New header image today — it’s the Android Android cookie jar that sits amongst my scifi collection.
Actress Elisabeth Sladen, most famous for playing Doctor Who’s sidekick Sarah Jane Smith, died this week at age 63 of cancer. I was a big fan of her spin-off show, the Sarah Jane Adventures. Here’s to you Ms. Sladen.
The new movie The Social Network directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin purports to tell the story of Facebook’s founding. Like viewers of all major motion pics based upon true events, the audience is left wondering just how many of the events depicted in The Social Network really happened. How accurate is the movie? I was curious myself so I did some research.
It goes without saying that there are many, many spoilers ahead. Also, this blog post is based on numerous sources (linked and listed below) and will be updated and corrected over time as additional info comes out.
The opening bar scene between Mark Zuckerberg and “Erica Albright” is wholly made-up. But what happens next is pretty close to what really happened. Zuck did spend a long night his sophomore year drinking and coding up “Facemash” by hacking into various Harvard student directories. And he foolishly did live blog about his exploits. And that blog did include calling a woman named Jessica Alona (changed in the movie to “Erica Albright”) the b-word that rhythms with witch and made mention of comparing Harvard girls to farm animals. However, the site drew only about 450 visitors and crashed Zuck’s laptop, not the entire university’s network. And no one seems to know anything about Zuck’s relationship with the real Alona.
It’s been noted by Zuck and some of his supporters that the movie’s explanation of his motives is not accurate. He says he was not that interested in the final clubs and had a steady girlfriend throughout the entire period, Priscilla Chan, whom he married in May, 2012.
Much of the beginnings of Facebook, including Zuck’s meetings with the Winklevoss twins, his lack of work on their project while stringing them along, his roomates Eduardo Saverin and Dustin Muskovitz’s involvement in starting up “thefacebook.com,” its incorporation in Florida and the eventual appearance of Napster founder Sean Parker is all basically accurate. Zuckerberg’s side notes that he also put money into the company beyond Saverin’s $19,000 but the bit about Saverin freezing the company’s early bank account is true.
The movie had a ton of first-person testimony to draw on for this section because both the Winklevosses (or Winklevii as they are sometimes called) and Saverin later sued Facebook. The lawsuits required a whole bunch of depositions grounding this section of the movie more solidly in reality.
The scene where Zuck sees Bill Gates speak at Harvard in February, 2004, really did happen although the exact question Gates answered appears not to have been “will there be another Bill Gates?” but “will there be another Microsoft?”
The scenes about Facebook’s move to California appear to be pretty accurate, as well. Zuck & Co did occupy a house in Palo Alto and they did string a zip line to the pool from the roof. Saverin went to New York for a summer internship at Lehman Brothers (oops). Zuck also appears to have marched in to Sequoia Capital (referred to as “Case Capital” in the film) in his pajamas and burned a few bridges at Parker’s behest.
How did Saverin and Zuckerberg’s relationship deteriorate? Again, the movie seems to have the basics correct. In reality, Saverin ran ads on thefacebook for another Internet company he had started that posted job listings. That was contrary to Zuckerberg’s strategy to attract a massive base of customers before running ads. And Zuckerberg didn’t think Saverin was doing anything to help the company from New York while Parker was opening doors with venture capitalists in California.
In one critical instant message at that time, Zuckerberg wrote: “Eduardo is refusing to co-operate at all…We basically now need to sign over our intellectual property to a new company and just take the lawsuit…I’m just going to cut him out and then settle with him. And he’ll get something I’m sure, but he deserves something…He has to sign stuff for investments and he’s lagging and I can’t take the lag.”
And so Zuck really did hatch a plan to push his old college roomie out of the company with the help of some crafty lawyering, as depicted in the film.
I’m not sure exactly how the Winklevosses April, 2004, meeting with Harvard president Larry Summers actually went down but probably with a lot fewer of Sorkin’s perfectly crafted zingers. In July, 2011, Summers called the brothers “assholes,” adding “Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.” In a three-page response letter, the brothers contended that Summers was “tactfully challenged,” with his feet up on his desk and failing to rise to shake their hands as they entered.
A lot of the most entertaining confrontation scenes in the movie are completely made up, as far my research has found. The Winklevii did not find out Facebook had spread to England in the summer of 2004 while they were in England rowing at the Henley Regatta. They were rowing there but Facebook had yet to jump the pond. There’s no apparent basis for some of Fanning’s meaner moves and Eduardo did not smash Zuck’s computer. He didn’t even appear at Facebook headquarters after learning he had been cut out. Saverin had his lawyers notify the company of his intention to sue by letter.
