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Books-Into-Movies: “The Social Network” (based on the book THE ACCIDENTAL MILLIONAIRES) December 8, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Accidental Millionaires, Ben Mezrich, book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Facebook, Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Mark Zuckerberg, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Sean Parker, Social Network.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

(This is a post from a blog I discontinued last year, “Books Into Movies.” This was first posted at that blog on October 15, 2010.)

“The Social Network” (Movie Release Date: October 1, 2010)

Based on the book The Accidental Millionaires, written by Ben Mezrich, published 2009.

The Movie: “Social Network” starts off with frenetic dialogue between Mark Zuckerberg and a girlfriend who is breaking up with him. This scene captures Zuckerberg’s intelligence and nerdy arrogance. Story information is also offered here, at that frenetic pace, including how Eduardo Saverin made $300,000 by investing based on his study of weather patterns. The scene starts the movie off with a jolt into Zuckerberg’s world. This opening scene differs from the book in material ways:

  • Zuckerberg has no girlfriend at the outset of The Accidental Millionaires. He starts FaceMash after an undetailed “frustrating evening.” All the drama concerning the girlfriend, including the final scene with Zuckerberg trying to add her as a Facebook friend, was not in the book
  • Zuckerberg is often depicted in the book as a distant person, offering one word answers during conversations. The clever word patter of Zuckerberg in the film is not evident in the book. (In fairness to the filmmakers, the Zuckerberg presented in the movie is more interesting and fun to watch than the Zuckerberg in the book, and the dialogue captures the essence of the character, if not his speech patterns.)

The book also starts out with Eduardo Saverin courted by the Phoenix club. But I never got the idea from the book that Zuckerberg cared that much about the Harvard social clubs.

In the movie, Eduardo Saverin provides an algorithim Mark Zuckerberg needs to launch FaceMash. In the book, Zuckerberg launches it on his own.

None of the legal scenes—the depositions, lawyers’ questions, interactions with the pretty young female associate and Zuckerberg—none of these scenes are in the book. These are used as efficient devices to supply narrative information about the story not easily conveyed through real-time action without bogging down a visual medium. I do wonder if the filmmakers wanted to bring a little justice to the story, ending with an emotionally conflicted Zuckerberg trying to friend his old girlfriend at the end of the movie. I did not sense any sort of emotional remorse from Zuckerberg in the book.

FaceMash brings Zuckerberg to the attention of Divya Narendra and the Winklevoss twins as in the book. Some of the meeting logistics are different in the movie. And through the use of the deposition scenes, we do get the idea that an email trail proves Zuckerberg led the Winklevoss-Narendra partnership on without definitively opting out of their offer to partner with them on their site. In the book, I got the idea that the Winklevoss-Narenda project was more of a straight dating site, with less Facebook characteristics than indicated in the movie. They also have Zuckerberg saying “I’m in,” in the movie. In the book, Zuckerberg never really says whether he’s in or out.

In the book, Divya Narendra reads about the launch of Facebook in the Harvard Crimson. The movie is more dramatic, with Narendra interrupting a choir as he sees the site on a laptop.

The book does make reference to Asian girls being somehow available to the brilliant nerdy awkward types like Zuckerberg and Saverin. The novel is faithful to this observation.

Saverin’s discussion of the Winklevoss-Narendra cease-and-desist order is very much out of the book, and shows that Zuckerberg sees himself as the prime-mover for the Facebook project, alone, even then.

Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker was an inspired casting choice. Readers may or may not have visually imagined Timberlake as a match for Parker. But the party-man charisma, the swaggering gregariousness—Timberlake captures these aspects of the Sean Parker character consistent with his portrayal in the book. Parker’s discovery of theFacebook site is from the book, though there is no easy way to convey that Parker suspected before seeing the site that online social networks might be the next big activity for the internet.

