Film & TV

The Audience

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:48 min

Aaron knows that the audience isn't just watching his work. They're participating in it, too. Learn how to write stories that will keep them engaged and entertained.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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Here's something important to remember, and you kind of learn about it as you go. The audience is a component in the event. And here's what I mean by that. And I'm going to use a famous painting as an example. The George Surat painting that hangs in the Chicago Art Museum. I'm going to mess up the title. I think it's A Sunday on the Island of Le Grande Jatte. But it's a famous painting. Stephen Sondheim wrote a musical about it, Sunday in the Park with George. George Surat was a pointillist, which meant he didn't paint like that in brushstrokes. He painted like that, with the tip of the brush with dots. But most often he painted with two brushes in his hand, going red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, very, very close together. Because he felt that if the viewer stood back from the painting, which is how you have to see the painting. There's a velvet rope in the museum. And you're standing about 10 feet back from it. He felt that the viewer, in their mind, will mix that red and blue into a violet much more vibrant than he can mix on his palate by mixing red and blue there, so that the viewer becomes a very important part of this painting. The painting is actually different when no one is looking at it than it is when someone is looking at it. You want, as much as you can, for the audience to be a part of what's going on. The more the audience can be putting things together in their head, that's something they like. You want to treat them like they're smart. And they are. And they don't want to just sit back and kind of observe. They want to put things together themselves. And by the way, if you can get them doing that, and they don't see a reversal coming, if you're in the audience it's a very satisfying feeling, that ah, gah, I didn't see that. And I'm smart. And I've been paying attention. And I didn't see that. If you're able to-- say you're writing a Sherlock Holmes story. And you're able to give the audience all of the clues that Sherlock Holmes has, the exact same information that Sherlock Holmes has, but he figured this thing out, and you weren't able to, that's a very satisfying experience. I saw a made for TV movie recently, which was very good. But there was a scene in which a character has to testify in front of Congress. So there's the walking up the steps of the Capitol moment, you know, getting out of the car, walking up the steps of the Capitol with his lawyer. And there's press everywhere shouting questions. And as they're walking up the steps, the lawyer is quickly filling the client in. OK, so they're going to ask you this. Then they're going to do that. And then you're going to get to do this and do that. And that scene, I promise you, ran a little bit false to anyone who was watching the show. And you wouldn't even know why, but it's just ...

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.

Rational and relevant material explained in a engaging lecture.

wonderful to hear both the advice and the personal story. Thank you for sharing with such generosity and good humor.

Wow. Loved it. Learned so much.Using all of it. Plus, wow.

Aaron’s method of instruction for writing was perfect. I learned so much from both Aaron and the students he used in his class.


Larry M.

I love how this underscores the writer's responsibility, and that creative license should be balanced with a 'do no harm' sensibility as it relates to the manner in which the work is presented. Good insights into the process too, especially digging the transparency that Sorkin's comfortable presenting, like when he admits that he doesn't know anything about computers, and it's not his job to be an expert, but instead to write and present so that it's interesting and credible and emotionally engaging - good reminder that we're writers - that's our job ;)

Alexandra A.

Mr Sorkin pleaded his case with the vodka so brilliantly.. I can't get over the fact they ended up using beer in the film! Amazing example that put a smile on my face :)

Noah M.

That's exactly what they constantly did in INTERSTELLAR, for example when Cooper gets taught the shape of a wormhole at a point where they already see it in front of them- they knew that they would travel through the wormhole right from the beginning!!!

Sarah A.

i am struck by the common sense application --to work through the essence of the story and truth knowing you are "always lying" actually simplifies rather than complicates a way to write

A fellow student

The end of 2019 really tied itself in with this lesson. Gemini Man, a film with a relatively simple premise, couldn't stop telling the audience obvious plot points, making the script clunky and awkward. Meanwhile, Uncut Gems and Knives Out told extremely complex stories without losing anyone and keeping everyone guessing and on the edge of their seat.

A fellow student

have a question that, "how do you thinking about theory" which means the dialogs and emotions are depends on how the director place the shot. it didn't convey how to overcome this problem


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!


Putting your work out there is one of the biggest hurdles to jump over as a writer, but it must be done.

Coach T.

The lawyer talking to his client as they walk up the stairs to the courthouse is an example of a problem I always have with some movies. I will say to my wife, "what kind of lawyer does that" if we were watching it at home. It does bother me when the movie does something that doesn't ring true to me. As for the joke, I thought it was funny, maybe the laugh as a play was a loud burst of laughter that live performances can give and the drama of the movie in the theater did not lend to that loud laughing response. I know you must treat the audience that they are intelligent, but we all sat next to someone in the movies who didn't understand anything and keeps asking their friends on who this is or what happened. It is a fine line.

Katharina R.

I somehow didn't get this lesson. Can't even say exactly why. I read a lot about audience from other authors over the years, and appreciate to get a different point of view, but I don't think I really got it. About the joke...I actually laughed. It may be because I am an atheist, or because I got it wrong, but still don't think to be the only one. I put some jokes in my last screenplay, but I am Italian and we have our own sense of humour, so I test these jokes on foreign friends, too. When I had my oral exams at the University my professor told me: explain me the things as if you were explaining them to a child. That is the philosophy I brought with me all my life. Thinking now about the audience as smart is quite confusing for me, but I guess it's fair. I will maybe try to find a compromise between the two. I will have meditate about that and about Seurat.