And while it’s been reported that the scene of Parker at the party with cocaine use was “mostly made up,” Zuckerberg explained Parker’s departure from a serious role at the company by citing a similar incident. Journalist David Kirkpatrick, who was given extensive access to Zuck and recently profiled Parker in Vanity Fair, says “it’s also true that Parker got arrested for cocaine when he was with an underaged employee of Thefacebook, and shortly thereafter left the company.” Parker has a carefully worded denial out saying: “I was at no point apprehended “carrying” cocaine (or with cocaine in my possession/vehicle), indicted of any crimes related to cocaine, nor convicted of any crimes related to cocaine.”
And there are a few wholly invented characters in the movie, mainly Eduardo’s lawyer, “Gretchen,” and one of Zuck’s lawyers, played by Rashida Jones, “Marylin,” who delivers some great lines at the end of the film that are — wait for it — made up.
What about the filming? While some scenes were shot in Cambridge and around Harvard Square, the university did not give filmmakers permission to shoot on campus. Johns Hopkins stands in for the campus with some CGI used to glom on the Harvard skyline. Rowing scenes in Cambridge and England were filmed on location (see links in the comments for proof and far more detail on the rowing bits).
It’s true that Facebook settled with the Winklevosses for $65 million — their lawyers disclosed the settlement. The boys remain litigious and got back into court by suing those lawyers for malpractice (they lost) and were in turn sued over one of their later Internet business ventures, as well.
Eduardo Saverin is reported to have received a 5% stake in Facebook, worth over $1 billion. In February, 2013, Saverin, who now lives in Singapore, sat for a video interview at a Wall Street Journal conference. He praised the film as an entertaining piece of art that was not wholly accurate, but he didn’t go into much detail.
As for Zuck, he remains atop Mt. Facebook.
Personally, I have to agree with the conclusions of New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera, who said the film gets at the essential truth of how great businesses are created even if some details are false.
Please consider yourself encouraged to leave questions, challenges and/or corrections in the comments and thanks for dropping by.
Previously on Gravitationalpull.net: Facebook isn’t a website (or a spaceship), it’s a time machine
Harvard Crimson article about Facemash 11/4/2003
Slate has compiled some of the early documentary evidence, including Zuck’s blog posts from the night of facemash and an email he sent to a Harvard official detailing his version of his interactions with the Winklevii.
Aaron Sorkin posted online about the accuracy of Zuck’s Facemash monologue and more generally the film’s depiction of woman on writer Ken Levine’s blog 10/10/10.
Harvard grad Nathan Heller, who says he knew Zuck there, whines about how the movie gets the culture and tone of Harvard all wrong in a piece in Slate on 9/30/10.
Aaron Greenspan, another Harvard contemporary of Zuck’s, claims he was the first to put the school’s facebook directory online. His story is up at the HuffingtonPost on 9/21/20.
A Harvard student who blogs as “Bows & Ivy” says the final clubs party scenes depicted in the movie’s trailer are pretty accurate in a 7/16/10 post.
There are also some first-person testimonials posted as answers to the question “What parts of the The Social Network (movie) are accurate and which are not?” over on the web site Quora.com
A whole bunch of Zuckerberg’s instant messages from the era have been compiled by the BusinessInsider in a post on 9/21/10.
General articles covering facts in the movie include Luke O’Brien’s piece in Slate 9/30/10, the New York Times 8/20/10 article about Facebook’s reaction, and authorized Facebook historian/journalist David Kirkpatrick’s view in a post on the DailyBeast on 9/30/10.
Larry Summers discussed his encounter with the Winklevosses at a Fortune Magazine conference on 7/20/11 and the Winklevosses shot back with a letter on 7/21/11, as reported by the L.A. Times.
Remember back in December when I discovered those addictably delicious Fran’s Salted Caramels and promptly ate about a zillion dollars worth? Well, Fran is back. Among recent birthday presents, my fabulous wife found that Fran’s has extended their line to some kind of super-powered, dark chocolate-covered Snickers bar redux called the Almond Gold Bar. Let’s just say it lasted about as long as the box of Fran’s Caramels that came with it. Highly recommended and available in Wellesley at The Cheese Shop.
So it’s over. Last night marked the final episode of one of the more original and fascinating television series to come along, Ron Moore’s thoughtful re-imagining of the cheesy 1970′s scifi classic Battlestar Galactica. In Moore’s hands, and made possible by a very talented cast, the newly-updated Battlestar Galactica, or BSG as they say on the internets, became a savvy commentary on some of the hottest political issues of the day, a mediation on deeper and more universal themes like the struggle between faith and science, not to mention damn good entertainment.
