There are a lot of reasons, pretty good ones, why Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher might have chosen not to make The Social Network. For example, it's a movie about a website. Or to be specific, it's a movie about the creation of a website, Facebook, and how founder Mark Zuckerberg was sued by Eduardo Saverin, his best friend and the company's original CFO, and separately by three Harvard classmates who claimed he stole their idea.
Also, the events in question are only a few years old and are still in dispute. Zuckerberg, a programming genius with famously limited social skills, isn't an especially relatable character. Sorkin (The West Wing) and Fincher (Zodiac) are powerfully idiosyncratic talents who'd never worked together before. And a lot of the action consists of kids typing at computers and lawyers sitting around tables.
But Sorkin and Fincher did make The Social Network, which opens Oct. 1. They sat down with TIME's Lev Grossman to talk about it.
TIME: What made you decide that this was the story you wanted to tell right now?
Sorkin: What came to me was a 14-page book proposal that Ben Mezrich [author of The Accidental Billionaires, on which the movie is loosely based] had written for his publisher. I read it, and I said yes very quickly. Faster than I've ever said yes to anything.
It really didn't have much at all to do with Facebook itself. I wasn't on Facebook. I don't spend a lot of time on the Internet, and social networking wasn't really part of my life. But the story itself! There are elements of it that are as old as storytelling: friendship and loyalty, class, jealousy, betrayal all those kinds of things that were being written about 4,000 years ago. It struck me as a great big classic story. And those classic elements were being applied to something incredibly contemporary.
TIME: It's almost like a Greek myth. There's something tragic about Zuckerberg. He created a new kind of personal connection for everybody else, and yet he cannot himself connect with other people.
Fincher: That was the thing that fascinated us in doing the research about Zuckerberg. I think in a weird way his inability to connect with those next to him who better to have invented this technology than somebody who needs it?
Sorkin: The first thing I did when I signed up for this movie was, I got a Facebook page. And the thing that struck me most was how much people were enjoying reinventing themselves on the Internet. That if you write a simple post like "Went out to this restaurant with the girls last night, had a seven-course meal, three appletinis, better hit the gym today," you're trying to be Ally McBeal. You sound like a sitcom person, like Mary Richards or Carrie Bradshaw.
And that struck me as something familiar. I also am not terribly comfortable socially. I have a lot of social anxiety. If I could just be in a room by myself and just write and sort of slip the pages under the door to somebody and have them slip me a meal in return, I'd be very happy.
Fincher: I hope that people understand that I have an enormous amount of empathy for Mark Zuckerberg. I know what it is to be in a room, as a 21-year-old, with a bunch of grownups. You're hawking your wares, and they're all looking at you like, "Isn't it cute how passionate he is?" So I really understood his frustration.
TIME: And you guys had never worked together before?
Sorkin: It was, for me at least, a very interesting and counterintuitive marriage of director and material, because what he is most known for is that he's peerless as a visual director. And I write people talking in rooms. So you wouldn't necessarily think of David first for this.