The Social Network — Sorkin, Structure, and Collaboration
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The Social Network — Sorkin, Structure, and Collaboration

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Since my first video, the most requested screenplay
has been The Social Network. So I decided to make it a reward for my next
Patreon goal, and in December I passed that goal. So I’d like to start by saying a very big
thank you to my Patreon supporters for making this video, and this channel, possible. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that
The Social Network has been the most-requested screenplay. Because I think it’s safe to say that the
most famous screenwriter working today is Aaron Sorkin. While he’s a great screenwriter, I don’t think
he’s famous because he’s great. I think he’s famous because his style is noticeable. His rapid-fire, quick-witted dialogue is hard
to miss—for better or worse. And not many writers have a style so distinct
it earns them a cameo-slash-parody on 30 Rock. “Do I know you?” “You know my work. Walk with me.” But this is not to say that he is all flash
and no substance. Rather that he uses flash to distract the
audience so they don’t notice when the substance is hitting them. So today I want to break down the function
of his style. To see how he uses non-linear structure to
frame what the story is about. And examine the critical role that collaboration
played in the creation of The Social Network. “He’s 25 minutes late.” “He founded Napster when he was 19. He can be late.” “He’s not a god.” “Then what is he?” “He’s 25 minutes late.” Sorkin loves writing dialogue, and he’s often
said that he thinks of it as music. “My parents starting taking me to see plays
from a very young age.” “Even though I didn’t understand the story,
I didn’t understand what was happening on stage, I loved the sound of dialogue.” “It sounded like music to me and I wanted
to imitate that sound.” Sorkin’s dialogue is famous for being snappy,
repetitive, and clever. But what is all of this actually accomplishing? I want to start by looking at his use of overlapping
dialogue. Sorkin uses overlapping dialogue to dictate
the energy and rhythm of a scene. For example, in this scene, Mark has an outburst
during a deposition. This begins when Divya’s line is interrupted
by Mark. “He had 42 days to study our system and get
out ahead.” “Do you seen any of your code on Facebook?” Then, Sorkin has the two lawyers interject,
trying to calm him. “Sy, could you–” “Mark–” This forces the energy of the scene to increase,
because now Mark has to overpower them. “Did I use any of your code?” Which, in turn, allows Divya to respond with
increased intensity. “You stole our whole goddam idea!” “Fellas.” This confrontation continues until it climaxes
with Mark’s line: “You know you really don’t need a forensic
team to get to the bottom of this.” “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook
you’d have invented Facebook.” By having the characters interrupt and talk
over each other Sorkin increases the drama and energy of the scene in a way that feels
organic. Another key feature of Sorkin dialogue is
the misunderstanding. “This must be hard.” Often in Sorkin scenes, the characters aren’t
on the same page. “Who are you?” “I’m Marylin Delpy, I introduced myself—” “I mean what do you do?” The primary function of this technique is
to tease out exposition in a way that feels natural. “I’m a second year associate at the firm. My boss wanted me to sit in on the deposition phase.” But it can also make the scene more engaging. By giving characters different trains of thoughts,
it challenges the audience to keep up and draws them in to the story world. Nowhere is this more clear than The Social
Network’s now-classic opening scene. So let’s track the characters’ trains
of thought and examine how Sorkin uses misunderstandings to propel the scene forward. It begins, as many Sorkin scenes do, with
a statistic. “Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?” Erica immediately becomes preoccupied with
the China statistic. – “That can’t possibly be true.”
– “It is.” “What would account for that?” “Well, first, an awful lot of people live
in China. But here’s my question:” However, Mark brought all this up to get to
what he is preoccupied with. “How do you distinguish yourself in a population
of people who all got 1600 on their SAT’s?” But Erica still thinks they’re talking about
China. “I didn’t know they take SAT’s in China.” “They don’t. I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I
was talking about me.” Now Erica focuses on Mark and the SATs, but he’s still trying to discuss ways of distinguishing himself. – “You got 1600?”
– “Yes.” I could sing in an a Capella group, but I
can’t sing.” “Does that mean you actually got nothing wrong?” “I could row crew or invent a 25 dollar PC.” The Mark train keeps on rolling and he ignores
her question. So Erica gives up on her focus and meets Mark
where she knows he’s headed. “Or you could get into a final club.” “Or I get into a final club.” This is one page of dialogue into the film,
and in trying to keep up, we may not realize what we’ve learned so far. We know Mark’s motivation—he wants to distinguish
himself. We know that he got 1600 on the SATs, and
we know his current desire is to get into a final club. We also see that Erica is polite, patient,
and impressed by getting 1600 on the SATs— something that will come into play later in the scene. By wrapping all this exposition in misunderstandings,
it seems to naturally flow from their conversation. But the misunderstandings are also used to establish Mark’s character as someone who has trouble communicating with others. Let’s look at a few more lines to see how
these misunderstandings inform Mark’s character. “You know, from a woman’s perspective, sometimes
not singing in an a Capella group is a good thing.” “This is serious.” “On the other hand I do like guys who row
crew.” Erica is referencing these previous lines,
and by trying to bring some levity into the conversation, says something that Mark misinterprets. The fact that he’s hurt by this is signaled
by an interruption to the rhythm, the parenthetical of “beat.” “Well I can’t do that.” “I was kidding!” “Yes, I got nothing wrong on the test.” After taking a blow to his ego, Mark then
finally answers Erica’s question from nine lines ago about how good he is at the SATs. Then… “Have you ever tried?” “I’m trying right now.” “To row crew?” “To get into a final club.” “To row crew? No. Are you, like-whatever-delusional?” She’s asking about rowing crew, he’s talking
about final clubs, so she’s confused, so he’s confused, and finally we arrive at: “Maybe, it’s just sometimes you say two things
at once and I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to be aiming at.” By this point, the audience can sympathize
with Erica. We’ve witnessed first-hand how difficult it
is to have a conversation with Mark, and how fragile his ego is. And this is just page two. There are seven more pages of misunderstandings. What’s impressive about this scene, is that
