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Twins at center at Facebook controversy speak out

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are no strangers to the spotlight.

After waging a closely watched legal battle with Facebook Inc., the Greenwich natives and Olympic rowers know all too well what it’s like to be scrutinized in newspapers, blogs and books.

Now they’re preparing to see their story told once again — this time, on the big screen.

The upcoming David Fincher film “The Social Network” depicts the Winklevosses’ four-year legal dispute with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a former Harvard University classmate who they say stole their idea for the popular social networking site.

The Winklevoss brothers sued Zuckerberg in 2004, saying he agreed to finish the computer code for their site, ConnectU, but repeatedly stalled and eventually created Facebook using their ideas. The lawsuit began to draw widespread media attention after Facebook was valued at $1 billion in a 2006 bid by Yahoo Inc. The legal dispute was settled in 2008 for $65 million in cash and Facebook shares, according to published reports.

That the controversial origins of Facebook, which is reported to have more than 500 million active users, would become the focus of a big-budget movie comes as little surprise to the twins.

“The whole controversy with Facebook has taken a life of its own,” Tyler
Winklevoss said in a recent phone interview in July from England, where the brothers are continuing their studies. “It almost seems like a logical progression. … We didn’t go from zero to 200 miles per hour overnight.”

The film, from a screenplay based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal” by Ben Mezrich, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake.

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who turned 29 on Saturday, are played by male model Josh Pence and actor Armie Hammer, respectively, with Hammer’s face superimposed on Pence’s body using CGI technology.

The movie will be released in theaters on Oct. 1.

The twin brothers say they have not seen the film yet, but have viewed the trailers and read the screenplay, which is heavily based on news articles, interviews and other public documents.

“I thought the trailer captured the controversy quite well,” Tyler said. “It’s obviously a dramatization to some extent. (But) the movie appears to be up to date with the journalistic record.”

Tyler said it was not until the filmmakers had finished shooting most of the scenes for “The Social Network” that he and his brother actually got to meet the actors who portrayed them.

The brothers, both Brunswick and Greenwich Country Day school graduates, who have been rowing since they were 15 years old, were U.S. national pairs champions in 2005 and 2007. They finished sixth in the men’s pairs final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Whether the film, as a whole, is faithful to the brothers’ real-life story remains an open question.

The brothers say they have learned firsthand that there are often widely varying degrees of accuracy in the way print and online media outlets present their stories to audiences.

Hollywood is no exception.

“There’s obviously the reality, and there’s what people write and perceive,
and what their opinions are, and often there’s a gap there,” Tyler said. “We are used to that gap being big and small.”

Cameron hopes the movie accurately reflects a broader social dynamic between its characters — those who are guided by principle and integrity, versus those who view life as a zero-sum game, he said.

“If the movie is looking to reflect reality, then you have to ask yourself: How did I live my life?” Cameron said.

As long as the film is accurate, “I don’t think we have too much to be worried about.”

Either way, the brothers said they aren’t getting too hung up about the film.
This fall, they plan to finish a one-year MBA program at Christ Church college in Oxford, England. After that, they plan to continue training in the states for rowing competitions, in hopes of returning to London for the 2012 Olympics. They said their longer-term futures likely involve business.

“There are so many things I want to do right now, it would be foolish to confuse a movie as something more,” Tyler said. “Some parts are going to be true, others are going to be less true.

“At the end of the day, it’s a movie.”


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