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THE SOCIAL NETWORK: How Meticulousness Made Nerds Look Cool

It’s been ten years since the premiere of David Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and with Facebook remaining as the world’s most widely used social media platform, while acquiring others such as Instagram and Whatsapp, the film remains more relevant than ever.  While the film’s decennial anniversary brings with it new historical insights, Fincher’s style and techniques remain tasteful and sophisticated.  With a budget of $40 million, the film managed to gross $224 million and bring in three Oscar wins out of eight nominations, for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.  Even today THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s achievements in these categories stand up, maintaining its status as one of the best films to come out of the decade.

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Adapted by Aaron Sorkin from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires, the film chronicles the turbulent the beginnings of the social media platform, Facebook, and the deterioration of the relationship between its founders’, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), through the two major lawsuits the company faced in its early days.  Eisenberg’s subtly sensitive portrayal of the seemingly unaffected Zuckerberg earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor within an incredibly talented list of contenders, Javier Bardem, Jeff Bridges, James Franco, and Colin Firth, who ended up taking home the award.  Justin Timberlake also surprised audiences with his performance as Napster founder, Sean Parker, helping to spur an acting career that he still dabbles in today. 

THE SOCIAL NETWORK made nerds look like rock stars, but that wasn’t because the film was drenched in violence, drugs, and sex; while they make their appearance (it is college, after all), the film didn’t win its graces from the likes of Roger Ebert, who named it the best film of 2010, from sheer exhibitionism posing as reality.   It was the creative mind of Fincher; the fast- paced dialogue from Sorkin; the musical style of collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; and the editing precision of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter- all common members of the Fincher ensemble, which gives his films that familiar feel, and elevates him to auteur status.

Sorkin’s 166-page script served as Fincher’s platform and would set the tone and pace for the finished product. The writer is known for his quick-witted, fast- paced dialogue, which is exactly why the film moves along so well.  In an interview for Indiewire.com, Fincher had stated,

“Sorkin-ese is not for the faint of heart, ’cause you have to drill it and drill it and drill it. You don’t frame words — you just deliver the paragraph. It’s an interesting thing to see 20 year-old faces spouting this stuff. But the big trick of it is to make sure it doesn’t end up being somebody aping…”

Fincher’s approach to Sorkin’s dialogue makes for interesting fast-paced conversations that feel more like watching a fencing match than an actual conversation.  Not only is it the endless “drilling and drilling” that has earned Fincher’s film lasting status, but how meticulously those pieces have been reviewed and stitched together in the editing room.

Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall have worked together on nearly every Fincher film, including other Fincher Oscar winner for editing, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).  The editors have explained their process with Fincher, who’s notorious for doing hundreds of takes at a time, which THE SOCIAL NETWORK was no exception to. Indiewire.com comprehensively broke down the team’s process,

“Editors typically look at all the takes of a scene in chronological order from first to last before selecting the best one. Wall would instead look at the starred take, Fincher’s favorite from the day of shooting, and then use that as the gauge against all the other takes. Next he would look at all of Fincher’s circled takes in descending chronological order, then all the other takes from last to first. But not only does Fincher shoot many takes, he shoots long ones, so Wall would often have to break up a scene into separate beats and order them with his system, then pick the best one from each subsection.”

This also means that Wall and Baxter frequently cut together lines and visuals from multiple other takes, explaining the fast cuts between characters on-screen during conversational moments.  This method makes for strong intensity, and makes the conversation feel that much more fast-paced when coupled with Sorkin’s dialogue, relieving any need for salacious action.

Other Fincher familiars involved with the piece were music collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  Known for their talents within Nine Inch Nails, these two lend their edgy scores to multiple Fincher films, helping to solidify his signature style.  The duo’s rock- electronic fusion is probably a large reason as to how this film made nerds look so cool.  In an interview with Los Angeles Times in February of 2011, Reznor had explained how he saw his music fitting within the film,

“the music remains a certain ambiguity. I’ve seen David talk about that piece and use words as seething, and I see that as well. The music kind of goes along with the idea that ‘You take this. You make your own decisions.’ The music is not one of those ones where you see someone sad, and this sad music goes along with it.”

Between clocking in a script down to the second before production starts, to demanding hundreds of takes from his cast and crew, to cutting between literally every single line of dialogue, to scoring music specifically to each scene and mood, it is clear that Fincher is one the most meticulous directors and auteurs that has ever lived and could rival that of Stanley Kubrick.  But if there is one thing that THE SOCIAL NETWORK or any other Fincher film has proven, is that it works. 

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