THE SOCIAL NETWORK opens in Australia next Thursday on October the 28th.For filmheads all over the country it’s a chance to see the latest movie directed by David Fincher.However, for many of us, the participation of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is an equally good reason to shell out hard-earned cash to see this film on the big screen.
For those of you who have just back-packed across the satellite states of the former Soviet Union and are reading this at an internet café in Bucharest, then The Social Network is the Facebook movie. It tells the story of how the social networking site was started and how rapidly the founders had a phenomenon on their hands and the many legal complications that ensued.
Which would sound dull and absolutely the last thing one might expect David Fincher to be involved in. And this is where Sorkin comes in. If any screenwriter knows how to take the inner workings of a bureaucratic or legal situation and make them come to life, then it’s Sorkin.
He wrote the play that became the hit movie A FEW GOOD MEN (1992). So he’s responsible for that famous quote about The Truth and how Tom Cruise couldn’t handle it. He wrote THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT the 1995 film starring Michael Douglas.
He was also the creator and ‘show-runner’ responsible for the first four seasons of THE WEST WING which was broadcast on NBC. He took American politics, a subject that many considered too complex or boring for a television audience and found a way to dramatise it for a weekly series. He created a fast-paced show, set in the White House, where each episode juggled several storylines covering foreign and domestic politics as well as the personal lives of the President’s staff. The writing was occasionally preachy, but it always assumed a well-informed audience that cared about issues and their complexities.
He left the show at the end of the fourth season in somewhat controversial circumstances after he was arrested at an airport for having magic mushrooms and crack cocaine in his luggage. He is on record as saying the pressure of writing or rewriting almost all of the first four seasons’ 88 episodes was a contributing factor in his drug use. Such heavy involvement in every script is unusual for one writer and Sorkin had running battles with NBC about late scripts causing budget and scheduling problems for the network. He has since successfully been through drug rehabilitation.
Before THE WEST WING, Sorkin had written another fast-paced show with multiple storylines and smart characters. It was a comedy drama about the behind the scenes struggles of putting a sports news-show to air called SPORTS NIGHT. After THE WEST WING, he returned to similar territory with STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. The launch of this show in 2007 was complicated by its similarities to Tina Fey’s 30 ROCK. Both shows were about the behind-the-scenes struggles of putting a Saturday Night Live type show to air. Sorkin’s was a comedy-drama. Fey’s was a straight-up sitcom. In the end, 30 ROCK didn’t kill STUDIO 60, but the lightness and cleverness of the sitcom didn’t help when compared with the slowness and pretentiousness of STUDIO 60.
For many fans of THE WEST WING, the new show comfortingly resembled their old favourite and even had some of the same cast members like Timothy Busfield and Bradley Whitford. But the focus of STUDIO 60 seemed a little off. The occasional preachiness of THE WEST WING was acceptable when a storyline involved a crisis with the United Nations or a hostage situation, but seemed out of place with characters whose only real concern was what sketches they should choose for Saturday night’s program. Eventually STUDIO 60 ran for one season of 22 episodes.
Now The Social Network has been number 1 at the US box office, Sorkin is again involved in writing a hit. If you’ve made it to the end of this article and would like to see some of the man’s screenwriting before THE SOCIAL NETWORK opens, then rewatch the classic courtroom drama A FEW GOOD MEN for a quick fix or dive into season one of THE WEST WING.
If you want to read something straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, check out either this transcript of the ABC’s 7.30 REPORT interview with Sorkin (recorded in Sydney on October 20th) or track down the video online on iView.