Some of the dialogue in the Winklelevoss-Narendra/Larry Summers meeting is surely juiced up for dramatic purposes (“punch me in the face” from Summers). But the utter rejection of the Winklevoss-Narendra appeal is right out of the book.

Sean Parker’s meeting with Zuckerberg and Saverin in New York is straight from the book, complete with Parker starting to bring Zuckerberg under his influence, and Saverin’s dislike of Parker and suspicions about him. And Parker’s push to drop the “the” from “theFacebook” is also right out of the book.

Saverin’s feeding of chicken to the chicken he carried around as part of his initiation into the Phoenix club was not given nearly as much prominence in the book as it is in the movie. It is an early event that involves Saverin alone, and that resolves quickly.

Saverin’s behavior as Zuckerman moves out to California is consistent with the book. We could say Saverin trusted his friend, and preferred to remain in denial over some of the warning signs that were developing—Zuckerberg’s dismissal of advertising, Saverin’s primary activity, and Zuckerberg’s growing connection with Sean Parker and agreement with his suggestions. Despite the warning signs, Saverin puts up $18,000 for the California trip during the summer of 2004. Parker bumps into Zuckerberg in the book as well as in the movie. Do we really believe this was a coincidence?

The “I’m the CEO – bitch” designation on Mark Zuckerberg’s business card appears at the end of the book, and I do not recall it being suggested by Sean Parker.

The scene of the Winklevosses finding out their losing race had been broadcasted on Facebook, and that Facebook was now enjoying an international reach, to them an ultimate slap in the face, is right out of the book.

Eduardo Saverin’s trips to the Bay Area are dramatized and condensed in the movie. Some of the order of events is altered. But the essence remains the same—Saverin becomes disenchanted with events in the Bay area and freezes the bank account. He signs a set of papers, and then after Zuckerberg obtains a $500,000 investment from a venture capitalist firm, finds himself presented with a different set of papers that essentially “dilute” him out of the company. Two other aspects at this point of the movie are different from the book, revving up the drama:

  • In the book, Saverin finds himself in the offices of a new set of attorneys, attorneys he has never met, asking him to sign the new papers. Zuckerberg does not meet him on this last trip, and probably wasn’t in the same building with him at the time.
  • The confrontations between Saverin and Parker, particularly the one at the “ambush” scene, do not take place in the book. The indirect removal of his friend from Facebook appears more in character with the Mark Zuckerberg of the book, though less interesting on the screen.

Zuckerberg going to a meeting with venture capitalists in his pajamas as suggested by Sean Parker is straight out of the book. Parker orchestrates the incident, to get back at a venture capital firm Parker felt had wronged him in a previous deal.

Sean Parker himself is removed from Facebook after indiscretions at a party a few months after the “ambush” of Saverin, as depicted in the book.

The notations at the end about the settlement of the lawsuits appear to have been updated. The Winklevoss-Narenadra settlement is noted. Also noted is a settlement of the Saverin lawsuit for an undisclosed amount. And Facebook, at the end of the movie, is up to being worth 25 billion, with 500 million members.

_______

“Social Network” is a faithful adaptation of the book The Accidental Millionaires, true to the tone of the story. The pace of the movie, and its modern, happening-now, vibrant feel add to the effect of this fascinating, entertaining film. I would not be surprised to see Oscar nominations for screenplay, and for acting for Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.

_______

The Book: The Accidental Millionaires is the story of the beginning of the Facebook website, an internet institution so ingrained into cyberspace now that it is hard to believe the site has only been around for about half a decade. In the “Author’s Note,” Mezrich indicates:

  • He “recreated scenes in the book” from documents and interviews.
  • He acknowledges the chronology is as “close to exact as possible.”
  • “In some instances, details of settings and descriptions have been changed or imagined.”
  • “Identifying details of certain people were altered.”
  • “Other than a handful of public figures who populate this story, names and personal information have been altered.”
  • He uses the “technique of recreated dialogue.”