even if you don’t follow every beat of the conversation, you still understand what happens. And Sorkin makes sure to punctuate it with
the point that hits Mark the hardest. “But you’re going to go through life thinking
that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd.” “And I want you to know, from the bottom of
my heart, that that won’t be true.” “It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” Sorkin’s dialogue is essentially a kind of
misdirection. We, the audience, are so caught up trying
to follow what the characters are saying that don’t notice all the information being delivered
to us. But it’s not just the dialogue that is doing
several things at once. It’s also the structure. Sorkin began his career as a playwright, so
it makes sense that most of his early works follow a very linear structure. But with The West Wing—which I should mention
is my favorite tv show of all time —he started to embrace film’s non-linear capabilities. Some of the best episodes make great use of
flashbacks. His comfort with non-linear storytelling is
very apparent in The Social Network For the first twenty-two pages, the script
moves linearly, then jumps forward in time to Eduardo’s deposition. These flash-forward scenes allows the lawyers
to supply exposition. “Gretchen, they’re best friends.” “Not anymore.” As well as ask the characters directly about
how they were feeling at the time of the events. “Would you say that Mark was excited about
this meeting?” “Yes.” “Very.” This lets Sorkin frame scenes in different
contexts. For example, when the characters meet Sean
Parker, we don’t just watch them meet Sean Parker. We get to hear Eduardo’s thoughts on the meeting. “A psychiatrist would say that he was paranoid.” “They’ll hire private detectives who’ll follow
you day and night.” And because Mark is sitting five feet away
in the deposition room, we also get to see how he reacts to Eduardo’s story. But perhaps most importantly, this non-linear
structure re-frames the dramatic question of the entire film. Because it’s based on a true story, we know
that Facebook eventually becomes a success. And in the first 26 pages we learn that Mark
ends up getting sued by Eduardo, the Winklevoss twins, and Divya. “Your best friend is suing you for $600 million
dollars.” “I didn’t know that, tell me more.” So the dramatic question isn’t “what will
happen?” but instead “how will it happen?” Sorkin is signaling to the audience what the
story is really about. Not a company, but a friendship. And the structure allows us to see this friendship
be destroyed, while also watching the characters reflect on these events years later. “I was your only friend. You had one friend.” There is one last point I want to touch on. Aaron Sorkin is clearly a talented writer,
but while many of his scripts have been turned into acclaimed films and shows, many have
not. “The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social
Network.” “Studio 60?” “Shut up.” In an attempt to partially address this, and
because The Social Network is such a good example, I want to talk about the importance
of collaboration. When David Fincher was first announced as
the director of The Social Network, it was a bit of a surprise. Even Sorkin said: “You know, at first glance it’s a strange
marriage of director and material.” “David is most known for being peerless as
a visual director, and I write people talking in rooms.” But I think there are two key things Fincher
brought to the table that are necessary when producing an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. First, it appears that Fincher pushed for
some script edits. “David was so focused on finding what was
behind each word in the script and why it was there.” In some cases, it appears that Fincher even
de-Sorkin’d parts of the script. “Feel entitled to this. It’s our time.” “I love it that he says, ‘this is our time,
and I know what I’m f***king talking about.'” “Put those two things together, but let’s
not have the ‘this is our time’ three times.” “It announces it as a thesis. You know what I mean?” I think this is a hallmark of a good collaboration. To quote a line from The West Wing: “The president likes smart people who disagree
with him.” You should try to work with people who are
talented and aren’t afraid to challenge your work in search of the best possible version. The second thing Fincher brought to the table
was the ability to make Sorkin’s words cinematic. In The West Wing, this was accomplished using
long steadicam shots through well-designed and beautifully-lit sets. This created momentum and made sure the visuals
were always changing. The famous walk-and-talk. The Social Network achieves the same things,
but in a different way. Fincher avoids the walk-and-talk in favor
of his own style: Rapid, relentless cutting between impeccably-composed
shots. A great example is the scene where Mark is
being asked about leading on the Winklevoss twins, and his attention wanders elsewhere. “It’s raining.” “I’m sorry?” “It just started raining.” This scene is two pages long and almost exclusively
dialogue. “Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?” “No.” When translated to film, there are 16 separate
camera angles and 33 cuts. The last element of collaboration I want to
mention is, of course, the performances. Sorkin dialogue is difficult to perform. Not just because it’s fast, but because
of the aforementioned multiple trains of thought happening at any given time. Not only that, but Sorkin also writes a lot
of what he calls “verbal hiccups.” “I tend to write little hiccups into the language,
like at the beginning of that speech.” “It begins: I, you know. And then he speaks.” “I’ve…you know.” “Dash-dashes and dot-dots.” “Most actors have a lot of trouble with that
and Jesse is able to take those verbal hiccups and casualize them.” “Make them seem organic.” “Sorkin dialogue is hard.” If the actors can’t make this stylized writing
seem natural, it doesn’t work. As a writer, you only have so much control
over all of this. But I still think it’s important to remember
how collaborative filmmaking is. That the most successful people aren’t just
talented, they’re experts at surrounding themselves with people as talented or more so than them. I think the collaboration between Fincher
and Sorkin is a match made in heaven. Sorkin engages the audience with rapid-fire,
multi-layered dialogue, ideally telling them a story without them even noticing. And Fincher’s filmmaking does the same thing,
but with stunning visuals and relentless editing. Together, their styles immerse us in the world
of The Social Network. “Hey guys!” “I just want to say thank you again everyone
who supports me on Patreon.” “I really enjoyed having this celebratory
video to look forward to, so I think for my next goal I will do the next-most-requested
screenplay, which is Pulp Fiction.” “I have a lot of fun things planned for this
year so be sure to subscribe.” “And finally, thank you for watching.”

