Without question, for the past week there has been no escaping Sony’s The Social Network. David Fincher’s exploration of the controversial origins of Facebook is a shining accomplishment of filmmaking and is already getting loads of Oscar buzz. There was subtle electricity in the air at the Harvard Club in New York City when stars Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took the stage to answer questions about the bold movie and we’re bringing you the entire conference today!
Read on below for the complete transcript, in which Eisenberg talks about his fascination with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Timberlake talks about meeting Napster creator Sean Parker and Sorkin defines Aristotelian writing.
Q: I believe you delivered one of the best lines in the movie, if you could please talk about that line and about Mr. Sorkin’s dialogue and how great it was to utter his words. And Mr Sorkin if you could talk about that specific line.
Hammer: It was a treat to be given words like Aaron wrote and kind of make them your own and bring them to life. It was like be given a beautiful piano concerto, you knew if you played it right it would have that musicality to it. If you dropped one word or one syllable it would lose that musicality to it. It was something we were all trying to live by. It was a treat to have his words.
Sorkin: And you know, I thought Armie was terrific. There’s a temptation of lesser actors when they see a line like that to just over swing. This is a line and I’m just going to crush it and by doing that they’re going to stomp on it. And Armie and no one here had that temptation and that’s just great actor’s instincts.
Q: If you could meet and go out to eat with Mark Zuckerburg what would you say to him and where would you go? Second question to Aaron if you could talk a little about getting an award for your acting and who would you like to present it?
Sorkin: Thank you, finally. (laughs)
Eisenberg: I’d like to go to Johnny Rockets, they have good shakes. I’ve spent about 6 months thinking about him everyday, developing quite an affection for the character and by extension the man and I’d be very interested in meeting him. Fortunately my first cousin Erik got a great job at Facebook. I don’t know if when we finish shooting that he’ll facilitate an introduction. I don’t know what I’d say, its the kind of thing that I think about all the time but still when you finally get the card to him it says Merry Christmas instead of Happy Valentine’s day. So I can’t imagine what that’d be like.
Sorkin: This is a movie about an ad executive who meets real people. I did have a lot of work with Andrew and Jesse and when the camera was turned around and on me and I could just see it in their eyes they had this look like “it’s not so easy is it?” But David just said to me “you’re going to play the ad executive” and i said “come on David, let’s see some real actors do it” and he said “no, you’re going to do it and that is that.” I think we didn’t do that many takes. I think I nailed it? But thank you for asking, I think my performance is greatly overlooked.
Q: Since you gentleman have been thinking about and hopefully obsessing about social networks and Facebook. Can you talk about a little about why you think people are obsessed with social networks? Why they do join Facebook? Why it has 500 million members? For better or for worse, I know Aaron you broke your obsession and closed your account, I know a lot of us don’t do that, I’d like to hear your thoughts on why you did that.
Timberlake: It was fun to watch the film. There are so many scenes that get shot without certain actors in the scene. And there’s a line that Jesse’s character says about being in ‘a final club, you are the president and its a party and you’re throwing it.’ I think that’s kind of the intrigue about having your own Facebook page and profile and you create it and its your own world, i would assume its like that. As we’ve been promoting the film I get the idea collectively that none of us are really that savvy using Facebook or running our social network. I would think that would be the intrigue and I think that what makes the film so intriguing and the bigger picture if you zoom out is that I think social networking in general is still a hypothesis and people ask the question and they ask it more and more and they ask it to people like us. And I don’t know why they expect an answer because I’m ridiculously stupid when it comes to social networking but I think the hypothesis is still is it a good thing or a bad thing? I think there’s always a medium that we push to show how human we are, how kind and cruel we are. The accessibility and instant gratification of having all your photos and profiles lined up. And that’s probably what makes Facebook or any other social network so great to people. I think that’s the intrigue if its going to create great things in the world or are we going to waste away with it and i think that’ll get people in the theater.
Q: Do you guys know if the people you play in the movie have seen it and if so, what’s their reaction to it?
Hammer: The Winklevoss twins were there last night and the premier.
Eisenberg: How’d you know that?
Hammer: They were the two 6’5” guys.
Eisenberg: Oh, I didn’t see them.
Hammer: I mean, they seemed pumped to be there.
Garfield: I do know Divya Narendra was there with his dad as well and they were very sweet and generous. They all seemed to enjoy the evening and it was very odd to see them, I hadn’t met them. it was very very strange that kind of reality, it kind of makes you feel terrible that we made this movie because these people exists and there lives are being played out. But they seemed ok, which is strange.
