Highlights from The Social Network Press Conference

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Last weekend, I was given the opportunity to attend the New York press junket for The Social Network. In addition to interviewing actor Armie Hammer (The Winklevoss twins), I also sat in on a press conference featuring stars Hammer, Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), and writer Aaron Sorkin. Hit the jump to hear them speak about David Fincher’s meticulousness, the verisimilitude of the script, and the character of Mark Zuckerberg. Also, find out what the cast thinks of Zuckerberg’s recent $100 million donation to Newark public schools, and discover who thinks it’s “terrible” that they made a movie based on people that actually exist and are still alive.

Note: The following contain minor spoilers that I don’t think will inhibit your enjoyment of the film. Nonetheless, consider yourself warned.
What follows is a heavily edited transcript of the press conference.

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Hi, this is for any of the actors, in particular, Jesse. If you could meet Mark Zuckerburg and speak to him, what would you say to him and what would you like to know?

Jesse: I’d like to go to Johnny Rocket’s to do shakes. [laughter] No, I mean I spent six months thinking about it every day. I developed a great affection for my character and, of course, by extension, the man. I’d be very interested in meeting him. Fortunately, my first cousin Eric got a great job working at Facebook about a month before we finished shooting. Hopefully he’ll facilitate an introduction one day. I don’t know what I would say. It’s the kind of thing that, you know, you think about all the time, but then when you finally give the card to Lucy, it’d say, “Merry Christmas, Lucy” instead of “Happy Valentine’s Day”.  [laughter] I can’t imagine what that would be like.

This question is for all the actors. Do you guys know if the people you are playing have seen it yet? And if so, what’s their reaction to it?

Armie: The Winklevoss twins were actually there last night at the premiere.

Andrew: They were? I didn’t know that.

Armie:
Yeah. They were the two 6’5” identical guys. [laughter]

Andrew:
Divya Narendra was there with his dad as well, and they were both very, very sweet and generous. And they both actually…well,  all four of them, including the Winklevoss twins, seemed to really enjoy the evening. It was very odd just to see…I hadn’t met them before. I know Armie had. But yeah, it was very, very strange. That kind of reality, it kind of makes you feel terrible that we made this film, in a way. Do you know what I mean? Those people exist and their lives are being played out. But they seemed OK with it, which is, you know, strange.

Question: I couldn’t find, when I was watching the film, any clear cut good guys and bad guys. In your opinion—this question is for anybody—who is the antagonist in the story?

Aaron: You know, I’m glad that you couldn’t find a clear-cut good guy or bad guy, right, wrong, a person with the truth, a person who was lying. And the antagonist and protagonist in the story shifts as we go along. This movie, I don’t think, belongs to any particular genre. But the one that it’s most closely related to is actually courtroom drama, where we are certain of someone’s guilt or innocence at the beginning and we change our mind five times all the way through.

But strictly speaking, and again, I don’t mean to get hoity-toity on you, but in Aristotelian terms, Mark is the antihero, which actually makes him the protagonist. I’m just talking about, generally, we equate protagonist with the hero, with the good guy. That’s actually not what it means. But he spends the first hour and 55 minutes being the antihero, the final five minutes of the movie being a tragic hero…

The antagonist, again, just in purely Aristotelian terms, you know, the stuff that you learn in playwriting school, which is the person without whom the story couldn’t get going, are the Winklevosses, Sean, and even Eduardo. Which is to say simply that if nobody have ever sued Mark or Facebook, there wouldn’t be a story. That was, the protagonist and antagonist, in this case, don’t relate to good guy and bad guy.

Jesse: After thoroughly researching, and playing, and getting feedback from people about Zuckerburg, I’d like to know what your impression of him is?

