Film & TV

Rewrites: First Draft

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 7:46 min

Rewrites aren't a sign of a bad script; they're a sign of a good writer. Hear how Aaron reworks and strengthens his screenplays during the rewriting process.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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The screenplay isn't as good as you think it is once you finish it. Because you've probably got something good in your head. It feels really good in your head. It feels emotional. It feels sharp. But you probably haven't gotten all of that onto the page yet. And you discover that once you start reading it through. You become horrified that this whole thing doesn't even matter much, that kind of thing. This didn't work. Rewriting is a lot easier than writing. Because you have a problem to solve. You're no longer looking at an empty page with a flashing cursor. You have a problem to solve. This thing doesn't work here because. And you can attack that specific problem. I always recommend, if you're writing something, to get to the end of it before you start rewriting it. So you're on page 25. You look down. You haven't introduced the protagonist yet. You haven't introduced the inciting action yet. Don't crumple up those 25 pages and start again from page one unless you really want to, unless it really feels good. Get to the end. Get all the way to the end. Get to page 400 of this shapeless monstrosity that you're putting together. I don't know what sculptor it was who said this. It was a famous sculptor who was asked, how did you sculpt that fantastic statue of David? And they'll say, I look at a giant block of marble, and I take away everything that isn't David. Now, that's easy for the sculptor to say. It sounds really hard to me. But in writing terms, get to the end of the thing that you're doing. That thing then-- once you've gotten to the end of it, that's your big block of marble. Again, that clunky monstrosity, this unwieldy thing that doesn't work, that's your block of marble. But when you get to the end, you're going to know more about it than you did at the beginning. You're going to realize-- we talked about The American President in that 300, almost 400, page screenplay that had so much in it that wasn't Sidney and the president, that wasn't that conflict. To get to The American President, I just took away everything that wasn't that. And that's what we were left with. But I only was able to do that by writing the 400 page monstrosity and realizing, OK, where this thing lives is in the love story between these two people. So I recommend getting to the end of what you're doing and then saying, OK, I know what this is now. One of my favorite screenplays, certainly of the last 10 years and possibly of all time, is Tony Kushner's screenplay for the movie Lincoln, which also was originally 400 or 500 pages when he turned it into Steven Spielberg. And they looked at it and said, you know, the part of this we should do is the part where he's trying to get the 13th Amendment passed. And Kushner proceeded to take away everything that wasn't that and ended up with a fantastic movie about Li...

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.

I absolutely loved this class. His honesty and encouragement and insight was very much appreciated.

This Masterclass has taught me a lot about screenwriting and also inspired me about screenwriting.

From the beginning I was jumping into a world I had no idea about. I've written short scripts for short films and idea, but nothing this extensive and understand the full structure of tv shows and films as he explained. I absolutely will be taking this class again because its a fountain of knowledge.

I immediately rewrote the opening scene to a film I'm working on, to raise the stakes, increase the resistance between intention and obstacle - and I was blown away by the result. I feel inspired to continue. Thank you.


A fellow student

The Coen Brothers are brilliant. I watched Raising Arizona for the 1000th time earlier today. So great, I love that movie. The opening sequence is as original and well edited as story tellers can do it... As good as that scene is, it’s not my favorite in the movie. That distinction belongs to the Botched Convenient Store Robbery/Cop Chase sequence. LOL HILARIOUS.

Nicholas P.

I build a Croatian three stringed bowed folk instrument called a lijerica-Sorkins analogy to a block of marble, is the same for the instruments I make. I discovered that while writing. The way I write is exactly the same as building an instrument. I need a planed block of wood, nothing ornate or fancy can happen until I establish that rectangular block, and like Michaelangelo said, I have to remove all the wood that is not a lijerica. Just get everything down on paper. What did Hemingway say? Write drunk but edit sober.

Wayne J M.

Ear Opening - As an author I had used dialogue to reinforce my characters, their relationships and to guide the reader toward my story line. My rhythm was confined to the prose of short and long sentences, paragraphs and scenes. As I try the jump toward screen-writing, Aaron has given me this 'ear-opening' lesson; a musical rhythm to take with me into both fields.

Nina T.

Kill your Darling’s is great advice and is also very similar to what David Mamet said in his sessions. I noticed as I’ve been writing that there are a few scenes I’ve written so far that as I hear Sorkin and Mamet’s advice - I may have to cut them. Not sure yet, but at least I’m now willing. I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I have watched movies (which is on a regular basis) that we’ve both said there were scenes that did not fit and needed to go. I don’t want viewers picking my films apart like I have done with other writers and filmmakers. I am taking their suggestions under serious advisement.

A fellow student

For every rookie that is starting its reallly good to hear this stuff, because it makes essential point about not getting everything right the first time

A fellow student

The scene in "Fargo" he's talking about is actually very necessary. It makes Marge (McDormand) rethink her previous conversation with Jerry about the stolen cars. So she goes back to Jerry to investigate. If her friend from high School, who was so convincing in his lie to her, made her believe in something that wasn't true. What could a total stranger be lying about?

A fellow student

I am having a hard time downloading the lessons. Is anyone else having these problems?

A fellow student

Gary Thomas, WA How did Michealangelo sculpt DAVID? He cut away excess marble that wasn't David.

Steve P.

Can someone address Mr. Sorkin's edict that scenes that don't push the story forward have to be earned? I believe he means that such a scene must be exquisitely crafted in order to remain in the script. What say you?

Julek K.

I think the quote is from Michel Angelo, at least according to Irving Stone.