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Posts Tagged ‘The Social Network.’

“I’d counsel anyone that as soon as they see a movie which starts ‘Based on a true story’ should look at it the way you do with a painting and not a photograph.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

In yesterday’s post Emotional Climaxes I pulled a quote from Aaron Sorkin on how he used “emotional climaxes” in writing A Few Good Men. That made me think about the ending of The Social Network. When we think of climaxes in movies it’s easy to think of things like the shark exploding at the end of JAWS.

But you don’t hear much about emotional climaxes. We’re back in the realm of the outer story and the inner story. The outer story of The Social Network, written by Sorkin, has to do with a law suit surrounding Facebook. But the inner emotional story is what packs a punch in the very last scene of the movie.

Sorkin sets up The Social Network story in the dynamic opening scene by showing the Mark Zuckerberg character’s emotional mindset of wanting to be popular and accepted, so that he can have a better life. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sorkin wrote the first and the last scenes first because they make such a tidy bookend.

If The Social Network were a proverb it could be, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the world, but forfeit his friends?” The following comment by Sorkin give some insights into how he went about developing the Zuckerberg character. (Yes, based on a real life character who just happens to be the richest man in the world under 30-years old—but Sorkin was painting with a broad brush.)

“Just because you have money, it’s not like you no longer have emotions. (Zuckerberg) spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti-hero and the last five minutes being a tragic hero. I’m not judging, I want to respect and defend him so I locate the things in him that are most like myself…I’m awkward socially, and I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose pressed up against the glass feeling like an outsider.” 

That Sorkin quote was pulled from an interview with Trevor Johnston/Time Out London. An interview where Sorkin also revealed that he is the first actor playing the roles in his scripts, which includes him saying the lines out loud and getting into arguments with himself.

Aaron: “In fact, when I was writing The West Wing the head of NBC sent a package to my office: it was one of those headsets you used to get for a phone while you were in the car. There was a note saying: ‘I stopped beside you at a traffic light today and you looked like a madman—please wear the headset, even if you don’t plug it in.'”

Trevor : So the car’s a really productive space for you…

Aaron: “And I take maybe six or eight showers a day when I’m writing. Not because I’m a germophobe, but it just gives me a little energy shot, and putting on fresh clothes makes me feel, especially if I’m not writing well, and started the day on the wrong foot—that I’m getting a do-over. Listening to music in the car is another one for me. If I hear a song that takes me to a certain place emotionally, I try to think about writing a scene that gets me there.”

The odds are pretty good that Sorkin’s name will pop up on an Oscar nomination this year for his hand in writing Moneyball—so if you’re looking for a jolt in your writing you may want to keep an eye on those emotional climaxes, act out your scenes, use listening to music in your car as a springboard emotionally, and don’t forget those six to eight showers a day.

Related Post: Writing to Music (Tip #52)

Scott W. Smith

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“Over and over again we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies.”
King George VI (Colin Firth)
The King’s Speech, Oscar winner; Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenwriter

That above quote is the kind of the history of the world in just 25 words.

Suggestion: For the 2012 Oscars, Anne Hathaway and Steve Martin. Or Billy Crystal and Anne Hathaway. Seasoned entertainer and an attractive, youthful, spunky newcomer. Old and young. Think about it. (One 30-something friend posted on Facebook this morning, “no more ‘yang and hip’, can we have old and funny.”)

Personally I felt like I got a little closer to the Oscars last night.  I once produced a TV show with a group in Chicago and the editor of one Communicator Award-winning programs we worked on once dated now Oscar-winner Trent Reznor in his pre-Nine Inch Nails days in high school in Pennsylvania. (That’s like two degrees of separation. Every step counts. I can practically see it on the shelf next to the Addy Awards I won last week.)

I enjoyed the Oscars last night and watched the entire program for the first time in more than a decade. And while it’s common for people to focus on what they didn’t like about the Oscars, I thought the montage using the closing speech from The King’s Speech was just one of several incredibly well done segments.  The year 2010 goes down in my book as a fine year for movies.

In fact, watching the Oscars last night I came up with a top ten list of life lessons I learned from the movies last year and the Oscars this year.

1)   Don’t fear change.

2)   You can overcome staggering challenges in your life.

3)   Good friends are good to have.

4)   Don’t screw over your good friends.

5)   If you do screw over your friends, you’ll be friendless.

6)   It can take decades to win an Oscar.