100 thoughts on “The Social Network — Sorkin, Structure, and Collaboration

  1. Thank you so much to all my Patreon supporters for making this video and this channel possible! I have some exciting things planned for this year, so be sure to subscribe so you don't miss those. And, as always: What screenplays should I do in the future?! Let me know!

  2. outstanding job! you really hit the nail on this one! The Social Network is one of my all time favorites ..its the real reason im in the business and a writer!

  3. I watched a video once, I think it was an extra on the A Few Good Men DVD, that tells us when and how the “walk and talk” made it into Sorkin’s repertoire. He was adapting AFGM from his stage play into a screen play. All the scenes in the play were “people talking in rooms.” Rob Reiner and maybe someone else were trying to help him make it more cinematic. They told him to make one scene where the characters met in an office into the two characters having the discussion/argument while walking out of the building and to Cruise’s car. Thus, a Sorkin device was born.

  4. I’m watching this video days after watching Molly’s Game.The non-linear structure in storytelling was also used there and I loved it. The essays are so well written on this channel. I Love Aaron Sorkin and I love this channel

  5. I have watched this movie and feel like this film is completely underrated. I loved it and watched it using boxxy software…

  6. Brilliant Insightful Analysis. And very helpful how you broke down the different elements and explained them so well with the scenes themselves. I've been on a Sorkin interviews binge and it was brilliant to see a lot of the stuff he said being translated, elaborated on and explained in the context of this film. Big fan of your work 🙂

    This movie was the first movie where I truly noticed the Screenplay. I was actually just blown away by how brilliant it was and, for the first time, made an effort to find out who wrote it, what other things they've written etc. I then read the screenplay on it's own to truly appreciate how great it was.

  7. 6:12 lol I don't know about the rest of you, but I sympathize with Mark. Perhaps that's both a good and bad thing.