This means that the book itself is partially invented, based on real facts, but not entirely factual. My comparison here is between the book and the movie. I have not researched the accuracy of the information offered in the book.

Another consideration is Mezrich’s acknowledgement that he had no access to Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is the main character of this story. Mezrich takes care to be fair to what he suspects is the Zuckerberg character’s point-of-view, but it is worth knowing that he had no direct interaction to gain that perspective for his book.

_______

The story begins with Eduardo Saverin joining the Phoenix, an exclusive social club at Harvard, where he is a junior. He meets Mark Zuckerberg, whom he evaluates as too socially awkward to get an invitation to the Phoenix. But the two strike up a friendship, though Saverin finds Zuckerberg a difficult person to read. It is clear to Saverin that Zuckerberg is incredibly smart, with a prodigious talent for computers.

Mezrich then introduces the Winklevoss twins, good-looking future Olympic rowers. The Winklevoss twins and their friend, Divya Narendra, have an idea for an internet dating site for Harvard students to be called “the Harvard Connnection,” a site designed to facilitate more efficient contacts between Harvard young men and women sometimes too busy to meet compatible dating partners. They have the concept; they need to replace their computer design partner who has lost interest in the project.

On a night during the last week of October 2003, possibly the result of frustrations of not getting just a little bit of encouraging attention from the opposite sex, Mark Zuckerberg launches FaceMash, a site that flirts with comparing female students to farm animals and invites students to rate the ladies at the school according to “hotness,” ranking then on line. The hacking skills, and computer sophistication needed to pull this off are impressive, though Zuckerberg gets into trouble for the site, and takes it down very quickly after it goes up (but not before thousands of internet hits).

Zuckerberg’s FaceMash stunt brings him to the attention of Divya Narendra, who approaches Zuckerberg about becoming the replacement for the lost computer designer for their website, the Harvard Connection. Zuckerberg checks with his friend Edward Saverin, who isn’t keen on the idea. He does not think Zuckerberg needs them. But Zuckerberg decides to meet with them.

The Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra think they have partner. They believe Zuckerberg will jump at the chance to join their project to wash away any bad publicity he got from FaceMash, and at the chance for an awkward computer geek to mix with well-known, socially connected Harvard students. They fail to consider that Zuckerberg may not have believed the FaceMash episode was bad publicity, and that computer technology was maybe more important to Zuckerberg than social standing.

At about the same time, shortly after Facemash, Mark Zuckerberg tells Eduardo Saverin about his idea for a site called “the facebook,” a site where Harvard students can put up pictures and profiles—a more constructive use of the FaceMash technology. No, Zuckerberg does not consider this the same as the Winklevoss twins’ project, which was more of a simple dating site. Zuckerberg had apparently decided not to work on their site. Eduardo Saverin puts up a thousand dollars to get “theFacebook” project running.

But Zuckerberg doesn’t tell the Winklevoss twins he is not interested in their project. He puts them off, saying he has no time, and that a lot of work needs to be done to liven up a site that “lacks functionality.” The Winklevosses and Narendra are frustrated at Zuckerberg’s lack of progress, but they still assume Zuckerberg is their computer design partner.

In early 2004, “theFacebook” goes up at Harvard, an online social network for Harvard students. Divya Narendra sees an article in the Harvard Crimson newspaper and shows it to the Winklevoss twins. They are livid. They see this as the theft of their idea by Zuckerberg while he had strung them along. They will speak to their father’s lawyer and see what can be done to remedy the perceived transgression.

TheFacebook is catching on. Right now, it makes no money—it costs money to run the site. Zuckerberg enjoys its success. Savarin does too, but it is his money into the project, and he is concerned about practicalities. Zuckerberg also tells him that about a week after the site launched, he had received notice from Cameran Winklevoss asking him to cease and desist, and making other demands. Zuckerberg had answered, denying his site was the same as the Winklevoss site, and denying they ever had a binding agreement to work together. Zuckerberg’s roommates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes join the project to deal with the fast growth of the Facebook, and its coming expansion to additional colleges. Saverin suggests that he will approach advertisers to begin monetizing the site.

