Film & TV

Group Workshop: Chronic by Roland Zaleski

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 20:51 min

Discussing Roland's script, Aaron reveals a simple trick that writers can use to justify improbable events in their stories.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
Get All-Access


The next one is Chronic. Roland Zaleski, you're up. It's a feature script. The full script log line is, "A former explosives expert is kidnapped and wakes up to learn that every time his heart beats 1000 times, a bomb will detonate somewhere in the city of Los Angeles." That's pretty cool. Sample scene description. Flight attendant attempts to disarm a smuggled explosive on a passenger flight with the instructions of Alex Quinn, former bomb expert, who is in the middle of his own mission to track an arms dealer. OK. Interior. Airplane, day. A 747 passenger aircraft, 20 minutes into the air. Sunshine pouring through the windows. Insert Friday at 10:35 AM. Down the aisle-- mothers, fathers, businessmen, tourists, children, brooding teenagers. At the end of the plane-- storage areas, attendant seating, and bathrooms. Lily Thompson-- late 20s, a flight attendant-- knocking on one of the bathroom doors, her patience quickly wearing down. Sir, the pilot has turned on the seat belt sign. I need you to return to your seat, sir. A male attendant breezes past really holding a bag of trash. He stops, recognizing her frustration. Half the time it's a medical issue. And the other half? Masturbation. Oh, sorry. Masturbation He's been in there since take off. You just got excited, that's all. Please be medical. Come on, man, wrap it up. Hello? No response. The attendant removes a key chain from his pocket, singling out a plastic hook device. He wiggles it inside the handle, unlocking the door. James Bond in occupied bathroom. A smirk from the attendant as the door clicks unlocked. Lily pushes it open. Sir? Reveal inside the bathroom-- a middle-aged man crumbled on the floor, his wrists bleeding. Pool of blood all around. Pale skin, dead. Lily screams. Holy shit! The attendant rushes in, checking the man for signs of life. Nothing. He rushes back out, panicked. Close the door. I'll see if I can find a doctor. Lily, stunned, nods. She enters the bathroom, door closed. The hum of the turbines in the BG and a beeping thing. Lily looks around confused. Lily kneels, removing the small trash container from under the sink. The beeping's louder now, coming from inside the trash. Lily roots through the garbage, finding an electronic box, wired plastic molding attached to the back, a countdown on the tiny view screen in the corner-- 4:02, 4:01, 4:00, 3:59. Lily's face turns white as the turbines noise intensifies, merging with the mechanized screeching of-- Interior. Los Angeles subway, day. A subway charging down a passenger platform. Focus on the back of a man waiting for the train. He's off to the next station. Insert 10:37 AM. The man's right arm moves covertly for his ear, listening to the instructions through an earpiece. The man move...

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.

I bet Aaron writes just to get the dialogue out of his head. How does anyone have that much to say about anything?

There is much to take away, but the most worthy of your time is his heartfelt encouragement and his "your average guy" approach to success.

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

About what - nothing has happened yet. I like his glasses. The sweater vest can go.


Jess J.

Hi everyone! Message from the MC Community team -- make sure you join Aaron Sorkin's Class Community! There you can discuss writing techniques and other class material, network with other students, trade tips and reviews, and stay up to date on class contests & activities. Link here: Also, FYI! We recently launched a contest to win 2 tix to Sorkin's latest screenplay adaptation on Broadway, To Kill A Mockingbird. Learn more and enter here: Contest closes this Sunday, Nov 24 at 10pm PT. Can't wait to see your submissions!

Tara Jade B.

Really good trick of how to still leave in the possible improbability (not having to have to re-write it)! I found it interesting thought that out of all the scripts this group of writers did, this one was the only he wasn't complementary about, and - for me, this was the only one I would have like to see done, or at least read the book. What an amazing idea! If Roland didn't get it into film yet, I hope he writes a novel.

