Film & TV

Intention & Obstacle

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:11 min

Every great story is born from intentions and obstacles. Learn how to build the "drive shaft" that will set your script in motion.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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What I need before I can do anything is an intention and obstacle. OK? Somebody wants something. Something's standing in their way of getting it. They want the money. They want the girl. They want to get to Philadelphia. It doesn't matter. But they've got to really want it bad, and whatever is standing in their way has got to be formidable. I need those things, and I need them to be really solid, or else I will slip into my old habit, back when I was 21 with the electric typewriter, of just writing snappy dialogue that doesn't add up to anything. We won't be moving forward. So let's say, for instance, that you and a friend, you and a couple of friends, one summer, or after you graduated from college, you drove cross country. OK? And on that trip, some weird and cool stuff happened. And you think this is going to be a good screenplay. You want to write a screenplay inspired by this cross-country trip that you took with your friends. Great. I want to hear your stories. I'll bet they're good. But you can't start yet, because you don't have an intention and obstacle. So let me give you one. It's not like we haven't seen this before, but just as an example. It can't just be a leisurely drive across country. Somebody in that car has-- you're going from New York to Los Angeles-- somebody in that car has to be in Los Angeles at a certain time on a certain day six days from now. It's super important. It's a job interview. It's their friend's wedding. It's something. They have to be in Los Angeles. Things are stopping them from getting there. They had a whole plan. We're going to take this route and that route, we're going to do this, and we're going to get there with plenty of time. But there are now going to have to be flat tires along the way, and weather, and getting lost, and anything else you can throw at it. Once you have that intention and obstacle, now, like a clothesline, you can start hanging those cool stories from the real trip across the country that was the reason you wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. You have to build the drive shaft first. And that drive shaft can only be intention and obstacle. That's what creates friction and tension, and that's what drama is. If you don't have that, then it's journalism. [MUSIC PLAYING] How do you know if the intention is strong enough? How do you know if the obstacle is formidable enough? You do what's called pressing on it. You press on it. The intention. If the intention is, OK, we're driving from New York to LA because we've got some friends in LA that we want to see. Well, that doesn't seem very urgent. It doesn't seem like you have to be there on Tuesday. You can see your friends on Wednesday. You're driving to LA because you've always wanted to see the Dodgers play in Dodger Stadium. Again, i...

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.

Amazing and insightful information from a veteran in the field. You can always tell if a teacher is just teaching to earn a check, throwing out random information without working to make sure it is received. Compare this to Mr. Sorkin, an artist, who is carefully crafting the delivery of his wisdom so that a new generation will be inspired. I believe his stated intention. Thank you.

Aaron Sorkin I didn’t know who you are but you’re the bomb!

I took 20 pages of notes, wanting to absorb as much as I could. Part of me loved the "inside" look at Sorkin's process, but part of me knew a lot of the beginner stuff (like intentions and obstacles) from film school. Still, I have definitely recommended this class to many. There's so many great tips and reminders throughout my notes that I have been writing my scripts with it open beside me.

Enjoying it greatly-- how do I go back to a lesson I somehow skipped over?


Sergi V.

What a great communicator! The first thing I have done is stop writing the scripts I am doing, and plan the schedule to finish all the lessons. Then I will start writing the stories again. Amazing classes. Simple but direct and very easy to understand.

A fellow student

awesome and quiet deep. William Goldman wrote marathon man and "he taught me everything I know"AUTHOR. @richieRIJ<ME>now we Gotta find <out what that author knows>-@RR

Katie O.

Can the intention be something philosophical? For example, can the intention be to discover one's own identity/ going on a journey in order to know themselves better such as exploring sexuality. Or does the intention have to be something materialistic? for example, in "Uncut Gems" Sandler is trying to sell the rock, or someone trying for a promotion in their career, or someone travelling from A to B.

Josu G.

I tottally understand why this is really important and tons of great movie examples that follow this "rule" very clearly come to my mind. This said, not being the usual but yet existing, I can think in some other great movies that don't neccesarily follow this (appareantly). Some examples that come to mind: Manchester by the Sea; Blue is the Warmest Color; A clockwork Orange; Taxi Driver; Amour; Nymphomaniac; Biutiful; Shame; Roma; A bigger Splash; Full Metal Jacket; Pain and Glory... Tried to pick some known films that aren't too "unconventional". I understand some of these films chacarters have "intentions" but I don't think they're very "tangible", like go from point A to point B, like I understand Mr. Sorkin is explaining here . Some others may have "temporal intentions": intentions created in a given situation/sequence throughout the movie, but not an intention that marks the whole movie from Act I to Act III. Just curius about what other people think! Great lesson.

Anna-Maria B.

I am totally amazed by this episode! The two words "intention and obstacle" are stuck into my mind ever since I watched it. I so much enjoy how Aaron Sorkin teaches, he boils it down to the essentials and I am very grateful for that. Will watch "Basic Instinct" now for another class I am taking (I know, it's a classic and I should have watched it a long time ago, anyway) and will focus on what I was told while watching.

Śmigły .

Of all the lessons in this class, THIS one is a foundation for everything Mr Sorkin presents. You may want to return to it through your sessions, if only for review.

Becky F.

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter, Little Miss Sunshine has always been the standard story that I strive to achieve with my own storytelling. It was the first script I read when I started teaching myself how to write, and to me, it's the embodiment of a story with a clear intention and obstacles. I gravitate more toward smaller character stories, and this script seems so simple, but of course, try to write something similar and create the same feeling and you realize it's anything but simple. Intentions and obstacles... I completely agree. It's the only way to hook and keep readers/viewers.

Maisie Merlock

I love the movie Winter's Bone Directed by Debra Granik staring Jennifer Lawrence. The main character Ree's intention is to prove her father's death so that the court doesn't take their home which her dad put it up on his bond so she can continue to take care of her sick mother and two younger siblings. She faces many obstacles such as the Appalachian Mountain "hush hush, don't ask questions" policy, neighbors not divulging their secrets, getting beaten up at one point, AND having to prove her father's death to the police in a WEEK. This story clearly states the intentions and shows the obstacles. This is a dynamic, gritty, raw film I recommend to anyone one who hasn't seen it!

A fellow student

Looking at my own life and that of others around me through the lens of intention and obstacles, I see that there are stories in each one of us that can be told with more clarity and drama. Thanks for the lesson!

Mitch G.

I just saw the movie "Uncut Gems". The whole time I was asking myself, "what is the intention?!". Whether there is an answer to my question or not, it seems clear that there was no "clear intention". I'm not a genius and I'm not an idiot. If the intention wasn't clear to me, I can't imagine it was clear to anybody else. The critic's score on rotten tomatoes is around 95% and the audience score is half of that. If anybody has seen the movie, I would love to hear their thoughts on the intention of the characters in this plot. On the contrary, I had early access to the movie 1917 and it was a perfect example of clear intention. The two boys needed to cross enemy lines by a certain date to deliver a message or an entire division of the army would walk into a death trap. The clothesline was set and the movie took me on a thrill ride with plenty of formidable obstacles that needed overcoming. Let me know what you think. Thanks!