Film & TV

Group Workshop: Untitled by JJ Braider

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 14:24 min

While workshopping J.J.'s script, Aaron shares his tips on writing action scenes that move as fast on the page as they will on the screen.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
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You have each come in with a scene from a screenplay that you're working on. So we're going to read through the scene. The author is going to cast it for us. It's going to be the wrong cast-- we're not actors here, this is going to be like me playing the lead in Pretty Woman. But we'll just read it through out loud, so we get a sense of it. And then we'll talk about it. And J.J. Braider, we're going to start with you. You know what? I'm just going to read out loud the full script, a logline, OK? Do you mind? No, please. This is untitled by J.J. Braider. The full script logline is upon hearing, I'm sorry, upon learning that his absence from the battlefield has cost his beloved sister her life. Elijo? Yeah. Elijo, the most lethal soldier in a Mexican cartel is consumed with a rage for vengeance that knows no bounds. And this is adapted from Homer's The Illiad. Exterior, farmhouse, high desert, dawn. First light picks out the edges of a ramshackle farmstead-- satellite dish, cracked adobe, and ATVs in the yard. We're in-- Jalisco. Jalisco, Mexico. In an aged t-shirt, and carrying a steaming travel mug of coffee, a stout, middle-aged farmer emerges, slips on boots that he had left outside the door the previous night. His son and daughter, both in their 20s, follow him out of the house. The farmer climbs into one of the ATVs, its engines roar rips the silence. He leaves his children to start their days. Go to exterior fields. We're moving, moments later. The ATV's headlights cut through the receding darkness. We hear a corrido playing in the farmer's headphones as he drives out into his land. Am I pronouncing that right? Corrido, right. What is a corrido? It's a Mexican folk ballad. Still contemporary songs. We hear a corrido playing on the farmer's headphones, as he drives out into his land. He stops here and there to check a sprinkler head, or a readout on his laptop-- modern farming. At another point, he rips a rifle from its housing on the back of the four-wheeler, to try to pick off a jack rabbit. It vanishes before he can align his shot. Continuing, his headlights pick out a muddy puddle blocking the dirt path among the rows of agave plants. He stops and dismounts to investigate the flooding. He looks perplexed. He pulls a two-way radio from his belt, and removes the headphones, still playing. We've got flooding out on the north end, east agave fields. You see any irrigation issues on your end? He wades out into the water. No readings or problems in the remotes. How much flooding are we talking? He wades farther. The growing light of day reveals a vast overflow into his fields. Shit. It's a vast, muddy swath of this farm, sopping up the cacti. We'll come and check you out. The farmer takes in the terrible destruction. Exterior, flooded a...

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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Genius attributes. Non-linear thinking is a great way to brainstorm.

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A fellow student

Excellent lesson. I feel lucky to get to sit in with a class workshop like this.

Nick F.

Wow, it was really hard just listening to that screenplay. Didn't like it one bit. Very messy. Very comic-bookish. But then again, he did say that it was based on Homer's Iliad.


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!

Eileen N.

Regrettably I cannot complete watching Alan Sorkin’s series despite his brilliantly creative mind and talent. I am now so distracted by his constant over dependence of fillers (“m-ummmm, ahh, ahh, ahhh) that I no longer hear the lesson). Noticed that this annoying use of crutches is infecting members of his group. I’ll just wait to watch his next Masterpiece. Mr. Sorkin, embrace the pauses please.

Eric G.

Spot on, again, Aaron. Whow. I had garnered from previous lessons he is a descriptive screenwriter as he talks about how some of his screenplays are two hundred or more pages. For us as writers who are only able to look at his status and have to entice investors, directors, and talent, the cardinal 120 page requirement rules. It is why I am thankful I decided to only undertake novel adaptations to begin and doubly blessed to be close friends with top, bestselling authors who coincidentally have cinematic (scene) styles of literary writing. My biggest problems have been the painful ones of deciding which incredible scenes to exclude to maintain the page count and not destroy the plot or character values. So far, so good...two films, two projects in pre=production financing...this was a great lesson, especially since one of my films is full-on action ...not what I expected from Aaron.

A fellow student

Good lesson! I read Poetic by Aristotle. Also William Goldman book (three quarters through) Adventures in The Screen Trade. The William Goldman book is gold dust. It's obvious he wrote this book because he wanted to! One of the few books I've read that I actually want to pick up and read rather than have to, or should do. Can I ask Aaron something? How much of Poetics were completely understandable or did he just 'get' the semantics? The bit I remember is "possible probability..." Not much else .

Judith M.

Thank you J.J. reading your script pages opened my eyes to the heroin underworld in Mexico and the Narcocorridos ballads. I also learned a few other things from you as I'd never heard a bundle of cash called a flat before, which is helpful to know, and that heroin is commonly called 'white' there. I think that I'd like to have known which of the ballads was playing though, as I got the impression that you had a very specific one in mind.

Stacy S.

First thought is wouldn't he shake his boots out bc desert spiders? Very minor detail.

A fellow student

Gary Thomas, WA Aaron reads a student;s script. This is new and partial. The script of rural action of a man who encounters a violent man who has been shooting. We get the impression that many people have been shot by a single man. J. J, finds that his action portrayed in his script comes easily. Aaron said that any action needs to be as long on the page as it will take to happen in real time.

Roy T.

I liked the flow. I agree with Aaron about the time taken to describe the action. I liked hearing it read.