Film & TV


Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 9:38 min

Good research is the key to a great script. Bad research is a waste of time. How can you tell the difference? Aaron shares lessons from Malice and The Social Network to help you gather the information you really need.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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There are two kinds of research that you do when you're writing. The first is nuts and bolts research. That's literally find out how many nuts and bolts were used to make the Golden Gate Bridge. It's hard research, specific research I don't mean hard difficult. I mean that it's specific. It's not subjective at all. With a movie like Steve Jobs or The Social Network where I'm technically illiterate. I don't know much about computers at all, so there was going to be a lot of the first kind of research of the hard kind. How does a computer work kind of thing. The other kind of research is when you don't know what you're looking for yet, and it's research where you're trying to find the movie. For instance, with the movie Steve Jobs, I really didn't know what I was going to write. I didn't know what it was going to be about. Of course, I had Walter Isaacson's biography to work off of, but I knew I wasn't going to be writing a straight biopic. So I wanted to meet with and talk with as many people as I could who were close to Steve and hope that some points of friction made themselves known and that I could write about that. With the second kind of research, you absolutely you need to hear it yourself, because again, you don't know what you're looking for and you never know what might pop up. With The West Wing, someone will say in passing, you know, gee, did you know that the president's motorcade leaves as soon as the President gets in the car and that sometimes a junior aide will get left behind when they're out in the middle of the country someplace and somebody ran into a gas station to buy a postcard, they came out they found that the motorcade was gone. You think, great. There's an episode. That kind of thing. [MUSIC PLAYING] You never know where a cool story is going to come from. So that's why you want to talk to as many people as possible. By the way, people are very nice. They will oftentimes come to you. You'll get an email saying I heard you're doing a movie about this. Let me tell you my story. But it'll be dozens and dozens of people that you're talking to over a stretch of months. You have to start somewhere it's. A standing jump. So again, using Steve Jobs as an example, you knew you wanted to start with Steve Wozniak with people in the book who were close to him. And then in talking to them, they'll say gee, if you really want to know about that, you should talk with this person and that kind of thing. You'll find at the end of all of it, that 90% of the research didn't make it into the movie, but you need to do it anyway. In this case, it was easy. It was a high-profile project that was a high-profile book and then it became a high-profile movie. I have a research assistant and usually it's that research assistant tracks down the e-mail address. I don't know how he does it. I'll find out though, and ...

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.

The main things that I took away were the primary importance of intention and obstacle, characters being defined on the page by what they want and their tactics and the comforting message that even one of the best writers can find writing really difficult sometimes!

It's like Sorkin invited me out to lunch and spent all afternoon doing all the talking.

I love to imagine and I have ideas but to Penn it down I need to know how to write. .I am learning and will start writing.

Sorkin's class is the highlight of my one year subscription. A great writer and an excellent teacher. He doesn't dial anything in.



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!


The writing and acting of the Nicholson character offer the same element: the writer believes what he's writing and the actor believes what he's saying. There's also the element of truth in what Nicholson's monologue presents. The monologue sounds like he's been waiting his whole life to articulate this. Movie gold. Thank you for the great class.


Another great lesson! If you want to be a writer, you gotta do lots of research.

Julian D.

There's a story in the retired secret service agents who now run a not-for-profit firm which searches for missing children!

A fellow student

The reason an actor wants to research to the point where it looks like he knows what he's doing in a scene, even though it's not gonna be in the frame is that it is going to be a lot easier for him/her to give an authentic and coherent to the character / role performance which will ultimately transcend into his body language, his facial expression and overall confidence in the scene.

Bill W.

Mr. Sorkin is a very intelligent guy. When I get into writing dialoge I feel that the character and I become one. I hope I'm not suffering from some mental afliction but when the juices flow the words spill out onto the page like water when ya knock over a glass. I have a hard time keeping up and I hope at the end it's not just jiberish from missplaced fingers.

Kevin K.

Pretty basic material, but essential. I find that to get truly into the creative process that produces anything of value I have to sit in the material and circle it before the approach and angle fully forms. Most of it, as Aaron says, is throw-a-way, but an invaluable part of the process.


I have tried so many types of research for my writing but so far I think the best advice Mr. Sorkin has given was not to write people - write characters. That allowed me to take a step back and concentrate on the most compelling thing about that character or situation instead of what they ate for breakfast. Even on a biography, you're looking for the story, not a recreation. From an actor's point of view, filling the trash with realistic material might be useful if you're totally engrossed in a historical or fantasy piece. I know Ridley Scott did a lot of that stuff for Blade Runner.

Pashon T.

I actually understand why "some" research that might seem meaningless, can add to the character. In the world of business, I make it my business to understand the insides and outs of the roles and responsibilities that my business partners perform on a daily basis. There were times when I shadowed them just to get a better understanding of what it is they do, how they do, and sometimes, what their motivations were for making certain decisions. I can only imagine that the same ideology applies to the screenplay. Baldwin wanted to be engrossed in the world of surgery so that he, as an actor, can FEEL the part. It's one thing to tell someone to pretend to do something that they've never actually experienced. It's something completely different when the viewer actually believes and/or questions whether or not that individual IS actually a surgeon. That level of research depth adds to the character and it further draws the viewer into the story.

A fellow student

While I'm an introvert, and find doing interviews to be a bit of a pain, of the ones that I did, I found them to be very helpful. Don't be afraid to sit in front of some stranger over a cup of coffee. You have no idea how may people are virtually dying to have their story heard/told.