When I was a news intern, one of the first field pieces I intern-ized involved going to a small office in downtown Palo Alto (located upstairs from an Italian restaurant, I think) and talking to a guy named Mark Zuckerberg about his website. I’d spent the morning before my shoot showing my producers what Facebook was, clicking through my profile, showing them my friends’ profiles – a classic “young buck intern shows the older dudes what this new-fangled Bookface thing is about” situation. Facebook had only been available to a few select colleges and universities around the country up until recently; some early FB’ers might nostalgically recall this bygone era as When Facebook was Still Elitist.
Summertime in the Bay Area is when East Bay envy reaches an unlikely zenith. A Berkeleyan can sit comfortably outside on an afternoon, sip an Italian soda and be perfectly smugtent (smug + content) while about 10 miles and one bridge away, her neighbors in the City (San Francisco) try to roast weenies in their ski jackets. It’s the oddest and most frustrating thing about Bay Area weather but I can say – having lived in both San Francisco and Berkeley – I totally prefer the latter. South Bay can get rather toasty-pleasant as well. Maybe this is why Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder/creator/Harvard dropout/then-soon-to-be-billionaire wasn’t wearing any shoes.
I have no idea what the Facebook offices look like now but back then it looked like any other start-up: Silicon Valley types hunkered over laptops that were strewn across desks. A half-empty box of individually-wrapped frosted danishes I’ve totally seen – and bought – at Costco. No cubicles and therefore no barriers between colleagues who, surprisingly, ranged in age from Guy I’d Have a Class With to Not-So-Young-Uncle. In between setting up gels and learning the finer points of three-point lighting, I chatted a little with Chris, the site’s publicity guru. Mark and he were contemplating adding a new option for user profiles. From what I remember, the convo went something like this:
Chris: “Well, you’re not together, but you’re not NOT together. You know… ‘It’s Complicated.’”
Mark: “Yeah. I mean, I just spent a week being in a relationship with someone to not being in a relationship now. It’s Complicated.”
I offered my unsolicited two cents, mumbling something like, “Yeah that sounds like a really good idea.” It was like sitting in on a strategy meeting about mining for gold, and I was the observing worker elf in the corner taking notes. With a discussion about a simple two-word phrase it was clear that these guys just totally… got it.
We set up the shot and got the producer who would conduct the interview on speaker. Part of my intern duties was to be a stand-in interviewer. This meant sitting down across from the interviewee so his eyeline would be aimed at me as if I was doing the interview while he answered questions asked via phone. The interview quickly turned to financials and Mark shirked the question, smirking and shaking his head. The cat that ate the canary. It was all over pretty quickly and we packed up and headed back to homebase. Don’t think Mark ever found those shoes.
I’d spend the next few days in the editing suite hunched over Beta machines piecing together my first linear editing project – a faux news package about the new website taking college students by storm: Facebook Facebook Facebook!
Fast forward a few years and Mark Zuckerberg is one of the youngest billionaires in the world thanks to his “little” website project, which happens to be the subject of a major motion picture directed by a major Hollywood director. The Social Network trailer looks intense and intriguing; I’m curious about Hollywood’s take on an internet phenomenon, having witnessed just a modicum of their (humble) beginnings when, on the outside, it just looked like a few college-aged guys with fingers pressed firmly on the pulse of web 2.0. Since then, they’ve encountered lawsuits, privacy issues, backlash from the user community; to my knowledge, no other major social networking website has produced a Bachelorette.
A few weeks after my visit, the It’s Complicated option came up on my profile. Friends gushed and used it liberally albeit more often as a joke than not. Now with the movie generating buzz, I think back to that conversation and wonder, “When was it ever not?”
Tags: Facebook, Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, The Social Network