7)   You can win an Oscar on your second film.

8)   Artistic perfection can kill you.

9)   Meth is bad and screws up families and communities.

10) Don’t go rock climbing alone.

And for all the screenwriters out there over 40-years-old, the grey-haired, 73-year old screenwriter David Seidler won the Oscar for writing The King’s Speech (which also won best picture) proving that sometimes it takes a little time.  And even if you broke into the business back in 1965 translating Gozzila scripts and your previous credits include the TV movie, Come on, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story (as were both the case for Seidler) that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t write something that leaves people speechless.

Congrats to all the winners last night.

Related Posts:

Writing “The King’s Speech”

Writing “The Social Network”

Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Toy Story 3)

“Winter’s Bone” (Daniel Woodrell)

Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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“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?

FEMALE: No.

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.

The End

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.

Related posts:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles

Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)

Writing “The Social Network (part 1)

Writing “The Social Network: (part 2)

Screenwriting Quote #42 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about listening and reading about writers talking about the writing process is you see how everyone’s approach is different. Some write in the morning, some at night, some write quickly in bursts and others methodically take their time. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) was very successful writing from theme, but fellow Syracuse University grad Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) has a little different perspective on theme:

“When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.”
Aaron Sorkin
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010

Related Post: Screenwriting Via Index Cards (Touches on the writing process of Aaron Sorkin.)

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“What jumped out at me (about the 14 page treatment for Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires) wasn’t Facebook. Facebook wasn’t something I knew a lot about when I started. Frankly, it’s not something I know a whole lot about now. I know more about Facebook in 2003-04 than I do in 2010. But what jumped out at me about it was set against the backdrop of this very modern invention was a story that was as old as storytelling itself.  Of friendship, and loyalty, and betrayal, and class, and power—these things that Aeschylus* would have written about, or Shakespeare would have written about, or Paddy Chayefsky would have written about a few decades ago, and it was just lucky for me that none of those guys were available so I got to write about it.”
Aaron Sorkin on what attracted him to write the screenplay for The Social Network
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010  

* Greek playwright born circa 525 B.C (That’s his pre-Facebook look on the top right.)

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #42 (Aaron Sorkin)

Movie Cloning (Part 1)

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“I can trace so much of what I do every day, when I’m writing, to what I was taught back then by my teachers at Syracuse.”
Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)

“I didn’t have a lot of talent, so I tried to make up for it with spit and vinegar. I spent more time arguing with umpires than I spent on the bases,”
Sparky Anderson

Yesterday, I learned that the great baseball coach Sparky Anderson died and that brought back a flood of memories. And it light of the recent controversy regarding the teaching of screenwriting it seemed like a fitting time to look at what makes a teacher (or coach) good at what they do.

The first major league baseball game I ever saw was in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. In fact, on the drive over from Dayton we passed the old Crosley Field. A sacred time for a nine-year old. I grew up a fan of The Big Red Machine in which Sparky Anderson was the coach. I named first dog Sparky—and my second one, too. It’s safe to say I was a Spark Anderson fan.

Long before Anderson found his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame he was born and spent his early youth in Bridgewater, South Dakota. Years ago I remember driving through the small town of Bridgewater on one of my trips and I saw a sign that said something like, “birthplace of Sparky Anderson.” People really do come from unusual places and go on to accomplish amazing things. (I should add that catcher Johnny Bench, who played for Anderson and who many consider the greatest catcher to ever play the game, was from Binger, Oklahoma (pop. 500 when he was growing up).

Anderson was born during the Great Depression, and according to a USA Today article he was,”one of five children who lived in a house without an indoor toilet or sufficient heat. In the winter, Anderson’s father put cardboard over the windows to block the cold.” When he was ten his family moved to Los Angeles and he would become a good enough ball player to make it to the major league—for one season. The reason he lasted just one year was his batting average was only .218.

So at the age of 30 he became a minor league coach and worked his way up until he was named the manager of the Cincinnati Reds where he lead the team into the World Series in his first year (1970). Then in 1975 and 1976 he and the Reds won back to back World Series. (The ’75 series against Boston is the one Matt Damon and Robin Williams discuss in the film Good Will Hunting.)

Anderson would go on to win another World Series in 1984, managing the Detroit Tigers to become the first manager to win the World Series in both the National and American Leagues. We was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

So while he got to live his dream and play in the major leagues, he did not have a successful career as a player. But as a coach? Forgetabouit. He knocked it out the park. But they say he never forgot his humble background, and as a manager he knew it was standing on a rocky ground. He kept a sign Detroit office that read; “Every 24 hours the world turns over on someone who was sitting on top of it.” That’s good for us all to remember.