Jesse: My impression is really formed more from the character. I didn’t know the real Mark Zuckerburg. I was, like everybody else, delighted to see this very generous donation he made yesterday. And, as I said, I developed a great affection over the course of filming and the course of doing the publicity tour that we’ve done. The more I think about it, the greater affection I develop. In the movie, the character that Aaron created is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have, kind of, the social wherewithal to do so. I could certainly relate to that. And it almost co-creates this incredible tool to interact in a way that he feels comfortable. And because of his incredible insight, 500 million other people also feel comfortable using that tool.

It’s just a fascinating character and complicated in all the right ways. Even though he maybe acts in a way that might be hurtful to other characters, like you indicated, it is, by the end of the movie, totally understandable.

Aaron: I just wanted to, because Mark had raised the subject of the donation that Mark had made yesterday. This has nothing to do with the movie, but I really do think that it’s worth mentioning. I know we all feel this way. We were talking about it last night. Not just us, everybody involved with the movie, everybody at Sony, everybody involved with the New York Film Festival. No sooner had it been announced that he was going to donate $100 million to the Newark public school systems, like, a lot of school systems sorely need it, that talk of cynical motives were being ascribed to it. And I just have to say that that’s wrong. He’s made…It’s a great gesture that he’s done. Surely the students, the parents, the teachers don’t care why it was done. Somebody does something like that and the only response is: “Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.” I just wanted to…I think it’s worth us, especially, coming to Mark’s side for that.

I have a question for Mr. Sorkin. I get the sense…please correct me if I’m wrong…that you and Dave Fincher are both fairly meticulous individuals. And in a recent New York Magazine profile of the film, it talked about one of the disagreements you had of what type of beer or alcohol Mark Zuckerburg should be drinking in the scene when he comes up with Facemash. So my question is, I was wondering if you could sort of talk about, generally, what your working style is. How do two people with pretty distinctive visions make it work in a collaborative environment? And also, were there any other kind of disagreements or differences between the original script and what we saw on the screen? [This question asked by yours truly]

Aaron: Part of what you just said, “how do two people with different…”, it almost sounded like the opening narration for “The Odd Couple” television show. In a lot of ways, there was a Felix and Oscar quality to us. I’m not sure which is which. David and I, at first glance, it’s not intuitively what you would think of as the right marriage of director and material. David is peerless, absolutely peerless as a visual director, and I write people talking in rooms. But David, first of all, embraced the fact that this was going to be a story told through language. But he did bring a distinct visual style to this. And he did, as a director, get sensational performances out of this very talented but young cast.

Our disagreements fell into two categories; things like the Screwdriver and the beer. Let me just parenthetically say, for anybody who doesn’t know what you are referring to, this was in Mark Harris’s New York Magazine piece that I think is out this week. We know from Marks blog, the blog that we hear early on in voiceover, after the breakup scene with Erica, that he’s drunk. He says so. He says, “I’m intoxicated.” That blog was verbatim. I excised small parts of it just to make it shorter and to make my life easier with transitions. But it was verbatim. He says, “I’m intoxicated.” So what I had written in the script was he walks into his dorm room, he turns on the computer, walks out of the frame, comes back into the frame, puts a glass down, ice gets dumped into the glass, Vodka gets poured over the ice, orange juice gets poured over the Vodka and he begins typing.

Shortly before photography began, we found out that it was a beer that he was drinking and that it was Becks. And David came to me and he said, “Hey, we’re not going to do the Screwdriver now. So Mark’s going to go to the mini-fridge in his dorm room, he’s going to pull out a beer, and he’s going to open it up.”

I said, “Come on, David. He was drunk. OK, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter how he got there. And the Vodka and orange juice is must more visually interesting to make than the beer, and it also more immediately reads as, ‘I’m trying to get drunk,’ rather than just you could drink a beer because you are thirsty or just because you are a college student.” And he said, “I don’t care. If it was Becks beer, it’s going to be Becks beer.” And that is just one very small example of how serious we were about the facts. But the fact that we know what brand of beer he was drinking on a Tuesday night in October seven years ago, when there were only three other people in the room, should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and to the event.

