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Arts & Entertainment


Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 09:45 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.


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.

This is a great synthesis for emerging writers. I especially respond to the part of the class that deals with character development and thinking about how characters respond to each other according to their traits.

Aaron Sorkin taught me a lot of things but the things that helped the most was when he told me that taking risks and failing isn't something you can do later in a writing career. That getting stuck and banging your head against the wall was something every writer does. And if I want to be a chief, not to make McDonalds hamburgers.

I loved the balance of teaching, and classroom setting in this. Aaron gifts us with his knowledge and insight.

I felt a little lost on the west wing writer's room since I didn't watch it, so the classes, even though very helpful, felt a little boring and unnecessary, since there were 6 of them.


The H.

I love how straight forward he is. It makes it much clearer. Research always intimidated me because I thought I had to have a backwards and forwards knowledge of every subject that came up but now I know to focus on what is relevant to my plot, as well as understanding different types of research. Very good!

Scott G.

He is sharing the process from very different angles, and it's useful. I'm a journalist, so tips on interviewing/research are of interest.

Freddy l R.

I enjoyed this lesson because it helped narrow down the research process. Too, it opened my eyes as to what I should and should not right. For example: If I don't have access to people and resources about the leader of a nation, I shouldn't attempt to write a screenplay about that person's last week alive while he was slowly dying. It all depends on what you're writing about.

Richard F.

What I found out about research is you have to be aware of your resources. There are differences of opinion on just about every subject matter

A fellow student

Again I love the examples and the acknowledgement of different approaches and value for different participants.

Siddharth S.

Very insightful. Though i strongly feel, research is the key to any good screenwriting, be it for characters or the situation. A research is only meaningless once it's been researched. Leaving no stone unturned, whether meaningless or not, will only make the script that much stronger I feel.

Michele D.

I have done character building and Aaron dispelled a hard process, which was the legal pad full of useless information. He also gave me insight into writing dialogue for my characters, which was that I have to believe it. I'm good at separating characters, as far as the dialogue, but for the antagonist, I struggle with the words of their intent. I will still build my characters, but I won't spend time on useless traits that will only add length to my screenplay.

Śmigły .

What I have had to resolve myself to is that a part of the research I need to explore may never be known. The setting of my play takes place in 1941 Galicia, that part of Poland that is controlled by Soviet Russia. Exactly WHAT took place, WHERE they were, and WHO was involved might never be positively determined.

Śmigły .

Research - Information is endless. You can take your research as far as you want, and beyond. But THEN, you have to limit what you use to, as Mr Sorkin stated, the "birth" of your character. Genetics, culture, education, and society help forming all of us. Developing your character in a way that makes the audience believe them is where your research should take you.


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!