Film & TV

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 4

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 19:33 min

How can research drive the plot forward? Aaron and the students discuss the limitations of the 25th Amendment as a plot point.

Aaron Sorkin
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I was thinking about this last night. All I heard yesterday were good ideas. Let's hear some bad ideas so we can talk about why they're bad. Let's learn from some mistakes. OK? I also had another idea that I was certain I didn't need to write down, because I was going to remember it. Just hang on a second. Goddamn it. OK. All right, let's go back to where we were. I remember what my idea is now. I think we do have to start that the logical place to start is in the press briefing room in the middle of the night. The last briefing CJ gave, does anybody remember? Here's what I remember, because I haven't seen-- you guys have seen it more recently than I have. Leo told CJ she's got to give the best briefing of her life. When did that happen? Early. It happened after Zoe was taken, right? OK, that's happened. Abbey, Stockard Channing, then, who has been sedated, nonetheless shrugged off-- barreled through the sedation to go into the press briefing room to make a personal plea from a mother. All hell broke loose instantly. I remember in the script I wrote a stage direction. This has gone from 0 to 60 instantly with CJ and with Mary Louise Parker trying to stop her. Abby gets a couple of feet into the press briefing room. Everyone starts screaming to get her out of there. But CJ's briefing was prior to the president stepping down. OK, the press needs to be briefed again. It's the middle of the night right now, right? Midnight, 1:00 AM somewhere around then. OK, so great. We've got that press briefing room to handle exposition for us. And that's what's going to happen. CJ Is going to go in and brief the press on the fact that a short while ago, the president called his cabinet together, requested that they invoke the 25th Amendment, the president believes he does not have the mental capacity to do this. And according to the Constitution, the following has happened. People will have a ton of questions. Reporters will have a ton of questions. We'll decide what questions we want to hear answered, that kind of thing. And I think it's a good idea to let the audience know that we expect this to be wrapped up soon that The West Wing, that the series, has not gone into a permanent condition of John Goodman being the president, Martin Sheen being in the East Wing, and worse yet, that World War III is about to happen. I remember early on at the end of the second episode of the first season, a US Air Force plane carrying a bunch of military doctors, including the president's personal physician, accidentally wandered into Syrian airspace and got shot down by the Syrian air space or Libyan air space. I think it was Syrian air space. I can't remember. I believe so. And they got shut down requiring military action on our part. And the head of NBC at the time, Scott Sassa, who was a big champion of th...

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.

Excellent. Honest, practical advice and examples. Felt like I was sitting in Aaron's writer's room. He made it seem so easy. I am writing :-)

Honestly, this class so far makes me so excited. This is incredible way of explaining things by Aaron.

Aaron Sorkin taught me a lot of things but the things that helped the most was when he told me that taking risks and failing isn't something you can do later in a writing career. That getting stuck and banging your head against the wall was something every writer does. And if I want to be a chief, not to make McDonalds hamburgers.

The advice that Aaron gives you is invaluable to say the least. His expertise shows through in every way and manages to break down the complex idea of writing a screenplay into very simple things that you have to keep in mind. This was amazing, and what I learned will come in more than handy.



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!

A fellow student

She probably stopped writing after the corn joke, haha - just kidding. I can absolutely relate to the situation. You're priviledged to be a part of this course and then one of the most renowned people of the industry and a person you look up to - point blank tells you that you f*cked up, barely a minute into the read of the writing piece that is representing you in the most intimate and emotional way. That was totally unexpected from the otherwise nice and humble Aaron. I enjoyed that moment.

Andre E.

You outdid yourself ..Great ideas.. I am Impressed. I am starting to like this Way of s called Programming for a could be useful..if this Happened..thinking deep is fun but hey, my head hurts..use it or lose it..also, one should be a War-Monger and the Other A Pacifist, you cant Have two Warmongers..Bartlett is maybe a very reluctant, but compromised Bartlett Gritty Side should also be stepped on the wrong Rattlesnake Momentary Anger, not Hate..just love in the end as stock markets resurge and everybody finally Goes Home..for ThanksGiving..think Product Placement..all that Turkey PS. I m starting to think like a Broadcasting Executive at reptile Shape=shifters in this Show..éthink outside the Box..No , the shapeshifters who sponsor the show at Lokeed Martin ideally would want the taxpayer to see those Billion Dollar Weapons..also..Thinkinmg outside the Box..I try to put on these Glasses like in They Live, We

Nina T.

I don’t like Pop Tarts! What did you even get in this room? Made for a great session ending.

Judith M.

Article 25 section 3 voluntary stand down of a President is considered short term unless further ratified by Congress. In the case of Reagan and George W. Bush the authority was taken back by the second declaration of competency by the stood down President and witnessed by the Vice President who had in fact been Acting President under this section. Bartlett could theoretically at any point with the VP declare himself competent the same was that the previous two Presidents did. Sorkin very cleverly left two ways of getting Bartlett back in the end of season 4. The standard section 3 return of power, and the fact that under law it should have been the VP given control as acting president, not the opposition leader. The Stock Exchange would react with the normal issues at least,, the dollar and oil would fall, and gold and silver would rise. Trading is suspended in the markets if more than a certain number of points is dropped or if a crash trend is seen for a short amount time. Mercantile I would imagine minimal impact.

Ronald S.

As I recall, during President Reagan’s anesthesia (surgery) there was temporary transfer of power.

Paul B.

Jeanie "I don't like Pop Tarts." Aaron "Shut the hell up!" - I lol'd at that one.


This lesson shows how spitballing is so much of the creative process. Lots of storylines to juggle. Can't wait for the next lesson.

Maros M.

I liked the lesson, I sort of got into it as if I was a part of the group or watching the TV series. I also enjoyed how Aaron shows that its not all just blood sweat and tears but in the creative process and in the room with more people trying to come up with ideas, it is important to have the breathing moments and time for mind to relax then come up with something creative. That is my takeaway point.

Peter S.

Interesting how when they're discussing the intricacies of the law that it almost sounds like the drama itself--it kind of morphs in and out of the writers discussing it and the characters on the show having the same discussion.