Film & TV

Incorporating Research

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 9:15 min

You have pages of research—now what? Avoid clunky exposition and learn how to seamlessly weave research into your story.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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How do you incorporate the research into the writing? You know, it depends on what you've discovered in the research. Like as I've mentioned as an example, the president's motorcade, which became a West Wing episode. That was a gift from the gods. That was too much-- that was too good to be true. The one piece of research that really got me going with the American president was I hired a researcher, and the researcher got me a whole bunch of what I call the president's daily diary. The president's daily diary is not, dear diary, today she looked at me in geometry. It is a minute by minute accounting of what the president did that day. From 7:00 AM to 7:03, he got his intelligence briefing. From 7:03 to 7:06, he took a picture with so-and-so. 7:08, he went back to the residence, he returned to the West Wing. It's that kind of thing. And it was for presidents going all the way back to Herbert Hoover. And I was just suddenly struck by the fact that it was a human person in the White House. Because next to a meeting with the Treasury Secretary or with a king, he would go back to the East Wing for a 20 minute nap. And then there would be something else. And so I just got really interested in the president as a person. Like when he runs out of toothpaste, what happens? If somebody tells you something where there is an inherent problem, for instance, again, with the West Wing, we did an episode very early on about the census. You wouldn't think that there'd be anything dramatic about the census. It's somebody with a clipboard knocking on your door and asking you 10 questions. But it turns out that there is. And so once you've located that problem, then you start writing about it. Screen says it's an unimplemented trap, but the error code is wrong. It's a system error. So what's the upshot? It's not going to say hello. It absolutely is going to say hello. It's nobody's fault. It's a system. You built the voice demo. The voice demo is flaky. I've been telling you-- Keep your voice down. -that for-- this thing is overbuilt. It worked last night. It worked the night before that. It worked three hours ago. It's not working now, so just skip over the voice demo. Fuck you. Everything else is working. Skip over the voice demo. We need it to say hello. The screen says it's an unimplemented trap, but the dialog box is wrong. It's a system error. I still don't know what that means, and I wrote the movie. I wrote many drafts of the movie, so I wrote that line many times. I've obviously seen the movie many, many times, working on it in the editing room, seeing it in theaters. I still don't know what that line means. What I know is that it's correct. It's what happened. That's what research gave me. There are a couple of things I'm looking for, depending on the situation...

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 loved everything about this class. Thank you Mr. Sorkin for all of your knowledge and encouragement.

Some of the best tips I have ever heard. Aaron is also likable. Couldn't wait to listen to the next lesson, and was disappointed when it ended.

Aaron Sorkin puts everything into perspective for me as a writer. I'm having fun again.

I absolutely loved this class. His honesty and encouragement and insight was very much appreciated.


Larry M.

What strikes me most is his professionalism, in that he treats this as a 'job' - creative, absolutely, but if the camera doesn't see it, or the actor doesn't say it, it's indulgent. I think that's an important reminder for any creative professional - and probably keeps you working ;) Creative, yes, but it's a business too - good stuff!

Śmigły .

Here's the address I found for the Nixon Daily Diaries.


I can't believe I got to be exposed to these ideas and understandings straight from the professional - Aaron Sorkin. I especially liked watching the students' writer's room. It was amazing to feel like part of a writing team.

Samuel F.

I didn't think I was done with it. He teaches differently than I did. Of course his work is amazing.

Glen G.

The distinction of person vs. character, photo vs. painting, movie vs. documentary are interesting and helpful. I wrote (and am currently rewriting) a feature-length script set during the Civil War. I did a significant amount of research but still have concerns about how certain things are portrayed. Helpful to hear Aaron discuss that. With regard to dialog, I'm helping develop a TV-show concept whose main character is a WW1 vet. Part of my research included reading letters written by American soldiers. My partner and I had a debate-via-text regarding whether people of the time would have called the German enemy "krauts" or "huns." We both had examples supporting our case and it was a fun and enlightening discussion to have. In all, remembering that distinction between person and character is very helpful.

A fellow student

A note for the latter part of this video: if put differently based on the terms and concepts he's addressed thus far: Sorkin is placing what's visually interesting and what actions best evince the intentions or tactics of his characters above the minutiae of choice. The example he gives here is best, so I won't pretend to know how to explain it better. But thinking of it in this way helped me to apply it in my own writing.


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!

T. S.

Great tips on when to use real conclusive research versus not and tidbits on real life people.

Kristel T.

Valuable was the lesson, do no damage to either the subject or the truth. Interesting was Mr. Fincher's insistence on sticking with Beck's,


Our perception of the truth depends on the glasses we use to interpret the truth at the a specific point in time ,when the facts surrounding it are presented to us