May 29, 2019

10 Lessons from 'The Social Network' Script (and Aaron Sorkin)

"The Social Network" screenplay thrust social media and the future of online friendships into the spotlight. It netted Aaron Sorkin an Academy Award and became one of the most successful movies of the year. So how did it happen?   

Aaron Sorkin is one of our greatest living writers. He's conquered the stage, small, and big screen, so he's pretty good at giving advice. Recently, Behind the Curtain put together a collection of sound bites from Sorkin, where he explains his process and how The Social Network script came into existence.  

Let's take a look at the lessons we can learn from the screenplay and Sorkin's writing style. 

Download The Social Network Screenplay PDF here!

1. You can't capture the zeitgeist 

As Sorkin explains early on in the first video, you sit down to write something that feels like it captures the world where it is right now. You need to go in to talk about something you care about and something you think is essential. In that way, your screenplay should bring the zeitgeist to the people. 

2. Do your research 

No matter what you write, real or make-believe, you owe the audience the facts. Your world has to be believable. Sorkin spent a ton of time researching the movie. He performed his research in tandem with Ben Mezrich, who was writing the book "The Accidental Billionaires." Their fact-finding and sharing informed both the novel and the screenplay. They had to collect anecdotes, court files, and conduct interviews, but the result is a movie that beautifully details the creation of Facebook.   

3. Tell all the versions of the story 

The film is full of unreliable narrators. While gathering the facts, Sorkin realized that it would be stupid just to pick one version of the story. In taking multiple points of view, he was able to condense the story and show us how various people could be right, wrong, or lying about the invention of Facebook. The Social Network screenplay weaves this web of lies and deceit into the fabric of the story and almost transcends the truth.  

4. Find intention, give them an obstacle 

The basis of every story is a character's want, and what gets in the way. Sorkin loaded this philosophy into every scene in the movie. When we talked about how to write a scene, we talk about wants and desires of characters. What motivates them to continue forward? Zuckerberg wanted to be invited to a party. He wanted friends. The whole story is told from that basal desire and expands outward. 

5. Be okay brainstorming bad ideas 

When you're reading about great writers like Sorkin, it can be easy to be intimidated. I know it's often hard for me to find common ground when I hear or see them interviewed. But the real joy here is knowing Sorkin went through thousands of bad ideas while writing The Social Network screenplay. And you have to be okay going through bad ideas too. The important part is that you get these ideas out of the way for the real gems. 

6. Writing fast means you know what you're doing 

As Sorkin says, if the story comes out like honey, then it's not a good one. You want your fingers to fly across the keys. Of course, you'll rewrite eventually, but ideally, the story springs from you like a fountain. To get this out, try using an outline or a beat sheet. Plan and map the story, so when you open your screenwriting software, you know where you are going. 

7. Time your screenplay's pace

The Social Network screenplay clocks in over 160 pages. It was intimidating to executives and even to director David Fincher. But when they put their brains together, they decided that the movie read like it was two hours long. To convince people, they sat with a stopwatch and timed the script. Then they were able to prove that idea to executives. It made everything a little more manageable. And it helped the studio buy into this drama. 

8. Rehearse and run it back 

One of the most essential parts of the prep work for The Social Network was doing table reads. It got the actors in the mindset of the character and gave everyone clear intentions for what motivated them. It also allowed them to create the diction and tenor that became incredibly important to each character moving forward. 

9. Dialogue is music 

If you're a fan of Sorkin, then you know his dialogue flows and flows like a babbling brook. In this movie, each word mattered the way it was written. There was posterity in each line of phrase. While you may not have as much clout as Sorkin, you still need to write with authority and intention. That means no wasted words moving forward. Each line has to matter. If it doesn't, then cut it. 

10. Know how everyone speaks 

Sorkin was certainly not a 19-year-old college sophomore when he wrote this screenplay. He struggled with whether or not to "bro" it up. But in the end, the decision he made was to make everyone speak a certain way. This helped create a world within the story, and since he kept it consistent, it built a literacy for the viewer to understand the world as well.

What's next? Read the Up script

I saw the movie Up in a theater in Ocean City, New Jersey, on a family vacation. It was raining, and there was nothing to do. So we traipsed into the theater not knowing what to expect. My entire family got emotionally rocked, and now, every time I see a balloon, I get all choked up thinking about the meaning of everlasting love. 

That might just be me, but I bet you've found similar circumstances surrounding the movie unless your heart is made of stone. 

So, today we're going to go over the Up screenplay, look at a few lessons, and talk about why it's so effective.      

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