Chapter 20 of 35 from Aaron Sorkin

Scene Case Study: The West Wing


Aaron analyzes a classic scene from The West Wing: the scathing confrontation between President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin).

Topics include: Bartlet and Ritchie's intention • Drawing on your own perspectives

Aaron analyzes a classic scene from The West Wing: the scathing confrontation between President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin).

Topics include: Bartlet and Ritchie's intention • Drawing on your own perspectives

Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.

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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. You’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you'll write unforgettable screenplays.

Watch, listen, and learn as Aaron teaches the essentials of writing for television and film.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Aaron will also critique select student work.


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

It made me think that I should focus on my own authentic voice. I started the course 5 months ago and since then I now have a literary agent so it was helpful!

The class helped me to improve my script draft, and enabled me to place at Slamdance Screenplay Competition and Scriptapalooza.

There were so very many little nuggets tucked away in each lesson--I really loved that aspect of the overall class. I appreciated that aspect, along with all of the big tips that were discussed. Each lesson was a unique experience and now it's up to me to make the most of what I learned. Thank you, Aaron Sorkin, for this amazing opportunity to learn from you!

Good choice for starting to learn screen writing


A fellow student

Very good camera and lighting. Scene set. Both the Characters in that scene were one millimetre from convincing. Almost as if they were trying to be sincere, rather than being sincere. Which is why just before Sheen throws the lighter, that line isn't heard properly about "kicking ass". Sheen wasn't convincing on how he was hurt in the comeback about crime, therefore the reaction was also almost sincere.

Steve P.

Bartlett tossing his lighter to the aide after his parting shot was the epitome of cool.

A fellow student

G.............. M. Thomas, WA The West Wing venue... Taking a look at The opponent of President Bartlettt and his second term. It is Mr. Ritchie. Bartlett wants Ritchie to give him a smart line, an educated line. Bartlett is annoyed when opponent Ritchie is not quite smart or sophisticated in his part of their give and take, As writers, we can make anyone we want to look intellectual, to give the appearance. The scene between the two candidates is interesting' fascinating. good acting to good written words.

David D.

I do very much prefer to hear Aaron open up and autopsy his own acclaimed and extensive body of work as opposed to the younger unaccomplished folks from a few lectures back. It's much more impactful hearing him explain the motivations of a powerful scene from a successful and award winning effort.

Carla C.

I didn't watch any of West Wing. I hate politics. I like the line of Martin Sheen, though, regarding zen and his contempt for the other man who is so disengaged while he boils over. But then the cool and collected Brolin just gives it to him, like go for it, Buddy, I can be just as engaged as the next guy. If I understand it correctly.


All I can say is "Crime, boy I don't know." Brilliant. Great intentions: to convince and to respect. Good ones to remember.

Isabel D.

He is so funny when he says he's not as intelligent as his characters. I don't believe that. He writes brilliant speeches, he has to be that smart. He is just very humble. Thank you, Mr. Sorkin.

Ramona T.

As someone who has never watched the West Wing, I am intrigued by these sample scenes and have learned a great deal from them. I wonder if there is a character grid created to be sure that the desires or obstacles are consistent with character development over the course of a season.

Kurt S.

You know.... when I watched this scene originally (on television ~14 years ago) I thought that Aaron was being unfair to Ritchie. Sure, Ritchie's intent is "stop calling me stupid", but back then I also thought that Aaron had gone over the line into caricature: no serious Presidential candidate could actually be *that* disengaged and thoughtless. Surprise! Aaron was right. Those people do exist - everywhere. Good lesson.

Donna S.

I enjoy watching these case studies because I like to study the techniques used to pull the viewer into the scene. I like his point that the artist can know how to draw a building without knowing how to build the building.


The scene is this. Bartlet is in the middle of his reelection campaign. He's running for a second term. He's running against Robert Ritchie, the governor of Florida. The Republican nominee is played by James Brolin, and they're both in New York tonight. There is a benefit. I believe it's for a-- excuse my memory. I think for a Catholic charity, that the benefit was for. It's a performance of a Broadway play I made up. I invented a Broadway play that the Royal Shakespeare Company was doing called The Wars Of The Roses where they had put together a bunch of Shakespeare plays into one evening, and added songs, and things like that. Anyway, Bartlet is attending a Broadway show tonight, and uncomfortably enough, so is his opponent, Ritchie. And in the middle of the show, they both find themselves downstairs in the lounge near the restrooms. If you've ever been in a Broadway theater, you can picture what that looks like. And Bartlet has a lot of things on his mind. He's contemplating assassinating someone, and CJ Cregg's Secret Service agent, played by Mark Harmon, has been shot and killed just in the last hour. So, Bartlet's gone down there just for a private moment, and a moment later, Ritchie comes down there for the same thing. And there they are, the two candidates for president alone. No press, no staff. Presumably there's Secret Service nearby, but they're by themselves for the first time in their lives. [MUSIC PLAYING] Caught me. Mr. President. Governor. You enjoying the play? I am. How about you? Well, we just got here. We were at the Yankee game. We got, you know, hung up in traffic. Yeah, I know. Listen, politics aside, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but you probably insulted the Church, and you can head it off at the pass if you speak to the Cardinal tonight. Well, I didn't mean to insult anybody. No. And it's a baseball game. It's how ordinary Americans-- Yeah. No, I don't understand that. The center fielder for the Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist. People who like baseball can't like books? Are you taking this personally? No. Something horrible happened about an hour ago. CJ Craig was getting threats so we put an agent on it. He's a good guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked into the middle of an armed robbery and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects. Oh. Crime? Boy, I don't know. We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone. When I was running as a governor, I didn't know anything. I made them start Bartlet College in my dining room, two hours every morning on foreign affairs and the military. You could do that. How many different ways do you think you're going to find to call me dumb? I wasn't, Rob. But you've turned being unengage...