Our thanks to Master Cat! Ben Frahm for this masterful breakdown of Aaron Sorkin‘s screenplay, directed by David Fincher:

Poster for The Social Network
Poster for “The Social Network”

Spoiler alert!

Opening Image (1): At a Harvard bar, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) talks with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara): sweet, kind, and wholesome. Mark is talking about the “social clubs” at Harvard and how they’re important if you want to advance yourself in college and in life. Mark and Erica start fighting over this, as Erica thinks these clubs are stupid. Mark fires back. Erica gets upset. Mark doesn’t back down. Erica breaks up with Mark, saying our theme stated:

Theme Stated (5): (I’m paraphrasing) “You know, I think you’re going to become successful and wealthy, but you know what, you’re still going to be an unhappy asshole.” This establishes our theme: What is the price of friendship? Is money, social status, or privilege more important than a relationship? Or a friendship? Or being a good person in another person’s life?

Set-Up (1-10):
– We come to know Mark as a socially insecure, somewhat antisocial person, who’s obsessed with the social clubs at Harvard and feels like he’ll never fit in unless he is accepted into one of them.
– Mark is a very gifted and brilliant computer programmer.
– Mark’s best friend is Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), aka “Wardo.”
– Wardo is also a smart programmer and is frequently helpful to Mark.
– Mark doesn’t get the women that he wants in school.
– Mark looks up to people in the social clubs and thinks all of his problems will go away if he can become part of these exclusive clubs and, for once, be popular.
– Mark, still upset after being dumped by Erica, fires back when he returns to the dorms.

Zuckerberg creates Face Smash - a catalyst for what will eventually bring the birth of Facebook
Zuckerberg creates Face Smash – a catalyst for what will eventually bring the birth of Facebook

Catalyst (12):
— Mark creates “Face Smash,” a program that uses all of the yearbook pictures of Harvard women and puts two photos side-by-side and allows the viewer to vote who is hotter, “right or left.” Mark is clearly taking out his frustrations with his relationship with Erica and displacing them onto this cruel program.
— Mark also blogs about Erica’s breast size and other personal and offensive things about her.
— Wardo helps with a logarithm for this Face Smash program, and thus helps Mark spread it to every computer at Harvard.
— The whole computer system at Harvard is hacked and thus crashes.
— The computer Dean finds out and becomes alarmed. The Dean traces the hacking back to Mark.
— Everyone on campus knows that Mark did this.
— His Face Smash program is already spreading, and catches the attention of two preppy, rich kids, who happen to be twins (played by the same actor, Armie Hammer): Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.
— Cameron and Tyler, realizing how amazing a programmer Mark is, approach him with a new idea to make “the facebook,” a way of guys pimping out their “Harvard.edu” email addresses in order to meet coeds from other schools. “So do you want in?” the Winklevosses ask Mark.

Debate (12-25):
This poses the DEBATE QUESTION: Will Mark design the facebook page for the twins? Will Mark come up with his own version? Will Mark tell the brothers he’s going with their idea, only making it better and his own? What will happen to the facebook idea? What will happen to Mark? Is this idea Mark’s? Or does it belong to the Winklevoss twins? What will happen to “the facebook” idea and who is responsible for its creation? This sends us into the 2nd act, ready to go…

Break into Two (25):
— Mark agrees to design the facebook page for the twins. However, it doesn’t take long for Mark to realize there’s something bigger and better here.
— Mark starts designing his own version of the facebook idea, secretly, and doesn’t tell the twins.

B Story (30):
–Meanwhile, Mark asks Wardo, who has been invited to pledge “The Phoenix Club,” to be the CFO of his new facebook endeavor. Wardo accepts. As best friends this will be great, no?!

