AARON SORKIN graduated from Syracuse University with a B.F.A. in Theatre in 1983. He made his Broadway playwriting debut at the age of 28 with the military courtroom drama "A Few Good Men," for which he received the John Gassner Award as Outstanding New American Playwright. The following year saw his off-Broadway play "Making Movies," and in 2007 he returned to Broadway with "The Farnsworth Invention," directed by Des McAnuff.
His film adaptation of A Few Good Men was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and five Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay.
He followed this success with the screenplays for Malice, starring Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman, and The American President, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. Sorkin produced and wrote the television series "Sports Night" for ABC for two years, winning the Humanitas Prize and the Television Critics Association Award. He spent the next four years writing and producing the NBC series "The West Wing," winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series all four years. For his work on "The West Wing," Sorkin also twice received the Peabody Award and the Humanitas Prize, and three Television Critics Association Awards. He also won a Golden Globe, a Writers Guild Award and three Producers Guild Awards.
In 2006, Sorkin wrote and produced the NBC television series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." He also wrote the 2007 film Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts.
Sorkin recently adapted Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller and starring Brad Pitt, which is currently in production at Sony Pictures. Sorkin has acquired The Politician, the best-selling book by Andrew Young about the downfall of former Senator John Edwards, which he will adapt and will produce with Scott Rudin
AARON SORKIN Q & A
Let's start at the beginning. Why a series of conflicting narratives?
AARON SORKIN: Well, because there were conflicting narratives, and rather than choose only one of the narratives and decide that it was the "true" one, or the most interesting one, I thought the most exciting thing to do would be to dramatize all of them. The conflicting narratives are the story. 'And then this happened' kind of narrative is more the province of the conventional biopic than what I wanted to write.
What research did you do?
AARON SORKIN: As much as I could. I had a number of direct and first-person conversations with many of the characters depicted in the film - and also with many others who were present at the time of Facebook's inception. I can't reveal sources, but these conversations were extensive and detailed; they were also fascinating because everyone's perception of the events was different. A great deal of the movie recounts incidents that occurred between two people in a room seven years ago. Even now, those two people still don't agree on what happened between them, after lawsuits and depositions and settlements - and I did everything possible to accurately characterize those disagreements. The disagreements are what drive the story.
A person obviously isn't going to act the same in the midst of a lawsuit as they would in a dorm room or at a tropical-themed party or when their girlfriend is dumping them, and so the first-person interviews remained invaluable. Mark's college blog was invaluable. The Harvard Crimson was invaluable. Ben Mezrich very, very generously shared with me his own research. I never saw the book until the screenplay was just about completed because he was writing it at the same time I was writing the screenplay, but Ben's research was invaluable.
There is an ecology at the center of this story - and it's the ecology I needed to make the audience understand. That was my goal: to know enough about the facts, to be so conversant with the array of information in all its conflicting assertions, so that I could be detailed and specific and anthropological about the people and the place and the events - because the emotional breadth of what these kids did, beginning in Suite H33 in the Kirkland House, is what drew me to the story in the first place. And I wanted to do it justice.
Did you realize immediately that the structural decision you made would open up the writing to you?
AARON SORKIN: At first I was lost because I thought Holy cow, no two people are telling the same story -- but then I realized, Wait, this is great -- no two people are telling the same story. That's what I'm going to do. So I came up with the device of the parallel depositions. Not only could the different versions of the truth be dramatized, but I was able to put everyone in one room and have Mark be sitting face-to-face with his accusers.
Once you found that structural device - what was powering the drama - did you know you were also finding a thematic device?
AARON SORKIN: I didn't, and this is normal for me - the theme didn't make itself apparent to me until writing was underway. When I begin writing, I'm not thinking about themes immediately, I'm thinking about the driveshaft of the car -- what's the plot of this, what is the intention and obstacle, where do we begin and where do we end and what is the trip that we take in between. Later in the process, the themes make themselves apparent and then you work on refining the script, you bring those themes into relief, and they become part of the movie. As I think I said earlier, when I realized that the structure of the script was, in itself, a way to dramatize thematically what the movie is describing - which is, in a way, that no person is only one thing - that was exciting. I realized that with a structural device - with a practical, technical way to tell the story - I had also found a way into the themes of the movie and its characters. But it was the math of the thing that captivated me initially, and of course the research was fantastically provocative, but truthfully the scale of the idea didn't reveal itself until I began to write scenes. As I started to generate pages, it became clear pretty quickly that the structure was the spine of the movie thematically too...
What was your way into Mark?