The Winklevosses try to get Harvard to intervene based on Zuckerberg’s alleged violation of the Harvard student honor code. The school administration flatly refuses.

The book now introduces Sean Parker, an internet entrepreneur, previously involved with Napster and another site called Plaxo. He is famous in Silicon Valley computer/internet circles as a wild party-man who knows everyone. He looks for a computer/internet start-up that will make him the next billionaire. He thinks social networks have possibilities. He stumbles on “theFacebook” and sees potential (though he thinks “Facebook” alone would be a better title for the site). He decides he needs to find and meet Mark Zuckerberg, whose name is on every page of the site: “A Mark Zuckerberg Production.”

Eduardo Saverin continues efforts to line up advertisers. He and Zuckerberg meet Sean Parker in New York. Saverin recognizes that Parker and Zuckerberg have an instant rapport. Parker has no money of his own, but has the connections to put Zuckerberg and Saverin in contact with potential Silicon Valley venture capitalists and investors.

After the spring of 2004 term at Harvard, Zuckerberg moves to California. Saverin is not comfortable with the separation, with the idea of Zuckerberg’s exposure to whirlwind personalities like Sean Parker, but consoles himself with the idea they will be back at Harvard for the fall term.

The Winklevosses and Divya Narendra launch their site, now called Connect U. It does not catch on, even just at the university.

Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg join forces in California. Eduardo Saverin comes out for a weekend and sees how wild the Silicon Valley atmosphere is, and how Zuckerberg is seduced by it. He is uncomfortable with Zuckerberg’s one-word answers as Saverin tells Zuckerberg he has made progress with the advertisers. But he feels reassured by the idea that he and Zuckerberg have a partnership agreement, and that theFacebook is going to be big.

Saverin is back in New York, still believing he is in charge of the financial aspects of theFacebook. (And Saverin had put up more and more of his own funds to bankroll the project, including the costs of the California stay for Zuckerberg and his associates.) He writes an angry letter to Zuckerberg about his lack of inclusion, and when he is unsatisfied with Zuckerberg’s response to the letter, he freezes the bank account for the project.

The Winklevosses sue Zuckerberg. The freezing of the bankroll drives Zuckerberg closer to Sean Parker. Parker connects Zuckerberg with some venture capitalist investors who put up $500,000 for a small stake in Facebook. This will allow the defense of the Winklevoss lawsuit and provide finds to further grow the company, now called Facebook, as suggested by Sean Parker.

Earlier, Saverin is summoned to California to sign papers for a new legal arrangement. He signs them, believing he still owns over thirty percent of Facebook, And Facebook is now up to a million users and growing. On April 4, 2005, Eduardo Saverin arrives in California for another meeting with lawyers. Additional shares have been added to the company. Saverin’s shares would now be worth under ten per cent of the company. Saverin was being “diluted out of the company.” Saverin refuses to sign. He feels betrayed. He will file his own lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg.

Later during 2005, Sean Parker is arrested at a wild college party. Mark Zuckerberg, though undoubtedly feeling some debt to Parker, sees his wild lifestyle as a risk to Facebook. Now Sean Parker has to go. Mark Zuckerberg’s attitude and personality could be summed up simply with the notation on his business card: “I’m CEO – Bitch.”

In the Epilogue, we find out Sean Parker is still a force in Silicon Valley, the Winklevosses settled their suit for a speculated amount of 65 million (an amount they reportedly were not happy with), Eduardo Savaren’s lawsuit is “shrouded in secrecy,” though his name is added as a “cofounder” of Facebook. As to Mark Zuckerman, Facebook is valued at an estimated fifteen billion dollars with an estimated two hundred million users plus, adding five million users a week.

The Accidental Millionaires

The Accidental Millionaires

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