Sorkin: The real ad executive was there last night.
Q: I couldn’t find any clear cut good guys/bad guys in the film, who is the antagonist in this film?
Sorkin: I’m glad that you couldn’t find a clear cut good guy bad guy, right or wrong, a person who is lying. And the antagonist and protagonist in the story shift as we go along. This movie doesn’t belong to any particlular genre. The one that its most closely related to is court room drama where we are certain of someone’s guilt or innocence at the beginning and we change our minds 5 times on the way through. But strictly speaking, and I don’t mean to get hoity toity on you, but in Aristotelian terms, Mark is an anti-hero which actually makes him the protagonist and generally you put the protagonist with the hero but thats not what it means. He spends the first hour and 55 minutes being the anti-hero and the last five minutes as a tragic hero. Which means he has paid a price and experiencing remorse. The antagonist and just in purely Aristotelian terms, and this is stuff you learn in playwriting school, is the person without whom the story couldn’t get going are the Wishcovasses, Sean, and Eduardo. Which is to say that if no one had ever sued Mark or Facebook there wouldn’t be a story. The protagonist and antagonist in this case don’t relate to good guy and bad guy.
Q: Jesse, doing your researching and playing and getting your feedback about Mark Zuckerberg, what is your impression of him? And Justin I know you said you’re not that into computers but what is your obsession and how do you spend time?
Eisenberg: My impression of him is more from the character, I don’t know the real Mark Zuckerberg. I, like everyone, was delighted to see his very generous donation made yesterday. As I said I developed a great affection over the course of filming and even over the course of this publicity tour we’ve done I’ve been asked that. The more I think about it the greater affection I develope. you know in the movie the character that Aaron created is a guy who is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have the social where withal to do so. I can certainly relate to that. And almost to cope he creates this incredible tool to interact in a way he feel comfortable and because of his incredible insight, 500 million other people want to use the tool as well. It’s just a fascinating character and complicated in all the right ways. You don’t even know, he might act in a way that hurts other characters. Its by the end of the movie totally understandable.
Sorkin: I just wanted to say, because Jesse raised the subject of the donation Mark made, and I really do think its nothing to do with the movie. I really do think its worth mentioning and I know we all feel this way because we talked about it last night. Everybody involved with the movie, everybody at Sony, everbody at NYFF, no sooner had it been announced that he was going to donate 100 million to the newark public school system and since a lot of public school systems need it, a lot of talk of cynical motives were being ascribed to it and I just have to say that it’s wrong. He’s made a great gesture. Surely the students, the teachers, the parents don’t care why it was done. Someone does something like that, the only response is thank you sir, thank you very much. I think its very worth us coming to Mark’s side about that.
Timberlake: You wanted to know about my online obsession? You really want to know about that? It’s really not that interesting. I’m not obsessed. I’m happy to say I’m three years clean.
Q: I get the sense, and please correct me if i’m wrong, that you and David Fincher are both fairly meticulous individuals. And in a recent NY Magazine profile of the film it talked about one of the disagreements you had about what type of alcohol the Mark Zuckerberg character should be drinking when he created Facemash. If you could talk about your working style, how do two people with specific visions make it work in a collaborative environment? Also if there are any other disagreements between the script and what we saw on screen?
Sorkin: The part you just said, how do two people with two different opinions, almost sounded like the opening narration for the Odd Couple, the television show. In a lot of ways there was a Felix and Oscar quality to it, I’m not sure which is which. Its not, David and I, at first glance intuitively as the right marriage between director and material. David is peerless as a visual director and I write through talking. but David, first of all, embraced the fact that this story will be told through language but he did bring a distinct visual style to this and he did as a director get sensational performances from 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 anyone who doesn’t know what you’re referring to, in Mark Harris’ New York Magazine’s piece, we know from Mark’s blog, this is early on in the plot we hear in voice over after the break up 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 more easier with transitions but it was verbatim he says “I’m intoxicated” so what I’ve written in the script was that 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 is dumped into the glass while he gets orange juice and poured over the vodka and he begins typing. Shortly before photography began we found out it was a beer he was drinking and it was Beck’s. David came to me and he said “Hey we’re not going to do the screwdriver now so Mark’s going to go the mini fridge in his dormroom and he’s gonna have a beer and open it up” and I said “Come on David, he was drunk, that’s all that matter, doesn’t matter how he got there and the orange juice vodka is more visually interesting to make than the beer and also immediately reads as I’m trying to get drunk rather than just you drink a beer because you’re thirsty or just because you’re a college student.” And he said “I don’t care. If it was Becks beer its gonna be Beck’s beer.” And that is 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 would just be refinements along the way. but not the kind like “we have no third act” changes that happened in the script development process. 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’ve been very smart notes but it would have homogenized the idiosyncratic nature of the writing and David would not 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.
