At the New York Film Festival next month, Hollywood will unleash The Social Network, a biting tale of the Silicon Valley giant Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. Now Facebook must decide whether to bite back.
After fretting for months over how to respond, the company appears to have decided that its best bet is to largely ignore the movie and hope that audiences do the same — that The Social Network will be another failed attempt to bottle a generation, like Less Than Zero, and not culturally defining, as it aspires to be, in the way of Wall Street or The Big Chill.
Behind the scenes, however, Zuckerberg and his colleagues have been locked in a tense standoff with the filmmakers, who portray Facebook as founded on a series of betrayals, then fueled by the unappeasable craving of almost everyone for “friends” that they will never really have.
Zuckerberg, at 26 a billionaire, and his associates are wary of damage from a picture whose story begins with the intimacy of a date night at Harvard seven years ago and depicts the birth of a Web phenomenon in his dorm room.
By his account, and that of many others, much in the film is simply not true. It is based on a fictionalised book once described by its publicist not as “reportage” but as “big juicy fun.”
“It’s crazy because all of a sudden Mark becomes this person who created Facebook to get girls or to gain power,” said Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder who left in 2007 to join the Obama presidential campaign. “It was a little more boring and quotidian than that.”
Scott Rudin, a producer of The Social Network, said two top Facebook executives, Elliot Schrage, the vice president of communications, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, “saw the movie a while ago, and they do not like it.”
Rudin described months of backdoor contacts during which he tried to ease relations with Zuckerberg by letting his colleagues read the script, and even by accommodating them with small changes, while Facebook insisted on bigger changes. In the end, Rudin said, “We made exactly the movie we wanted to make.”
Zuckerberg declined to be interviewed for this article. In a recent onstage interview, he said, “Honestly, I wish that when people try to do journalism or write stuff about Facebook that they at least try to get it right.” He later added, “The movie is fiction.”
The story borrows from depositions taken in cases pressed by former associates — Saverin, Divya Narendra and Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss — over the founding and subsequent ownership and control of Facebook.
The film is also sprinkled with scenes of extravagant parties, and it is not clear how authentic they are.
As of this week, Rudin said, one remaining question was whether the finished film would include a scene that depicted Sean Parker, the Napster co-founder who was heavily involved with Facebook’s early history, delivering his dialogue while a pair of teenage girls offer partygoers lines of cocaine from bared breasts. A person who was involved with research for the film said that sequence was one of several that were mostly made up.