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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.

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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.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I've learned to take chances and be bold. I've also learned that I mustn't rush just to write. Figure out my intent and obstacles to every show idea!

Would have liked maybe just a little more technical information and see a script get written from scratch and edited (kind of like what Shaunda was talking about when she said one of her new hires would read each phase of the script from first draft to final draft to get a real feel for the show)

The best thing was the group assignment. I'd never written a TV ep with a group before and it was a great experience.

This was a great class. As an aspiring author, Sorkin had many valuable points of advice and wisdom on the likes of dialogue, rewrites, and dissatisfaction with oneself as a writer that I'll surely remember.


Comments

A fellow student

Absolutely agree with doing research! I actually doing this all the time:) now I see this is Ok to do it if your story needs that

Delip S.

To be honest I think research is not needed , if you happen to have the experiences. However when comes to science fiction or even a comic book movie, you need to research a bit. A good example would be the movie Iron Man. Jon Faverau being a comic book geek himself, had done extensive reading on the comics and it was very evident in the screenplay and movie that everything a comic book fan can find. Robert Downey Jr however took the character to his own and without research , he made Tony Stark to be himself. So it all depends how research is going to be helpful.

Vince B.

If you are writing about your own experiences that you know intimately, is research still required? I hate doing research; so I wonder if I am sometimes short-changing myself by deliberately picking projects that IMO require little to no research. I equate this to writing with a production budget in mind, using limitations to foster creativity. Or am I just being lazy?

Siddharth S.

'drunk and drinking' - keyword of the day. It's the psyche. Beer does make you drunk, but a screwdriver, that comes from intention. I would be perfectly fine with this lie.

Nick F.

When speaking about the screwdriver being more visually interesting than the beer, wouldn't having a pan shot of several empty beer bottles and then having Mark flip the top off another accomplish the same feeling as well as staying true to the story? I know that it doesn't change the narrative, but Mark said he was drunk and drinking beer. Becks to be exact.

Beeswaranjan P.

Why would someone who has just had a painful breakup and is so emotionally stressed starts to now dedicatedly and furiously work on his website project the entire night, would even think of investing his time and energy on making a 'screwdriver cocktail', rather than just simply picking up a beer can?

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. https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/president/presidential-daily-diary

Catherine

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.