Fun and Games (30-55):
— Mark continues designing his own version of the facebook idea.
— Mark doesn’t tell the Winklevoss twins that he’s designing this. Mark avoids their calls.
— Wardo is becoming more popular with “The Phoenix Club.”
— Mark starts testing this new facebook idea… and before long the whole campus starts liking it.
— Mark is becoming a minor celebrity on campus, as is Wardo.
— Mark and Wardo get girls, “groupies,” after class.
— (There’s a nice Save the Cat! moment here that shows some growth in our character… as Mark is leaving a restaurant one evening with Wardo, he turns and sees Erica Albright, the girl that he previously broke up with and then blogged about her breast size. We know that Mark is starting to change as a character and feels horrible for what he’s done. Mark approaches the table to apologize to Erica; however, she won’t hear anything of it… and is still very hurt by his comments. We are sympathetic with Mark, as we know he didn’t mean what he said. And we are sympathetic to Erica as well, who is a strong woman, and stands up for herself. Mark feels bad, and this feeling, alone, allows our audience to see the humanity in him.)
— Mark’s facebook idea is catching on. Wardo says they need to go bigger.
— All the while, we are cutting back and forth in time… with the COURTROOM scenes. We know early 2nd Act, that Mark is being sued by the Winkelvosses for stealing their idea, and later by Wardo.
— What will be the outcome of these court cases? This is a major question that is driving our 2nd act!
— Between every sequence in the 2nd act, the courtroom scenes help to introduce us to a new idea or a new problem that our hero is dealing with, whether it is professional, with the facebook idea, or personal, with his friendship with Wardo.
— The story, from this point on, jumps back and forth from the court case, back to college, back to the court case, as we are learning about the conception of “facebook.”
— Wardo says we need to go bigger. We need investors.
— Wardo and Mark go to NYC to meet some investors (among them, writer/actor Sorkin).
— No investors seem interested…

Midpoint (55):
We meet Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Parker, the former Napster guy, loves Mark’s idea and wants in. He’s a rowdy, womanizing, deal wheelin’ fellow, and immediately Wardo doesn’t like him. However, Mark hits it off with the charismatic Sean. And Wardo feels ousted.

Sean Parker closes in on Mark

Bad Guys Close In (55-75):
— Facebook is spreading.
— It’s hitting campuses across the nation.
— It’s getting ready to go international.
— Sean convinces Mark it’s time to head out west to Silicon Valley and continue developing the idea.
— Wardo can’t go because he has an internship with a financial company he’s been working for in Manhattan.
— Mark moves out west with some fellow Harvard programmers.
— Mark just so happens to move into a house that is next to where Sean Parker is staying (yes, this is total writer’s convenience, but oh well, it seems to work ok).
— Sean Parker keeps putting new ideas into Mark’s head.
— Wardo hears about these new ideas and gets upset. Wardo, as a result, puts a “freeze” on the company’s bank account.
— Tensions grow between Mark and Wardo.
— (There’s another Save the Cat! moment, when, in a courtroom scene Mark’s lawyer is trying to take down Wardo for “animal abuse” relating to his involvement with a “chicken during pledge season at Phoenix.” Wardo becomes upset with Mark, thinking that he turned him in and was the one who told the lawyers; however, Mark’s lawyer says “No, I was the one who discovered this info. Mark is the person who tried to protect you.” Again, we see Mark being a nice person to Wardo, though he is caught up in the situation and letting others get the best of him. It’s a sympathetic gesture towards a best friend from an often abrupt, insensitive, aggressive, and anti-social protagonist. It just shows that even the most flawed protagonists can show sympathetic and Save the Cat! qualities).
— The Winklevosses grow increasingly militant and frustrated with Mark, calling him a thief for stealing “their idea.”
— Court case scenes becoming increasingly tense, as relationships between Mark and Wardo are discussed.
— Mark tells Wardo he has to come out west.
— Facebook is growing even bigger.
— Sean brings his “hot women” everywhere and makes Mark feel important.
— Wardo shows up and doesn’t like Sean’s involvement.
— But Mark convinces him Sean is good for the company, right?

