Arts & Entertainment, Writing

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 1

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 18:37 min

Aaron creates a virtual writers’ room to “break” part of the Season 5 premiere—an episode he's never seen.

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Topics include: Virtual writers' room


We wanted to, as part of this, try recreating a writer's room, OK. But here's the problem. In script writing there are two big parts of scriptwriting. One is the fun part and one is the agonizing part. The fun part is the writing. Just the actual writing of it is fun. It's the thinking of what you're going to write that is just agonizing. Because you can't force yourself to think. At least if your job was digging ditches, as backbreaking and thankless as that might be, at least you know what you're supposed to do, right? You show up to work and there's a shovel, and somebody points and says dig a five foot ditch there. Like I said, it's not a job I would want to have, and I tip my cap to those who have it, but at least you know what you're supposed to do. OK. By the way, same thing with directors. Directing is a really hard job. But at least when you come to work in the morning, there's a set of instructions for you. It's a script. We have this, OK. It's just a blank piece of paper with nothing on it. And it's a soul crushing experience, because humans are not able to make themselves, force themselves to come up with ideas. OK, you can't go, (SNORTS) and have it happen. So when they talk to me about how can we have a sort of virtual writers room in here, I balked because I said it's going to be mostly filming people lying down on couches and not having any ideas. And I thought to perhaps cut through that we'd do something a little crazy, which is this. I left The West Wing after season four. OK, I wrote the first four seasons with the exception of two episodes. And I left at the end of season four. I have not seen an episode of The West Wing from seasons five, six, and seven. There's a reason why. When it was announced that I was leaving the show, Larry David called me. He had left Seinfeld before Seinfeld was over. And he said, listen, you can never watch the show again. You can never watch the West Wing again. Because either it's going to be really great without you, and you're going to be miserable. Or it's going to be less than great without you, and you're going to be miserable. But either way you're going to be miserable. And I thought, well, it's Larry David, he's professionally miserable. So I had them send me episode 501, the season five, episode one. It was on half inch tape. That's how we looked at things back then. I had them sent to my house a couple of days before it aired, popped it in the VCR, hit play. And I don't think 20 seconds went by before I lept at the TV and slammed it off. Not because it was fantastic or less than fantastic, but simply because it was like watching somebody make out with my girlfriend. Donna was speaking words that I didn't write. Josh was saying these things. And for me, it was tough. So I then followed Larry's advice. I didn't...

About the Instructor

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.

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Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.

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