Other than that, it was, again, tiny things along the way. Just words, things like that. The first draft essentially turned out to be the shooting script. There were just refinements made along the way, but not the kind of “We have no third act” changes that happened in the script development process. In fact, what David was adamant about not having was a script development process. He insisted to the studio that the movie be made right away. He didn’t want to go through nine drafts and notes from the executives at the studio. They would have been very smart notes, but it would have homogenized the idiosyncratic nature of the writing, and David didn’t want to do that. So we may be Felix and Oscar, but it worked. And if I never work with another director other than David Fincher for the rest of my life, I would be very happy.

I know that, obviously, Zuckerburg didn’t cooperate and let you change the name Facebook to something else, etc, etc. But I wondered which of the other main characters, the Winkelvosses, did you have cooperation from? Reading in the New York Magazine, because I was a little bit unclear about whether Garfield’s character had cooperated, and I wondered about Sean Parker as well.

Aaron: I was very lucky. There were a number of people who were portrayed in the movie, their real-life doppelgangers were portrayed in the movie, as well as other people who aren’t in the movie but were there in the room for things happening, who did talk to me, but most of the spoke to me under the condition of anonymity, so I’m afraid I can’t clear it up anymore than I have.

Let me clear up the thing about wanting to change Harvard and Facebook. That was more of a, sort of, comic, overarching thing. Elliot Schrage is the Director of Communications for Facebook. He was the one Scott was negotiating. Scott said, “What would it take to get you to cooperate with us?” He said, “Don’t set it at Harvard and don’t call it Facebook.” In other words, “We’ll help you out if you write fiction, but we’re not going to help you out telling the true story.

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Aaron, you said that you write people sitting in rooms talking. How do you make that dynamic for the screen? And as a follow-up to Jesse, that first scene is patently Aaron Sorkin. Can you tell us about tackling it?

Aaron: Well, I do it because they are not sitting in rooms talking; they are standing in rooms talking. [laughter]  OK? And that’s how I infuse it with a Michael Bay type energy. [laughter] I got a lot of help from the actors and the director making it visually interesting. But, you know, I just love the sound of dialogue. My parents took me to plays starting when I was very little, and, oftentimes, too little to understand what the play was about, like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” when I was eight years old; things like that.

And because I didn’t understand the story, what was going on on the stage, I fell in love with the sound of dialogue. It sounded like music to me. And I wanted to imitate that sound when I wrote. So I like dialogue that sounds like something. I also like…you referred to the first scene, and I appreciate the compliment. I wanted to start out at 100 miles an hour in the middle of a conversation so that the audience would have to run a little bit suddenly just to keep up with us. Just doing that gives the impression of rapid forward motion in the thing.

And then David comes along for sequences like the one that follows, where Mark is hacking…blogging, drinking, hacking, creating Facemash. Facemash goes viral, all the while cutting back and forth to this party that is in, Mark’s mind, maybe all of our minds, as that incredible party that we never get invited to. And David shot it and cut it, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored it like it was a bank robbery; like it was an action sequence. So it’s things like that that make it feel the way you wanted it to feel, and I appreciate the compliment.

Jesse: I saw the movie for the first time last night and had the same reaction to the first scene that I had when I first read Aaron’s script, even though I knew the scene so intimately, which was that after two or three minutes into the scene, you realize that it’s not going to end and it’s such a wonderful surprise, because you just don’t see scenes not only of that nuance and complexity in movies, but of that length as well. And for an actor, that’s kind of what you want. That’s what’s really thrilling about working with a script like Aaron’s. Kind of an interesting anecdote, and we’ve been talking a lot about this, is that David Fincher does a lot of takes. We performed that scene 99 times. He refused to do it the extra time to get an even 100.

Aaron: We begged him. [laughter]

Jesse: And it was just really exciting. It was shot on the third day of the shoot, and it was exciting for me to kind of figure out who Mark is and have two nights…we shot it across two nights…to kind of experiment with the character. You know, how detached is he? How is he affected by what she’s saying? And, by extension, how is he affected in general by conflict? And it was wonderful to have the luxury of the two nights to film such an exciting scene.

