their relationships with a relaxed naturalism. Fincher would also ask for unusual flexibility from the actors, shoot as many as 200 different takes of a single scene, in order to shake things up and to later have a multiplicity of options in the editing room. He worked through Sorkin's razor-sharp dialogue until it was completely organic to the actors.
Says Sorkin of Fincher's directorial style: "That kind of repetition takes the edge off the instinct towards operatic acting. It made the dialogue feel more casual and effortless. By using a lot of takes, David harvested great results. He completely embraced that the script was wall-to-wall language -- and he added a haunting visual style to it that really puts it head and shoulders above what it could have been had a less talented director been doing it. David also really understood how to get the best out of each actor. I loved the number of takes that he got - sometimes 70, 80, 90 takes -- simply in an effort to knock the acting out of them and to get them to casualize this language. For example, for the scene between Mark and Eduardo in the Palo Alto house, when Eduardo has come out in the middle of the night to San Francisco and they're shouting at each other, we started around 7pm, but David wasn't really happy with it until well after midnight when Jesse and Andrew were exhausted, and suddenly the scene really came alive."
Fincher adds: "I wanted to get the actors to that point where they are talking with the speed and casualness of real life, where things overlap and people talk over one another. I also think the kind of hyper, righteous indignation of the characters in a lot of scenes necessitates a pace and rhythm. The first scene in the movie is a girl saying to Mark, 'I'm really having a hard time keeping up with what you're talking about.' So he better be going pretty quick; otherwise, we're not going to have any respect for her, and we do have a lot of respect for her - because she's the one who comes back in and sets our stuff straight."
To keep constant tension in the scenes, Fincher also would often wreak intentional havoc by taking each actor aside privately before shooting and telling him "you are the one who is right here." Fincher elucidates: "For example, in directing the scenes at the deposition, I would literally say to one side of the table, 'This little weasel ripped you off and he's sitting in the chair that you should be sitting in, and without you, he's nothing.' And then I would walk to the other side of the table and go, 'Do you really think that there'd be 15 billion dollars worth of Facebook if you had made the Harvard Connection? Look at those douche bags. There's nothing, there are no spoils to divide if not for the hard work and brilliance of Mark Zuckerberg. So look at them standing over there in their Brooks Brothers suits all smug trying to get a place at your table.'"
While the actors were keenly aware they were portraying real-life people who are their contemporaries, Fincher did not want the performances to attempt mimicry. "I always felt that would be too constricting," he says. "Each performance needed to be an impression without being an impersonation. It would have been easy to go onto Youtube and watch clips of Mark Zuckerberg talking, but that didn't reconcile with the best way to dramatize what happened between these people and to capture the spirit of their inventiveness and relationships. If you want a movie to have character, you can't force it. You have to allow for the rough edges."
Those raw, sometimes jagged edges become a part of the film's intricate humanity. "Multiple perspectives were essential to telling this story," Fincher concludes. "There was no other way to do it. There's this idea that Aaron and I talked a lot about that 'no person is only one thing.' And the whole structure of the film became a way of saying that."
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