Film & TV

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 1

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 18:35 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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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...


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

I really enjoy Aaron. He keeps it very real and humble.

I feel inspired to continue. These videos were insightful and thought-provoking.

This class really helped me in the way that I tell stories to the audience, the way to structure a story and the way to move forward through​ a story.

My purpose was to hear the point of view of a complex and accomplished creator. I'm not a dramatic writer but I write dramatically. I heard a great many interesting points that will help me write. And I'm a BIG FAN of "The West Wing."


Comments

Jess J.

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: https://community.masterclass.com/c/film-tv/as-workbook 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: https://community.masterclass.com/t/contest-win-tix-to-aaron-sorkin-s-latest-broadway-show-to-kill-a-mockingbird/35249 Contest closes this Sunday, Nov 24 at 10pm PT. Can't wait to see your submissions!

Judith M.

Pity it wasn't a live writers room, I would have added info on the Rapturists for you. I liked the tip of treating the culmination of the previous series as a version of backstory that new viewers would appreciate as well as those who were loyal fans of the show. An in character recap rather than the 'what happened last series / episode VOs.

A fellow student

Gary Thomas, WA, There's two aspects a writer faces: The actual writing is fun. The other aspect is coming up with ideas that will work for a White house frame work. What if the president is vertually not able to function. The Speaker takes over. Interestingly his kids being taken will cause him to be so worried that he will be missing until the children will be found. there's two parts a writer faces: fun part of actual writing. the hard part is thinking and coming up with ideas

Steve P.

When asked if anyone in the room had seen Season 5, the one girl smiled and said she'd like to forget it. There are also a couple folks in this thread who agree. I do not. Of course, the three seasons without Mr. Sorkin are not of the same calibre as the ones with Sorkin at the helm but, all things considered, they were quite well done. Jimmy Smitts and Alan Alda were fantastic. I must have been very stressful to try and continue AS' work.

Eric

As always some great nuggets here. The tip about having a character who knows nothing be your vehicle to deliver exposition is very useful.

Lisa

Great lesson. I love the Breaking Bad article. It was one of those shows you didn't want to end. This is such an exciting assignment!

Carla C.

I agree with what I understand. I don't do this for a living, though, just a hobby. My process is to scribble a lot of words, dialog, scenes, and question marks about what to look up, and then I look up stuff, then type it from memory. I usually scribble until I can start picturing it in my head. Then I feel like I'm actually getting somewhere and can sit down to type it. I'm not blank that way. I am a little zen, though. As you can probably tell by looking at me. At least I bath.

Dennis F.

Balls in the air and which are most important. I'm thinking of several storylines and subplot lines in my story and my main plot/story line. Clarifies thinking about them.

JWB

Always be looking five shots ahead so you’ve got something to work with moving forward is great advice.

Emilio F.

Very helfful in a way that you break an episode to show and not break yourself and figure out what happens. Exposition is very important but yes, it is tough to work on.