AARON SORKIN: Anytime I'm writing an antagonist, I want to write the character as if he's making his case to God as to why he should be allowed into heaven. People aren't all good or all bad and certainly Mark isn't all either one. But there's only one person on earth who could've done the thing that he did. Mark is a guy with both a utopian social vision and a gigantic amount of pure imaginative technical ability, and who is very driven to do what he's about to do. He has the vision and the brains - but people and things get destroyed along the way. The failure of Mark's utopian ideal - that success will solve all of his problems (when of course it doesn't), that a social networking site will bring us all closer together when it's actually done the opposite - is what I wanted to write about. The contradictions in this material were thrilling to me. The fact that someone with enormous and almost inchoate social awkwardness creates a vision for this network of social interaction, a public commons, essentially, in which people never have to be in the same room to communicate - well, that was pretty irresistible. Also, there's a hugely dramatic idea, to me, in what makes Mark not only a creator but also a destroyer - and it's a fantastic subject to write about, since most of our greatest creators are in some very basic way also destroyers. Our visionary builders are often equally adept at tearing down what came before them and what is in front of them as they start to understand what it takes to realize their vision. You can look at endless examples of this - it's a great trope in what people mean when they describe 'the American character'. Mark is like a 21st century iteration of a Fitzgerald character or a Dreiser character. Where was I ever going to find that again?
Do creation and destruction generally go hand in hand?
AARON SORKIN: One thing I can tell you for sure is that creation and destruction are part and parcel of telling a story. And for it to be a story, a guy has to have paid some sort of price for enormous success, which Mark does. This is why I was able to make him the central character of a movie.
The other side of the question that I hope some people will ask is how much of the destroyer part is real, and how much of it is being projected onto Mark by people who believed they were destroyed by him. I wanted to leave room for people to make up their own minds here. I do, however, think that despite what destroys the relationship, and how central Mark is to how that happens, Mark cares about Eduardo. There are moments in the movie that clearly demonstrate that and that are hugely important to me -- particularly when they're talking about Eduardo's father and when Mark tries to get Eduardo to leave New York and come to Palo Alto -- but I think that what Mark also understood in the movie was that Eduardo didn't have the chops to do the job, that Eduardo wasn't going to be able to keep up with what this company had suddenly become. That Eduardo was a good dorm room CFO, but that he wouldn't be able to move beyond that. And then very impressive Sean came along with some very impressive lawyers and said, Hey Mark, it's for the good of your friend more than anything -- would you rather Eduardo have 30 percent of nothing, or a fraction of a percent of something that will be worth a billion dollars? These characters put it to Mark in a way that would take the knife out of his hands when he had to kill Eduardo. They made it so Mark could say to himself, I'm doing a good thing, not just for Eduardo, but for the company -- the company is important - and also for the world because Facebook is going to be important to the world. I think smart people made the decision easy for Mark.
The way I conceived those three central characters is this: Sean and Eduardo are parental figures for Mark. For most of the movie, Eduardo is Mark's moral compass -- you can't do this, you must do that, the farm animals was a bad idea, the Winklevosses are serious. Sean comes along, and he's going to be the person who gets rid of Eduardo. This is a guy who wants to start a party but who first wants to make sure that Mark's parents are gone before he brings the keg over. By taking over as Mark's conscience, Sean is able to guide things to where he needs them to go. This is a movie that tries to - whenever it can - turn the prism and show you different sides of the story. It both suggests that Mark may have orchestrated Sean's downfall and absolutely denies that Mark could have orchestrated Sean's downfall.
What is it that Mark is chasing?
AARON SORKIN: Reinvention, projection, inventing your idealized self - these ideas are a huge part of what Facebook means to our current cultural moment, and they're a huge part of what, I think, the movie is about. Mark wants to reinvent himself. For most of the movie, he wants to reinvent himself as Sean Parker, who also reinvented himself. Sean was a nerdy guy in high school who completely remade himself into a very smooth adult who's comfortable at nightclubs, comfortable in meetings with flashy businessmen, he's good with women. Mark wants to be able to reinvent himself too, but anybody who uses social networking sites, anybody who uses the internet, knows that you can sit in your room on the computer and not be the person who you don't like in real life. So if you see a post as simple as, Had a girls' night last night. Ate too much calamari! Better hit the gym this morning! -- that's a person who wants to be Ally McBeal, who wants to be reinvented with a sort of sitcom dialogue as the girl next-door, as the girl's girl. They're using that kind of language.
The very thing that attracts people to the Internet - that attracted Mark to it - is relative anonymity and the ability to reinvent yourself. As a writer I'd like everyone to think I'm as fast and clever as the characters I write - I'm not - and so it's not hard for me to understand why people are drawn to social networking sites. They want to do a re-write and a polish on themselves before they hit "send".
A primary way your characters position and project themselves is verbal, through what they say - can you talk about the use of language here?
AARON SORKIN: I envy visual writers who are able to tell stories through the pictures they are describing, but that's not something I'm able to do. I write people talking in rooms. As a matter of fact, I thought it was going to be a real challenge for me to write this movie because these characters are much younger than the characters that I usually write about. I thought I needed to be writing, literally, in a different language, in a language of youth -- and after stopping and starting a couple of times on page one, I just decided 'this isn't going to work'. First of all, not all 19-year-olds speak the same and this is going to sound ridiculous if I try to imitate the sound of youngness and hipness. I thought, I'm going to write the way I write and I'm going to put as much of myself into this as I can. I know who this guy is, he's a version of me, and I will make this script better if I own up to it and get it as close to me as I can. Different characters have different language skills. For Mark, socially, speaking out loud is a particular kind of challenge because on some level he knows he doesn't come off the way he wants to with other people, especially women -- so I always put that challenge smack in front of him beginning with the first scene with Erica. But language is also a weapon in the script that Mark is using, that the lawyers are using, that the Winklevosses are using, that Eduardo and Sean are using. It holds the whole story - the parsing of information, who tells what to whom, the way the characters can answer interrogatories with partial truths or shaded truths - it's all in the cracks of how they talk.
