“Dating you is like dating a StairMaster.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara)
The Social Network
INT. COLLEGE BAR — NIGHT
Two young people sitting at a table talking and drinking beer.
MALE: I can’t believe it’s three minutes shorter than American Pie.
FEMALE: The movie?
MALE: The song.
FEMALE: What are you talking about?
MALE: The opening scene in the movie is five and a half minutes long, and the song is eight and a half minutes long.
FEMALE: What movie?
MALE: The Social Network.
FEMALE: Your point?
MALE: Eight thirty-three.
FEMALE: Eight thirty-three what?
MALE: Technically that’s how long the song is. Eight minutes and thirty-three seconds.
FEMALE: No one cares.
MALE: It’s one of the most popular songs ever.
FEMALE: No one cares that it’s eight minutes and thirty-three seconds long.
MALE: Do you want to order some food?
MALE: Movie scenes are usually only between one and three minutes long.
FEMALE: Listen to me—No one cares.
MALE: Screenwriters care.
FEMALE You’re obsessed with screenwriting. You have screenwriting OCD. You need help.
MALE: Screenwriting leads to a better life.
FEMALE: Really? Name one screenwriter who’s happy?
MALE: I didn’t say they were happy.
FEMALE: Can we talk about something besides screenwriting?
MALE: Did you know that they did ninety-nine takes of that opening scene in The Social Network?
FEMALE: How is that even possible?
MALE: They shot it over two nights.
FEMALE: Two actors, ninety-nine takes? That’s crazy. Wait. I thought we weren’t talking about screenwriting.
MALE: We’re not. We’re talking about directing.
FEMALE: You are insane.
MALE: You should be a little more supportive. If I get in I’ll be taking you to parties and you’ll be meeting people you don’t normally get to meet.
FEMALE: You’d do that for me?
MALE: Of course. We’re dating.
FEMALE: Well I have news for you, we’re not.
MALE: Not what?
FEMALE: Dating. Bye, bye Mr. American Pie.
She’s gone. He’s left there with his beer. Alone—without a friend in the world.
Director David Fincher not only did 99 takes of the opening scene in The Social Network, according to the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin he didn’t even yell “print” until the 30th take. Think of that— 99 takes of a scene that on paper is slightly over eight pages. Imagine what it took for actors Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara to pull off that scene from a sheer energy level. (But I’m guessing that was the point, exhaustion and exasperation. You could hear one the actors saying to Fincher, “Acting for you is like working with a StairMaster.”)
Of course, they were shooting digitally on the Red Camera so there really was’t anything to “print,” but terminology tends to have a long shelf life in the film industry. (Like it will be the “film industry” long after film technically disappears.)
Fincher and director of photography Jeff Croneweth not only shot digitally, but they shot that opening scene with multiple cameras. It’s doubtful that in the history of cinema that there ever was a single scene shot on film with multiple cameras for 99 takes. The film costs alone would be outrageous. (But I’ll have to go back and check the records on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.)
But that opening scene of The Social Network is brilliant. It’s a simple scene that is full of complexity. It reveals character, theme, and meaningful conflict, and sets the tone for the entire movie. I think that as soon as they finished editing that movie that they should have sent it directly to the Smithsonian.
We’ll see what the Academy thinks tonight at the Oscar awards.
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles