Don't Ask Justin Timberlake About Yogi Bear, and 8 More Revelations From The Social Network's NYFF Debut
It took arriving 90 minutes early and consuming seven cups of coffee, but I managed to snag a spot at this morning's standing-room only New York Film Festival preview screening of The Social Network -- apparently the only one featuring director David Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake in one place to discuss their massively anticipated movie about the exhilarating (if ugly) advent of Facebook. And apart from learning that the film is excellent, there was much more to be discovered afterward at the Walter Reade Theater. To wit:
1. Fasten your seatbelts, etc.
Again, this is a very, very good film (more critical input next week from Stephanie Zacharek), and a very, very, very fast film. Fincher wanted to set the tone from the beginning, shooting nine pages of Sorkin's script in a little over four minutes. "Originally the script begins with black, and you hear the voices over laughing," he said of the bar break-up scene that begins The Social Network. "And I was wondering, well, why wouldn't you see the Columbia logo and start hearing them then? And hear the jukebox, and hear them talking, and let people know, 'Pin your ears back, man. You've got to pay attention, because we're starting.' If we could start over the trailers, that's where I would have started. [...] I just felt the scene teed up exactly who this guy was, exactly what the stakes were, exactly what the world was, and it taught you how to watch the movie."
2. Research schmesearch.
Eisenberg auditioned for the film before he had done any research on Zuckerberg or Facebook: "I was just focused on playing Aaron's characterization of Mark Zuckerberg." Garfield had two photos of Eduardo Saverin -- a sober one and a drunk one -- to go by: "I've never been drunk before, so it's good to see someone drunk and know what that face looks like." (NB: This seemed kind of genuine, actually. Who knew?) Timberlake avoided descriptions of Sean Parker entirely. "You meet him when he meets Facebook, pretty much, and I wanted to be excited by that."
3. Avoid Yogi Bear questions.
When you're asking the young cast about their participation in one of the year's most anticipated and acclaimed films, it's best not to invoke Justin Timberlake's role as Boo Boo in the upcoming holiday tentpole Yogi Bear. "I was hoping you'd ask me about Yogi Bear," he replied to a rather unfortunate press inquiry. "I'm glad we got that out of the way with the first question." Perhaps needless to say, it was out of the way and did not come up again.
4. This is not a biopic!
"A biopic is essentially there to tell you why somebody did what they did," Fincher said. "I wasn't interested in that at all. I was interested in what they did. And because you saw it from multiple points of view, and all of those points of view are polarized by intense delineation, I don't know whether Eduardo was Mark's best friend. I know that Eduardo stated that he was Mark's best friend, and I know that Mark stated the exact opposite. So we had to find a happy medium there where both of them walk away from the scenes you see them in, and one could righteously say, 'I was your best friend,' and the other could be aghast by that."
5. Nobody's on Facebook.
Garfield confessed to having "three months clean" from the Web site, Timberlake appreciates it but doesn't have time ("It's hard enough to do voicework in animated films at the same time"), while Fincher dismissed it. Not that he doesn't see the value: "It can be an incredibly powerful way to reach the masses. It can also be a gigantic waste of time. But [while] my 16-year-old can disappear for hours on end in her Facebook page, I could say the same thing about Gilligan's Island. Who am I to judge?"
6. This is not embellished or sexed up!
"There is less sex in this movie than there is in two minutes of Gossip Girl," said a slightly irritated Sorkin. "Nothing in the movie was invented for the sake of Hollywoodizing it or sensationalizing it." In fact, Facebook's lone participation in the film was to send corrective script notes on the finer points of computer hacking.
7. Lawrence Summers also might consider skipping this one.
Forget about Zuckerberg's rumored boycott of The Social Network: The controversial former Harvard president (and outgoing Obama Administration economic adviser), who played an inadvertent role in Facebook's unchecked ascendancy at the university, comes off about as you'd expect if you've followed anything about the guy's characterization through the last three years of economic catastrophe: Brusque, bellicose and fair only in the most technical definition of the word. Ruthless, in short.
8. Rooney Mara isn't necessarily David Fincher's new muse.
She's just talented! "I met Rooney auditioning for this," the director said when asked about Mara's small role in Social Network blooming into the coveted lead of his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adaptation. "Pretty much all the things that we loved about her for Erica are the kinds of things we loved about her for Lisbeth [Salander]. She's really capable, and she's a smart, hardworking actress. And she came in an auditioned for Dragon Tattoo, and we were like, 'Yeah -- she's still great.' And I also felt I needed someone where people didn't have a preconceived notion of who they were or how they would behave. She's a mystery onto which the audience can project."
9. Fincher knows he's lucky.
The guy has a reputation for brashness, arrogance and difficulty, but he seemed at least a little humbled by his opportunity to make The Social Network. "You read scripts that you want to see a movie of, and then you beg to be involved," he said. "This was one of those. I know now -- and I felt when I was shooting it -- that I was making something that I could look back on 10 or 12 years from now and say, 'I got to work with all these guys right as it happened -- right as they coalesced.' It was a great opportunity to work with a lot of people who came to play."