Film & TV

Group Workshop: The Merc by Evelyn Yves

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 16:46 min

Evelyn's TV pilot kicks off a conversation about opening scenes and the importance of showing your audience something they've never seen before.

Aaron Sorkin
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Good afternoon, guys. It's good to see you again. We're going to start off with "The Merc." It's a one-hour pilot from Ellen [? Eaves. ?] Over black. Say you buy 1,000 shares of Coca-Cola from your client, each valued at $42? So that's 42 grand. Stock goes up to 43, 44, 45. Let's say it goes all the way up to 47, like it did last June. Fade in on flashes of skin, sex, top shelf bottles, lewds, nudes, and coke, cut into neat white lines on the bare stomach of a blue chip hooker, an almost super model. Your commission off that $5,000 profit is 1%. You just spent six months trying to make $50. And you have 100 other stocks and 100 other clients to worry about. But hey, that's Wall Street, right? A line zips through the coils of a $100 bill up the nostril and grinning face of a Wall Street stockbroker, who's pushed out of the way by more brokers just dying to get a hit. We pull back to see the full extent of this debauchery. Exterior, Battery Park marina, yacht, night. Three blue chips to every horny broker on 100 foot yacht cruising along the marina against the backdrop of the financial district and the World Trade Center. Title, Battery Park, New York, 1978. The only man lucid and taking advantage of their high is Andy Marks, 30, boyish Brooklyn charm and a sweet face that belies any trace of darkness or genius. In this crowd of suits, he's the only other jacket, out of place, but completely at ease. So let's say you convince your clients to bet on oil at the Merc, where you don't even have to worry about stockholders or a board of directors or the FCC. You get to drive the price up and down a million times over, and the only constant is that everybody, everybody, needs oil. Now, you're making 20% off $200,000. You made $200,000 in one morning? Yes. Bullshit. That's not what you said. This killjoy is David Bursar, 34, Lehman Brothers broker. Unbelievable good looks, money, a perfect storm of cocaine and self-loathing. What I said was-- Flash back to Wall Street, two months ago. A series of shots-- the street sign, the bull, the New York Stock Exchange. Interior Lehman brothers [? bullpen ?] day. Box-sized computers, index cards, telephone cords 10 feet long, all top of the line technology. In the midst of this chaos is David, unsettled, fixated on-- I made more money trading oil futures than I did my first three years combined. Nobody's trading oil. I am. And so can you. Cut to Merrill Lynch, day. Andy is now facing an uptight Merrill Lynch broker with a serious combover. All right, who else? Forget who else. You want the entire city to get [? on ?] this before you do? Interior, JP Morgan, different firm, different broker. This one has three chins and no neck. We have to see the contracts. I'll show you the contracts. But let me ask you this. What is your top priority as ...

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.


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Glen G.

Interesting. I thought her use of metonymy in naming characters was clever and effective. But I also appreciate the notion of giving even minor characters a name. I went back through my script to try to balance that out - give characters a name but also have a visual shorthand so they're recognizable to the audience. She is a great writer but I wondered what kind of legs this idea would have. I'm just now watching Breaking Bad. I'm in season 3 and it's lost me for the same reason Lost did years ago ... just feels like the show went on longer than what the concept can sustain.


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Antony P.

The most engaging and snappy screenplay of all the workshops and Sorkin definitely noticed. Brilliant episode with excellent table reading skills and great feedback given,

Wenna P.

Sounds like a lot of the model of her pilot was inspired by the second "wall street" film.


I really appreciated Aaron's comments about dignity for the actor. During the read, I felt the indignity of the nameless character. Aaron made a good point and his comments model recognition that a show's production is a team effort.

Pashon T.

He has a remarkable way of delivering critical feedback that doesn't sound "harsh" and "negative". I think that's important for new writers.

Chad E.

It's great to listen in on these table readings. Great writing great dialog. Maybe technicalities aren't that important to the show.. I saw 1990's headlights and taillights on that 70's show. Just popped into my head that the Bull wasn't on Wall Street in the 70's

A fellow student

I have been disappointed by not being able to download the scripts, as the links suggest!

A fellow student

Does anyone have a screenplay who would be willing to help form a focus group? I've got a TV pilot I'm working on and would really appreciate the opportunity to share and receive feedback.

Judith M.

First I did like the dialogue between the traders, it sounded quite authentic. The police dialogue however felt a little stilted and too much of a caricature. I loved Evelyn,s ability to draw a scene visually in the mind, which is a nice bonus for anyone reading her scripts. You can visualize the traders easily as a varied group brought together by their work rather than friendships. The script also came across as heavily targeted at the male audience, and not because of the subject matter but because of the scene descriptions. Aaron was right in his suggestion of giving a clue to the viewer about the Merc (sadly that title to me means mercenary rather than the Mercantile Exchange). You could do a flashback to its heyday at the turn of the century and connection to agricultural trading with a fade or transition to your version of the 1978 American one, before the yacht scene. You might also want to double check the Oil-Gold ratio for that time period, because for most of 78-80 gold out performed oil due to the Iranian Revolution. There was no bear market in 1978, although there was a minor 4 month slump in the markets where you could have set this as an interesting movie idea. I suggest The History of Gold-Oil ratios: 1970-2018 by Mickey Full on might be helpful. Brent crude oil futures were already being sold on the London Stock Exchange. Regardless of the minor errors though, I'd say you had an interesting idea, I hope it went well.