Handling the truth – Aaron Sorkin on The Social Network

L-R: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Sorkin and Justin Timberlake Photo: seenit.co.uk All Rights Reserved.
The Social Network – the big screen portrayal of the claims and counterclaims surrounding the genesis of Facebook – opens in the UK next week and we were lucky enough to be on hand when writer Aaron Sorkin and cast members Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield met the press in London.

“I don’t know anything about Facebook and that world of communication so it’s not surprising that the audience doesn’t need to either” says Sorkin when asked about the low level of foreknowledge needed by the audience.

Though Sorkin is full of praise for the way social media users sometimes come together and do great good – for example raising money in the wake of major disasters – he suggests that “socialising on the internet is to socialising what reality TV is to reality, there’s an insincerity to it” though says he understands why it appeals to so many people.

Timberlake, who plays Napster founder Sean Parker, says although Facebook is a “widely celebrated phenomenon” he and his fellow cast members “weren’t too adept with it” though Eisenberg, who plays site founder Mark Zuckerberg, jokes that he set up an account in cast mate Garfield’s name which only got followed by Garfield’s own alias.

The cast are full of praise for Sorkin’s “dazzling” script which is based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires but, as Sorkin observes, telling the story of the complex law suits surrounding Facebook’s birth was a legal minefield in itself.

In the film Zuckerberg faces two lawsuits, one from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) who claims his share of the company was unfairly diluted and the other from brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who claim they hired Zuckerberg to develop a similar project only for him to use their ideas for Facebook.

Sorkin says it was important to establish very early on that the film, which he describes as essentially “a court room drama” at its soul, was “telling a story about there being three different versions of the truth.”

“Rather than pick one version, decide that was the truth and write a movie about that or pick one version and decide ‘this is the sexiest’ and write a movie about that I liked that there were three different versions.”

On the challenges of writing about people who are still alive, Sorkin says filmmakers have a “great responsibility” to understand that “a Hollywood movie is going to make a loud cannon shot, that for most people will be their impression of these people and these events.”

The writer says the script was “vetted by countless lawyers” and adds that although he had a legal obligation not to “say something that is both untrue and defamatory” he also felt a “moral obligation not to mess around with someone’s life for the sake of a good movie scene.”

This sense of responsibility led him to change some names, for example that of Zuckerberg‘s girlfriend shown in the opening scene, “because I didn’t want to further embarrass this person.”

In being able to ‘stand up’ the film’s depiction of events Sorkin had access to “cartons and cartons of legal documents” but says “most important was the first person research that I did. Meeting and speaking with many of the people who were present at events that are dramatised in the film, some of those people are characters in the movie, most of those people spoke to me on condition of anonymity.”

“Nothing was left to chance, if there was the slightest doubt, it I was unable to source something that I was saying was truth to [the studio’s] satisfaction I couldn’t say it.”

Sorkin says the ‘three truths’ nature of the story meant “anytime a fact was in dispute, which was a lot, I needed to make it clear to the audience”.

Fittingly the writer responsible for Jack Nicholson so famously telling Tom Cruise that he couldn’t “handle the truth” in A Few Good Men has proved himself more than capable of handling three different versions of it.

The Social Network arrives in UK cinemas on October 15th

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