Screenplay Edit: “The Social Network”

Screenshot by the author; © 2010 by Columbia Pictures.

The Social Network tells the true(-ish) story of computer programmer and social-media mogul Mark Zuckerberg as he navigates the situations, relationships, and lawsuits that were the founding of Facebook. The script was written by Aaron Sorkin, based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text. Original lines that do not require editing are run into the same code blocks as original lines that follow them and do.

Original Text

FROM THE BLACK WE HEAR--MARK (V.O.)
Did you know there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?
ERICA (V.O.)
That can’t possibly be true.
MARK (V.O.)
It is.
ERICA (V.O.)
What would account for that?
MARK (V.O.)
Well, first, an awful lot of people live in China. But here’s my question:
FADE IN:INT. CAMPUS BAR - NIGHTMARK ZUCKERBERG is a sweet looking 19 year old whose lack of any physically intimidating attributes masks a very complicated and dangerous anger. He has trouble making eye contact and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s talking to you or to himself.ERICA, also 19, is Mark’s date. She has a girl-next-door face that makes her easy to fall for. At this point in the conversation she already knows that she’d rather not be there and her politeness is about to be tested.The scene is stark and simple.MARK
How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SAT’s?
ERICA
I didn’t know they take SAT’s in China.
MARK
They don’t. I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I was talking about me.
ERICA
You got 1600?
MARK
Yes. I could sing in an a Capella group, but I can’t sing.
ERICA
Does that mean you actually got nothing wrong?
MARK
I can row crew or invent a 25 dollar PC.
ERICA
Or you can get into a final club.
MARK
Or I can get into a final club.

Line Edit

FROM THE BLACK WE HEAR--

If a script opens on nothing, then nothing is sufficient to indicate as much. So let’s remove this line.

MARK (V.O.)Did you know there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession or form contractions. Thus, since the plural of IQ is neither a possessive nor a contraction, let’s remove the apostrophe. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of apostrophes.)

Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?

ERICA (V.O.)That can’t possibly be true.

If something can’t be true, then it is not possible for the thing to be true — meaning, can’t possibly is redundant. And although I would typically remove this redundancy, here I will leave it, and for two reasons: first, because the language is true to both life and the character; and second, because possibly is a relatively long word, and removing it may alter the rhythm of the sentence and interfere with the pacing of the scene.

MARK (V.O.)It is.ERICA (V.O.)What would account for that?MARK (V.O.)Well, first, an awful lot of people live in China.But here’s my question:FADE IN:INT. CAMPUS BAR — NIGHT

Unless withholding information from readers is important for the experience of the story, it is best to orient readers from the outset, lest they become frustrated or distracted by questions unanswered. For example, in the next scene, we learn that the events of this scene take place at Harvard University, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t learn this now. So let’s specify the location of this scene by adding it to the scene heading.

INT. HARVARD UNIVERSITY — CAMPUS BAR — NIGHT

Since we’ve now specified that the scene takes place at Harvard, the CAMPUS in CAMPUS BAR is implied, so let’s remove it.

INT. HARVARD UNIVERSITY — BAR — NIGHT

MARK ZUCKERBERG is a sweet looking 19 year old whose lack of any physically intimidating attributes masks a very complicated and dangerous anger.

If Mark lacks physically intimidating attributes, then he lacks any physically intimidating attributes — meaning, qualifying physically intimidating attributes with any is redundant. So let’s remove any. Also, complicated is (generally) an absolute term, so qualifying it with very is meaningless. So let’s remove very too. And while we’re at it, let’s improve the mechanics of the sentence by adding hyphens to sweet looking and 19 year old, and spelling out 19.

MARK ZUCKERBERG is a sweet-looking nineteen-year-old whose lack of physically intimidating attributes masks a complicated and dangerous anger.

He has trouble making eye contact and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s talking to you or to himself.

This sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (and), so let’s separate them with a comma.

He has trouble making eye contact, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s talking to you or to himself.

ERICA, also 19, is Mark’s date.

Erica’s last name is Albright, so, since this is her introduction in the script, let’s include her last name in the sentence. And let’s also spell out her age.

ERICA ALBRIGHT, also nineteen, is Mark’s date.

She has a girl-next-door face that makes her easy to fall for.At this point in the conversation she already knows that she’d rather not be there and her politeness is about to be tested.

Since readers are wherever the characters are, let’s replace there, which refers to the bar, with here. And let’s also improve the mechanics of the sentence by inserting a comma after the introductory clause (At this point in the conversation) and between the two subsequent independent clauses.

At this point in the conversation, she already knows that she’d rather not be here, and her politeness is about to be tested.

The scene is stark and simple.

This sentence is vague, as what does it mean for a scene to be stark and simple? Does this description refer to the lighting? the architecture? the design? Does it refer to the characters? If so, then how are these stark and simple? Since this description fails to add to readers’ imaginations of the scene, and since the author’s meaning is unclear such that we cannot revise the description, let’s remove it.