Since this essay discusses the final episode, there are numerous spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the final episode yet and you don’t want to know what happened, please stop reading here. You’ve been warned.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”
“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary about the final episode, but I wanted to add my view that Moore gave us just what he had signaled all along he was going to give us. We just didn’t believe him. Through a kick-off mini-series and four seasons spread over more than five years, the characters of the show have constantly appealed to divine authority, to the humans’ “Gods of Kobol” or to the Cylons “one god.” And so we, the cynical, post-modern TV watchers of the 21st century waited with anticipation to learn, at the very end we expected, that these deities would be revealed as…as something else, something “real,” something scientifically “plausible,” something we could relate to in the scifi genre. Oops. Turns out the god all these characters were appealing to was god. The god.
I’m writing the morning after the final aired and I decided to write my thoughts before reading anyone else’s online, whether it be other fans on the show’s forum, the most popular BSG bloggers or TV critics who have followed the show like the Chicago Tribune’s Mo Ryan. But I expect that this final reveal — that the explanation for the reincarnation of Starbuck, aka Kara Thrace, for the Head Six seen by Gaius Baltar and its counterpart seen by Caprica Six, for the shared visions of the opera house and more were all created by god — will come as more than a little bit of a shock. It certainly shocked me.
But maybe if I’d been paying a bit more attention and been a little less analytical and detached, if I’d been not just listening to the show but hearing it too, I’d have been less surprised. So much of the show’s story arc, so many of the characters’ archetypes, so many bits of dialogue and scenes and developments came right out of the bible, the good old Judeo-Christian bible. All these hints and references and borrowings probably came to a head a few weeks ago in the episode “Islanded in a Stream of Stars.” In the episode, Kara Thrace has given the dog tags she found on her own corpse to Gaius Baltar to analyze. Near the end of the episode, Baltar announces his findings to the whole crew:
Listen to me, for death is not the end. And I am not talking about Cylon resurrection. I am talking about the gift of eternal life that is offered to each and every one of us. Yes, even the most flawed among us. All we need is the courage to face death when it comes calling for us, embrace it even. Only then will we truly have the ability to cross over as one amongst has here has already crossed over. One amongst us here is living proof that there is life after death. The blood on these dog tags come from necrotic flesh, that means a dead body. The DNA analysis is a hundred percent proof positive match for one Captain Kara Thrace. I told you there were angels walking amongst you. When will you believe me? She took these from her own mortal remains that lie on earth even now interred with her bones. Ask her yourself, she will not deny it. She’s not a Cylon. They’ve already been revealed to us. Ask her yourself, she will not deny it.
A truly great scene (and a scenery-chewing performance delivered by actor James Callis as Baltar) and pretty much all the explanation Moore was going to give. You don’t have look much past the nose on your face to see Jesus in the house. Have faith and you will be granted eternal life. Simple message.
The three-hour final episode which followed had grand battles and plenty of FX scenes but the core of the episode was the flashbacks to the main characters’ lives before the Cylon invasion, before “the fall,” before everything they knew was stripped away. These flashbacks, outlining the pains and imperfections of life, the human flaws, the hard choices people make, ultimately were the perfect set-up for the end. It’s not little green men or artificially intelligent supercomputers that make things tick. It’s imperfect people and their faith in god. Why Ronald D. Moore, you of the dark and stormy ruminating, the army brat, turns out you’re a softy after all.
I must admit that until the day of the finale, I wouldn’t have expected such a romantic view from Moore. But on Friday night, while I was waiting for the show, I popped the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine into my DVD player. Moore was the co-exec producer of the series at that point. Working within the contraints of the Star Trek universe, the show explored many of the same themes as BSG, including faith and science, terrorism and genocide and revenge and forgiveness (As an aside, it’s also a show that was truly ruined by the departure/demise of a key character in its penultimate season). But the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind,” still has its moments. And, oh, what nostalgic and heartfelt moments they are. In that series, Moore certainly has religion and questions of faith at the center. And in the end, it’s Captain Benjamin Cisco’s literal leap of faith that saves the universe.
So it was a great final flourish for BSG that will now take its place among the best final episodes in the TV pantheon. So say we all…and to Ron Moore, James Callis, Katee Sachoff and all the writers and actors and crew: So long and thanks for all the fish.
