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Arts & Entertainment

Group Workshop: Aaron Pitches Mission to Mars

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:17 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
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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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...

Your script starts here.

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Watched it once once to inhale Aaron;s knowledge. Watched it a second time as I redrafted my script to take advantage of all his advice. Brilliant!

Brilliant class. Really loved seeing the live feedback on scripts and the live writers' room. This was absolutely life-changing!

Be prepared to sleep on the lounge and fail :)

I'm literally still processing it all. Sooooo goooood. :)


Samuel B.

Mission to Mars sounds like an overplayed trope. Hope the next (and final) lesson is better.

Jack W.

I loved Cold Equation, even the Old Time Radio Drama which I have performed in. My thoughts on "Missions to Mars". Love the idea. How will you save money on the weightless shooting? Are you going to have the ship rotate? That would work but you still need to have Zero-G at one point. One of the things about the ship being a workplace drama is that you can't ever leave. Which is why relationships would be so hard. One of the great dramatic elements is a couple that really love each other. I mean REALLY love who they are so much that they don't want to be together as a couple for fear that something would happen and they would have to break up and STILL be having to be in close quarters the whole time. I love that idea. But, here's something to think about. A Mission to Venus. Why? Because I'm told they could make a cloud city style ship that would be easier to maintain a colony than on Mars. Everyone talks about going to Mars, but what about a series of ships going to build the first city in the sky on Venus? Maybe one of the ships blows up along the way. It's a convoy like Battlestar Galactica but the drama is in getting there in one piece, working together, and knowing that it's a one-shot. They can't turn around and come home, and the hope is to start the long process of terra-forming Venus for future generations. Loved this course. Always wanted to be in a writers' room, instead of just in my writer's room (amazing how an apostrophe can change the entire game!)

A fellow student

Totally hilarious. Love the humor in real life situations. The future of space exploration depending on a script from Aaron Sorkin.

A fellow student

Just a thought...Freeze drying a dead astronaut to bring back to earth. Something I read in the book Stiff.. NASA is looking into it because it's a very clean way to deal with a corpse. Maybe an alternative two burial or cremation for people on earth. Not the main point, but a thread in the story.

Fernando P.

I would watch "Mission to Mars." If NASA or SpaceX wanted to spread their mission agenda, producing a t.v. series could be a cool way to do it!

A fellow student

Liked If Aaron Sorkin is still interest in Mission to Mars, there is a 3 minute presentation on another Master's Forum that is almost a pitch for this story idea, only the presenter is sharing his ideas on Quick Communication. Chris Hudfield's lesson 4 discussion of the role of the Capcom illustrates why that role would tie together earth and ship; why that role would inspire drama.

A fellow student

Is NASA still looking for series ideas? Where to send ideas ideas if so? Fran Tabor

A fellow student

I read the The Cold Equation story years ago when first published in a sci fi magazine. For the first time I gut-level knew that sometimes all choices can contain evil, sometimes no amount of cleverness or luck can create another choice. Interesting you chose that story. We have had so many successes, and our few failures have given the illusion of being avoidable if only someone had been braver, or less influence-able or thought just one step further. The young really don't comprehend the reality of the drama, the life-risking of the trip. The series would need to show how each day is life-risking. It would need to be a dual series---the second, the group at ground control, sometimes arguing "Do we tell the world about today's ship dangers? Do we tell the crew about disasters on earth---especially disasters a crew member could have prevented had (s)he stayed behind? How large a ship? How large a crew? Use submarines that travel for over a year without surfacing for ship drama sources. Where constructed? An orbital construction site would allow a bigger ship plus enough extra "red shirt" type crew member who could have the first at space burial. Making something MORE dangerous does not deter desire, check out the graves on MT Everest (Mom protesting to child: You're just like your father---and his bones lie in some damn ice crevice on Everest. Your bones won't even be on Earth. Reply: "You're right, I am just like Dad." kid leaves house.) Going to Mars in a padded room (what too many imagine) is damn boring. Going to Mars with an occasional death, or death lurking close very real: damn exciting and more true. Going to Mars knowing it is a one way trip, that maybe others will follow, maybe you will open up a new world and if you fail to reach your destination, your chosen grave, your failure might result in there being being a second chance, too many have lost the dream to see what no one else has seen---Maybe your failure will be the failure of the whole human race to be more than ants living at the foot of a dam, and the dam is just beginning to leak... Because our sun is an unstable star. We expand beyond our one mud ball anthill or we die. Only let the knowledge it is a one way trip be an official secret...with the occasional dramatic leak.

A fellow student

I feel like, based on everything I'm hearing, pitches should focus on the intention & obstacle. A pitch is after all, a mini-story meant to get the money-people hooked. But everyone including Aaron is talking about the concept, setting, and supporting cast with barely a mention about the character's goal and obstacles. So I personally found myself bored with all of them. An example of a pitch with intention & obstacle would be "Our main character, the Welsh King, is determined to keep Wales free from the English, who are invading with a great army and are beginning to build castles on his shore that would forever subjugate Wales if they are completed."

Teresa R.

Are there any tips on how to even get into a room to pitch? How to get a writing agent, manager etc? Did I miss it? What do we do once our script or screenplay is finished? : )