Q: Justin, unlike the case with Jesse and Mark, I understand you did get to meet Sean Parker. I wonder how that went and whether you gained anything from it.
Timberlake: I briefly bumped into him, here in New York one time. But we spoke for probably all of two minutes. And ironically I met him before I was cast in the role, there was probably a three week period where one of the parts of the zeitgeist that is the internet there was a three week period where I was going through an audition process that had been announced that I was going to play the role. So I went through a three week period where I was thinking “Dammit, I better get this role because everyone thinks I’m playing it.” No, I’m kidding. but I met him before I was cast in the role in the movie and we met briefly and he seemed very nice but we didn’t really talk about much. He mentioned he had read the script and he thought I was going to be playing the part but I wasn’t so that was awkward. He seemed like a nice guy. We said hello, it was in passing, I was leaving and he was arriving.
Q: Justin, great performance, there’s tons of Oscar buzz for you, what would that mean to you? What difference do you get –
Timberlake: Why did you just say that? (laughs)
Q: What kind of feeling do you get from acting that you don’t from music?
Timberlake: Why would you say that? (laughs) I’ll give you an example of one of the first conversations I had in private with David Fincher about making this film and his process. Obviously I have spent a lot of time on stage and the rehearsal process for getting ready for a tour is that of, that alone is probably like writing a screenplay and putting together the shot sheets and putting together stage production probably takes on our tour takes about 10 months from concept to actually getting to the first show. So its very similar here and you have a very long long time out. Methodical rehearsal process because you only get one take, for instance you step up on stage and you get one pass at it and it has to be something that has been work shopped in front of different types of crowds that you trust. So cut to my conversation with David and he came in and said “I know that you probably like to get your performance all together because of your instinctive nature coming from stage and I want you to know that I’ll try to be cognizant of you starting to grow tired of how many takes I like to do.” I stopped him right there and said, I want you to know that I used a really crappy sports analogy and said, “On a football team I wasn’t going to be a whiny wide receiver that I came into this movie completely knowing my role, excited about it.” I thought more of myself as a linebacker that if he wanted me to hit, I’d make a hit. I’d do it 98, 99 times. I find the actual method of it all they’re staggered in how the whole thing is created. But it really is a different process. Its more collaborative. Everything I put together on stage, I’m sort of the buck. Everything starts with me and I do have to instinctively trust what you’re doing as much as everyone is offering things up to you. But to get to toss the ball around with such great actors its a completely different fulfilling collaborative creative experience and to have the freedom and go in and mess it up for 97 takes and get to the 98th and its good. David says we’re moving on. I think we’re all wanting to please David and if we all did that we’re all satisfied with our performance.
Q: Obviously Mark Zuckerberg didn’t cooperate because you guys wouldn’t change the name of facebook to something else, etc. Which of the other main characters didn’t have your cooperation? Reading the NY Mag it was unclear about whether Garfield’s character cooperated and whether Sean Parker did or not?
Sorkin: I was very lucky, there were a number of people who were portrayed in the movie, their real life doppelgangers who were portrayed in the movie as well 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 them spoke on the condition of anonymity but I’m afraid I can’t clear it up any more than I have. Let me clear up the thing about one of the things about James Carver and Facebook. That is more of a sort of overarching thing, another Scott Reid, the director of communications at Facebook, he was the one Scott was negotiating with. Scott said “What would it take to get you to cooperate with us?” He said “Don’t set it at Harvard and dont 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.
Q: You said that you write people sitting in a room talking, how do you make that dynamic for the screen? To Jesse – that first scene is so patently? and absorbent? Can you talk about tapping into that?
Sorkin: Well, I do it because they’re not sitting in a room talking, they’re standing in a room talking. That’s how I infuse it with a Michael Bay type energy. I got a lot of help from the actors and director making it visually interesting. You know my parents took me to plays starting when I was very little. Often too little to understand what the play was about like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe when I was 8, things like that. Because I didn’t understand the story, I fell in love with the sound of dialogue, it sounded like music to me. I wanted to imitate that sound when I wrote. I like dialogue that sounds like something. I also like how you referred to the first scene, I appreciate the compliment. I wanted to start out at 100mph in the middle of the conversation so the audience would have to run a little bit suddenly just to keep us with us. Just doing that gives the impression of back and forward motion in the thing. David comes along for sequences like the one that follows where Mark is hacking, laughing, drinking, hacking, creating Facemash, Facemash goes viral all the while going back and forth to this party in Mark’s mind maybe all of our minds that incredible party that we never get invited to. And David shot it tight and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored it like it was backdrop like it was an action sequence. Things like that make it feel the way you wanted to feel and I appreciate the compliment.
