Could Sorkin’s ‘Social Network’ be considered original?

Posted by · 6:10 pm · September 17th, 2010

I’ve been hearing for a while now that Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for “The Social Network,” credited in the film as an adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” (covered by Guy in Page to Screen here), could conceivably be considered an original work by the Academy.

The first clue was the fact that Sorkin and Mezrich were writing their material separately.  My understanding was Mezrich would send Sorkin pages and they would compare ideas and notes, but Sorkin was not working from a published work and was not “adapting” it into a screenplay.  It kind of recalls the manner in which Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke worked on “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

I’ve got a few calls out to some folks to firm this up, but I’m thinking more and more that the case may be perfectly made for an original screenplay classification.  Meanwhile there’s a big, fat (as always, amazing) Mark Harris piece in New York Magazine that deals in some detail with all of this.  But, well, it’s still just a little unclear.

Consider this passage:

Though Sorkin met with Mezrich in a Boston hotel and the two men later compared notes as they did independent research, each was writing his own version of the story. Mezrich says he handed Sorkin chapters; Sorkin recalls “Ben reading some notes off his computer,” but adds, “I don’t remember getting written material and didn’t get a look at any of the book until the screenplay was almost finished.”

More conflicting perspectives.  And even though everyone involved with the film “acknowledges, in almost uniform language, that ‘there’s no way the movie could have been written without Ben,'” as Harris writes, there is also an insistence that the script was based on the original proposal, not the book.

The next graph, by the way, goes on to mention the thrashing the book received in some quarters upon release due to thin sourcing, so it kind of makes you wonder if there’s an effort to put some distance between the film and Mezrich’s largely criticized work.  And you can bet that the knives are already being sharpened by those who’d like to hold the film back in the Oscar race due to any questions of accuracy.  It happened to “The Hurricane,” it happened to “A Beautiful Mind” and it will most certainly happen again.

Mezrich does a fine job of defending his process, by the way.  He compares it to that of Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe, but he might be overstepping by suggesting it could be “a genre [he’s] trying to create.”  Truman Capote has been there and done that, after all.  But there’s nothing wrong with dramatized non-fiction in and of itself.

And Sorkin, for his part, notes that the conflicting stories behind Facebook’s genesis made for a device of sorts.  “I didn’t choose one [story] and decide that it was the truth,” he tells Harris.  “I dramatized the fact that there were conflicting stories.”  It comes off like a hitch on screen and makes for a savvy, brilliant (and maybe tactical) sort of creative objectivity.

But it still leaves the question.  At the end of the day, we could see a shift of category classification on this one.  So stay tuned…

[Photo: New York Magazine]

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 9-17-2010 at 6:17 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I would love to see this happen. In the interactive trailer, Sorkin does say he wrote it at the same time as Mezrich, which made me think. If this happened, then both this and Toy Story could win the screenplays, which would make me very happy.

  • 2 9-17-2010 at 6:34 pm

    Drew said...

    Just read this over at awards daily and thought it was a fantastic piece which I think clears up a few things that many people have been critical of in regards to questionable material involved.

    And yes I’m in agreement with Andrew M as to just how wonderful it would be to see both Social Network and Toy Story 3 win their respective screenwriting honors.

  • 3 9-17-2010 at 6:35 pm

    N8 said...

    Why do I get the feeling the Best Picture 10 is going to be stacked with original screenplays?

  • 4 9-17-2010 at 6:54 pm

    Lucas said...

    I don’t really care what category it’s in as long as he wins; I love me, almost unconditionally, some Mr. Sorkin!

  • 5 9-17-2010 at 7:09 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    This sounds similar to how Memento was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Even though the credits acknowledge that it was adapted from Jonathan Nolan’s short story, since both were conceived at the same time, the film was considered an original work.

  • 6 9-17-2010 at 7:13 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    After “Bright Star” was ruled an adaptation, I can’t even attempt to second-guess the Academy’s classifications in this department.

    I’d rather see Mike Leigh with an Oscar, personally — this would be his fifth Original Screenplay nod. It’s time.

  • 7 9-17-2010 at 8:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Syriana is another comparison.

  • 8 9-17-2010 at 9:01 pm

    americanrequiem said...

    just like everyones said, this would make it more likely for toy story 3 to win a screenplay award and that would be awesome

  • 9 9-17-2010 at 9:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think everyone’s getting ahead of themselves thinking Toy Story 3 has a shot at winning. I know I’m the guy saying it has a play at the big prize (and I do, depending on Disney’s commitment), but seriously, I don’t see a screenplay award going to an animated film any time soon.

  • 10 9-17-2010 at 10:45 pm

    Glenn said...

    The strangest was the year when My Big Fat Greek Wedding AND Gangs of New York were considered somehow original. I was surprised that Chicago or The Hours weren’t considered original, too!

  • 11 9-17-2010 at 11:56 pm

    Ali E. said...

    Original Screenplay category already has two strong candidates for the win in The Kids Are All Right and Another Year (And there are also The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Inception, Black Swan and Somewhere, all close for a nod). The Social Network would take away the Oscar one of those two would otherwise win. But the Adapted Screenplay category is already weak. Who will win if this move is true? Toy Story 3? A second Oscar for Michael Arndt? I don’t think so. Winter’s Bone? Too little, too dark. True Grit? The fifth Oscar for Coen Brothers? Not yet. 127 Hours? I just don’t see any of these winning…

  • 12 9-18-2010 at 12:08 am

    red_wine said...