UPDATE1: So went off and started reading other things like Mo Ryan’s excellent interview with Ron Moore and I wanted to flag this bit of the Q&A:
MR: I had this experience the day after the finale, I was walking around in New York and became very emotional all of a sudden. I was thinking of that final scene between Adama and Kara and Lee and then the moment where Kara winks out of existence, and I thought of the phrase, “The father, the son and the Holy Ghost.” Having been raised Catholic, that just had so much resonance for me.
RDM: Yeah. I think it’s rooted firmly in traditions like that. We talked about that about that very idea, the Trinity, and Kara as somehow being representative or at least connected to that idea. We talked a lot about the resurrection of Christ and its mythology and how that plays into a woman who literally dies and comes back to life for a certain purpose and then leaves again and gives hope that there is something else. She sort of lives in all those kinds of thoughts.
It also struck me that Moore’s choice of “All Along the Watchtower” as a major theme of the series was a telling selection. There’s quite a lot of background writing out there about the song and Dylan’s entire album, John Wesley Harding, released in 1967, a year after his motorcycle accident. As Nicholas Taylor notes in his review at PopMatters:
If the doom prophesied in “All along the Watchtower” was to be avoided, it had to be through a Christian sense of spiritual contentment and fellowship with one’s fellow human being. These tracks are achingly archaic and quaint because their Puritan message is archaic and quaint-the apocalypse can be avoided by small individual actions and feelings, as Dylan affirms in “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”, “So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’ / Help him with his load / And don’t go mistaking paradise / For that home across the road.”
UPDATE3 (Much, much later)
To mark the opening of the Battlestar Galactica props exhibit in Seattle in October, 2010, Ron Moore gave an interview to Wired.com. They asked him about the end of BSG and Moore gave some very specific answers about just why he wanted to keep the series’ resolution so non-specific. It’s worth reading the whole interview to hear Moore explain his whole approach to the series and how he wanted to break out of many of the conventions of the Trek universe and focus on deep character portraits and an exploration of current day moral and ethical questions. Here’s an excerpt about the end of BSG:
Moore: They’re representatives of an unknown and unknowable power that doesn’t like to be called God, and deals with our mortal plane in some way, and has some interest in it. I didn’t want to define it much beyond that, nor what Kara Thrace is, which is probably your next question.
Moore: The easy thing to say is, “Oh, they’re angels.” And Kara is a messiah, in a certain analogy to the Christ legend — she dies and is resurrected and leads them to the promised land, and then goes to join heaven.
But I didn’t want to define it in those terms exactly. I went out of my way to tweak it and subvert it so you didn’t draw that parallel exactly. I liked the ambiguity of it — if there is some greater power, if there is some life beyond our ken, we shouldn’t be able to define it. It’s impossible to know and understand, and yet the people in this series clearly had some relationship to something greater than themselves, and couldn’t define it, struggled with it, the Cylons struggled with it. All the people were trying to understand who they were.
One of the things television does badly is take complicated questions like that and reduces it to really simplistic answers by the end, so you have a nice tidy way to go home and feel good. I wasn’t interested in that. I thought the question was far more interesting than any kind of answer you could come up with.
Previously on BSG:
Why I stopped watching Battlestar Galactica (3/16/2007)
I just moved over from my old site a page I call “just messing with,” which lists software, web sites or gadgets that I’m giving a trial run. That’s followed on the page by a list of things that didn’t make the cut, under the heading “Canned.” Today, I just quickly cut and pasted the old page over here. Soon — really — I’ll add some new entries.
A little off-topic, but while doing some holiday gift shopping, I discovered this little box of delicious-looking Fran’s smoked salt caramels. I decided that before I got them for anybody as a gift, I’d better check and make sure they were tasty. Answer? YES. I’m calling this photograph “guilty as charged” for obvious reasons.
Spent a good bit of Saturday morning cleaning my office, but I cheated. Sure, I threw away lots of obvious trash, old magazines, empty coffee cups and the like. But I went with the piles of paper method. They’re hidden away, certainly. But I guess I really put off for another day the more difficult and time consuming task of sorting, filing and stashing the real mess. Looks like the window panes could use a good scrub down, too. Next time…
Way off topic, but Apple and HBO just put a 5 minute “sneak peak” video up in the iTunes store for the upcoming fifth season of Entourage. I guess the summer drought of watchable TV shows is finally lifting. Here’s a link to the page inside the store. Warning: lots of plot spoilers crammed into that 5 minutes. New shows start airing on Sept. 7.