Eisenberg: I saw the movie for the first time last night and I had the same reaction to the first scene that I had the first time I read Aaron’s script even though I knew the scene so intimately which was that after the 2 or 3 minutes of the scene you realize that its not going to end its such a wonderful surprise because you just don’t see scenes not only that nuanced and complex and but of that length. And for an actors that’s what you want and is thrilling with working with a script like Aaron’s. An interesting anecdote is that, David does many takes. We performed that scene 99 times, though we refused to do it the extra time to make it 100. It was really exciting, it was the third day of the shoot. It was exciting for me to figure out who Mark is and use the first two nights to experiment, how detached is he? How is he affected by what she said? How is effected by conflict in general? It was wonderful to have two nights of run through and two nights to film such a scene.
Q: Andrew, did you find a great connection with Jesse and do you have anything coming up?
Garfield: There’s a smart one (laughs). My connection with Jesse, I can talk about that for days, and weeks, months, and years. There were some subconscious forces happening as we were getting into the rehearsal process and maybe we this is only from my perspective, my subconscious knew that I had to fall in love with him and see him as brother and have a genuine love for him. it was very easy to project that onto such an innocent face and soul. It was really lovely to soak it all up and I feel really awkward saying this with you here.
Eisenberg: I’m getting a kick out of it.
Garfield: No, it was great. I’ve been a fan of Jesse as an actor and Aaron as a screenwriter. It was just a wonderful thing to have a genuine connection and have a laugh with and read into not being in the film and allowed it to bleed through. We’d share rides in together in the morning, we’d eat lobster in Boston and crabs in Baltimore. Wherever we were we’d have the shellfish of that specific area. Little things like that. It was just really fun opportunity. Second part of the question – oh yes, I’m going to be Spider-Man.
Q: Fincher is known for doing a lot of takes, what was the least amount of takes you had to do, the most you had to do? What was your reaction for seeing the film for the first time.
Hammer: I don’t remember the most number of takes, its one of those things you black out to get through the day. I do remember we shot 46 takes of the long long talk before Fincher said “cut, print, take that one and erase all the ones before it and shoot it again”
Timberlake: That was sort of David’s process. Obviously I’m sure he didn’t do that in film, but working digitally in this film its what David would do. David would use the first 20-25 as rehearsal. 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’d literally get to the twentieth fifth take he’d say “Ok, great print that” like Armie said “erase the others” it was immediate and you felt like “really? ok.”
Hammer: There must be something in there.
Timberlake: Again, I can’t stress and I’m pretty sure this is a collective feeling, that it was very freeing while feeling like you were running wind sprints that turned into a marathon. It was very freeing to be a part of that process because after you got used to the fact that this was what he was doing, he made a statement that didn’t cross my mind, the money for this film went into the time for us to make this film. Andrew commented on it 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 and to direct them.” He is one of the most bravest directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with. I’ll say this as well, he does not get bored easily. And when I say easily I mean, at all. Every take he would find something that was so specific, the specificity of his direction every take there was no question in your mind what 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 multi tasking. To watch him direct the camera operator and then Jesse and myself. And then have the set design come in and move the blinds an inch because they were wanting to shield the lights at an angle. There was a 25 minutes session where the blinds were moved. ok, STOP, ok, STOP, ok, STOP. I was literally like well what do you think he’s trying to accomplish and then I saw that part and i was like “those blinds look good.” We all felt so free to just get it out on the floor and mess it up and find what was great dynamic between all these young brilliant minds and to have all these takes.
Sorkin: I think what Justin just said is true and then some. It wouldn’t have been able to happen if our producer, Scott Rudin, who I think is the best producer in films and Broadway who’s alive right now and I can make a strong argument for best producer who has ever been alive. As an example all of what Justin talked about simply would not have been possible if Scott, and its only a small part of his job, but the first and from my end most important part of his job was to be my script editor on the movie. I wrote the draft then came to new york and worked in Scott’s office every morning refining the script, we spent a couple of weeks doing that before we sent it to Sony. But none of what Justin just described would have been possible if Scott hadn’t gone to Amy Pascal and Sony and said this is whats 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 we can do it right and Scott gets listened to.
