Aaron Sorkin: Motivation to Tackle Facebook

"The Social Network" screenwriter talks about penning Facebook's story.

Sept. 24, 2010— -- From the quotable monologue of "A Few Good Men" to the crackling dialogue of "The West Wing," there is no mistaking Aaron Sorkin's writing style. As one of Hollywood's most successful writers, Sorkin is back in the spotlight with the upcoming film, "The Social Network," the story of internet behemoth Facebook's controversial founding.

Sorkin said he jumped at the chance to pen the story of Facebook's creator and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and the website that changed the world.

"I knew immediately that I wanted to do it. It was the fastest I've ever said yes to anything," he said.

The movie, which premieres on Friday, Oct. 1, already has garnered enormous media buzz and is expected to top the nationwide box office.

In an interview with "Nightline's" Bill Weir, Sorkin said it was the characters involved in Facebook's much-debated creation that drew him to write the screenplay.

"It's a classical story -- these themes of loyalty and betrayal, of friends and enemies," he said. "It immediately struck me as something that Aeschylus would write or that Shakespeare would write."

No stranger to lawsuits, Facebook has been under fire almost since its inception. In November 2003, Harvard students Tyler Winklevoss, Cameron Winklevoss and Divya Narendra sued Zuckerberg, claiming he had stolen the code written for ConnectU, another social media website the group had been working on, to launch Facebook on his own.

Facebook Lawsuits Helped Form 'Social Network's' Plot

Later Eduardo Saverin, one of Zuckerberg's close friends from Harvard and Facebook's original CFO, sued as well.

Sorkin used the lawsuits to structure the complex screenplay for "The Social Network."

"The defendant, the plaintiff and the witnesses ... ended up telling three very differently versions of the same story," he said. "I decided to embrace the idea that there were three different versions of the story. That was the story I was going to tell."

Zuckerberg, played by "Adventureland" actor Jesse Eisenberg, is portrayed as an awkward outcast turned internet rock star, complete with groupies.

In writing the characters, Sorkin said he took great pains to be accurate. He conducted numerous interviews, consulted public documents from the many depositions taken in the course if the lawsuits, and used Zuckerberg's blog entry from the October night in 2003 when he created Facebook's predecessor, a program called "Facemash" that rated female students' looks.

Writing the Founding of Facebook

"He had just been broken up with by a girl and was feeling bad," Sorkin said. "He was drinking, and he was blogging before he began hacking, creating this website. It all happened in one night."

Sorkin said he wrote the Facebook creation scene for the movie based upon the blog post in painstaking detail, including Zuckerberg's drinking. On his blog that night, Zuckerberg wrote, "I won't lie to you, I'm pretty inebriated."

Even what Zuckerberg had to drink that night became a point of contention in writing the film. Sorkin originally wrote that the Facebook creator had mixed himself an orange juice and vodka.

"The ice clinking and the stuff pouring, it's just more cinematic than just popping open a beer," he said.

But when director David Fincher learned Zuckerberg was actually drinking Beck's beer that night, he insisted Sorkin change it.

"Two things: One, that's how closely we stuck to the truth," Sorkin said. "Two, the fact that we know what brand of beer [Zuckerberg] was drinking on a Tuesday night seven years ago should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and the event."

Reactions to "The Social Network"

Many critics have said the film paints Zuckerberg in an unsparingly negative light. Sorkin disagrees.

"Although I've never met him or spoken to him, I have a lot of affection and a lot of empathy for Mark and I think that the movie was written that way," Sorkin said. "I think that Mark spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti-hero, but the last five minutes being a tragic hero."

He added, "I read a review from a blogger the other day, who gave the movie a very positive review and ended by saying that the movie made her want to egg Mark's house and then help him clean it up. I think a lot of people are going to have that reaction."

Despite trying to set up several meetings with the Facebook CEO to go over the script, Sorkin said Zuckerberg turned him down every time.

Sorkin eventually sent the final script over to Facebook's senior advisors for review, who returned it with only minor notes -- none of which were concerned with how the characters were portrayed.

"Those notes were almost entirely about hacking," he said. "There was some hacking terminology in the beginning that I'd gotten wrong and they were mostly technology notes."

In a statement to "Nightline," Facebook said of "Social Network" producer Scott Rudin and Sorkin's script, "We found interacting with Scott Rudin and his colleagues to be a terrific learning experience. They do a wonderful job of telling a good story. Of course, the reality probably wouldn't make for a very fun or interesting movie. As Aaron Sorkin himself has acknowledged. 'I don¹t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.'"

When asked if he hoped Zuckerberg will go see the film, Sorkin replied, "I don't want people to get distracted by the sideshow of the movie verses Facebook."

"I also know that I wouldn't, and I don't think anybody else would, want things they did when they were 19 years old turned into a major motion picture," he added.

'West Wing' Creator Discusses President Obama, Sarah Palin

Despite the buzz surrounding "The Social Network," Sorkin is still best known for his Emmy-winning series "The West Wing," which chronicled a virtuous president and his idealistic staff.

Although he doesn't consider himself a political commentator, Sorkin has strong views about the country's current situation.

"It's like it's the hotel housekeeping crew that's got to come in and clean up the suite after Led Zeppelin has been there," referring to the challenges President Obama is facing.

And what if he were writing the teleplay for the Obama presidency?

"I would do what he was so great at in the campaign which was making our heart race, lifting us up, uniting us," he said. "But again I have a lot of things at my disposal that the president of the United States does not have, including the ability to make people react the way that I want them to, to say nothing of a 32-piece orchestra with music swelling underneath."

When asked what he makes of the current Republican party, Sorkin did not hold back his opinions.

"If I had written into 'The West Wing' the people who are the leaders on the right today, whether it's Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Glen Beck, the Tea Party, people holding up signs with Hitler mustaches ... I would've been eviscerated by the right for portraying them as idiot monsters," he said.

Sorkin Overcomes Drug Addiction

There's no doubt that Sorkin's career has been dotted with enormous success. The first play he ever wrote, "A Few Good Men," started from notes scribbled on cocktail napkins before evolving into an award-winning play and a wildly popular film.

However, Sorkin has not gone without suffering from severe pitfalls.

After a battle with a cocaine addiction in the 90s, Sorkin checked into the Hazelton Institute in Minnesota for treatment in 1995. In 2001, he relapsed and was arrested at Burbank airport when authorities discovered hallucinogenic mushrooms and cocaine in his bags.

Sober for over nine years now, Sorkin told "Nightline" he felt "very healthy" and "couldn't be happier," but admitted there was a time when he feared that the creative juices would stop flowing without the assistance of drugs.

When asked how sobriety has affected his work, Sorkin said "It's just not insane anymore."

"I will tell you that nine and a half years ago I was worried I couldn't write without drugs," he said. "If it did turn out that drugs were the magic that was making me write well, I still wouldn't go back to them. I'd write greeting cards and try to make a living doing that."