Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
It’s been four years since a new David Fincher film graced the screen, and it will be at least another two before that changes. Neither of his “in development” projects — Strangers and the highly unlikely World War Z 2 — are anywhere near starting production, but happily we can always go back to any of his previous ten films for a taste of that Fincher fix.
So we’re doing just that.
With Facebook in the news recently we decided to give another spin to his brilliant and unexpectedly exciting look at the creation of the world’s most popular social network. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
The Social Network (2010)
Commentator: David Fincher (director)
1. The opening restaurant chatter begins during the Columbia Pictures logo, but he would have loved to have it start even earlier during the Coming Attraction trailers for other movies. He says he’s joking, but you know damn well he truly would have done it if it was possible. (And we would have loved it.)
2. The opening scene was important to him in setting up the character of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) — “I’ll be very careful to say that.” — as well as the intent of the film itself. “It was going to be about semi-important things and self-effacing.”
3. He says the upside of casting for a 19-25 year old character is that “you don’t have to find somebody who’s made thirty movies, you can find people who’ve made two or three movies.” The process led him to watching numerous recent films featuring young adult performers including The Squid & the Whale and The Education of Charlie Banks. “I felt I knew what Jesse was, and I felt that there was something about his sweetness that I thought we could do without. Not to say that Zuckerberg isn’t sweet.”
4. Eisenberg submitted to video auditions of the opening scene, and Fincher watched it, loved it, and showed it to writer Aaron Sorkin who said simply “well our job’s done.”
5. They auditioned several women for the character of Erica Albright, but “I didn’t think anyone did it with the kind of sharpness” as Rooney Mara. “She’s so capable in her subsequent vivisection.”
6. He wanted Elvis Costello’s “Beyond Belief” over the opening credits, and everyone tried to talk him out of it. “People were polite, but they were definitely aghast.” He only changed his mind after hearing this piece of music from composer Trent Reznor. It’s called “Hand Covers Bruise,” and Costello’s track went immediately out the window.
7. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is standing in for Harvard as they weren’t allowed to shoot at the latter school. “At first I was extremely pissed off that Arthur Hiller (Love Story) got to shoot there and I couldn’t.”
8. “A lot of people have taken umbrage that we’ve hyperbolized the Phoenix Club party,” but his research and interviews leave him convinced he’s only sexed it up “slightly.” The excessive drinking, though, is right on the money.
9. Eisenberg pulled him aside at one pointed saying “‘You would telling me if I was sucking ass, you would tell me if this was terrible.’ But I just kept thinking he was great.”
10. The casting process for the Winklevoss twins came down to Armie Hammer and Josh Pence, but he went with Hammer thinking he’d do better with the self-righteousness and non-comical entitlement. He asked Pence to “come and play with us, and can we lop your head off and put Armie’s head on your body, and he was a real sport.”
11. The commentary track bleeps Fincher when he says variations of “fuck” or “shit.” This is dumb, but hey, at least all those impressionable children listening to The Social Network‘s director commentary won’t be corrupted.
12. Fincher referenced My Three Sons while shooting the scene where Zuckerberg faces the disciplinary panel at 18:57 while tapping his flip-flop clad feet. Eisenberg was not familiar with the show.
13. The note Zuckerberg gets in class saying “U dick” originally said something more graphic, but the studio had Fincher change it so as not to earn an R-rating.
14. Max Minghella reminds Fincher of Peter Dante, “an actor who’s in a lot of Adam Sandler movies.” The take-away here is that Fincher watches a lot of Adam Sandler movies.
15. Andrew Garfield improvised the little dance as his character approaches Zuckerberg at the Caribbean party, “and I thought, ‘this guy’s going to be a movie star.'”
16. He wants it known that if you have a problem with the scene at the Jewish fraternity’s Caribbean party you should take it up with Sorkin. “His email is [bleep].”
17. He added digital breath to the outdoor conversation between Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) because it was legitimately cold while they were filming but their breaths weren’t visible. “I just felt to ask people to stand out in this kind of cold weather and not see their breath was unfair.”
18. One thing that made the shoot easier was the use of blue screens on laptops and monitors which enabled the actors to type reasonably well without worrying about having to actually know coding. The screens were just added later.
19. He liked Joseph Mazzello‘s audition and wanted to find a part for him, so he cast him as Dustin Moskovitz despite the lack of resemblance. “Apparently he had been in a movie called Jurassic Park which I was not aware of, I did not recognize him from Jurassic Park because he’s twenty years older. He doesn’t like to talk about it. He doesn’t like to be reminded.” Fincher only realized the connection a few weeks before the production wrapped. “Luckily I’m stupid and uninformed.”
