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Arts & Entertainment

The Audience

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 10:53 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.


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.

I have not finished. I watched all the video to get an overview. Now I will go back and work on the assignments.

Excellent. Took me from zero to ... knowing how to go about doing this.

I've really loved it - the opportunity to hear Aaron talk candidly about writing blocks & phases (e.g.research & interviewing people etc. and then getting down to writing) has been really encouraging.

Very valuable incite and information. Long in comparison to some of the other Master Class courses. But totally engaging. I will likely watch it again.



It's "Georges Seurat" (not "Surat"), and the painting is here:

Jaime H.

Is it getting harder and harder to write great stories that audiences have not seen before? I am by no means a professional writer and what I've written is probably not great. But just as an audience member, I do come across many instances on episodic tv where the writing is either confusing or it makes you groan because it's something that was very unlikely to happen. Many times my wife will ask me how can such and such character do that? That's not believable. And the only answer I have is "because it's in the script."

A fellow student

Confusion kills humor. Interactive humor best done with more than one player in the shot. It is up to the director to determine who is in the shot that moment Learned: Make friends with the director so he doesn't kill your humor. Need to learn: How to make friends with directors. Future 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!