MARK

Since Mark’s next line is a continuation of his previous line, let’s indicate as much by adding a CONT’D extension to his character name.

MARK (CONT’D)

How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SATs?

Although it’s possible to have a population of, say, animals or bacteria, and thus it would be necessary to distinguish the population that Mark is referring to as one of people, the context of this line suggests that Mark is talking about people, so specifying the population as one of people here is unnecessary. But we need the syllables of people to maintain the rhythm of the sentence. So instead of removing people, let’s replace it with students. Also, since numerals cannot be spoken, and since it’s not clear whether Mark is saying “sixteen hundred” or “one thousand six hundred,” let’s spell out 1600. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of numerals in dialogue.)

How do you distinguish yourself in a population of students who all got sixteen hundred on their SATs?

If a population of students got 1600 on their SATs, then all students in the population got 1600 on their SATs — meaning, all is redundant in this sentence. However, I believe that the author is using all here for emphasis, which justifies the redundancy, so let’s keep it.

ERICAI didn’t know they take SATs in China.MARKThey don’t. I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I was talking about me.

The way these sentences are punctuated is fine; the sentences are understandable, and the comma splice in the second sentence is justified by the “closeness” of the independent clauses. However, it’s not obvious that these sentences are related, so let’s clarify this by connecting them with a semicolon.

They don’t; I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I was talking about me.

ERICAYou got sixteen hundred?MARKYes.I could sing in an a Capella group, but I can’t sing.

Let’s correct the spelling of a Capella, and lowercase Capella.

I could sing in an a cappella group, but I can’t sing.

ERICADoes that mean you actually got nothing wrong?MARK

Since Mark is essentially ignoring Erica in his next line, let’s indicate as much by adding a CONT’D extension to his character name.

MARK (CONT’D)

I can row crew or invent a twenty-five dollar PC.

In his previous line, Mark says that he could sing in an a cappella group were it not that he can’t sing. In this line, he says that, because of his SAT score, he can row crew or invent a twenty-five-dollar PC. But, as he states in a few lines, he can’t row crew, and given that the previous line is conditional, I think this one should be too. So let’s replace can with could, to maintain consistency across Mark’s lines. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of cans.) Also, let’s add a hyphen to twenty-five dollar, to indicate this as a compound modifier of PC.

I could row crew or invent a twenty-five-dollar PC.

ERICAOr you could get into a final club.MARKOr I could get into a final club.

Edited Text

MARK (V.O.)
Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?
ERICA (V.O.)
That can’t possibly be true.
MARK (V.O.)
It is.
ERICA (V.O.)
What would account for that?
MARK (V.O.)
Well, first, an awful lot of people live in China. But here’s my question:
FADE IN:INT. HARVARD UNIVERSITY — BAR — NIGHTMARK ZUCKERBERG is a sweet-looking nineteen-year-old whose lack of physically intimidating attributes masks a complicated and dangerous anger. He has trouble making eye contact, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s talking to you or to himself.ERICA ALBRIGHT, also nineteen, is Mark’s date. She has a girl-next-door face that makes her easy to fall for. At this point in the conversation, she already knows that she’d rather not be here, and her politeness is about to be tested.MARK (CONT’D)
How do you distinguish yourself in a population of students who all got sixteen hundred on their SATs?
ERICA
I didn’t know they take SATs in China.
MARK
They don’t; I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I was talking about me.
ERICA
You got sixteen hundred?
MARK
Yes. I could sing in an a cappella group, but I can’t sing.
ERICA
Does that mean you actually got nothing wrong?
MARK (CONT’D)
I could row crew or invent a twenty-five-dollar PC.
ERICA
Or you could get into a final club.
MARK
Or I could get into a final club.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

--

--

--

Editor | mitchellferrin.com

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Writing through Self-doubt: a Lesson in Digging in and Letting Go

If We Expect Writing To Be Hard Work, It Will Be

If You Expect Writing To Be Hard Work, It Will Be We always get what we expect to get

How to be a great storyteller: The most important skill you could possibly have

Blogging Success tips that are actually tried and true (Part 1)

Writers — Keep Back-Up Copies of your Work!

How to Use the Power of Subheads to Keep Readers Engaged

How to Use the Power of Subheads to Keep Readers Engaged Don’t throw them away

Who are storytellers?

Why I Haven’t Given Up Writing Yet Despite The Hate

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mitchell Ferrin

Mitchell Ferrin

Editor | mitchellferrin.com

More from Medium

Introducing — Feeding the Flames: Ultimate Accountability Package

Ben & Jerry’s Introduces A New Podcast “Into The Mix” About Activism And Advocacy

Photo of host Ashley Ford on one side & graphic of Into The Mix logo on the other side.

Beginning of the end Chapter 37

When Marketing, Social Media, and Journalism come together.