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Andrew, could you talk about your connection with Jesse, and do you have anything coming out in the future?

Andrew: [laughs] Very good, very good. My connection with Jesse, I can talk about that for days, and weeks, and months, and years.

Justin
: You probably shouldn’t.

Andrew: No, but I will! No, I mean, you know, we…there were some subconscious forces happening as we were kind of going in this, kind of, rehearsal process. And maybe it was pouring just from my own perspective, but, you know, my subconscious knew that I had to fall in love with him and see him as a brother, and have a genuine love for him. It was very easy to project on such a, kind of, innocent face. [laughter] And innocent soul. And it was really lovely to…It’s so weird and awkward saying this [laughs] right here with you! But I’m going to keep going! [laughter]

Jesse:
I can leave.

Andrew: No, stay, stay. You need to hear this. No, I mean yeah, it was great. And, you know, I’ve been a fan of Jesse as an actor ever since I saw “The Squid and the Whale”. And, you know, it was just a wonderful thing to be able to have a genuine connection with someone and allow that to bleed into not being filmed and allow everything to just kind of bleed in through. We’d share [breakfast] together in the morning. We’d eat Lobster in Boston, crab in Baltimore. [laughs] Wherever we were…

Jesse: Shellfish.

Andrew:
Wherever we were we would have the shellfish of that specific area of the United States. You know, little things like that. Yeah, it was just really a fun thing. And the second part of the question…[laughs] Yeah, no, I’m going to be Spiderman. [laughter]

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For everyone on the panel, Mr. Fincher is known for doing a lot of takes. What’s the least amount of takes you had to do, the most amount of takes you had to do, and what was your reaction seeing the film for the first time?

Armie: I don’t remember the most amount of takes. I think that’s the kind of thing you block out psychologically so you can kind of get through the day. I do remember there was one day when we shot 46 takes of the long walk-and-talk before Fincher said, “Cut. Print. Take that one. Erase all the ones before it. Shoot it again.”

Justin: Yeah, that was sort of David’s process, obviously. I’m sure, you know, he didn’t do that on film, ’cause he couldn’t. But working digitally in this film, that’s what David would do. It was almost like he would use the first 20-25 as if they were rehearsal. And if something good came out of it, it was more of a fluke in his mind than what he was trying to get. So you would literally get to the 25th, 26th take and he would say, “OK, great. Print that…” Like Armie said, he would say, “Print that and erase all the rest.” And it was immediate, and you were kind of, “We-, we-, well, really? You are going to…? OK.”

Armie: “There’s gotta be something in there we can use!”

Justin: “All right, cool, so we’re starting over…” And again, I can’t stress, and I’m pretty sure this is a collective feeling, that is was very freeing. While feeling like you were running wind sprints, which turned into a marathon, it was very freeing to be a part of that process, because you felt like after you sort of got used to the fact that that was what he was doing, you felt less, you know…He made a statement yesterday that didn’t cross my mind, that the money for this film went into the time for us to make this film. And Andrew commented on it yesterday, and I couldn’t agree more that how amazing that is for a director to say, “I want time for my actors to act and for me to watch them act, for me to direct them.”

He is…he’s one of the most brave directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with in that way. But I will say this as well. He does not get bored easily. And when I say easily, I mean at all. He is…every take he would find something that is so specific…the specificity of his direction, ever take, there was no question in your mind, he was trying to get you to accomplish what he wanted to see through your character.

I’ve never seen someone so hyper smart and multitasking. To watch him direct the camera operator, Jesse, and then myself, and then have the set design come in and move the blinds an inch because they weren’t shielding what he wanted shield…the light angle. There was a 25 minute session where the blinds were moved back and forth. “OK, stop! OK, stop! OK, stop!” I was like, “What…angle of light is he trying to accomplish?” But I saw that part and I was like, “Wow, those blinds look really good in the film.” [laughter] But no, I just think that we were all so free to just get it out on the floor and mess it up to find what was great about the dynamic between all of these young brilliant minds that we were playing, and to have that many takes. So it was amazing.

