I can now say two things about my journalism career: that I have interviewed two Academy Award winners, and I have met the man responsible for me even writing in the first place.
Last week, I got to interview screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for his upcoming film Steve Jobs. He’s also been behind a lot of Hollywood’s more intelligent and well-crafted films, including A Few Good Men, Moneyball, and The Social Network, of which he won an Oscar for.
The Social Network in particular is special to me. It was my senior year in high school the year it came out, and I knew almost nothing about which direction I wanted to go with my life. I knew two things: that I had a creative mind, and that I enjoyed reading and writing.
While I had these skills, however, I didn’t know how I could translate that into a career. Yes I was writing my own short stories and poems, but I saw those more as hobbies than I did as a means of sustainment.
That is, until I saw The Social Network.
I saw the film in November. It was a cold, chilly day, and I walked up to the movie theater in my sweats and hoodie like I was Mark Zuckerberg walking across his campus. Sitting in the theater, watching the film, I felt like Zuckerberg did when he realized the potential of his future creation of Facebook. The genius of the idea came rushing into his head all at once, like lightning when it struck Ben Franklin’s kite. So too did the craftsmanship of the film hit me all at once like I was flying my own kite in the movie theater.
The movie played out like a Greek tragedy of sorts. You had this character embodied with a mortal flaw (in this case, Zuckerberg’s social anxiety) which eventually leads to his downfall and, ultimately, his undoing. With the character of Mark Zuckerberg, however, his undoing is not the loss of his life, like it is in those old Shakespeare plays. His undoing comes in the form of social seclusion: with him being alone with only his genius and his ego to keep him company.
Oh, I had seen great movies before, but this one was different. It wasn’t great in the contemporary sense of going from plot point A to plot point B. This showed craftsmanship in which I hadn’t seen before. It’s uniqueness didn’t come from its premise or its ideas, but in how it told and expressed its premise and ideas. The intricate, witty dialogue. The complex and interesting characters. The closeness of its shots and the tightness in its editing. I had come to love and appreciate The Social Network in a way that I hadn’t appreciated even the most exciting and action-packed blockbusters.
It showed me that true excitement didn’t come from special effects. It came from interesting and compelling characters.
After watching the movie, I had one thought in my head: “I have to write about this.” So I went home, created a Facebook account (which is ironic, because the movie was clearly critical of social media) and wrote and published my first reviews online.
I didn’t know the first thing about film criticism. In fact, to this day, I attest the one that was written the worst was The Social Network (And also The Shawshank Redemption, which I had published previous to The Social Network for practice). But the quality of those reviews almost doesn’t matter. I had found a reason to write, and I initiated that ambition myself. I can always rewrite my reviews for The Shawshank Redemption and The Social Network, but my first experience at writing and publishing my own work is something I will never get to experience again. It is one of my greatest memories of being a writer.
Enter 2015, and I’m sitting down across from the man who more or less takes credit for being the writer who inspired me to become one myself. His most recent film, Steve Jobs, sports a lot of similarities to The Social Network. Both center on geniuses in their respective crafts. Both have character with social discomforts that make them seem more like aliens than human beings. But both go through these brilliant arcs in the film that shows changes to their characters and to their relationships with the supporting cast. The only difference is Steve Jobs ends on a more lighthearted note. The Social Network does not.
So there we were, Aaron Sorkin and myself, talking about the film and his processes in researching and writing the picture. The most interesting thing he said to me was that he wasn’t interested in telling Steve Jobs’ biography: he was interested in telling his story, and to do that required making inferences to the facts rather than writing just the facts themselves.
“It’s not a piece of journalism,” he said. “It’s a piece of art.”
While talking, I don’t think it dawned on him at how much of an influence he’s been on me, on how much his writing inspired me to write myself, or even that his screenplay had gotten me interested in writing about movies in the first place. Then again, maybe he didn’t need to know. He was an artist talking about his art, and we might have had a different conversation if he realized he was talking to a fan instead of a journalist.
Sorkin probably will never read this post, and it’s just as well. He revealed his brilliant mind to me, and that was a gift in itself. Maybe one day some young, aimless artist will read one of my reviews or stories and realize that they want to write their own reviews and stories too.
One day, but until then, I’m going to keep enjoying perfecting my craft. Just like Sorkin is perfecting his.
– David Dunn