Though David Fincher and Trent Reznor were both central figures in the heyday of music videos, their most significant collaboration has come years later — not on MTV but in one of the most acclaimed films of the year.
Reznor — with producer Atticus Ross — provides the dark score to “The Social Network,” Fincher’s film about the rise of Facebook, the social networking behemoth.
Like Jonny Greenwood’s score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” Reznor’s soundtrack adds an ominous, unmistakable layer to “The Social Network.”
Reznor was pleased, he says, that his score “made it a shade darker.”
Before coming together for “The Social Network,” Reznor and Fincher ran in similar circles. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Fincher was one of the most sought after music video directors, while Reznor and his industrial one-man band, Nine Inch Nails, often worked with the form’s best artists — notably for the video to “Closer,” directed by Mark Romanek.
Reznor and Fincher had tried many times to do a video project together. “We talked about him scoring a film,” Fincher says. “We had talked around the subject many times.”
Fincher didn’t direct a Nine Inch Nails video until 2005 (“Only”), though he did use a version of “Closer” for the opening credits of his 1995 film “Se7en.” The two also discussed a Broadway adaptation of Fincher’s 1999 movie “Fight Club,” which wasn’t realized.
When Fincher approached Reznor last fall with the idea of scoring “The Social Network,” Reznor — looking for time off after just completing a Nine Inch Nails farewell tour and getting married — turned him down. He was also initially apprehensive.
“Any skepticism was based purely on hearing the sentence, ‘It’s a movie about Facebook,’” says Reznor, who was rapidly convinced by Aaron Sorkin’s script and Fincher’s intentions. “Any fear I had that it was trend-hopping or zietgeisty quickly evaporated.”
Still, Reznor demurred, aiming to keep his pledge to himself for a hiatus. But five months later — still contemplating the film — he called Fincher to again apologize, and Fincher told him was still hoping he would do it.
With rough cuts of some scenes to view, Reznor began getting ideas and jumped in. He was inspired to create “something that’s a bit sinister, something with tense undertones, something uncomfortable, with some anxiety.”
In discussing the soundtrack together, Fincher cited bands such as the German electronic group Tangerine Dream and teen films such as “Risky Business.” Somewhat sarcastically, Fincher considers “The Social Network” a kind of melding of a John Hughes movie and “Citizen Kane.”
“I told him, ‘I want you to give me a really cheesy synthesizer score — I mean, as cheesy as you can do it. I want it to be like those ‘80s movies. I encourage you to use every cheeseball DX7 or Emulator II sound,’” says Fincher, who understood that “cheesy” for Reznor is “spooky” to most.
Reznor recorded 16 different soundscapes or “vibes,” thinkingthey were merely rough cuts. But Fincher cut them underneath the movie and found them just right. Supervising sound editor Ren Klyce also made significant contributions.
Says Fincher: “I don’t want to make it sound like there was no sweat or agony, but it was so effortless. (Reznor) was able to intuit what it needed and come back with (Quicktime audio files) that we were like, ‘Wow, that works.’”
Among the most striking of the instrumental songs is the ominous “Hand Covers Bruise,” which plays during the opening credits. A few chilling piano notes sit above a low buzzing that suggests a computer humming.
“Given the setting, given the subject matter, I wanted it to have a synthetic feel to it, but I wanted something organic to represent the humanity — and that, to me, was a piano,” says Fincher.
The score also features a version of Edvard Grieg’s familiar “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which soundtracks a regatta scene — in some ways the only action scene of the film.
Reznor — who has formed a new band, How to Destroy Angels, and has an HBO series in the works — previously contributed to David Lynch’s 1997 film “Lost Highway.”
“This was a whole other thing,” says Reznor. “It was really a rewarding process.”