  8. WAIT.

    YOUR favorite show is The West Wing? What, for real?

    I only ASK because if you are passionate about The West Wing, I actually HAVE to consider giving it a shot. This is because I admire your content and insight and your channel. It's what God would watch, had he any eyes. •b

  9. How come there aren't any videos about The King's Speech? Is it because it's a totally fine feel-good movie (with two INCREDIBLE performances)?

    If that's true (And I believe it is), then what does that make The Social Network?

    Something else entirely for me. Something rare and very special. Awards mean "Dick" and "All" (and, additionally, DICK for extra-good measure). •b

  10. The more of your videos I see, the more I love them. I wasn't very impressed by The Social Network, but I see it in a new light, here.

  11. I think jesse eisenberg's performance is just as important as aaron's genius script. When you think of some generic action hero alpha male role, you could kinda interchangeably fill it with any 6ft guy with a bit a scruff, a chiseled jaw line, and a deep voice. But when thinking about mark's character in this movie, it NEEDED to be jesse eisenberg. There is no other actor in my mind who could come close to nailing this role in the way that aaron wrote it.

  12. I'm so glad he pointed this out at 11:59. Every actor knows the difficult part about acting is not the happy ending or dramatic crying scenes, but things like that. Little nuances that we do every day that we never notice. So hard to make that look natural and Jesse does it so well.

  13. I love the scene where Eduardo barges in from the doors, the amount of MOMENTUM, Christ, it builds up so beautifully. Great video! Learned a lot 😀

  14. I'm a recent subscriber and so glad I found your channel. Absolute great work, especially on this amazing movie (the WW is easily also my favorite TV-show ever).

  15. The westwing??? really?
    You should do an episode showing why it is a great show… I can't remember it was a good show but I was a kid when it was on air.

  16. My uncle owned the bar the first scene of the movie was filmed with mark and his girl. He opened up another restaurant in my hometown. RIP Uncle, I miss you man, i looked up to u 🙂

  17. I know zip about film but, that was really quite fascinating, also; The West Wing is also my favourite TV show of all time, you have great taste 🙂

  18. Typical Sorkin horseshit in that first scene. So there are 300 million geniuses in China, are there Aaron? One in every four Chinese people is a genius?

  19. I loved Steve Jobs because it uses the classic 3 Act storyline done as three product launches: MacIntosh – 1984, NeXTcube – 1988, and iMac – 1998.

  20. I just love your editing. It's very clear that you put a lot of effort into these videos and they're so engaging.

  21. Write about "Closet Land" with Madeline Stowe and Alan Rickman. It's a dialogue heavy story with a disturbing premise.

  22. I don't understand why Sorkin gets so much credit for inventing the walk and talk. As far as I know, that was first done on the HBO show "The Larry Sanders Show."

  23. It was so irksome to hear him say "SATs" over and over again like he took multiple exams.
    (I know that there are subject tests but you can only get a 1600 on the regular one)

  24. Good review. Thank you. I suggest you look at :

    'Margin Call' (2011) – directed and written by by J.C. Chandor

  25. Not having strong, conflicting ideas presented by people who are confident challenging the top dog is, in my opinion, where movies by faces like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder go wrong.

  26. You may not have written a super successful screenplay Michael, but you have the most successful channel on YouTube about analyzing how to tell stories. You sir, are unparalleled in capturing the key insights of telling the most engaging and rewarding story. I'm lucky to have found your channel.

  27. I would like to see an analysis of Lars von triers or Paul Thomas andersons productions great Video by the way greets 😘

  28. The music was my favorite part. Honestly, sorkin and fincher made the Facebook story seem so much cooler than what it really was. The music, the mode, and the rapid dialogue made me feel like I was watching a movie about a bank heist not a bunch of nerds making debatably the worse invention of modern history

  29. Enjoy his fast dialog – although, after hearing the stylist beats of any song the replay gets tiring.
    I get it though, its his signature. Perhaps, its good to collaborate like a painter would, one does one side of dialog and the other has a different brush?

  30. Wow, I never really thought of the movie in the way that you said about it being about the destruction of a friendship. That made the “I was your only friend” line even sadder than I thought before. First time viewer who was just cruising “Social Network” videos, but I love your work! Well done!

  31. Based on the book sort-of-written by the aw-poor-guy-gets-shafted-by-Zucker who was insider trading on the Brazil stock market thanks to his dad (while still in college) and would later move to Singapore to avoid over 600millionUSD in taxes. No hero, he, but hey…

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