Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Research and inspiration, part of 2011 SBIFF Writers' Panel: It Starts with the Script.
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Anne Thompson: Aaron, your movie has obviously taken off in all sorts of crazy ways since you wrote it, in terms of the debate, the media, discussion of it, and the Mark Zuckerberg of it all. The idea that you were taking some license with him has always been something of an issue, and it almost feels, on the one hand, some people read this movie that he is a hero, some people hate him. I mean there is Rorschach test of how people react to him, and you've also had to deal with his own reaction and the kind of media counter-fight that he waged.
But in some ways your movie is responsible for him being on the cover of Time. Could you articulate for me a little bit how you have responded to this extraordinary arc that has emerged since you wrote this script, presumably you know thinking about what might happen and not sure how it would play out? Aaron Sorkin: Sure. I'll do my best. First of all, I think that the movie is fictionalized less than you'd probably think.
When you're writing nonfiction, particularly nonfiction about people who are still alive, and in this case they are young people, you have your own moral compass that says, "First, do no harm." You're not going to play it fast and loose with the lives of real people. And if your own moral compass is broken, there is the Sony Legal Department to help you out. (laughter) You're simply not allowed to say something that is untrue and defamatory at the same time. And if I had, you would know it, because Mark Zuckerberg would own Sony right now. (laughter) The Social Network doesn't fall very easily into any particular genre, but for me, the one that it comes closest to is a courtroom drama. And after doing all the research, and that research included available research, like the kind of thing you could, anything you could find on the Internet; for instance--and very importantly--Mark's own blog post from that Tuesday night in October 2003 that we hear in voiceover at the beginning of the movie when Mark in a revenge stunt against a woman whose name I changed.
The character was real; the name is different. There were three names I changed in that thing. It's a revenge done first against this one woman and then against the entire female population of Harvard. Facemash, which goes viral in one night and crashes the Harvard computer system, you can find that yourself. I then had cartons and cartons of legal documents that I was walked through by two lawyers--an intellectual property lawyer and a corporate lawyer--and finally, the first-person research, speaking to the people who were right there at the events that were taking place. And just the one last point that I'll make about fictionalizing it, before I answer the real substance of your question, is this.
In that blog post that we hear at the beginning of the movie, Mark tells us that he's drunk. Okay? He says I won't lie to you. I'm pretty inebriated right now. So what if it's Tuesday night, and it's only 09:30. We hear Jesse saying that in voiceover as he's typing it; it is there in the blog post. What I had written in the script was that Mark walks into his dorm room, walks past his laptop, turns it on, walks out of the frame, comes back in, puts a glass down. We see ice go into the glass, vodka go into the glass, orange juice get poured over the glass, and he begins drinking.
But a few weeks before photography began, we found out that it was beer that that he was drinking that night, specifically Beck's. And so David Fincher said, "All right, Aaron. We have got to change it to a beer. Let's have him go over to his mini fridge and get a beer out." And I pleaded with him, "David, come on. Drunk is drunk. It doesn't really matter how he got there. We're not changing the fundamental truth, and making a screwdriver is just visually more interesting than opening a bottle of beer, and it also reads immediately as 'I'm drinking to get drunk,' rather than 'I am drinking because I am college student, or on I'm thirsty.'" But he said, "No, when we know a fact, that is the fact that we're going to use." And I just have to say that it should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the event that we know what brand of beer he was drinking on a Tuesday night in October 2003 when there were only four other people in the room. (laughter) In terms of the takeaway, I'm delighted by the fact that it is, as you put it, Anne, a Rorschach test, that while the movie seems to be enjoyed by pretty much every demographic, it doesn't seem to have a demographical sweet spot, that the takeaways are remarkably different, that there are people who see it as a cautionary tale about technology replacing humanity, and that it doesn't matter how many friends you can count on your page.
What matters is the depth of the friendship that you have with one person. And there are people who see Mark as a rock star, who kind of overthrew the establishment and built his own thing, and there are plenty of other takeaways as well, and none of them are invalid. I like that the movie doesn't take a position on who was right and who was wrong, who was lying, who is telling the truth, who's good, who's bad, or what you're supposed to think the movie is about.
So I feel very good about that. Anne: And yet in some of your acceptance speeches you seemed to be reaching out to Mr. Zuckerberg, as if you want to say, "thank you," or you are trying to ameliorate it a little bit. Aaron: I do, and that's because, you know what, he, in the week that the movie opened, we opened in the U.S. on October 1st, and just a few days before we opened, he donated $100 billion to the Newark Public School System. That gift was met with some skepticism and cynicism in the press because it was felt that it was done to deflect the negative criticism that would surely be coming his way when the movie opened. And I felt like neither the kids in Newark, nor their parents, nor their teachers, gave a damn how the money got there, that it was an extraordinary gift, and I was trying to tell him that on television.