Aaron: I think what Justin just said is true and then some. But it wouldn’t have been able to happen if…Our producer is Scott Rudin, who I think is the best producer, both in films and on Broadway, who is alive right now. And I can make a very strong argument that he’s the best producer who has ever been alive. As an example, all of what Justin just talked about simply would not have been possible if Scott…and this is just only a small part of his job, the first and, from my end, the most important part of his job was being my script editor on the movie. You know, I wrote the draft, then I came to New York and I worked in Scott’s office every morning refining the script for…we spent a couple weeks doing that before delivering it to Sony. But none of what Justin just described would have been possible if Scott hadn’t gone to Andy Pascal and Sony and said, “This is what’s needed to do this movie right. There’s no point in doing the movie if we’re not going to do it right, so spend the extra money so that we can do it right.” And Scott gets listened to.

Jesse:
Well, you know, we are asked about the great amount of takes almost as though the actors are in opposition to doing that. And, you know, every actor I know would stay there all day if there was more film in the camera. The alternative is sitting in the trailer. [laughter] So this movie was…you know, it was absolutely a blessing to do it. And we’re all thrilled for the amount of time we were able to spend actually acting.

Armie: And even the more time that we get being directed by someone like David Fincher.

Justin:
I was thinking of actually having a normal sized trailer. We all had like just little cubbyholes. That’s the reason we liked to stay on set.

Aaron: Yeah, David didn’t believe in any of the frills or bells and whistles of a movie set. You know, usually the set is filled with the directors’ chairs, and it has your name on it, it’s got the logo from the movie. On this movie you sat on the floor when you weren’t working. There is usually a big craft service table with all kinds of food all day long; snacks that keep changing. I personally, during the shooting of a movie, I like to stand right by the craft service table. It’s my little spot. This was a craft service table with like a mini snack pack of Doritos and a thing of Red Vine’s. And there was water someplace if you wanted it, like, out of a water cooler. That was it. David doesn’t like to spend money if it doesn’t go on screen.

For Jesse and Aaron, Mark Zuckerburg is still pretty young. And in this movie’s case, he’s even younger….But in this case, you are kind of putting together what might be the definitive portrait of the guy when he’s got 75 years of his life ahead of him. Is there kind of a sense of duty or anxiety building this character when he is as young as he is?

Aaron: Yes. Anytime you write nonfiction about someone who’s still very much alive, and a nonfiction movie, which just makes a very loud cymbal crash around the world, a cannon shot that’s hard to ignore, it’s the thing that’s probably going to give most people their impression of a person or an event. You are very aware that you have two important things in your hand. You have history and you have someone’s life.
So first, do no harm. You don’t want to play it fast and loose with the truth. You don’t want to mess around with anything. Look, there have been conflicting versions of the truth about this story ever since the event happened, up to and including, and well beyond those two lawsuits, which both reached the deposition phase, where the defendant, the plaintiff, the witnesses all came into the deposition rooms, all swore out an oath and ended up with three very different versions of the story.

I did not pick one version and decide, “I think that’s the truth, so I’ll dramatize that,” or pick another version and decide, “I think that’s the sexiest and the juiciest, so I’ll dramatize that.” What I liked was that there were three different and oftentimes conflicting versions of the story. So I wanted to present that Rashomon type thing. I think that if I were Facebook, if I were Mark, I would want the story only told from my point of view. But it’s told from Mark’s point of view as well as the points of view of the people who were suing him. And that said, I would never be unfair to anyone, whether they were a billionaire or a pauper. I don’t think we are unfair to anyone in this movie. I think everyone gets their say. And I think by the end of the movie you want to give Mark a hug.

Disclosure: Sony paid for my travel and accommodations. Incidentally, my review for The Social Network was written before I was asked to attend the junket.

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