Jewish Journal

How True is “The Social Network:” Ask Executive Producer Kevin Spacey [VIDEO]

by Naomi Pfefferman

February 10, 2011 | 3:40 pm

Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"

With the continuing discussion surrounding the Facebook saga “The Social Network” – specifically how true the film is or isn’t – I sought some answers about the film’s veracity with Kevin Spacey, whose Trigger Street Productions produced the movie.

Over lox and eggs at Art’s Deli in Studio City several months ago, Spacey and I were discussing his own starring vehicle, “Casino Jack,” in which he plays disgraced former lobbyist (and Orthodox Jew) Jack Abramoff.  But I also felt compelled to ask about “The Social Network,” since the media was buzzing with charges by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that the acclaimed drama was far removed from reality. Assorted journalists were also pointing out factual discrepancies in the book proposal upon which the film was based, Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires”  – which was not even completed when Spacey and his producing partner, Dana Brunetti bought the property and began turning it into a movie.

Brunetti, who was once Spacey’s assistant, is one of the three “Social Network” producers who would receive a statuette should the film win best picture; Spacey reportedly will attend the Oscars to cheer him on.  And both men are teaming up with “Social Network” producers to adapt another Mezrich non-fiction book into “Sex on the Moon”—also for Sony Pictures—inspired by NASA scientist who planned to steal moon rocks so he could (literally) give his girlfriend “the moon.”

Spacey was alternately affable and blunt while discussing Mezrich and “The Social Network.”

NPM:  Were you the one who actually bought Mezrich’s Facebook project in order to adapt it into a movie?

KS:  Dana Brunetti, who runs my company and I, we’re in the Ben Mezrich business.  We have every book that Ben has written as a potential film.  Ben came to Dana and I in ’06, I think, and said he had an idea about doing a book about Facebook. And our first reaction was like [Spacey rolls his eyes] “Yeah, that sounds like a good book; that doesn’t sound like a good movie.”

But then we began to investigate, and we began to unearth [things].  I mean in the first place there were like, three lawsuits going on, so clearly there was some story there.  And when we really got a hold of what I would call the basic elements of what the story was, Dana and I quickly recognized that it had all the hallmarks of what makes great drama:  friendship, betrayal, power, invention.

So now it was getting into ’07, ’08, Ben had done a book proposal and he is now writing the book, it leaks, and Dana and I feel, oh, s—t!  We previously had been somewhat frustrated by how long it took to get “21” made [the Spacey movie about an MIT blackjack scam, also based on a Mezrich book] because we sold “21” originally to MGM and then MGM didn’t tell us they were being sold, so we got parked for four-and-a-half years, until Sony picked it up and we actually made that movie.

But four-and- a-half years went by, and it was quite frustrating because in that time lots of reality series about Las Vegas and movies about poker [had emerged].

So with [the leak of Mezrich’s Facebook project], were literally going “Ahhhhh!” We didn’t want to miss the moment.  So we decided to take the book proposal out before the book was finished, and Sony, with whom we did “21,” bought it, and we were amazed and stunned and very grateful that we managed to get the film going very quickly:  We were shooting by September of ‘09.

NPM: “The Social Network’s” screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, and others involved with the movie, have been quoted as saying the film is highly factual, but the press has reported otherwise.

KS:  First of all, I don’t know why it is that people get into this idea that movies that are dramatic films have to be documentaries, right?  Does anyone think that Peter Morgan, who wrote [the screenplay for] “The Queen,” was in Buckingham Palace listening to the Queen of England talking to her husband about their daughter-in-law [Lady Diana]?  No, and nobody had a single complaint about it because it was a great film. When we sold the book proposal to Sony, the book wasn’t finished; Aaron and Ben then started using the same sources.  Aaron went to Boston and met all of the people that Ben was talking to; he got into the [Harvard] clubs, they were working simultaneously.  So yes, while the book wasn’t finished, Aaron and Ben were doing identical research, and we vetted [everything].

Sony is a big studio; do you think they didn’t have a phalanx of lawyers on this to make sure it was fully vetted and that everything that was being said could be backed up with evidence?  Because let’s not forget one fundamental thing: a bunch of people [in the Facebook lawsuits] went into depositions and raised their hands and swore to tell the truth, and none of their stories match, all right?

Number two, life doesn’t happen in dialogue; things don’t work themselves out in a particular way so that they tell a narrative. This is what artists do; this is what Aaron Sorkin does.  He creates drama based on real events, and in fact, I believe every single one of the emails and blogs that you hear Mark Zuckerberg say [in the film] is taken directly from what he actually said online.  So Aaron didn’t make up a lot of this stuff. And there isn’t a scene in the film that we don’t have at least one or two people who were in that scene, who verified that that scene took place.

The dramatization of it is what writers do, so I don’t know where we got into this whole, “You’re not being 150 percent accurate and this didn’t really happen in that way.”  People seem to get hung up on the idea that drama is supposed to be docudrama, but it’s not.  It’s something different, and I think it elevates the form, personally.


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Naomi Pfefferman Magid is the arts & entertainment editor of the Jewish Journal, where she’s spent the last quarter century interviewing everyone from Seth Rogen, Natalie...

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