One of my biggest pet peeves as a writer is having two characters talking over the phone. It never feels like there are real stakes, because neither one is in the other's face. A lot of times, you have to rely on the direction and editing to make the scene dramatic. Not just the words.
Well, there are few better combinations than when David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin united to make The Social Network. The razor-sharp script fires on all cylinders and thrusts us into the world of tech workers, teens, and rocky friendships.
At the center of the story is the friendship of Eduardo and Mark. They worked on Facebook together, but their bond becomes fractured as the site gets bigger and bigger. Eventually, it leads to a tumultuous phone call. One that actually feels dramatic.
Check out this scene analysis from Film-Drunk Love, and let's talk after the break.
How Fincher's Subtle Direction in The Social Network Turned a Phone Call into a Massive Moment
Shooting phone calls are hard. As I mentioned, you have actors with no one to play off, because they're usually isolated in scenes. You want the drama, but it's hard to get story beats in there. For this section of the movie, Fincher elected to go away from the way many people shoot calls and do something much more interesting.
Instead of making it look like actors were looking at each other and matching framing and eyelines, he has characters facing away from one another, and the framing changes variably.
We can feel the inferred distance in their friendship and know without a shadow of a doubt they are growing apart.
Another fun thing Sorkin adds to this scene is a conflict with Eduardo's girlfriend. She's lighting a real fire in his room. Meanwhile, Mark is outside of a party, showing how isolated he feels without his best friend.
We are close on Eduardo, but Mark is in an ECU. They each move while taking. Eduardo is putting out a physical fire in his room while trying to calm down his friend. Mark is alone while trying to get his friend to stop messing with their growth.
This back and forth takes each of them in and out of different framings, sometimes with a static camera in calmer moments, and then moving the camera when characters pace or are upset.
These variables control the mood and tone of every call across the movie but are most evident here. They are very subtle but tell us all we need to know about a major moment. This is a breaking point between the two. A friendship has officially died, and a few scenes later, when Eduardo smashes Mark's computer... we know it's all over.
Did you notice these movements and frames when watching the movie? Let us know what you think in the comments.