M. M.

The workshops are helpful. Practical, and additional information being shared. These sessions reinforce some of the earlier lessons. I would love to see the script for the play, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Just saw the production in NYC, and loved the play on words and would enjoy seeing the play on the page.

A fellow student

The credit intro should be the sequence explaining how he got it on the plane and the end of the credit would be him walking into the restroom and shutting the door.

Keiran G.

I appreciate these workshop classes immensely! It helps ground writing principles (such as Aristotle’s “probable impossibility better than impossible probability). Really enjoy these and I think it would be useful for all of the masterclasses to have some kind of workshop setting. Thanks for this Aaron Sorkin.

Mohitdeep S.

I am going to just say out loud. The episode was a cliche. First, everyone knew that the bomb is going to get diffused. So, you can tick seconds away but, as an audience, I already know the end. It's just not rooted in reality. Sure, how did the bomb reached the airplane? Why was the guy in the bathroom dead? In this day and age of faceless FBI agents, you are telling me that no one else can defuse the bomb. Where is the air marshal? Why is the plane still descending to LA? Where is the F22's? All these are my questions as an audience.

Chad E.

I was thinking "How did he get that on the plane?" and wondering if flight attendants have a particular protocol and are trained to disarm explosives? Could all of this activity - informing the pilot, contacting the FBI, initiating contact, Being transferred to an emergency response field unit on another assignment and ready to disarm in 2:10? This information of when to apply some research to the script is critical and will be very helpful.

Jay K.

My suggestion to Roland would be, have Alex's mission to capture the arms dealer occur prior to the bomb situation. Roland could set up Lily's day prior to her arrival at work for the audience ( giving her character substance) and in the meanwhile Alex is completing his initial mission. As Alex relishes in praise from his peers for successfully detaining the suspect, he would then receive the call to handle the airplane bomb to avoid possible improbability

Judith M.

I liked Rolands idea, it had great potential as an opening, even adding some standard humour into the mix. Not a 100% sure but I believe that the mile high club is in the top 2 reasons, but masturbation did get a laugh. Good initial crew banter. For me there were two issues. 1) Time. It felt like too much time was spent talking, and the bomb would have exploded before she was told what to do. Possible solution: Alex and his shadowing of the seller, is actually ON the plane. As a trained operative he recognizes the distress code used by the steward and intervenes. The plane is turning and hits turbulence, and the box has been glued so only the stewardesses small hands can reach inside, with Alex whispering in her ear. They need a way to extract or stop the chip. They have to resort to asking the passengers for help causing a mild panic to spread as they search for finger clippers or a ceramic nail file. Emergency landing just as the chip is made inactive. Passengers rush out of the emergency exits allowing the seller to escape (assuming that is actually relevant to the story). 2) Electronics. First electrical and electronic detonators are different. If it was actually ticking as stated, it is most likely a mechanical detonator. The most common small explosives detonator in use outside of the military is a mobile phone. (If you did use the mobile phone option remember to add a scene in the cockpit where the computer acts a bit wiggy - don't give away that that is or could be the transmission interference). You need to either unseat the chip by leverage or cut the power pin on your envisioned device. Being honest here, it is most likely best to keep to the old but theatrically accepted CUT THE BLUE WIRE gag, and just make it difficult to do so. Pacemakers. People with pacemakers do not step through X-Ray devices. Pacemakers do not react well to any form of electrical shock, which may actually make them cease to function. They regulate the heart rate, so manipulation of the rate via red bull is problematic. You could however suggest to the audience that your experimental version could be updated externally with the correct equipment, or is being controlled maliciously by the villain. Also check with the Agency that Alex works for to see if they accept agents with pacemaker related heart conditions, and if they generally do not, invent a reason that he can that might add something to the story. Loved the idea, and would like to know how it turned out.

Roy T.

Acceptable reality was a valuable tip. I love and appreciate Aaron's gentle way of critiquing.