Interview: Aaron Sorkin (Unedited)

This interview was taken in 2010 during the release of The Social Network.

Nick?

Hello?

Hi, this is Aaron Sorkin

Sir, this is such an honour to be speaking with you. I may possibly be your biggest fan in India!

Ohh, thank you so much. You really made my night.

I just want to say this before the interview starts – You were actually the reason I came into writing. Studio 60 inspired me to get into writing. It’s just the biggest day of my life to actually get to speak with you.

Oh no, that means the world to me. Thank you so much, that’s really, really kind of you!

Sir, I want to ask you a bunch of questions about The Social Network, which again, was brilliant – I saw it and really loved it – but before that, I’d like to tell you about a little incident that happened at the MAMI here. When the movie was screening here, there was some sort of a commotion. Too many people wanted to see it but weren’t allowed in and they went beserk…

…I heard the story!

Yeah, you have?

I heard that people couldn’t get in, so the people inside, to show their solidarity, insisted that they get in somehow. That was thrilling to hear.

Yeah, exactly. I was going to just talk about your fan following here. When you gave your video message, people went crazy screaming and cheering. So when can your fans see you here in person?

I would love to come to India. I’ve never been to India but I’d love to.

Sir, I wanted to know. Are there are any elements of Indian movies that you like and either have, or would like to incorporate in your scripts in the near future?

You know, I feel terrible about this but its really only been, I think, in the last 5 or 10 years, that I’ve become aware of Indian filmmaking as a tremendous artistic force in cinema, that, umm, my film knowledge was confined to the US and Europe, and, umm, Hong Kong. So I’m very new to Indian cinema, and, err, I’d really love to school myself so that I can be influenced by Indian cinema, or, to put it in a different way, steal everything I possibly can from Indian cinema (chuckles).

Now, I want to ask you a lot of questions about The Social Network. The movie’s quite unlike anything you have written before – and I’ve seen everything you’ve written before. Considering you’ve said that you didn’t know much about Zuckerberg before you took on the movie, and considering that you don’t take on too many movie projects, what was it that attracted you to this story?

What attracted me to the story, it really didn’t have anything to do with Facebook. I didn’t know mucha bout Facebook, umm, I’m not someone who gets very excited about technology. What excited me about the story were the elements, the ‘clactical’ elements, uhh, of the story, that are thousands of years old. Themes of friendship and loyalty and betrayal and jealousy and power and class, things that we’ve been telling stories about for thousands of years, set against this very modern backdrop. It was irresistible to me.

One of the things that stood out from the movie was the fact that the idea of Facebook came to Zuckerberg because of a girl. That was what really made him go out and do this. Is that also something that got you interested in the story?

Absolutely. It did. Uhh… (chuckles) the thing is, Mark Zuckerberg joins a long line of great men in history, and great events, that were started because of a girl. Erica’s the Helen of Troy of Facebook. And it began, you know, the precursor to Facebook, that was Facemash, was the revenge stunt directed first at this girl, who had broken his heart, and then, at the entire female population of Harvard. And then, when the dust from that settled, uhh, he thought, you know, wait a second, there was something there. Something just happened, that was important. Uhh, it is upto the audience to argue about… how much of that epiphany was influenced by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoff, and how much of it was just a coincidence of timing.

Was it the longest it took you to write a script? Since there was such level of detailed research involved, did that make a difference to the process of writing for you?

I’m sorry, did you ask if this was the longest that’s taken me to write the script?

Yeah.

It’s the shortest it took me to write the script. Uhh, yeah, it took me a year to write this. That, for me, is very short. I do not have a reputation in Hollywood of being a speedster. Umm, if you hire me to write a movie, it’s going to be a while before you see it. Because, it’s not the writing that takes me a long time, it’s the thinking of what to write that takes me a long time. But umm, there was an extensive research process on this, and a period of thinking what to write, but once I thought of it, once I had my arms around it, the writing went, for me, very quickly.

But did the level of detailed research make a difference to the process of writing for you? Did it make it easier – since you say you finished the script really quickly.

Uhh, I think it did. I think that, you know, I… I’m someone, I don’t start writing until I know what I’m going to write. I don’t need to know the whole thing. I don’t need to know how the movie ends – although its helpful to know how the movie ends – I don’t need to know the middle, I don’t need to know every scene, I don’t need to outline the thing. But I need to know how the movie starts. I need to know what the first scene is, and what the first scene leads to, second thing. Umm, it takes me a while to think of that. But once I’ve thought of that, I want to write it as quickly as I can. I want to write it with speed and energy because I really believe that that speed and energy makes its way on to the page.

Sir, one of the things everyone’s curious about is that Facebook hasn’t come on board the movie but it didn’t sue or try and stop it from release even though it maintains it is fiction? So, what did it take for Facebook to agree to have it called Facebook and for Mark to be called Mark?

Well, they didn’t have a choice in that matter. We, umm, you know, you can write a movie about General Motors, and call the company General Motors. What you can’t do, is lie. You can’t say something that’s both untrue and defamatory. Which is why, you’ve answered your own question. The reason why Facebook hasn’t sued Sony, the reason why we haven’t received an injunction against the release of the film, is because they can’t. We haven’t lied. And we haven’t defamed them. And they know that. So they can say fiction all they want what – that’s what I’d be doing. Their PR people are every bit as good as our PR people. And they can say fiction all they want but if it were fiction, we’d know it because Facebook would own Sony right now.