    Thats the first thought that occurred to ( as to everyone else) that if The Social Network is original, then Toy Story 3 can win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

    But I also agree with Kris, that it is animated, so the Academy wouldn’t think it is worth giving a writing Oscar to.

    Like Guy, I also think that Bright Star being adapted remains one of the most ridiculous classifications when something like Milk has won the original writing Oscar.

    But no matter what category, The Social network is poised for the win in writing, its like 1 of your slam-dunk Oscar bets, but then so was Up In the Air in writing last year…

  • 13 9-18-2010 at 2:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I second Kris’s comment that people are possibly overestimating the chances of “Toy Story 3.” But what’s with the assumption that “The Social Network” will automatically win either category in which it is placed? Early days, folks.

  • 14 9-18-2010 at 6:02 am

    Graysmith said...

    Kris (or anyone else who’ve seen it),

    Is Mezrich in the opening credits for the film? He’s listed on the IMDb page but obviously that can’t be trusted. If he is listed in the film though I can’t imagine it going original, though I’m sure there have been films that mentioned being based on books that still were considered original..

    It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. When I was putting together a first draft of Oscar predictions a little while back, it seemed like the original category is far more crowded than adapted (which frankly looks weaker than it has in years, I struggled to even come up with 10 viable contenders, including The Social Network).

    Anyway, I don’t see Toy Story 3 winning for screenplay either. If none of their original stories have won the Oscar for writing since the first Toy Story, I don’t see any reason to think Toy Story 3 could do it. I do think it’ll be nominated, but that’s it.

  • 15 9-18-2010 at 6:14 am

    Graysmith said...

    On the other hand, if The Social Network is moved to original, there aren’t a whole lot of serious contenders left in the adapted category. Toy Story 3 could win it simply because it’s such an abysmal field this year. The only other film I can think of that seems like a film that could win it would be True Grit. Maybe 127 Hours although it seems more of a directorial/visual tour de force than a writing one).

  • 16 9-18-2010 at 7:35 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    If it is well received, I think “Rabbit Hole” could be a strong contender in the adapted category. I mean, David Lindsay-Abaire is adapting his own Pulitzer-winning play. He’s working with established quality here.

    Then again, there was “Doubt”… so we shall see…

  • 17 9-18-2010 at 8:41 am

    Maxim said...

    This is ridiculous, if, like you say, it is “credited in the film as an adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” than what else is there to say?

    If the movie itself considers it an adapted work then who could possible disagree?

  • 18 9-18-2010 at 10:42 am

    Sir Andrew said...

    While we’re on the subject, could someone tell me why Toy Story 3 is up for Adapted Screenplay and not Original? I’ve been wondering for a while if I missed out on something, there.

  • 19 9-18-2010 at 10:58 am

    Fitz said...

    I’d like to think that Inception might receive some considerations, but it’s unlikely. However, I don’t see Toy Story pulling out a win over King’s Speech or Kids Are All Right.

  • 20 9-18-2010 at 11:17 am

    SJG said...

    I’m of the (obviously minority) opinion that Toy Story 3 doesn’t even deserve a nomination for its screenplay, so if moving Sorkin’s screenplay into original increases TS3’s chance for a win, I hope that it doesn’t happen.

  • 21 9-18-2010 at 11:31 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Maxim: See the case of Syriana. The WGA and AMPAS processes for determining classification are two different things.

    I’m really just floating an idea here. At the end of the day, I think it will stay as is.

  • 22 9-18-2010 at 11:38 am

    red_wine said...

    Toy Story 3’s credibility will also be hampered by a lack of WGA nom which doesn’t allow animated films to compete for the its awards.

    Talk To Her and The Pianist are the only 2 instances this century where a script not nominated by the WGA won the Oscar. A meager 10% hit rate. The Golden Globes also won’t nominate it. The BFCA will and the Baftas might. But eitherways its a very tough road for Toy Story 3 in screenplay. An animated film winning an award for writing is just a pipe dream, though a pleasant one.

  • 23 9-18-2010 at 12:40 pm

    Squirrelman said...

    @Sir Andrew:

    “Based on characters created by…”

    Same reason why “In The Loop” was classified as an adapted work last year by the Academy.

  • 24 9-18-2010 at 1:20 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Doh, I just noticed I asked a question about something covered in the first paragraph of the article. LOL. But if the book is credited, it certainly points more towards adapted. Even with AMPAS’ bizarre ways of deciding things, if it’s in the credits that means a whole lot.

    Anyway, I would think that regardless of what category The Social Network ends up in, it’ll be nominated and certainly a contender.

  • 25 9-18-2010 at 1:27 pm

    Graysmith said...

    “An animated film winning an award for writing is just a pipe dream, though a pleasant one.”

    Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but on the other hand animated films have matured a great deal with the advent of Pixar and digital animation. Most major animated films used to be just for kids with little to interest anyone above a certain age, but now the very best animated films appeal to just about everyone. A writing win for an animated film is a long-shot, true, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Especially not this year when Toy Story 3 will have so few serious contenders against it in the adapted category.

  • 26 9-18-2010 at 2:45 pm

    Sir Andrew said...

    Dankeshoen, Squirrelman!

  • 27 9-19-2010 at 6:25 am

    Squirrelman said...

    @Sir Andrew:

    No problem.

    OT: Does anyone know if anyone is streaming the closing ceremony from Toronto?

    P.S. Toy Story 3 for screenplay would be quite awesome :)

  • 28 9-19-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Mario said...

    well it’s about as original as Milk so yeah I think it could be considered original.