Eisenberg: Someone asked about the great amount of takes as if the actors are in opposition of doing that. Every actor I know would stay here all day if there were more film in the camera, the alternative is sitting in the trailer. So this movie was absolutely pleasant to do it and we were all thrilled for the amount of time we spent actually acting and not sitting around waiting to act.
Hammer: Maybe even more time because we were being directed by someone like David Fincher.
Timberlake: I know you’re thinking of like normal sized trailer but we had our own little cubby holes.
Sorkin: David didn’t believe in any of the frills or bells and whistles of a movie set. Usually you have a set filled with director’s chairs with the name and the logo of the movie on it. On this set you sat on the floor when you weren’t working. There’s 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, like to snack right by the craft service table. Its my little spot. This craft service was like a mini snack pack of Doritos and a thing of red vines and it had water out of a cooler. David doesn’t like to spend money.
Q: How did acting silently in music videos such as Cry Me A River and Sexy Back prepare you in general for acting in feature films? And specifically the scene in new york restaurant is so different than you appear in person.
Timberlake: I’m not sure how to take that.
Q: It’s a compliment, where did you go inside yourself to find that brash, super confident persona. How did you prepare for that scene?
Timberlake: Making music videos, which we don’t do any more because there’s no point, back when we made those dinosaurs we called music videos, I never really thought about it as acting. I’ll try to find an answer as I fumble through this. I guess a video like Cry Me A River that I worked with on with Francis Lawrence that was probably the most similar to this because it was like a short film and another video I worked on called What Goes Around with Sam Bayer that actually Nick Casavettes wrote some dialogue for, so those two are probably the most similar because they’re more short film style. But I find it much easier to tell a narrative if you have 4 minutes if you kind of jump through things. But I guess it’ll be very similar to making a short film and on top of that writing music what Aaron says about how he feel in love with dialogue as a young person, I feel like every script you read is very musical and the very first answer he gave was describing Aaron’s dialogue to music. There’s a rhythm to it, every writer is different and Aaron is just better. I think that there is a lot of musicality to acting. I can find a lot of relative to it. As far as that scene its like one of your favorite song to play in the car and turn up and sing really loud. Thats the best way to feel this answer. I remember reading this scene at Stanford with Sean Parker, how can you not love this guy? His brashness and his dazzle, his cynical wit, his brilliance just popped off the page, I feel like I just walked into this room and just said what Aaron wrote. If there’s some sort of dazzle to the character you might want to ask Aaron about it because he wrote this character in such a dazzling way that I felt a responsibility to not mess it up.
Q: When the film ends with the statistic about how much Facebook is estimated to be worth, my first thought was how is that even possible? It was funny, the people behind me said it too. Its a free diversion, and in researching it did you find where the value of the company is and how they’re able to mask it?
Sorkin: The original evaluation came from when several years ago Microsoft bought 1.7% of the company for 270 million dollars and you extrapolate that and you arrive at the value of Facebook. And its gone up since then. my recollection is that when I wrote the script that the impulse at impulse at 17 billion dollars and in between my writing the script and locking the picture really just a few weeks ago it got 8 billion dollars more valuable and you would have to ask someone who knows something about these things. All i know is that Facebook is now valued at 25 billion and that original 17 evaluation is because Microsoft bought 1.7%.
Q: Mark Zuckerberg is still really young and when this movie takes place he is in Harvard and we tend to forgive his mistakes but in this case you’re kind of putting together what might be the defining portrait of the guy when he’s gotten 75 or whatever years ahead of him. Is there a kind of sense of duty or anxiety about building this character as young as he is?
Sorkin: Yes, anytime you write nonfiction about someone who is still very much alive and a non fiction movie which makes a very loud cymbal crash around the world, its a canon shot that’s hard to ignore. Its the thing that’s probably going to give most people their impression of the person or event. You’re very aware you have two important things in your hand. You have history and someones life. First do no harm. You don’t want to play it fast with the truth, you don’t want to mess around with anything. Look, there have been conflicting versions 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 room, all swore out an oath and ended up with three very different versions of the story. I did not get one version and decide that is the truth so I’ll dramatize that and pick another version and think that’s the sexiest and juiciest so I’ll dramatize that. I liked that there were three different and often time conflicting versions of the story. So I wanted to present Roshomon type thing that I think if I were Facebook or I were Mark I would only want it told from my point of view but its told from Mark’s point of view as well as the points of view of the people who were suing him. That said, I would never be unfair to anyone whether they were a billionaire or a pauper. I don’t think we’re 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.