By Frank Quaratiello
Ben Mezrich, whose best-seller “Bringing Down the House” about MIT math geeks who outsmart Las Vegas casinos inspired the hit film “21,” is returning to the revenge-of-the-nerds genre with a vengeance.
“My next big book is about the kids who founded Facebook,” said Mezrich, who added that he’ll be working long hours through the holidays to get the book to his publisher, Doubleday, which is planning a big release next fall.
Facebook’s controversial beginnings in early 2004 at Harvard University - when several students were working on social networking sites simultaneously - have sparked news articles and a few lawsuits, but with Mezrich’s help the story may make it to the mainstream. Plus, veteran screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is already signed on to adapt the book into a movie, Mezrich confirmed.
Mezrich, who doesn’t want to give too much away, says his story will be “about entrepreneurship at Harvard and about Mark Zuckerberg,”the Facebook founder who so far won’t talk to him.
It will also be “about Harvard’s Final Clubs,” which are similar to secret societies or exclusive clubs at other Ivy League schools such as Princeton or Yale, “but more open and social,” according to Mezrich, a Harvard graduate.
In May, the Web site Gawker.com reported a tip that Mezrich had “signed a million-dollar-plus book deal for his memoir about Mark Zuckerberg and the other Facebook founders.” It also published excerpts from a book proposal, titled “Face Off.” The proposal paints a picture of Facebook founders Zuckerberg and his roommate Eduardo Saverin as computer geeks trying to get into Harvard’s Final Clubs, meet hot women and get laid.
According to the proposal, Zuckerberg the hacker and Saverin the master of meteorological algorithms (not kidding) come up with a program called FaceSmash to rate Harvard women based on their “hotness.” (According to a Rolling Stone article published in June, Zuckerberg creates the program, Facemash, after being rejected by a girl. His idea is to hack into the Harvard computer system, download female students pictures and get online users to vote on whether they look more attractive than farm animals.)
According to the book proposal on Gawker, the program catches fire, venture capitalists start wooing the pair, hard partying with Victoria’s Secret models ensues and then friendships are destroyed by fights over money, etc.
Mezrich’s response: “What was in Gawker - that was not all truth. That’s not what the book is about.” “What is Gawker even doing writing something about me?” he says.
All the attention does still seem to come as a bit of a shock to Mezrich, who since meeting actor Kevin Spacey in 2002 has been living, as he put it, “a writer’s dream come true.”
The Facebook story will be Mezrichs 11th book, but Hollywood interest in his work didn’t really take off until Spacey read an article Mezrich had written for Wired magazine just prior to the release of “Bringing Down the House” in 2002. Spacey asked his business partner, Dana Brunetti, to contact the author.
“Two days later, I was meeting Kevin Spacey at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” said Mezrich, who adds that he was a big fan of Spacey’s work. “ ‘L.A. Confidential’ was my favorite book and movie for a while.”
The admiration appears to be mutual because Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions is attached to many of Mezrichs books, including the upcoming Facebook project.
In addition to “Bringing Down the House,” which became the filmed-in-Boston movie “21,” Mezrich has sold movie rights to his 2004 book “Ugly Americans” and an as-yet-unpublished manuscript “Q” to embattled Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment. Mezrich has also sold the movie rights to his current best-seller “Rigged” to Summit Entertainment, which produced the hit teen vampire flick, “Twilight.”
Like Dennis Lehane, whose Hub-based books have led to big screen successes for Clint Eastwood (Mystic River) and Ben Affleck (Gone, Baby, Gone), Mezrich has found a powerful movie-star partner in Spacey.
“He’s very smart and it’s always good to hear from someone with an eye toward whether something would make a good movie,” Mezrich said. “I think about that early on. He’s one of my first readers, from a very early stage, even when I just have a book proposal.”