Monday, July 6, 2009

The Social Network (Facebook Movie)

Genre: Drama
Premise: A look at the rise of Facebook and the effect it's had on its founders.
About: Aaron Sorkin was commissioned by Sony and producer Scott Rudin to write a movie about Facebook based on the book, "The Accidental Billionaires." Interestingly, Sorkin had little to no knowledge of Facebook when he got the job. He's self-proclaimed computer ignorant, which makes some of the scenes in the script all the more remarkable. It's been highly publicized that David Fincher is interested in taking over the reigns for the project. David, if you're listening to me now, you can make this film. But please make Passengers first.
Writer: Aaron Sorkin (1st Draft)

First of all, Sony's a little late to the party. There's already a Facebook movie in production. And I have the exclusive first look!

I think it goes without saying that as soon as Facebook supplanted Myspace as the de facto online time-wasting mechanism, the studios were looking for ways to profit off of it. So they paid Aaron Sorkin 6.2 bajillion dollars to write "the Facebook movie". An epic story that would capture the drama of late-night status updates, the power of the poke, who and who not to limit profile access to, and of course, the all important and always necessary "delete friend" feature. Okay, well, maybe it wouldn't be about those things per se. But it would be about computers and software and code and snobby rich kids. Still not exactly the seeds of compelling drama. Which is exactly why Sony decided on Sorkin to tend the garden.

I have it on good authority that this is Aaron Sorkin's official Facebook picture.

So back in the day I used to work for this producer. He was new to Hollywood - Three years prior he'd created some hot piece of software that sold for a fortune. This left him with a ton money at a very young age and when you're young and rich, what do you do? You make movies! He was actually a fun guy to work with. Even though he didn't know a lot, he was smart enough to pick things up quickly. Raised on the first two seasons of Entourage, he liked living the Hollywood life just as much as he liked working in it. So a year into our relationship, he invited me to one of his lavish house parties. It was everything you'd imagine a party in the Hills to be. A lot of great-looking people, pool shenanigans, multiple bars, an overly energetic DJ (this is not me bragging btw; Culver City is much more my scene). As I was taking in the chaos, however, I noticed this quiet little fashion-challenged 30-something in the corner. He had this detached quality to him, like he was at the party but he wasn't. Whatever his story was, I knew it had to be a lot more interesting than the last ten people I talked to (French Guy: "I'm directing this commercial in Germany." Me: "Oh yeah? What for?" French Guy: "I cannot talk about it.") So I made my way over and casually introduced myself. After some small talk I asked him, "So who do you know here?" "Oh," he said, "The owner of the house." "Yeah?" I asked. "How?" "I'm his brother."

This answer was quite puzzling. I had known this producer for over a year and we'd had thousands of conversations but he had never mentioned a brother. I continued to pry and the brother told me the story I'm telling you now: He and the producer co-founded the software company together. The first year was the best year of their lives. They didn't make a cent but they were doing what they loved and they were doing it together. Then the company started experiencing success. That success led to more success and within a matter of months they were making millions of dollars. The company's next steps were critical in determining how big they'd become. Millions of dollars were at stake. The brothers could not agree on a direction though. The producer wanted to grow as fast as possible (more money). The brother wanted to retain the quality of the company and slow down (less money). Things got so bad that in the end, the producer, who had a slight majority in the company, fired his brother. The brother told me he hadn't spoken to him in over 2 years and that these parties were the only times he got to see him (he was never invited. He just showed up). Although he now had more money than he had ever dreamed of, he said if he could do it all over again, he never would've started that company. Two things came out of that night. One, I'll never forget the sadness in that man's eyes. And two, I never looked at money the same way again.

Naturally, all of this came roaring back to me after reading "The Social Experiment." Instead of a story about brothers though, this is a story about two friends - one a computer genius, the other a business expert - who began a website that became the fastest growing phenomenon in internet history. Three years later, one was suing the other for 600 million dollars (or 1/30th of Mark Zuckerberg's worth). It's a story about greed, about obsession, about our belief that all the money in the world can make us happy. But it's also unpredictable, funny, touching, and sad. It gives us that rare glimpse into the improbable world of mega-success.