Mark seems much more comfortable verbally in the deposition rooms than he is in the Harvard portion of the movie.
AARON SORKIN: Much more. That was a big deal to David and me, because when we go to the deposition it's five years later -- we wanted Mark to be a stronger, more confident, more comfortable person who's kind of walked through fire to get where he is right now. And he isn't about to have that taken from him. He is in a room of terribly smart people, but he is the smartest person there. One of the things that makes Mark the protagonist is it's in the deposition rooms that he's the underdog. He's being beaten up by a team of high-priced lawyers who are being paid to destroy him and he's more than holding his own.
Can you talk more about David Fincher? There are many bedrock thematic and character issues in this movie that you and David don't see in the same way -- does it matter?
AARON SORKIN: No, it doesn't. There are many bedrock issues that you and the person sitting next to you in the theater aren't going to see the same way. David and I agreed on what every scene should look and sound like - we were in complete agreement on what we wanted the movie to be - but we would certainly disagree from time to time on who was right and what exactly their motivations were.
Is part of that tension in the movie?
AARON SORKIN: I think so. I hope so. For instance, I honestly believe that at the end of the movie Mark feels remorse -- and David isn't so sure. I think that's great because I would love for that argument to happen in the parking lot.
What did David bring to the movie, do you think?
AARON SORKIN: Boy, I could talk forever about that. First of all, it was a counterintuitive marriage of material and director. Like I said, I write people talking in rooms, and David is peerless as a visual director -- so you wouldn't immediately think of him for a script of mine. But David embraced all the language in the movie, 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. One of the things that I loved that he did was the number of takes that he got. Sometimes 70, 80, 90 takes simply in an effort to tire the actors out, to knock the acting out of them and to get them to casualize the language. 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 shooting that scene at 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.
There are also great choices he made on his own. In the script, I had indicated after the opening scene in the bar with Erica that we would watch Mark walk back to his dorm room, passing other people and other students who are very much alive and happy while Mark is very focused and in his own world. In the script I'd called for music that was a driving hard loud in your face song with a lot of energy to underscore the walk. David didn't just do something slightly different there -- he did something 180 degrees different. The sound gets very quiet and almost introverted. Trent Reznor has a very low sort of industrial score in there, and we hear for the first time the beginning of Mark's musical theme - but it's in semi-M.O.S so we're hearing a little bit of ambient sound, we're hearing some footsteps, we're hearing a little bit of the violin player over there. He's describing loneliness and alienation, and it's so much better and more original than anything I had in my head. I wrote anger, and David gave it anger and additionally he gave it extraordinary sadness. I believe that it's actually that moment, the title sequence that says to the audience 'this isn't your father's college movie'. That's only one of the countless great things that David brought to the movie.
What about you? What is the aspect of yourself that you're writing in this material?
AARON SORKIN: We all get called losers when we're growing up. Some of us are able to shake it off better than others. We all feel like we have our nose pressed up against the window of social life. We all feel like we're not sitting at the cool kids' table. That part of myself was pretty easy to put in the movie. Another aspect of myself - a more adult aspect - is that when you write a movie or a television show or a play that has any kind of profile at all, you can count on people coming out of the woodwork saying they wrote it ten years ago and you stole it from them. That's a big, ugly thing to be confronted by. So it was very easy for me to empathize with Mark, in that sense - I've certainly felt marginalized at different points in my life, and I've also had the veracity of my work questioned. These are common experiences - we all know what it's like to be questioned, to be challenged - and they're very meaningful to me as a writer. Both certainly informed my approach to the script. And then there are the deeper things, which I'm not going to talk to you about.
So, then, the itch that Mark can't scratch is anger? What is it, do you think?
AARON SORKIN: I think it's loneliness and a sense of self worth - that, for some reason, a guy who went to Exeter, who goes to Harvard, who's got an IQ that's clearly off the charts and who is clearly capable at the thing he loves so much, isn't feeling known. He's certain that he's a loser, that no one does or can understand him -- and the world that he's looking at, that he's using as a mirror, is reflecting this back to him. Now, in Mark's case, that idea of self worth has alchemized itself into anger. Real anger. Very sharp-edged anger. But anger is fuel to him - it's rocket fuel.
There are going to be people who will say that the Winklevosses - who live in the imagined world that Mark wants to be a part of - are the villains in this movie and that Mark is the hero. But Mark also thinks that world is beneath him. He built this astonishing something out of absolute nothing and he did it while people were pecking at his ankles, and he did it in a place where someone like him can't possibly operate as smoothly as someone like Tyler or Cameron, or even Sean.
BACK TO FIRST PAGE