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On Friday night, following the New York FIlm Festival premiere of The Social Network, the cast and filmmakers and Lincoln Center bigwigs and other film industry types all went to Manhattan's Harvard Club to celebrate. For some unfathomable reason, I was invited too, and spent the night drinking specialty cocktails within earshot of David Fincher and beneath the limitless number of mounted animal heads (there was an elephant, I swear to God).
I left the party around 2 a.m. and returned 7 hours later, miraculously, to find the Harvard Club a completely different place, set up for a press conference with all the big Social Network names (sans Fincher, who was back to Sweden for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). As a blogger accustomed to either working from home while wearing free T-shirts or covering Comic Con, I was certain I'd be swept back out of the Harvard Club any second. Looking much better for the wear than I did (they probably avoided the specialty cocktails entirely) and much more appropriately dressed for the Harvard Club's dress code, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and stars Andrew Garfield, Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer took to the makeshift stage to answer questions about the movie. There were plenty of dumb ones-- it was a press conference, after all, but here are some of the highlights.
Jesse Eisenberg, on what he would do if given the chance to meet the real Mark Zuckerberg:
I’d like to go to Johnny Rockets with Mark because I like their shakes. I spent six months thinking about him everyday, I developed a great affection for my character and of course by extension the man, and I’d be very interested in meeting him. Fortunately, my first cousin, Eric, got a great job working at Facebook about a month before we finished shooting, and I’m hoping he’ll facilitate an introduction one day. I don’t know what I would say. It’s the kind of thing you think about all the time but then I’d finally give the card to Lucy and say Merry Christmas, Lucy, instead of Happy Valentine’s Day.
On a similar note, another reporter asked Eisenberg his general impression of Zuckerberg after doing so much research:
My impression is really formed more from the character. I don’t know the real Mark Zuckerberg, though I was like everybody else delighted to see this very generous donation he made yesterday. And as I said, I developed a great affection over the course of filming and even over the course of doing the publicity tour we’ve done and I’ve been asked that. The more I think about it the greater affection I develop. In the movie the character that Aaron created is a guy that is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have the social wherewithal to do so. I could certainly relate to that. And almost to cope creates this incredible tool to interact in a way that he feels comfortable. And because of his incredible insight, 500 million other people also feel comfortable using that tool. It’s just a fascinating character and complicated in all the right ways, so even though he maybe acts in a way that would be hurtful to other characters, like you indicated, it’s by the end of the movie totally understandable.
I think there’s a line that Jesse’s character has about it being a final club. He said “You are the president. It’s a party and you’re throwing it.” I think that’s kind of the intrigue behind having your own Facebook page and creating your own profile. It’s your world. I think social networking in general is still a hypothesis. I find that people are still asking the question and they ask it more and more to people like us – I don’t know why they expect an answer, because like I said, I’m ridiculously stupid when it comes to computers and social networking – but I think the hypothesis is still is it a good thing or is it a bad thing?
Andrew Garfield had a hard time getting a word in during the entire press conference-- Timberlake and Sorkin did most of the talking-- but he had a surprisingly sweet and funny take on his working relationship with Eisenberg:
My connection with Jesse; I could talk about that for days, and weeks, and months, and years. There were some subconscious forces happening as we were kind of going in this kind of rehearsal process. Maybe it was from my own perspective, but my subconscious knew that I had to fall in love with him and see him as a brother. It was just a wonderful thing to be able to have a genuine connection to someone and allow that to bleed into not being filmed and allow everything to just kind of bleed in through. We’d share rides in together in the morning, we’d eat lobster in Boston, crab in Baltimore; wherever we were we’d have the shellfish of that specific area of the United States. Little things like that. That was just really a fun thing.
Plenty of people have been talking about the film's opening scene, in which Mark accidentally breaks up with a girlfriend (Rooney Mara) in a conversation that moves astonishingly fast. First here's Aaron Sorkin talking about his goal with the scene and how Fincher made it and the scene after more dynamic:
I got a lot of help from the actors and the director making it visually interesting, but I just love the sound of dialog. I like dialog that sounds like something. I wanted to start out at a hundred miles an hour in the middle of the conversation so the audience would have to run a little bit suddenly just to keep up with us. Just doing that gives the impression of rapid forward motion, and then David comes along for sequences like the one that follows, where Mark is blogging, drinking, hacking, creating Facemash, Facemash goes viral, all the while cutting back and forth to this party that is in Mark’s mind, maybe all of our minds, as that incredible party that we never get invited to. And David shot it and cut it and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored it like it was a bank robbery, like it was an action sequence. So it’s things like that that make it feel the way you wanted it to feel.