You know, one of the reasons I really got jazzed about writing the movie was because when I would--the first thing I did was just see a couple of tapes of him. Lesley Stahl had done an interview with him two years ago. She also did one very recently. But she did one with him two years ago, around the time that I first started working on the movie, and there was some more footage of him at a conference of some kind in Silicon Valley.
I watched this footage with a couple of friends of mine and a couple of people I work with who were women, and they had a very negative reaction to Mark. They recoiled. They thought, "Ugh" He's--they didn't like him, and I did. I saw what they were seeing, but I also saw a kid who is socially awkward, and I was able to identify with that, a kid who's in way over his head, and I'm able to identify with that, too.
He was 26 years old at the time of his Lesley Stahl interview, running a company the size of General Motors or CBS, and being interviewed on 60 Minutes, and I didn't believe that I would have been able to handle that as well as he had. So, honest to God, what you're referring to, the couple of acceptance speeches I've been delighted to be able to give, when I've reached out to Mark, I've really been talking to that kid who got shoved into his locker his whole life, Aaron: saying, "You did all right." Anne: Thank you.
(applause) Anne: So Scott and David, both of you are dealing, as Aaron has been, with real, live people who you want to do, do right by. Talk a little bit about the ways that you have had to jump away from reality to form the narrative and dramas of The King's Speech and The Fighter. Scott Silver: You know, we had to change a lot and condense a lot.
I think it's a different level with sort of Micky and Dicky that are this-- Anne: Do speak into the microphone, yeah. Scott: Like that. I think it's a different level for Micky and Dicky. I think we wanted to stay as close as we could to the truth of who they were as people, and try to be authentic as we can to the characters, but we had to change a lot for the time period. In real life, Dicky went to prison for eight years. Micky had three different comebacks, which makes it a far less interesting story. So we changed obviously enough to make it into a movie, and it's not a documentary. As far as the reaction, I think it was harder for Dicky, I mean to see himself up there smoking crack, and Christian is sort of convincing. I mean it was really difficult for him to watch the movie.
Micky, I couldn't ever imagine someone making him--not that anybody would want to, but make a movie about my life. I mean it's such a--I just couldn't imagine someone up there playing me, going through some experience that I had had. So I think how someone reacts is obviously personal. The weird thing for Micky is that one part he hated is that in real life he never got knocked down in the fight against Shea Neary. And he hated Shea Neary. Micky is the sweetest, nicest guy, but he hated Shea Neary. He was really rude to him. And so Micky was really upset that it showed him being knocked down. He was like, "I never got *!@#$ knocked down." That really--it took him to get over.
That was the only thing that bugged him. It was like that sort of drove him crazy, but we took the movie to Lowell, and I was most concerned with Alice, because these are real people. I mean it's easy for us to sort of, especially in our case, they are Steve: alive, but you know-- Anne: And they're on your set, right? Scott: Yeah. There are a lot of them, and obviously it was shot in Lowell. But these are still real people who have kids and ex- husbands and husbands and boyfriends, and they go to school, and you know it's sort of--I don't think anybody sees themselves in the way that sort of the movie portrays them.
It's sort of--that's who they are as people. So I was sort of, especially for Alice, who is really frail, she is 80 now, she is actually in the hospital. But she hadn't been out of her house literally for like months. When she was younger, she was, no joke, I mean she was tough, but now she is really frail, and I thought the movie would kill her. I mean, it was sort of like, I was terrified, because there is some stuff in there that I knew that was true but that would embarrass her about the number of husbands--well, husbands?--the number of different fathers of her kids. There were only two husbands.
So there are some stuff that you go, "I don't know," and so she watched the movie with one of the producers, Dorothy Aufiero, and I was terrified. And David, to his credit, sort of stood there, because if anybody, they were going to point at him, not at me for that. So he stood there, and Alice started watching it, and she's like literally like 80 pounds. I mean she is tiny and thin, and she sat there watching it, and the one thing in real life that I also think is in the movie, Alice loved to get dressed up for events. One of the things for her that was great when Dicky started boxing, she would always go get her hair done. She would always get an outfit for it.
