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Inventing Facebook

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Sorkin, though, was relieved that the talks failed. “I completely understand” Zuckerberg’s decision not to make himself available, he says. “And more than understand it, I’ll be honest—I’m grateful. We wanted to be able to say we tried really hard, and we did. But we did not want Mark participating, because we did not want to give the sense that this was a Facebook-endorsed movie, a puff piece of some kind.” Sorkin had had some experience with a real-life subject looking over the shoulders of filmmakers and saying “But that’s not how it happened,” on 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War, and didn’t particularly relish another round. This time, he wanted freedom—whether it was the latitude to portray Larry Summers (then Harvard’s president) as the embodiment of witheringly imperious contempt in one scene that takes an especially acrobatic leap into speculative fiction, or to present his version of Zuckerberg, his way. “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling,” Sorkin says, blithely tossing potential critics a couple of hundred rounds of free ammo. “I feel like, had I met Mark, I would have felt a certain obligation to make the character sound like Mark, walk like Mark, all of those things. And frankly, I probably would have had an affection for him that I wouldn’t have wanted to betray.”

Sorkin had an ally in Fincher, a director who, at 48, has amassed an impressive and adult body of work, from Fight Club to Se7en to Benjamin Button, but who has not, until now, taken on such a densely spoken movie. “I think telling a good story is always an interesting directorial challenge,” he says. “I read it and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so much how I feel about the notion of the Internet, and about the loneliness that characterizes much of modern interpersonal communication.’ It was an amazing idea—Harvard, this 300-year-old institution built by people who understood business and innovation—and then, this new paradigm where somebody goes, ‘If I’ve got a DSL and enough Red Bull, I can prototype this thing!’ ”

Sorkin’s shooting script was 162 pages—a screenplay that, using normal one-page-equals-one-minute Hollywood calculus, would have yielded a two-hour-and-42-minute film instead of the one Fincher made, which clocks in at a fleet two hours, not including closing credits. After Sony looked at the draft and told them they’d have to cut the script, Fincher says he and Sorkin went back to his office, “and I took out my iPhone and put the little stopwatch on and handed the script to Aaron and said, ‘Start reading.’ He was done in an hour and 59 minutes. I called the studio back and said, ‘No, we can do this. If we do it the way Aaron just spoke it, it’ll be two hours.”

The film is uniquely Sorkinian: an earnest, unsparing exploration of “What exactly does it mean to be an asshole?”

Sorkin’s and Fincher’s confidence was boosted when they watched Jesse Eisenberg’s audition. Eisenberg, 26, who has become, in The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland, and Adventureland, something of a specialist in motor-mouthed, sharp-minded, neurotic young men, put himself on a QuickTime video reading a scene as Zuckerberg. Sorkin’s characters, says Fincher, “are people who need to work their way through the kelp beds of their own thought processes on their way to the exact idea they’ve been trying to find.” And Eisenberg was “the first person who could do Sorkin better than Sorkin. He can just flat-out fly. You can see in his eyes that he’s searching for the best way to articulate something in the middle of articulating two other things.”

Eisenberg, who, even off-camera, sounds like someone who was fashioned from one of Sorkin’s ribs, says he hasn’t watched television in ten years, but before that, he’d been an avid fan of Sports Night. Other actors, however, didn’t find those familiar rhythms until they were in the presence of the screenwriter. When Justin Timberlake, who plays an impish, diabolical version of Napster founder and early Facebook partner Sean Parker, auditioned, he read opposite Sorkin, who was playing the role of Zuckerberg. “It was awesome,” says Timberlake. “Aaron writes like he speaks, so when you say his words, you hear his voice in your head a little, dry and witty. And in the audition, when I heard him say his words, I thought, Oh, so that’s how fast this screenplay of 100,000 pages is gonna go by!

Before production on the nearly $40 million film began in October 2009, Fincher steered his cast members away from any impulse to try to contact their real-life counterparts. Other than Timberlake, who had chatted with Parker briefly when he was in contention for the role, the actors never met the men they were playing, and that’s the way the director wanted it. “Fincher was adamant about us playing what was in this script,” says Armie Hammer, who does double duty as both Winklevosses. “He didn’t want us to meet the real people and come back saying, ‘No, no, they say it happened completely differently; we have to do it like this!’ ”


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