The word on the street is that top execs at Columbia Studios are quietly convinced that "The Social Network" is destined to become Hollywood's next big franchise.
A friend who's a major Hollywood mogul agreed to talk to me about this, on conditions of anonymity. Our first meeting was at his house, high in the hills.
Why Zuckerberg? I asked.
"Who's Batman? He's a hero, an anti-hero. Dark character. Wears a hood. Lives in a mansion. Pure box office gold."
"Now, who's Zuckerberg? He's a hero, an anti-hero. Dark character. Wears a hoodie. Mansion. Hell, give him a batarang and he IS Batman."
"See what I'm saying here? The sequels write themselves."
But on the drive back to the hotel, something started bugging me. These sequels will be based on real-life events that haven't happened yet. How, exactly, can that story write itself?
I called my friend to ask. "Buy me sushi on Wednesday" he grunted. "I'll explain."
Aaron Sorkin, Meet Algorithm
On Wednesday, I find myself sitting in a sushi place crammed with movie stars. My friend slides into his chair and shakes my hand.
I ask, how can the studios predict Facebook's future?
"One word: technology" he says, grinning broadly. "We're using the best algorithms from behaviorally-targeted online advertising. Scary smart. Click-through rates are as high as 99.9%."
I gently point out that he has his numbers reversed. He stares at me like I'm questioning the law of gravity while drowning his favorite kitten. "Point one percent, or a trillion point one percent, what's the difference?"
Before I can do the math for him, he claps a meaty hand on my shoulder. He leans in so close I can smell the gills of the sashimi he just devoured.
"Kid, look around. This is Hollywood. If we can't do 100 times better at predicting the future than you idiots on Madison Avenue – no offense meant – I'll eat my freaking Mercedes."
"We're using everything eye-tracking goggles, heart-rate monitors, galvanic skin response. We can't miss."
The $200 Billion Dollar Man
I press further. How can you be so sure, I ask, that Facebook will continue to be successful? Business is tricky.
What if web browsers start protecting consumer privacy? Mobile is a huge inflection point: will Facebook get it right? What if big advertisers like Pepsi start thinking twice about how much to bet on social media vs. TV?
After all, haven't juggernauts like AOL run straight off the cliff into the abyss in the past?
My Hollywood friend slams his hand on the table and shouts "It's different this time!" Then, in a conspiratorial whisper: "We brought in Lou Kerner. He's @loukerner, he's all over Twitter. He's the first social media analyst on Wall Street. He says Facebook could be worth as much as $200 billion by 2015."
"Say what you will about Wall Street, but these guys are geniuses. When was the last time they got this stuff wrong?"
I can't argue, so I pitch an idea. Why not buy some insurance? Let me draft a screenplay that covers a scenario your algorithms can't predict.
He shrugs, makes the deal. Here's the treatment I wrote.
Screenplay: Revenge of the Winklevosses
FADE IN. INT. MARK ZUCKERBERG'S MANSION – NIGHT
Open on ECU of MARK ZUCKERBERG'S eyes. They are open wide. He's suffering from a crisis of conscience: no matter how much Facebook is worth he cannot have peace. He is wracked with guilt because of how it all began. In a stunning gesture of goodwill, he sells the WINKLEVOSS TWINS 51% control of the company at a discounted valuation of a billion trillion dollars. He publicly apologizes, saying "you deserve everything I'm about to give you, and more".
INT. CHARLIE SHEEN'S MANSION – NIGHT (AND THEN DAY, THEN NIGHT)
SEAN PARKER throws the Winklevosses an epic party. CHARLIE SHEEN leads a group of revelers snorting something off the lithe hips of a goddess. (NOTE: get a Lady Gaga song for this part. The soundtrack will go Platinum.)
Parker goads the Winklevi to push Zuckerberg out. They pay him a quarter billion trillion for his stock. Zuck packs his belongings in a humble cardboard box and vanishes. Persistent Twitter rumors report his suicide.
Perfect storm. Marketing budgets rebalance; social media doesn't vanish, but shrinks to a smaller role. Privacy debacles and legislation spark a Facebook diaspora. The company stumbles in mobile, never gets traction against Ren Ren in China; hemorrhages tech talent. It explodes like a social media Death Star. Cut from a panicked Wall Street to a high angle above a massive yacht anchored off St. Bart's. Camera dives in to an ECU of Zuckerberg. Unlike the beginning of the film, his eyes are now blissfully closed, bathed in warm Caribbean sun. His Smartphone beeps urgently. It's news about Facebook. He closes his eyes again. A knowing smirk begins to slowly cross his face. SLAM CUT TO BLACK. CUE TRENT REZNOR SOUNDTRACK
I'm going to kick it over to Fincher today so he can start thinking about camera angles, and Sorkin so he can add some snappy monologues.
Tom Cunniff began his career as a copywriter at traditional agencies, founded an interactive agency in 1994 and now works on the marketing side creating and integrating traditional and interactive. All of Tom's opinions are entirely his own. Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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