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 in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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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.


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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

Graeme R.

Great example! These are the things we want to understand: screwdriver or beer?

A fellow student

"It's the difference between a painting and a photograph and we're doing paintings." -Simple but brilliant.

Antony P.

Very interesting, and brilliant lesson! As someone who is more of a director than a screenwriter, I can see Fincher's side here. The preference for alcohol can tell you a lot about a person, and the fact that Mark chose a beer over the vodka maybe speaks to his desire to be "one of the cool kids" and experience college as a "bro". Just seems more Mark than the vodka to me.

A fellow student

the thing about the truth is very interesting, is a problem that you have all the time when yo are writing, sometimes is hard to decide, or to know what is the really important things on the scenes, on the drama.

Sherry L.

I'd have kept the screwdriver too (but the director is the director, and that's why s/he is the director) so it would have been beer. I'm doing a screenplay that's "inspired by" a real person's life. I'm changing the story... in an effort to make the protagonist more relatable, without distorting what he did. Intent and obstacles remain the same. I appreciate the discussion of truth/"truth".

A fellow student

I find that even as a fictional writer, staying true to a character's essence is still important. For instance, a grizzled war veteran is probably not going to be the type that skips to work, in the same way that a doe-eyed lover isn't going to speak negatively about her circumstances.


I loved the screwdriver vs beer discussion. I agree with Sorkin 100% that as long as it's not changing the fundamental truth or hurting someone, if it intensifies a scene, why not conduct minor changes? Great lesson!

Ginny M.

Thank you Aaron Sorkin this was a great lesson. I did some R&D online and found this. I am an unpublished screenwriter, doing re-writes, as part of my R&D, I got to see some real documents by Queen Elizabeth 1. So, as part of my re-writes, I am going to add that feeling of the real human woman and not a queen. Thanks again, Ginny Monroe #Masterplayer.

Vickie R.

Funny again Aaron jogged my memory about my NYC days. I had just moved into the famous 92nd street Y in NYC and everyone was either smoking tons of pot (yes I was a happy participant), and drinking GIN. YUCK ! I just did not like the taste of booze and still don't till this day, however my drink of choice that I could manage to stomach was my beloved SCREWDRIVERS!!! And I recall being so "proud" when I had my first hang over that I called my dad in LA to brag about it to him. I do recall which was a bit unfair that when I first moved to NYC I was placed at St Mary's Residence, a nun's home for single girls new to the city. Beautiful lovely place but very strict nuns. So they put me in with a roomate who was a big time SMOKER (I did not smoke at that time either) and I would get so sick waking up everyday to the smell of smoke. Looking back I'm surprised the nuns at St Mary's would allow a non smoker to be placed in the same small room as a smoker. ANd she was a CHAIN SMOKER no less. Then she drags home this drunk girl who proceeded to throw up all over my bed and when I finally had had enough and begged the nuns to let me have my own room, they sided with my ROOM-MATE who caused all the trouble and basically drove me out of St. Mary's. But in the end it all wound up much better because I had tons of fun at the 92nd street Y in NYC. There were the children of famous ambassadors living there and I recall that MTV first came on in the living room and I saw CIndy Lauper singing. It was a magical moment (and no booze or cigs).