30 Days of Screenplays, Day 24: “The Social Network”

June 24th, 2013 by

Welcome to June and the series: 30 Days of Screenplays.

Why 30 screenplays in 30 days?

Because whether you are a novice just starting to learn the craft of screenwriting or someone who has been writing for many years, you should be reading scripts.

There is a certain type of knowledge and understanding about screenwriting you can only get from reading scripts, giving you an innate sense of pace, feel, tone, style, how to approach writing scenes, how create flow, and so forth.

So each day this month, I will provide background on and access to a notable movie script.

Today is Day 24 and the featured screenplay is for the 2010 movie The Social Network. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Background: Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, book by Ben Mezrich

Plot summary: Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg creates the social networking website that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.

Tagline: You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies

Awards: Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3 including Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Trivia: During one of the depositions, it is mentioned that the invention of Facebook made Mark Zuckerberg “the biggest thing on a campus that included nineteen Nobel Laureates, fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star.” One of the lawyers then asks, “Who was the movie star?” and the response is, “Does it matter?” This movie star was, in fact, Natalie Portman, who was enrolled at Harvard from 1999 to 2003 and helped screenwriter Aaron Sorkin by providing him insider information about goings-on at Harvard at the time Facebook first appeared there.

Having read the script before and, of course, seen the movie, this time through the script, I specifically had a thought in mind I wanted to track as I went through the story: Comparing TSN to Citizen Kane. My conclusion? The comparison is a striking one.

First each is a story of the rise to fame of an important cultural figure. In CK, the Protagonist [Charles Foster Kane] is loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. In TSN, the Protagonist [Mark Zuckerberg] is an interpretation of the life events of the actual Mark Zuckerberg and the emergence of Facebook.

Second there is the narrative structure: A story told in two time frames: The present and the past, bouncing back and forth between the two.

In CK, there is Thompson, the reporter, who interviews [Present] a series of people with ties to Kane, each one a jumping off point to go back in time [Past] and recount an important, revealing episode of Kane’s life.

In TSN, there are the two court depositions [Present], each hitting key moments of contention and historical interpretation which create jumping off points to go back in time [Past] and recount an important, revealing episode of Zuckerberg’s life.

Third, both Protagonists are involved with media: Kane with newspapers, Zuckerberg with social media.

Fourth, both Protagonists achieve enormous wealth: Kane inherits his, Zuckerberg gains his with the growth of Facebook.

Fifth, the trajectory of each Protagonist’s metamorphosis is negative. That is rather than achieve a state of wholeness or unity, as in most movies, these central figures end up in a state of disconnect [Zuckerberg] or dissolution [Kane].

Sixth, both Protagonists have an Attractor figure who grows to despise them: Susan Alexander Kane and Erica Albright.

Seventh, both Protagonists have a Mentor figure who breaks with the P due to the P’s obsessive, self-absorbed behavior: Jedidiah Leland and Eduardo Saverin.

Eighth, both stories have a talisman with a powerful association to the past: In CK, it is the snow globe which takes Kane back to his elegiac past in Colorado, racing around without a care on his snow sled Rosebud. In TSN, it’s Facebook itself, how in the very last scene, Zuckerberg ‘friends’ Erica, hearkening back to a simpler time when he actually had a girlfriend.

Finally both men end their stories alone: Kane dying amidst the ruins of his empire, Zuckerberg having settled the various lawsuits, and left alone in a conference room, just he, his computer, Facebook and hitting “reload” on his friend request to Erica.

These final images both point to a theme which the stories share, the Biblical verse [Matthew 16:26]: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

I’m sure there are many more points of comparison, but one has to think Sorkin was inspired by CK in his approach to TSN.

To me, however, the single smartest decision Sorkin made about The Social Network was to use the dual depositions as a narrative device to jump back and forth from present to past, past to present. Sorkin wants the reader to be so aware of this conceit, once he establishes the second of two deposition rooms, he says flat-out in scene description [P. 27]:

We’ll be back and forth between the two deposition rooms a lot.

The script does a masterful job with these jumps using lines of dialogue, pre-laps, audio and visual clues to serve as touch points for each transition.