And here's Eisenberg on his experience shooting the scene 99 times but still being surprised when he saw the final product:
I saw the movie for the first time last night and had the same reaction to the first scene that I had when I first read Aaron’s script, even though I knew the scene so intimately, which is that after two or three minutes of the scene you realize that it’s not going to end. And it’s such a wonderful surprise because you just don’t see scenes not only of that nuance and complexity in movies, but of that length as well. And for an actor that’s kind of what you want, that’s what’s really thrilling about working with a script like Aaron’s. We performed that scene 99 times. [Fincher] refused to do it an extra time to get an even 100, and it was just really exciting. It was shot on the third day of the shoot and it was exciting for me to kind of figure out who Mark is and have two nights--we shot it over the course of two nights--to kind of experiment with the character. How detached is he? How is he affected by what she’s saying, and by extension how is he affected in general by conflict? And it was wonderful to have the luxury of the two nights to film such an exciting scene.
Even though Fincher wasn't at the press conference he was the topic of about half the questions, and nearly everyone talked about their experience working with the famously meticulous director. First up, Sorkin:
At first glance it’s not intuitively what you’d think as the right marriage of director and material. David is peerless, absolutely peerless as a visual director, and I write people talking in rooms. But David, first of all, embraced the fact that this was going to be a story told through language, but he did bring a distinct visual style to this, and he did as a director get sensational performances out of his very talented, but young, cast. What David was adamant about not having was a script development process. He insisted to the studio that the movie be made right away because he didn’t want to go through nine drafts and notes from the executives at the studio. They would have been very smart notes, but it would have homogenized the idiosyncratic nature of the writing and David didn’t want to do that. If I never work with another director other than David Fincher for the rest of my life I’ll be very happy.
Timberlake, along with everyone else, praised Fincher's penchant for many, many takes as an actor-friendly exercise:
That was sort of David’s process. I’m sure he didn’t do that on film because he couldn’t, but working digitally in this film that’s what David would do. It was almost like he would use the first 20 to 25 as if they were rehearsal, and 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 25th or 26th take and he would say “Print that one and erase all the rest.” It was very freeing to be a part of that process after you sort of got used to the fact that that’s what he was doing. It's amazing for a director to say "I want time for my actors to act and for me to watch them act and for me to direct them." He is one of the bravest directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with in that way. I’ll say this as well, he does not get bored easily, and when I say easily I mean at all. I’ve never seen someone so hyper-smart and multitasking. To watch him direct the camera operator, Jesse, and then myself, and then have the set design come in and move the blinds an inch because he wanted to shield the light at an angle. There was a 25 minute session where the blinds were moving back and forth.
Eisenberg, too, said it was actually a blessing to do so many takes
We’re asked about the great amount of takes almost as though the actors are in opposition to doing that, and every actor I know would stay there all day if there’s more film in the camera. The alternative is sitting in the trailer. So it was an absolute blessing to do it and we’re all thrilled for the amount of time we were able to spend actually acting and not sitting around waiting to act.
Finally, it was my turn, and I actually wound up getting the last question of the press conference. I wanted to hear from Sorkin and especially Eisenberg their feelings on portraying Zuckerberg, a real person and a public figure, but also a 26-year-old with the majority of his life left ahead of him. Many of his actions in the film took place at a period in life we usually like to chalk up to "youthful mistakes," so did they feel the need to be careful in portraying someone so young? Sadly only Sorkin volunteered an answer, but it was a good one:
You’re very aware that you have two important things in your hand; you have history and you have someone’s life. So first do no harm. You don’t want to play it fast and loose with the truth, you don’t want to mess around with anything. There have been conflicting versions of the truth 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 to the deposition rooms, all swore the oath, and ended up with three very different versions of the story. I did not pick one version and decide I think that’s the truth so I’ll dramatize that, or pick another version and decide I think that’s the sexiest and the juiciest so I’ll dramatize that. What I liked was that there were three different and often times conflicting versions of the story. That said, I would never be unfair to anyone, whether they were a billionaire or a pauper. I don’t think we are 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.
And that was it for the day, and the end of my time allowed within the sacred, wood-paneled walls of the Manhattan Harvard Club, a place I feel fairly certain I'll never get to visit again unless for some other kind of junket purpose. In case you somehow haven't heard, The Social Network is a phenomenal movie. See it in theaters this weekend if you know what's best.