We start out in a campus bar with a young couple. The guy is Mark Zuckerberg, a slightly cooler Bill Gates. The girl is Erica, his girlfriend. The two are having a conversation. Actually, they're having five conversations because Mark can't focus on one thing. He'll occasionally backtrack into a previous conversation within the flow of the current conversation, all while preparing for the next conversation. He's clearly smart as hell, but the habit makes him incredibly annoying. Add a side of selfishness and an order of condescension and we can see why Erica becomes more frustrated the longer the conversation continues. Mark is so into his own problems, in fact, that he's completely blindsinded when Erica breaks up with him.

Zuckerberg sporting the sandals.

Convincing himself that he could care less, Mark heads back to his Harvard dorm to do what any computer nerd does when he gets dumped by a girl he never should've landed in the first place. He starts blogging about it! "Blah blah blah, Erica's the biggest bitch whore in the world..." But the dumping ignites Mark's imagination and he comes up with an idea for a website - a sort of "Hot or Not" which allows Harvard guys to compare Harvard women against each other. His best friend Eduardo pops in to help him and they have the site live in less than an hour. Within half an hour after that, the site is so popular, it takes down the entire Harvard computer network. Though he manages to piss off a number of faculty (and Harvard women), Mark earns some ivy league street cred and makes a name for himself (not easy to do on the hallowed Harvard grounds).

The stunt also brings Mark to the attention of Cameron and Tyler: two extremely rich and handsome brothers who are star members of the Harvard row team. Impressed by his creativity and speed, they want him to code their new website - an exclusive Harvard "Myspace-like" network. Mark digs the idea and agrees to help. Over the next month, however, he starts dreaming up his own variation of the site: a social networking experience built on exclusivity. His site would work like real life. Someone could only know your personal details if they were friends with you (unlike Myspace which at the time let anybody know anything about anyone). An exclusive network of friends. He called it "TheFacebook."

He and his best friend Eduardo come up with the plan - Mark is geek patrol and glues his fingers to the keyboard, Eduardo is business-central and plots the site's future. The coding wizard needs less than a month to build the site. It goes live a few days later and takes off like a Malibu brush fire. Within weeks everyone at Harvard's using it. Cameron and Tyler, still in the dark about Mark's secondary endeavor, are eagerly awaiting their website code. Imagine their surprise when "theFacebook" shows up on every desktop in school. They demand Mark shut down the site but Mark's already onto the next conversation. He expands into other Ivy league schools and continues to improve the interface. The success is both exciting and terrifying. Eduardo wants to be cautious and look for ways to monetize the site. Mark wants to grow and add more features.

It was only by chance then, that such a crucial juncture in the website's existence fell upon the end of the school year. Eduardo had to go back to New York for an internship. Mark flew to Norcal to rub elbows with Silicon Valley. Little did either of them know that Mark was about to meet someone who would completely change the game.

Maybe you remember the name "Sean Parker", maybe you don't. Parker is the late-nineties time capsule that blew the music industry wide open, exposing their ridiculous CD markups when he co-founded Napster. When Parker falls into Sorkin's mini-opus, it was like finding some old 8mm film with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis hanging out. You had no idea these guys knew each other! Parker, who at this point had lost every single penny to the record companies, was so poor he was couch-surfing between friends' apartments. When he sees his ladyfriend playing on this new weird site, "theFacebook," it's as if his world's been turned upside-down. He calls Mark and Eduardo asking for a meeting right away. A week later they meet at some swanky New York restaurant. Parker arrives a good half an hour late, and even without a penny to his name, rides in with the confidence of ten Michael Bay's. He explains to them that he doesn't want to crash their party or pitch them anything. He just wants to let them know how awesome they are. With that remark, he's got places to be, so he's up and gone as fast as he came, but not before casually dropping a suggestion: "Drop the "the" and just call it "Facebook." "It's cleaner," Once gone, Eduardo turns to Mark. "What a douchebag," Eduardo's eyes say. But Mark's googly giddy expression tells a different story. He's a 13 year girl at her first Jonas Brothers concert. A mancrush is born.