As noted in comments yesterday, the narrative structure of TSN is remarkably similar to Citizen Kane with the deposition room testimony providing the same function as Thompson the reporter tracking down the variety of witnesses to Kane’s past, with the past narrative timeline playing out in linear fashion while using the interviews to provide the basis for time ellipses.

There’s also a bit of the Rashomon dynamic here, where there is the testimony representing one ‘truth,’ vs. what we see in the past, sometimes representing another ‘truth.’

That single choice — using the dual depositions as a device to manage time jumps and the narrative — is a smart one, enabling Sorkin to wrangle the details of a biopic into a compelling, fast-paced drama.

Finally let’s consider subplots.

Subplots are a screenwriter’s best friend. They help you to explore a story’s themes. They dimensionalize the story’s meaning. But perhaps most importantly, they allow you to cross cut parallel action with the Plotline creating a much more entertaining narrative experience.

In The Social Network, Sorkin uses several subplots. Here are four of them, each tied to a specific relationship with the story’s Protagonist Mark Zuckerberg:

Winklevoss (Nemesis): Zuckerberg’s want is to create Facebook and see where it goes. The Winklevoss twins and their lawsuit stand in opposition to Zuckerberg’s goal, posing a threat to his plans.

Erica (Attractor): No matter how difficult it is to like Zuckerberg, he actually does have a heart. And despite how poorly he treats Erica, he has some sort of emotional connection with her.

Severin (Mentor): Zuckerberg has a best friend. He uses his best friend. He betrays his best friend. His experience of that seems to suggest – in the end – he does know what he did was wrong.

Sean Parker (Trickster): At first Parker mimics Zuckerberg’s ideas about Facebook, he is the consummate ally. Then he manipulates the power Zuckerberg cedes him to (in effect) work against Zuckerberg’s best interests.

Each of these subplots represents a different angle into the mind and soul of the story’s Protagonist, providing multiple ways to understand and interpret the movie.

What’s your take on The Social Network? Stop by comments and post your thoughts.

To see all of the posts in the 30 Days of Screenplays series, go here.

This series and use of screenplays is for educational purposes only!

3 thoughts on “30 Days of Screenplays, Day 24: “The Social Network”

  1. I was impressed by the subplot arrangement too.

    Never seemed too contrived or scattered meaninglessly throughout the film (Warhorse left me dizzy).

    Like to think Z’s witty cuts inspired Robert Downey Jr in Ironman…perhaps the best wit on film (Stand down reindeer games).

    PS Very sorry to hear about Kurt. Words never seem to suffice. Death is so final, and yet…it’s not. As you know, King Solomon said, “Better to go to funerals than parties because death is the end of every man and the living take it to heart.”

  2. pgronk says:

    I don’t comprehend tagging Severin as a “mentor”.

    The classic role of a mentor is someone older and wiser guiding,counseling somebody younger, less experienced.

    In the film, Severin is Zuckerberg’s peer, chronologically, socially, and academically. It seems to me he plays the role of ally. He provides Zuckerberg with moral support and resources such as an initial equation, startup money, etc.

    1. Scott says:

      pgronk, that’s the thing about character archetypes: they come in all shapes and sizes. For example, in the movie (500) Days of Summer, one of Tom’s Mentors is his kid sister Rachel. You can go here to see a series of her dialogue quotes, and most of them are advice, which is one of the key functions of a Mentor.

      So as writers, we can play against type with any archetype. And that’s how I choose to interpret Social Network.

      Who gives Zuckerberg the code at the beginning to set up their first social network experiment? Saverin.

      Who provides the seed money for the Facebook project? Saverin.

      Who is the business partner for the project? Saverin.

      Who tries to call bull shit on the Trickster that is Sean Parker? Saverin.

      Who is the one true friend that Zuckerberg has throughout until Mark betrays him? Saverin.

      The whole ironic point of the movie is that it’s about a guy who creates a social network for millions of people while being unable to have a meaningful personal relationship of his own. And nowhere is that played out more than in the relationship between he and Saverin. Mark rejects the ‘wisdom’ of friendship and the advice of his friend in exchange for fame and glory.

      That said, I don’t believe there is any right or wrong with archetypes, they are merely tools to help us analyze and develop stories. So if you don’t see Saverin as a Mentor, fine by me. To me, that’s how I see him.

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