I’ve also read how Mark Zuckerberg first un-favourited West Wing and then put it back up.. Do you know of that? What do you think made him accept the movie?

You know what, uhh.. I have to tell you – I think that uhh, Mark, who I don’t know at all, has shown an awful lot of class, uhh, during this period. I don’t think anybody would want a movie made out of the things they did when they were 19 years old. And it would have to be an extremely uncomfortable time for a very young guy who’s already got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s 26-year-old guy, running a company that’s bigger than CBS. It’s a 25 billion dollar company. If it were a country, it would be the third biggest country in the world… right after India. And uhh, he, uhh, on the day the movie opened in the US, October 1st, he shut out the Facebook offices, bought out a movie theatre, took the entire staff to the movies to see it. And then took everybody out for drinks afterwards. I think he’s really shown a sense of humour and a sense of class, and I really want to give him, uhh, credit for that.

And, I’m sorry, that was a long way of answering your question. I appreciate that he put the West Wing back up on his Facebook profile (laughs).

That’s what I wanted to ask you, actually. What do you think made him accept the movie because he was clearly upset with you writing it, but then the West Wing back on his favourites, which means he’s okay with it now.

Yeah, that’s what I mean. It’s a very classy thing to do. Umm, I think, uhh, I don’t know what… as it happens, Jesse Eisenberg’s first cousin works very closely with Mark Zuckerberg. He started working for Facebook about six months ago, maybe longer. Umm, so, when the movie was over, when they all went to see the movie on October 1st, Jesse’s cousin texted Jesse, saying that Mark really liked the parts he agreed with. And, uhh, that, you know, even that, was a very generous response. It’s gotta be impossible for Mark, watching this story play out on a huge screen, written by some guy, all of a sudden everybody’s speaking in dialogue, and scenes were connected to form a narrative, and Trent Reznor’s score was underneath. And David Fincher and Jeff had lit it to so beautifully. And, you know, there was a lawsuit. And people in lawsuits disagree on what the truth is. So he had to listen to all of them saying things about things he disagreed with, all over again. Umm, so, uhhh, you know, all in, it’s gotta be excruciating for him. So I really take my hat off to this guy.

Couple of things I wanted to ask you about Zuckerberg’s character. First, you’ve said that you can identify with him in being anti social. Considering you are one of the most successful writers in the world, it sounds a little strange! And also, you’ve spoken about Zuckerberg’s character in the movie going from being an anti hero to a tragic hero. What made you do that, as opposed to making him just a good guy or a bad guy?

Well, let me answer the first question first. When I say I can identify with him, I don’t consider myself anti social. Umm, I’m shy, I’m socially awkward. I get nervous in social situations, that I uhh, I may say something wrong, do something wrong or I don’t quite fit in. I think these are feelings many, many men can identify with. So, when you are writing an anti hero, and you are right, uhh, you are quoting me correctly when you say, uhh, Mark spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti hero and the final 5 minutes of the movie being a tragic hero. When you are writing an anti hero, as the writer, and Jesse would tell you the same thing as the actor and David will tell you the same thing as the director. You can’t judge the character. Umm, you can’t say that I’m writing a bad guy. You have to defend the character, you have to respect the character, have affection for him, and be able to fight for him. So that’s why you have to find the things about yourself that are like him, so that you can write him. So Jesse and David have got to do the same thing.

When he becomes a tragic hero in the end, that’s because he’s met two requirements – the two requirements of being a tragic hero. He’s paid a price, and he feels remorse. Uhh, now that scene, that final scene in the movie, is entirely imagined. Uhh, but, you know, here’s a case, where, if I were writing, if this was fiction, and I had just concocted this story, I would have written a less good ending. Umm, I would have written a warm and fuzzy ending, where Erica responds to his Friend Request and accepts it, and the two of them happen to be living in the same city, and they meet for coffee and everything seems to be great. It would be like the last scene in The Christmas Carol, where Scrooge gets up in the morning and you know, everything is terrific. And it was only ‘truth’ that kept me from writing that movie (chuckles), with a much more compelling, much more complicated ending. I was great… for the truth. (?)

The last question that I wanted to ask you was about David Fincher. He’s known for his visual style of directing. And since this is such a dialogue-based movie, how did you guys go about collaborating?

Uhh, you really read my mind. You are asking excellent questions. David Fincher, on the face of it, it’s not an intuitive marriage of director and material. David, what he’s most known for, is being peerless as a visual director. I like writing people in rooms. But it worked beautifully. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that it was David directing the movie. David embraced that this was a story that was gonna be told through language but he did bring in his distinctive visual style to it. He got extraordinary performances out of a very talented, but very young cast of actors. And then, in the editing room, he took scenes of typing, basically, coding, hacking, and made them look like bank robberies! He made them look like action sequences, with nice assist on the score, umm, and our team of editors. But you know, there were about a 100 ways of wrecking this movie badly, if you can think of 50 of them, you are a genius. Uhh, and, David brought an ungodly artfulness to this.

With that I have to tell you that I’m getting the look from the publicist, telling me that I have to end the phone call to get on with the next call.

Oh, that’s not a problem, sir. Thanks so much for your time. Again, it was really an honour to get to speak with you.

Sure, of course, it was my pleasure. Thanks so much for the interview.

Thank you.

Note: This interview first appeared in Hindustan Times
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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