“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”
Sparky Anderson

The whole idea of most of the great coaches not being great players at the highest levels interests me.  Recently I came across some quotes from Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy on what makes a good coach. (Dungy had a brief career as an NFL player, but like Anderson made his mark as a coach) :

“A mark of a good coach is being able to energize others by showing them their potential.”

“A good coach usually believes in the players more than they believe in themselves.”

“A good coach understands the personality of individuals in order to know how to help them.”

And Gordie Gillespie may not be a household name, but he is the all-time winningest coach in college baseball. Here’s part of his list of what makes a good coach.

You have to like young people
“Your primary reason for coaching should be to watch young people grow, mature and develop. Sure, everybody likes to win, but if winning is the only thing that counts, you’ll never get that deep feeling of pride and satisfaction that comes from watching your kids succeed at life.”

Organized
“You won’t accomplish half of what you set out to do without a concrete, workable plan.”

Enthusiasm
“It would be a complete contradiction if you were not enthusiastic about teaching them the game.”

Patience
“One of the greatest joys of coaching is to see the least talented suddenly blossom, and all because you never gave up on him or her.”

Persistance
“The beautiful aspect about defeat is that it is a powerful learning experience.”

Sincerity and concern
“Being truly concerned, to listen as well as teach, is not an easy virtue to acquire.”

I think those qualities translate well for coaches of all sports and any kind of teacher. And those are qualities that not everyone possess. Which explains why great players don’t usually make great coaches. So the next time you hear someone make a blanket statement like, “Those who can’t do, teach” know that there is some truth in that, just as there is, “Those who can do, can’t teach.”

A great athlete who recounts great moments in his or her career, and tells anecdote after anecdote, may make for an engaging after dinner speech—but it does not make one a good teacher.

And just to bring to tie this back to screenwriting,  every once in a while someone who has taught screenwriting for years breaks though and gets a feature script produced. And at least once in the history of mankind a teacher/writer has won an Oscar after they were a teacher. Don’t believe me? Check out the post First Screenplay, Oscar—Precious, and read about the journey of screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher who taught screenwriting at Columbia University.

“I devoted myself to writing for years without representation or a promise of anything. And there were times when I felt quite down about my prospects.”
Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)

I think Fletcher was 39 when he won the Academy Award for his first produced feature script. Other than film school, his sole credit was one short film that played at Sundance.

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #43 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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*Minor spoiler

“The hardest thing for me is getting started. I really need to get loaded up before I start writing. I hardly ever have been able to ‘see’ the whole thing at the outset, but if I ‘see’ the opening I can begin.”
Aaron Sorkin
Screenwriter, The Social Network

In the Script magazine article The Truth (?) About facebook, Bob Verini writes about Aaron Sorkin’s work on The Social Network “After months of research, having his clandestine meeting with sources and poring over the input to his Facebook page (screenwriter Sorkin) realized that the opening had come to him. Sorkin told Verini:

“I knew that it would be Mark (Zuckerberg) being broken up with by a girl; Mark going back to his dorm, blogging and hacking; starting Facemash; Facemash going viral; and a present-day legal deposition. Once I had that, I had my foot in the door and I wanted to write it.”


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“I had been thinking about this project for a long time.  As a camera fanatic and a product builder, this was something I seemed destined to do.”
Jim Jannard on developing the RED camera

Today the folks over at RED announced plans for the release this year of their RED EPIC camera.  To date RED cameras have been used on over forty feature films including The Informant! starring Matt Damon, District 9, and David Fincher’s The Social Network. What’s amazing about that if you don’t follow such things is the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company hasn’t even existed for five years.

Jim Jannard founded the compnay in 2005 and when he released the specs for his newly designed camera many laughed. Jannard didn’t come from a Hollywood background or with lots of camera experience. What he did have was passion and vision. As well as some cash, investors, and  business expertise that included running and founding a company he used to own; Oakely sungalsses.

He pulled together a team of expert engineers and designers and the like to make something special.

“We needed a bunch of guys who were inventors to come up with entirely new ways of getting to the finish line.”
Jim Jannard Wierd magazine

His new RED  company began taking deposits for the camera in 2006. At the 2007 NAB convention they released footage that (Lord of the Rings) director Peter Jackson had shot on the yet to be released RED camera. The footage stunned a lot of people and it caused a backlog of orders.