I mean that was sort of part of the experience. So of course, Alice had already gone and got an outfit and she had her hair teased up, she was frail, frail, frail, and thin, thin, thin. And she started watching the movie, and she had a bag of popcorn, and her hand just froze for the first ten minutes of the movie and it didn't move. I literally thought it was going to kill her. It was like, she just stood there. And the first scenes are the toughest, because Melissa Leo, who did a great job, comes in and shows a scrapbook. Then there is the scene in the bar where you find out that there is a bunch of different fathers, and there are nine kids, and it's like they are givin' her a hard time, but it's the truth. And I was just like, ah! And she froze, and then as the movie got started along, she started eating the popcorn. (laughter) And once she started eating the popcorn, I was like, "Phew, we are okay." We're going to make it through, she is going to be okay. And I walked with her out afterwards, and she said, "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be." And she was okay. Then during the screening, two of the sisters, Red Dog and Beaver--no, it was Red Dog.
I am going to get this wrong. I think it was Red Dog and Beaver walked out. They were not happy. They screamed at David, but one of them came back. So given how what the reaction could have been, I think that was an overwhelming success for the-- I literally thought that someone would get killed in the screening. So that was sort of--they're doin' okay.
Anne: David. David Arndt: Well, I have not had the pleasure of seeing the Queen eat popcorn, nor is she liable to make the commercial saying, "If you are only going to see one Royal film this year, see The King's Speech." We do know it has shown at Buckingham Palace to the household--that is to say the private secretaries, the equerries, the courtiers, and they loved it. And I was not there, but I was told that Prince Charles' private secretary at the end of the screening said, "Bloody good show." (laughter) When you are writing about a recently reigning monarch of England, you've got to be a little careful.
So obviously, I felt there was a great burden upon me to be as historically accurate as humanly possible. Sure, liberties have to be taken; we are making a film, not a documentary. The greatest liberty I took was, similar to yours, the compression of time. The relationship between Logue and Bertie was over a very extended period, which makes for kind of a flabby movie. I've noticed, doing a lot of biopics, that people don't have the grace to live their life in a good three-act scenario. (laughter) They are very messy.
But I tried to--you would be surprised how many lines in the film are actually direct quotes, a great deal of them. We get sometimes criticized for things that seem too good to be true. Some critics have said, "Well, it's absolutely nonsense that the Queen was sitting on the King's stomach during his breathing exercises." I've got to tell you folks, that's exactly what she did. The scene where right at the eve of the coronation, Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury discovers that Logue is not a doctor, has no credentials, had no formal training, and wants to replace him, and Bertie stands up to him.
That really did take place. It was probably--it was not the last night before the coronation, but it was during the rehearsal period. It did take place. The techniques, I mean the greatest, the biggest challenge I faced was, of course, the gut of the film: it's two men in a room and nobody else was in the room with them, and they're both gone, so I can't interview them. So it had to be educated surmise, but it wasn't a terribly difficult problem really.
Although I could never prove that Lionel Logue read Sigmund Freud, I knew intuitively he to be using the talking cure, and surprisingly I got to prove that in an extraordinary way. I have a very elderly and eccentric uncle in England, also named David, also a former stutterer. And in the early stages of this project when I was trying to do it on my own nickel, he would let me use his flat in St. John Wood as a pied-a-terre, and he became familiar with the project. He asked to read the screenplay, which I gave him. And one day he said to me, "You know, that fellow in your project, Logue, isn't his name?" I said, "Yes, uncle. You've read the screenplay. His name is Logue." "Australian, wasn't he?" I said, "Yes, he is Australian." "Mm! Yes, I saw him for years as a lad." I said, "What!?" He said, "Yes, your grandfather, my father, wanted me to be treated by the King's speech therapist, so I went." I said, "What? Uncle, why didn't you tell me? What went on? What were the consultations like? What was the treatment like?" He said, "Well, I didn't mention it because it was rubbish. Absolute nonsense.
The man didn't know anything. He was an Australian gangster, just taking money. All he wanted to do was talk about his childhood and his parents, and get me to talk about my childhood and my parents." I said, "Yes, but David, you don't stutter anymore." He said, "Yes, but I would have outgrown it wouldn't I?" So if you know that one of the people in the room is using the talking cure, and if you've read everything conceivably written about the patient--which I had done, obviously-- it's pretty easy to figure out what they're going to be talking about.
So I feel confident that, can I say that those were the exact words they used? Absolutely not. But is that probably what we they were talking about? Yeah, I think it's a pretty good guess. So that was how I was dealing with that.
Moderated by Anne Thompson from indieWIRE, the It Starts with the Script panelists talk about the development of their films, their research before sitting down at the keyboard, the evolution of the script, and finally, getting it to the screen. What's clear is that there's no formula, no easy path, and no shortcuts. The writers candidly reveal the obstacles each overcame on the way to seeing their vision realized. The anecdotes range from stories of triumph over adversity to remarkable collaborative efforts to just plain luck. Panelists are Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Scott Silver (The Fighter), David Seidler (The King's Speech), Charlie Mitchell (Get Low), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3).