Sean Parker

Needless to say, Parker *did* want to crash the party. He just wanted to make sure Mark's parents weren't around (Eduardo) when he showed up with the keg. With Eduardo back in NY, Parker made his pitch: "What are you doing with that guy?" he demanded. "He's holding you back." The more Parker points out how little Eduardo is doing, the more things Mark gives Parker to do. And to Parker's credit, he gets things done. Working for free, he takes Facebook international within three weeks. Mark eventually hires Sean without telling Eduardo, giving him a 5% stake in the company. When Eduardo finds out about the tomfoolery, he makes a bold statement and freezes the company bank account, potentially putting Facebook in major jeopardy. It's the last straw. Mark and Parker trick Eduardo into signing a contract that screws him out of hundreds of millions of dollars, effectively firing him. In the process, a friendship is destroyed.

The script ends with a chilling and heartbreaking scene. It's 3 years later, with Mark being sued by Eduardo, Tyler and Cameron, for the full 16 billion dollars the company is worth. We've been cutting back and forth to this deposition over the course of the screenplay, and now the long day has ended. Mark sits alone in a dark room, in front of his computer, all the money in the world and not one true friend to show for it. Looking back to the last time he was happy - his relationship with Erica - he pulls up Facebook, the site he invented, slides the mouse up to "add friend" and sends her a friend request. Afterwards, despite the millions of daily operations requiring his attention at that moment, he waits for her to accept. He'll wait forever if he has to.

Cameron and Tyler

The script is sprinkled with a lot more humor than I expected - to the point where I wondered if it should be classified as a comedy. What's wonderful is that all of it works. Those unoriginal moments you've seen in every comedy spec written in the past year (including my own), where couples are arguing over Facebook-related issues (Girlfriend: "Why does your relationship status say you're single??") Well Sorkin uses them too. The only difference is that it's happening to the inventors of Facebook. And so the unoriginal becomes original, the stuid becomes hilarious. -- And don't get me started on Sean Parker - a character that can become iconic if the film is made. The brash techy rock star revels in his own ego, and is a key player in why Facebook is on our computers today (Parker ended up selling his portion of the company for - I believe - a couple hundred million dollars).

Part of my love for this 162 page script is that Sorkin doesn't use any discernible structure. I was constantly looking for a base, an obvious story or goal. And there isn't any. 99% of the time when this happens, the script's a disaster (don't try it. just, don't) But Sorkin uses some crazy unknown voodoo screenwriting tricks to keep us riveted. In the end, our curiosity is what drives the story as we're wondering if Sean - who's already sacrificed his personal life - will end up getting sacrificed out of a business as well. Did he indeed steal this idea from Cameron and Tyler? Or are these two spoiled brats lashing out because they can't handle the one time things didn't go their way?

The Social Network is a either a modern tragedy or a modern success story depending on how you look at it. Imagine going from nothing to a billionaire in less than a year. How do you even grasp that kind of success? How do you live a normal life? How do you address the constant lawsuits that eat into your everyday existence? And how do you do this at 22 years old? When I was 22, just scraping together enough money to buy a case of Busch Light Draft was a victory. Either way it's fun to put yourself in Mark's shoes and picture how you'd handle the situation.

I'm sure my attempts to grow Scriptshadow made this read a little more personal. And remembering that lonely brother at the party stirred up some emotions as well. Either way, this script really resonated with me. Which is why it makes it into my Top 10.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Be inventive in how you reveal character. I loved Sean Parker in this script. Sorkin gives Parker this quirky little obsession with an old business associate who fucked him over during his Napster days. Parker has a stalker-like obsession with getting back at him and brings up his revenge plans at every opportunity. Not only is it hilarious, but it reveals Parker's character. It takes a certain kind of person who can't let go - who will stop at nothing to even the score. Basically: an insecure asshole. Normally, a writer will reveal an asshole by having him yell at someone else. How interesting is that? Take a cue from Sorkin and build a little obsession (or other quirk/habit) into your character - something that tells us exactly who they are.