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 in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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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.

Great class! Excellent lessons! I've learned a lot and enjoyed my time!

Always great learning from the best. Understanding more about what it takes and how to approach writing in general. I have a few scripts I'm working on and now have a better idea in terms of direction and preparing for different parts of my career when the time comes.

The class had lots of helpful content. I admire the West Wing but there are so many great scenes I wish he had not kept using the same examples. For example, the scene with the candidate and President in the theatre .

I thought this class gave a very generous view on what's mandatory in drama (Aristotle + practice) and what must be your personal exploration. It wasn't a call from the teacher to "copy me" but a gentle framework on how to think of your writing, along with different practical nudges to make it better. Many thanks.


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.

Hector L.

So when Aaron is talking about that joke in A Few Good Men, in my opinion, that joke may not do as well for the movie as it does in the play, it seems more to be about it working better on stage because of how the information was presented, not because the audience got disinterested or couldn't follow the story. For me, that line was more about Pollack's character, he has seemed not eager to defend these guys all along so far, and this, to me, fit well. I also thought it was funny, like his baby telling him about that mailbox. Thoughts?

A fellow student

Sometimes a line o dialogue or speech that may work on stage doesnt necessarily mean that a viewer will not like it in a film, depends on the person, also onthe other people involved in the making of the film. Certain things can be changed along the way, if someone sees it they may like it or not. Probably it wasnt a good joke.

Sherry L.

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A fellow student

I never truly grasped how important it is to recognize that your audience isn't dumb until I realized that all of my more recent favorite movies treated me like an adult. Most notedly, Inception doesn't hold anything back. It does a pretty good job of explaining what's going on, or at least, enough to get a general premise. And yet, I don't feel as though it was a bunch of technobabble that distracted from its' enjoyable and smart plot.

Nikki V.

It's interesting to see how these fundamentals are the same as in writing novels. And, I totally get what Sorkin means about when he talks about the pebble in his shoe. I recently started watching Ray Donovan, and while there is a lot I like about the show, his wife and childrens' reaction to Mitch has lodged in my shoe like a full-sized stone. They wouldn't be so accepting of a man they have never known. Period. Hence, every scene where they're loving up their grandfather rings false and pulls me from the story.

George C.

I had an experience with "Vice" which is nominated for Best Picture that illustrates for me his point about avoiding scenes that lose the audience because they know it would not happen. I lost trust in the authenticity of Vice when they depicted a lineman who fell from the pole and broke his leg. The supervisor and all the other workers just stood over him showing no concern while the supervisor said give him 10 bucks and get another man in here (or something like that). I immediately got that this was going to be an overly cynical or unfair depiction because that was not a realistic depiction of workmen around a serious injury to a fellow worker, especially linemen, and so I was lost early in that movie. Also Sorkin says the audience is intelligent. Well, His audience is intelligent because he has selected his audience by writing intelligent scripts. So we create our audience from what we offer them.

Judith M.

I had only thought of Pontillism's use in painting and weaving before, thank you for suggesting the sideways usage in dialogue. Just as anyone without binocular vision has problems seeing the mixed colour of the optical illusion, those who know too much about a specific subject may also have their immersion in your screenplay broken. But it is in its dialogue application that it really shines. Give the audience the information indirectly, it's all there, they just have to listen to hear the connections that form the whole colour of the story. No rabbits out of the hat, the clues are all in plain hearing, and appreciation of the linkage between talk and action. In essence dialogue is the two colours, that create the immersion illusion.

Greg W.

Great insight about the importance of knowing and understand your audience.


Im inspired and thrilled to write a screenplay as I watch and listen to Aaron Sorkin. I am learning things I would never know about writing a screenplay. However, After reviewing the format one must follow in order to submit a screenplay I fear my story will never come to fruition and even if it did how does one even get their script read by anyone who matters. I would also like to know how to write a movie or story treatment which is basically an abbreviated version or synopsis of a movie.