From Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass

Research

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.

Topics include: Two types of research • How to talk to people • How to interview

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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.

Topics include: Two types of research • How to talk to people • How to interview

Aaron Sorkin

Teaches Screenwriting

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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.

Reviews

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

The best masterclass for me so far. I loved it. I loved Aaron's honesty and passion that inspired me to not stop and give up but carry on and through. I learnt a lot, but the biggest takeaway for me is being inspired and motivated to go ahead with writing, movie making, photography... Thank you Aaron for your honest sharing of love and passion, it was a pleasure to watch and learn.

I enjoyed the fact Aaron was very down to earth. It was like he was actually in the room, and I was comfortable with that.

It's great to see the process of a writer's room as well as a professional writer like Aaron's just-like-a-normal-person anecdotes and musings on what seems like a mystical career. Who knew he was human?

Excellent. I cannot recommend this class enough. In particular, the brain-storming sessions for the putative West Wing episode.

Comments

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.

HB D.

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.

Vickie R.

Funny about Alec wanting to see a real surgery in progress. I used to stand next to my dad at work as his assistant (I took notes and then transcribed them because I'm a pretty fast typist and he types one finger at a time), and he once squeezed a huge BOIL on some guy's back and the boil burst and all this yellow puss that looked like a piece of PIZZA flew right by my eye! Swear to God funniest thing ever. Even the patient was laughing. I was just the opposite of Alec. I didn't care to see a surgery being done nor was I ever forced to become a real doctor. I didn't even want to be a nurse. But my dad needed my help and so in came SUPERWOMAN?MEDICAL TRANSCRIBER to save the day!!!!!

Anthony N.

I read a lot of the daily routine of President Nixon. It's amazing how they recorded that much info on a daily basis. I can see how this was probably instrumental in Aaron writing the West Wing. I even pulled up the daily routine of Kennedy who died on November 22, 1963 and found it a bit unsettling that no entries were made on that day at all. If someone did make entries, I assume it exist, it's not listed in the daily routine, for obvious reasons!

Jonathan P.

Right now I am in the making of an inspirational story about the live of a real person (of course with his consent). In my research I would like to create a central story but how do I determine what is important and impossible to leave out and what is not?. Also, could be a side story that justify the storytelling instead of just show the main character life?

Kelvin R.

Being a history major in college, I've always enjoyed the research part of my work. For my next book and eventual screenplay, I plan on talking to as many people as possible.

Judith M.

I like the approach of talking to real people who knew the person involved if a script is based on someone like Steve Jobs. Particularly early on where it might spark an unusual angle to take in the story. Also you are right, do it in person because you never know what they might remember thanks to a word or gesture that you made. Thank you. I admit to going a little crazy with research during world creation more than character creation, but somehow it seems to come together at the end. Sometimes in surprising ways. Actors must have a lot of fun with their own research, and if it helps them feel the part come alive in their head, I too, would see no need to stop them. Was the set for all the Presidents Men open to the general public at all? If so the waste bin contents were a nice touch, if not I'm puzzled as to why they did it.

Roy T.

As we move along, in the back of my mind, I'm trying to apply all this wonderful learning to the specific screenplay I'm working on. My story is almost entirely based on a myth, which is researchable. The rest is my imagination. So the only other research I'm doing is about another movies or books dealing with this myth. Bottom line, this particular lesson is valuable as a general approach to research. Interesting insights.