Film & TV

Group Workshop: Aaron Pitches Mission to Mars

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:10 min

Aaron turns the tables on his writers and pitches them his idea for a brand-new TV series called Mission to Mars.

Aaron Sorkin
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I've got a series to pitch. It's not like anything I've ever done before. And it's not science fiction. It's just science. You ready? Mission to Mars. Whole series takes place on the-- I think it takes about four years to get there. Whole series takes place on the ship and at mission control. And there's going to be everything from life-threatening situations coming up, to normal workplace things just that happened. It's a workplace drama in space? Yeah, it's a workplace drama in space. This thing is not crazy, far-fetched. NASA is ready to go to Mars. They know how to do it. They can't get the funding for it, but they absolutely know how to do it. And I thought while The Martian dealt fairly realistically with the Matt Damon part of the science of being on Mars, it didn't really care that much about getting to Mars and back from Mars. The gang on the ship, they were just a happy gang of people. But I love NASA. I love space. Mission to Mars-- boom, drop the mic. That's amazing. You should write a series called Ex-presidents. Maybe. Maybe. There's sort of a secret, exclusive-- Ex-president's club? --club. Well, there's an ex-president's club, but there's also a club in Washington DC for presidential speechwriters, for people who've been presidential speechwriters. You have to be a presidential speechwriter to get into this club. That, I don't think, would really be an interesting place to set a thing. Is nobody turned on by Mission to Mars? No, we like it. We're gonna freaking go to Mars, OK? Would you build a Mars sound stage? You're asking an interesting question. Would we ever get there? Would we land on Mars? That depends, I guess, how long the show runs. I don't know if we begin with blasting off. I don't know if we began with two years into this thing, or training to go up there. But workplace drama on the ship that would go to Mars-- we work with NASA to see like a real drawing of what this thing would look like. It's not going to look like the space shuttle. It's not going to look like the Apollo ships. You're going to have to live on this thing, not for eight days-- I mean for Apollo, they were just able to kind of seat-belt themselves into these things. And it's zero gravity. You go to sleep. You're going to need living quarters and all kinds of stuff like that. People can die. And what do you do then? Get sick? People can get sick. People can fall in love. Everything that can happen in a workplace drama can happen, except this time, instead of it being the West Wing of the White House, or a newsroom, or a SNL type show, or a law firm, or an emergency room, or a police precinct, it is on a spaceship traveling 17,400 miles an hour toward Mars. Boom, again. Does this mean you're coming back to TV? I'm sorry? Does this mean...

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Aaron Sorkin wrote his first movie on cocktail napkins. Those napkins turned into A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson. Now, the Academy Award-winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network is teaching screenwriting. In this class, you’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you’ll write screenplays that capture your audience’s attention.


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Louise J.

I really like the "Mission to Mars" pitch. I got ideas right out of the gate. I wouldn't use that title exactly, but I for sure like the idea. I would have the pilot start with the launch itself and end with the crew in space, having just started their official trajectory to Mars. Ironically, since it takes 4 years to get there, they would need to know where Earth is when they start in relationship to where Mars is when they arrive. Since all bodies are constantly moving, they have to plot a course that is basically the end of a math equation. I would also have in each episode a frequent flashbacks to the crew on Earth with themes that mirror whatever is going on during their travels. Things like family relations, technical or physical training, the crew getting their affairs in order should they never come back, and so on. This pitch / show is FULL of possibilities!

A fellow student

Amazing insight into the propaganda of cinema. Spielberg being contacted to make a movie... Ridley Scott ends up taking it up with The Martian... crazy how it starts with a screenplay.

Michael L.

Mission to Titan. Maybe Genemede. Anyway, Jupiter moons are a definite possibility. and it's a much longer trip. (More episodes!)

Michael L.

How do you get more than one season out of a three - six month trip? (That's all it takes to get to Mars.)


I love the Spielberg story. It goes to show just how much of an impact television and movies have on the world.

Judith M.

The technology now available with the plasma drive would greatly reduce the time of trips to Mars, and of course unmanned missions could be faster to deliver vital payloads because they are not limited by human reactions to g-force and speed. The initial journey and the set-up of the first base would give cause for drama. What do we know are obstacles? Oxygen and water are the most problematic, with several of the hydroponics for oxygen trials failing miserably in the desert until they realized that newly poured concrete was the issue. We also had recent prototypes of electronic 'trees' that could be distributed easily throughout the colony. So a mixture of hi-tech and plants would work for an initial plan. Water has been found on Mars, so some type of filtration plant would be necessary. NASA studies show that certain people would react negatively to the longer Martian day and lack of the Schumann resonance. NASA also asked a while back for volunteers to take part in early colonization and possible mining, but the caveat was that they most likely would not be coming back. Plenty of scope for obstacles and drama both on the ship (I imagine a sub type environment), the initial building of the base, provision set up, people who have changed their minds, and those driven slightly crazy by the difference in their new life. Obviously there would also be strict birth control due to space, and you could also bring in for instance the new prototype wi-fi birth control if you want a futuristic look based on science rather than speculative science fiction.

A fellow student

Hi, the show idea is very fun, but my main comment is that NASA is not currently working on sending humans to Mars, SpaceX is. NASA might be funding other space companies for this mission, but they are not currently designing the spacecrafts and engines. My husband is one of the lead engineers at SpaceX, and just completed the Crew Dragon mission this past week, which he has been working on for eight years. If interested in a realistic portrayal of space travel to Mars, I would reach out to the research agents at CAA who have his contact information, His last name is Miller. Thanks!


Mission to Mars seems like a big yawner. Trapping X amount of characters into cramped quarters and seeing them argue, fight and/or love among themselves for multiple episodes or seasons seems boring. Even if we include times when something breaks, asteroids threaten and communications from NASA cut out, the setting doesn't feel dynamic enough to produce compelling drama.

Vickie R.

I agree! I even tweeted to Prez Trump to help finance missions to MARS!!!! PS Aaron do you recall the 60s TV show "My Favorite Martian?" Kind of cute. I even bought two NASA T shirts at Target a few months ago. Ever since I interviewed several astronauts from different countries, I've had a fascination with space travel!!!! Danke.

Steve P.

It's painful to watch these poor kids sitting at a table with the master. I would die for the opportunity to write a WW episode with Mr. Sorkin. And, in eight videos, these kids came up with almost nothing. It was the same with the Mission to Mars pitch. Sorkin even said "Guys, I don't know what I have to do to get you excited about this." and "What's wrong with you?" Then he upped the ante by invoking Spielberg: "Do you mean the future of manned space exploration depends on me delivering a good screenplay?" Again, nothing but crickets in the room. How I wish I could have been there.