The language is what’s up front, but the thing that supports the language is the mouths out of which the language comes, the clothes on the bodies that carry the mouths from which the language comes, the houses and the rooms that the bodies inhabit.— Director DavidFincher
Following their Academy Award-winning work on Director DavidFincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Set Decorator Victor Zolfo SDSA and Production Designer Donald Burt rejoined Fincher in bringing to life the story of the origins of the cultural phenomenon facebook in the widely lauded film THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
Set in the dorms and halls of Harvard and the faceless rooms of the nascent internet wildfire, the filmmakers provided multiple viewpoints of the legitimacy of its birthright.
Fincher again emphasizes the importance of set decoration and design [See Director’s Chair for SET DECOR’s 2009 interview with David Fincher] as he states, “To me, the Chinese checkers of it is this: you get a couple of Aeron chairs and some computers, and the guys rattle off their dialogue in the way that they’re supposed to. But the three dimensional chess of it is to try to steep the viewer in the world of the movie, and to do so in a way that’s effortless for him.”
Zolfo notes, “We were very conscious and deliberate about not breathing any unsubstantiated character details into these guys. If something felt like it was standing out or distracting – it didn't make the cut.
Fincher adds, “The time and the place had to be palpable…You want to build the drama — the inevitability of the fact that these kids can’t be friends or the fact that they’re going to have to divide the spoils – by seeing this place that they all come from, with its bad prefab furniture and scratchy sheets and fire alarms in the middle of the wall and fireplaces that don’t work.”
“The meticulous, sinister mise-en-scene Fincher brought to SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC informs the atmosphere here, albeit in a subtler way,” remarks Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips. “The worlds we see on screen, primarily Harvard University a few years ago and the sweaty, sunny dot.com Palo Alto landscape a little more recently, feel — deliberately — as remote and exotic as anything in Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON…Harvard looks terrifyingly insular — like Hogwarts without the camaraderie.”
“A lot of people think of Harvard as being like Camelot, or Hogwarts,” Fincher offers. “But it’s not. Of course Harvard is old and it’s stately, but physically it’s really this odd, colonial, kind of re-fabbed and refurbished place where every 10 or 15 years more conduit gets put on the walls and it falls apart a little bit more.”
Zolfo describes, “The Harvard dorms sets adhered to our research and scouting. We acquired the very contract furniture used by the university. My preconceptions of housing at the Ivy League schools were changed forever.”
“The ordinary and mundane were characteristically true for these guys,” he points out. “So the portrayal of Harvard as worn and unremarkable was deliberate and emphasized. The guys in suite H33 Kirkland House were pretty dry, outsider underdogs. Many kids take advantage of their dorm rooms as a canvas for pent up angst, sexuality and passion... but these guys were not your average college guys.
“The attempt was to make Harvard, and Kirkland Hall in particular, into a kind of nest for these characters — but sometimes a nest isn’t perfect and pretty. There can be scraps of dirty yarn and paper mixed in there, too.The Winklevoss twins and their friends are in somewhat grander environments but you still see the cracks in the walls, the age of the stoic institution.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin described facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as “…A brilliant guy who’s socially awkward, who’s got his nose up against the window of social life. It would seem he badly wanted to get into one of the final clubs—the exclusive, élite-within-élite party clubs at Harvard. The Winklevoss twins were members of the Porcellian Club, the most prestigious.”
Zolfo reveals, “We were denied access to the Porcellian Club beyond the sidewalk. However, similar clubs not only allowed us in, but shared all sorts of stories and background on the final clubs. We replicated many of the interior details we found, including some rare photos that the HARVARD CRIMSON had published of the Porcellian’s interior.”
“While there was fine research available on the Dean’s Office at Harvard, this is one example of how we chose to portray this set in an imagined way that serves the dramatic narrative. It was important to show the wealthy face of the institution, a more traditional and expected academia. It was the right setting for the outrageous and hilarious conversation depicted.”
The facebook headquarters we see in the film was based heavily on research of the actual early facebook offices. “These guys were in a sense creating their own final club,” says Zolfo. “The vibe, the playful environment, the idea of transparency were all-powerful ideals to them.” Hundreds of employees work in open-air bullpens, “visible-to-all” small cubicles reflect a facebook profile, while “Ping Pong and snack tables still impart some semblance of that hacker-in-a-dorm-room feel.”
Reportedly, Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. Blue is facebook’s dominant color, because, as he said, “blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.”
The first “headquarters”, a non-descript house in Silicon Valley, reveals the growth spurt galvanized by the influence of Napster founder Sean Parker. Zolfo describes the film’s depiction: “We had one or two photos of Mark Zuckerberg posed at this suburban house in Palo Alto, and they became the inspirational grain. It was essentially like spring break in a Silicon Valley furnished rental. It was lots of fun trying to imagine what these guys would even put on the walls. It became about psychedelic pin-ups of fractals, drinking quotations and dozens of dry erase boards covered in Java, .net & visual basic languages. Zuckerberg and company are locked into developing the next layers... the groupies and the partying make it their version of a Final Club”
For the restaurants and night clubs, the world of Sean Parker, Zolfo says, “We wanted to create an aura of sexiness and youthful allure – the empire of the young and powerful and their versions of success.The Stanford girl’s apartment (in which we first meet Sean Parker) is the rare pop of life among these players… she shows evidence of having a soul.”
The conference rooms…the legal battlefields…
Zolfo remembers, “We approached them quite literally as reflections of characters. The Winklevoss deposition is set in the world of old money and stuffed shirts, whereas Eduardo’s is characteristic of newer money – modernity, glass & steel, and a sense of cool detachment. Silicon Valley provides the perfect backdrop.”
When queried about the challenges in decorating for pared-down sets, Zolfo replies, “Don Burt was really the guard for all of us – we would remove as much overt character as we were comfortable with – and he would do a final pass and really cut it to the quick.He’s braver than I am in that regard.” Re: the challenges in decorating for red camera, he notes, “Just knowing that every hairline scratch, blemish, or nub will be perfectly apparent – things need to be really right before they appear on the set, it’s very unforgiving. The picture itself is gorgeous – there seems to be an almost painterly quality it produces. Of course, that also has everything to do with Fincher”