David Fincher pic

Aaron Sorkin has collaborated with some of the best filmmakers working today. Bennett Miller (Moneyball), Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs), and David Fincher (The Social Network) — all of them made first-rate films out of Sorkin’s first-rate writing.

The acclaimed screenwriter is finally tackling one of his own scripts as a director, an adaptation of Molly’s Game. In a recent interview, while the Academy Award-winning writer discussed his directorial debut and the rest of his career, he praised Fincher’s commitment and drive.

Below, Aaron Sorkin discusses David Fincher, the opening of The Social Network, and more.

With the opening scene of The Social Network, Sorkin quickly and cleanly establishes who Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is: ambitious, condescending, very much in his own head, and a bit lonely. Even though Zuckerberg couldn’t be acting like a bigger moron while on his date with Erica (Rooney Mara), Sorkin and Fincher make audiences feel something for the deeply flawed college kid. When he’s dumped and left alone at the table, it not only ignites the journey he goes on, but it also makes you empathize with someone that clearly has trouble relating to other people.

It’s a fantastic scene, one that goes by like a breeze. During THR’s Hollywood Masters interview series, which are held at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, Sorkin described his experience of working with David Fincher and producer Scott Rudin:

David Fincher and Scott Rudin are very, very good at what they do. I believe that Scott Rudin is the best producer of plays and movies alive. I think he gives a lot of the dead producers a run for their money. But he is a demanding person, an exacting person. He may not speak to you the way you’d like to be spoken to. He’s a tough, tough man. So is David. David is a truly phenomenal artist, with no affect, no pretension at all, but with a great eye, and uncompromising.

At the beginning of the process of making a movie, the first battle you’re going to have is over the budget, right? The director is going to sit down with, it’s called a line producer, and they’re going to figure out as close as they can what the budget of the movie is going to be, by going through scene by scene, I’m going to need 100 extras here, I’m going to need a helicopter there, I need this kind of camera for this, this I don’t-you know, I want to shoot on the exact location. I don’t want to shoot in Pasadena, pretending it’s this place, that kind of thing. And they’ll come up with a budget for the movie, and the studio is doing the exact same thing with their in-house line producer.

Those two numbers are going to be far apart, and there is a negotiation to find your way in the middle, unless you’re David Fincher, OK, who comes in and says $41 million. And the studio will say $30 million, and he’ll say, no, $41 million, and the studio is, like, $35 million. And he said listen, you think I’m negotiating with you. I’m telling you, the price of this movie is $41 million. That’s what it costs to make this movie. I don’t want to make the $40.5 million version of the movie.

Now, some people might think you’re being a jerk. Find your way, figure out a way to make the movie you want to make for what’s somewhere in the middle. I don’t think that David is being a jerk. I absolutely loved working with him.

An average screenplay is about 120 pages long. My screenplays have higher page counts because there’s more dialogue and less action and just, by the rules of screenplay format, dialogue takes up more room on the page and less time on the screen than action, which takes up more room on the page — I’m sorry, which takes up less room on the page and more time on the screen. So the average screenplay is about 120 pages. A Few Good Men was about 140 pages. The Social Network was 178 pages, and the studio said, OK, the first thing you’ve got to do is figure out a way to cut 30 pages from this. And David said, I don’t think so. I think this is a two hour movie, and he came over to my house with his iPhone set on stopwatch mode, and he said, “I want you to read the entire script out loud for me, at the pace you heard it in your head when you were writing it, and I’m going to write down the timing of each scene.” So that opening scene that you’ve been very complimentary about, with Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara. If I read it and it was seven minutes and 22 seconds, then in rehearsal, and David demanded part of what was baked into the budget was rehearsal time, and part of what wasn’t baked into the budget, I remember David saying to them, “Well, I can cut $125,000 out of your budget right away, because we’re not doing any test screenings.” That’s the kind of thing.

And I just thought David, Scott, these are the bullies I want to be with. You know, they’re great when they’re on your team. And anyway, in rehearsal, Jesse and Rooney would rehearse the scene, David would say great, and he would give them a couple of notes, and always end with, “But this scene is seven minutes and 22 seconds long, and you’re doing it at seven minutes and 40 seconds. So I don’t care how, but you’re going to have to talk faster somewhere, because I promise you, this scene plays best at seven minutes and 22 seconds.

Fincher has always been known as a perfectionist. When you listen to his wonderful audio commentaries, it’s obvious he’s a filmmaker that knows exactly what he’s after. There’s a reason for every shot in his movies. Fincher is always quite candid, too, so it should come as no surprise he’s a director that fights for exactly what he wants.

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