All Is Lost (75):
— On the eve of Facebook reaching its biggest growth ever, including an international presence…
— Wardo signs a new contract per his involvement as CFO — without reading every detail. And Wardo finds out that Sean and Mark diluted his ownership in the company without letting him know. Wardo has been screwed by his best friend…
— Wardo quits the company and threatens to sue. Sean throws him out of the building.
— Mark feels bad but it’s too late. Wardo is gone.
— Sean says forget him, let’s celebrate.
— Mark, sitting alone at his desk, at work, thinks about his friendship with Wardo.

Dark Night of the Soul (75-85):
— Sean Parker is throwing the biggest celebratory party ever. Women. Booze. Drugs.
— The cops bust the party.
— We fear that Mark might be at the party as well; however, we cut back to the office and see that Mark stayed there the entire time.

Break into Three (85):
— Sean gets arrested at the party (drugs with minors).
— Because he would be a liability to the company, Sean is bought out and no longer involved with development.
— (Note: in the script, we’re led to believe that Mark called the cops on Sean and thus set him up; however, in the movie, it plays more ambiguously).
— No matter, Sean’s involvement with Facebook comes to an end.

Final showdown between Mark and the lawyers

Finale (85-110):
— Court case resolutions proceed.
— Wardo’s name returns as CFO of the company, as it remains today.
— Wardo is also paid a bunch of money that he’s owed.
— The Winkelvosses settle for big money, though it’s considered chump change for Mark.
— Mark continues to develop Facebook to its current popularity.
— Mark becomes the youngest billionaire ever.
— In the final court scene, lawyer Marilyn Delpy (Rashida Jones) talks with Mark. Mark asks Marilyn if she thinks he’s an asshole (again, remember our theme stated and how this has stuck with our character the entire time). Marilyn tells Mark that he’s not an asshole, he just tries to be one. The real Mark is not an asshole.

Final Image (110):
— Mark’s at his computer. He opens up Facebook and adds a new friend, “Erica Albright,” his ex-girlfriend who dumped him in the beginning of the movie. Mark waits, waits, waits… refreshing his computer screen again and again and again to see if Erica will be his friend.
— (A great closing image and the exact opposite of our opening image. Mark loses a friendship in the beginning for being a jerk and, now, after all of this transformation, he realizes this girl was right for him, and that he’s sorry for his behavior, and wants her back…)

What I loved about this script and movie:

1) A flawed hero: I love the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as not the nicest person out there. He’s flawed. He has insecurities. He’s scared. He’s brilliant. These are all human qualities, and chances are the reader or viewer will be able to relate to these feelings.

2) A big story told in a character-driven way: Yes, it’s a story about the youngest billionaire ever, but more importantly, it’s about friendships, lost and gained. The heart of the movie comes from Wardo and Mark’s relationship and makes us wonder what is the price of fame, status, money, etc.? What is more important, friendship or these other goals along the way?

3) Structurally sound using the courtroom scenes: If you haven’t already, read Sorkin’s script. He is one smart dude, and writes incredibly structural movies. The use of the courtroom scenes is a structural device that allows us to jump back and forth in time, while keeping the stakes high, and also introducing new sequences. Here’s an example: Late second act, we know Wardo and Mark are having problems in their relationship. Okay, so now we need to understand where these problems are coming from and how they started. What does Sorkin do? He puts us in the courtroom scene and has the lawyers ask questions. The answers to these questions are shown through flashing back to Harvard, where we start a whole new sequence about Wardo and Mark’s relationship and all of the stresses along the way. The courtroom scenes introduce new ideas and relationships; then we cut back to scenes with Mark and Wardo, and watch their relationship develop.

4) Sorkin’s expository dialogue: He’s one of the best at giving the audience so much information and making it feel fun, energetic, whip-smart, and sexy too. For instance, when we first meet Sean Parker, he’s just slept with the “Hot Girl” who doesn’t know he’s the Napster guy. And in one fun scene, as the Hot Girl comes to realize who Sean Parker is, so does our audience. It’s very clever. We get so much backstory about Parker in this one scene; we feel like we immediately know who he is. And none of it feels forced at all. It’s unbelievably economic and clever writing.

GENRE: Rites of Passage: Life Problem, Wrong Way, Acceptance

Next week: guest blog from author Marilyn Brant