20. That’s not actually Bill Gates. It’s the world’s preeminent Bill Gates impersonator.
21. “If people have to ask, and I’ve been asked only about six hundred thousand times,” he says regarding the topic of where he himself stands on the question of whether or not Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook, the answer is in Sorkin’s script. “Guy builds a nice chair doesn’t owe money to everybody who’s ever built a chair.”
22. The second use of “Hand Covers Bruise” occurs at 49:10 during the deposition scene. “The notion was it has this sort of undercurrent of dissonant frustration.”
23. Pence appears onscreen without the Hammer head at 51:45. “Finally Josh Pence gets to be in the movie and lend some of his just disgusting handsomeness to the proceedings.”
24. “Ahh,” he says as Dakota Johnson walks away from camera at 57:06 in very small boy shorts.
25. The bit where Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) tells Amelia (Johnson) that he’s a hard worker originally included him doing “a little thing with his jaw like a little cunnilingus joke,” but they took it out fearing the MPAA would ask them to drop it anyway.
26. The studio was confused why he would cast Gary Oldman’s manager Douglas Urbanski as Harvard’s president instead of someone like, oh, Gary Oldman, but Fincher wouldn’t budge. “This is the guy that we have to have.”
27. Garfield came to his attention via producer Scott Rudin who sent over Boy A and Red Riding, both of which are phenomenal and well worth your time if you haven’t seen them yet. Fincher originally auditioned him for the Zuckerberg role but decided Garfield had too great of an emotional presence. “I just felt it was a tragedy to take that thing that is so wonderful about him and bury it so deep in a character who can’t have that access.”
28. “The TransAmerica Pyramid I’ve already abused in once in a movie that I made, and it was not an homage to Zodiac that we chose it again.” It was just attractive stock footage they could buy.
29. The Henley Royal Regatta scene was filmed during the actual regatta, an annual event, which meant they filmed it just five to six weeks before the film had to be locked and processed for release. The closeups were done earlier on a man-made lake.
30. Timberlake was concerned about the scene where Parker is seen making guacamole as the real Parker is allergic to peanuts. Fincher sighs and says “I don’t know either.”
31. The final appearance of the “Hand Covers Bruise” triptych occurs during the scene where Saverin confronts Zuckerberg about having been let go from the company. “It’s that weird, creepy, anxious energy that has this melody that comes over it, this piano melody that is very innocent. But now it’s almost an echo of its innocence.”
32. A lawyer (Rashida Jones) shares the idea that every creation myth needs a devil, but in real life the line came from one of Facebook’s Communication Directors. “It was a great thing fro Aaron to be able to lock onto and go ‘this frames it, this is our other bookend.'”
33. He recalls getting into “a heated exchange” with a journalist who took issue with the film’s use of dramatic license in terms of dialogue and scenes involving Zuckerberg. Fincher asked what would be gained by sticking with documented and confirmed quotes, and the reporter suggested it would be a more humane look at Zuckerberg as a person. “‘To my knowledge,'” Fincher replied, “‘the greatest liberties that we’ve taken are in his trying to give an apology to the girl that he wrote about on his blog at the beginning of the movie and then trying to friend her at the end of the movie. The things that we created that you’re taking the biggest issue with are things that are actually to my mind things that make him humane.’ He had no response.”
34. He told Reznor not to be afraid of using synthesizers for the score “because it’s the sound of technology.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I like the first scene of a movie to inform the audience about how much they have to pay attention.”
“It never occurred to me when people started saying ‘wow, such a nasty piece of character assassination,’ and this is maybe because I just know so many unsavory people. Or I’m so unsavory myself.”
“We looked for months to find two 6′ 5″ 220 lb twins.”
“Originally when he opened the little piece of notebook paper it said [bleep], and the studio was uncomfortable with the word [bleep]. They didn’t want to parade that in front of the MPAA because they felt we were already walking on egg shells.”
“We wanted to see them doing dick things that twins do.”
“So maybe there were tens of thousands of dollars worth of work that was unnecessary, but at least it was done impeccably.”
“I have nothing against the Jewish fraternities of Harvard or Asian women.”
“He spent the rest of the morning vomiting.”
“Brenda Song is maybe five feet tall and the single most dominating force of character of any human being in this movie.”
“Aaron Sorkin did not ask to be in the movie, and I think he tried on many occasions to talk me out of putting him in the movie, but when he’s impatient he’s funny to me.”
“It’s Sorkin-ese. I don’t understand people who start a sentence by saying ‘also.'”
David Fincher remains one of my favorite directors, and it’s not just because he’s only made one underwhelming film alongside nine very good to great ones. It’s also because his commentaries are absolutely aces. They’re funny, detailed, candid, and ultimately entertaining, and this one is just that. It’s a fantastic track for a fantastic film, and the only way it could be improved would be to remove those fucking bleeps.
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