“There’s talent on the streets, kids with ideas who have stories to tell and never get a chance. Up to now, they’ve been limited to tools that confine their stories to YouTube.”
Jim Jannard

Maybe Jannard and his team haven’t changed Hollywood yet, but the fact they are even mentioned at all in an eight part series (so far) on an overview of film history shows the potential they have to change the future. Keep in mind that the company has been in business less than five years and has only been selling cameras for a couple years now.

But its combination of high quality images and low costs to own many have said it is the film blow for films to technically still being shot on film.

“This is the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole career: jaw-dropping imagery recorded onboard a camera light enough to hold with one hand. I don’t know how Jim and the RED team did it–and they won’t tell me–but I know this: RED is going to change everything.
Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh’s last few films have been shot with the RED camera.

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time…back in the 80s while in film school I did some assisting for a fashion photographer in L.A. and I noticed that his digital Minolta digital light meter was easy to use and asked a teacher at school why film people didn’t use a digital meter. He said the Spectra light meter (that you had to add slides to and make calculations) was the standard for the industry.

Today Spectra light meters are digital, but that’s when I first realized how slow Hollywood is to change. In the 90s as non-linear work stations for audio and video editing started to gain ground there was much debate in Hollywood in the role of this technology. Flat bed film editing systems (Steenbeck, KEM, Moviola) were the standard in the industry for decades and many said that would never change.

AVID made a splash at the 1989 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) basically saying that the future of video editing was about to shift dramatically. There were plenty of scoffers but within a couple years a small number of feature films started to be edited on the AVID and by the mid-90s there were dozens being edited on the system that was said would never replace traditional film editing. In 1996, the first film to be edited on an AVID (The English Patient) won an Academy Award for editing (Walter Murch) and also won best picture. Today almost all feature films and TV programs are edited on an AVID or some other kind of digital non-linear editing system.

The evolution and demise of traditional film and sound editing was actually a fairly slow process because it was expensive at first, untested, and required a new way of doing things. (Plus the streamlined techology of the editing process threatened jobs making it not real popular in some circles. ) I first worked on an AVID in 1994 and instantly loved the way you could try new edits without having to use a splicer and tape.  But not everyone agreed with the new way of doing things, and unless he’s recently changed Steven Spielberg still edits the old school way and it’s worked out pretty well for him.

Cameras have been a little slower in changing over to the digital side. Many independent filmmakers embraced the digital cameras instantly because it eliminated the high cost of film and its related expenses. And just like on the editing side many have said that tradition film cameras would never be replaced. The image of a 35mm film is beautiful and once again that has been the way that movies have been made for over 100 years.

But as the digital cameras improve in quality more and more directors and cameramen and making the switch to the digital cameras. And not just for costs. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was shot with the Sony F-900, Slumdog Millionaire was shot with the Viper camera, and both Arri and Panavision also have digital cameras. It’s getting harder and to deny the digital shift taking place. But the somewhat affordable RED camera is causing the most excitement for independent filmmakers around the country.

David Fincher came up through the ranks working at ILM and directing music videos before going on to direct Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. He is currently shooting The Social Network (about the founders of Facebook) which was shot on the digital Red EPIC camera. Here is what he said recently about digital cameras totally replacing film cameras;

“The writing is on the wall. If you don’t believe me, I have some stock in Kodak I’d like to sell you, because this is just not the way motion pictures are gonna be made three years from now.”

For a more technical explaination here is the cinematographer of that film had to say;

“To say that RED and the new Mysterium-X Sensor is impressive is tantamount to saying that Napalm is a little itchy. The sensor’s increased resolution is an obvious bonus but the expanded latitude especially at the high end and the dynamic color range makes this camera a tremendous asset to any cinematographer’s arsenal. The Mysterium-X’s amazing ability to handle both mixed color temperatures and low light situations affords us exciting opportunities to push the boundaries of our craft.”
Jeff Cronenweth, A.S.C.

The chances are good that wherever you live in the United States there is at least one RED camera nearby. You write the script, he or she shoots the film (shoot the digital will never sound right), and see what happens. And, of course, there are plenty of other cameras out there  that can do a solid job. But the day is coming where at least from the technical side the same cameras used on Hollywood features will be commonly found in your neck of the woods.

Scott W. Smith

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