Film & TV

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 6

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 21:20 min

Who's got a bad idea? Aaron and the students run through various plot ideas as the writers' room continues.

Aaron Sorkin
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These index cards are too small for our purposes, but we're going to go with them anyway, index card junkies back there. You have no idea how much index card stuff we went through. You're the one with the handwriting. You blew it on day one. Would you just write, C.J. Press Briefing Room? [SOUNDS OF WRITING ON PAPER] We don't quite know-- we know a little bit about what that scene's going to be. We don't know everything about what that scene's going to be. But watch how good we're going to feel when we put up-- --an index card. And wait, we even get to do another one. We'll do it on the white index card. Would you write, teaser, on that? [SOUNDS OF WRITING ON PAPER] Were you worried for a second that you weren't going to be able to fit the whole word, or did you feel like you had it all the way? I had it. Let me tell you something. At S, I thought, she's worried. But she didn't show it. All right, you showed nothing but confidence. But at S, I knew you were worried. You didn't have it all the way. Look how well we're doing. Does anybody have any general thoughts? Did anybody have any ideas overnight? Here's the overnight idea I had. We've seen this plot before in various different forms. Let's explore it, and see if we can do it in a way that we haven't seen before. There is the illusion of some kind of international threat out there. It's not real. It's an illusion that's been created by the rapturists. That's what they're called, right? Am I using the right name? Does anybody know? I think so. Yeah, yeah. Well, that's what we're calling them here. There's an illusion that's been created by the rapturists. We're going to make that clear, in our story, that some actual terrorist group, or even a country, has abducted Zoe and is making certain demands. There's an easy way to explain this by just talking about what we're ripping it off from. So let's just talk about Crimson Tide for a sec. The movie Crimson Tide, does everybody know it? Um-hum. In Crimson Tide, they get a message to launch nuclear missiles. And they get another message that's cut off in the middle. Gene Hackman says, that message was cut off in the middle. We're going to launch these missiles anyway. Denzel Washington says, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, we can't launch the missiles. We've got to wait and see what this other message is because it might be saying, don't launch the missiles, everything's OK. And the movie is, essentially, a race with time to see if they can get the second half of that message, that was cut off, before the moment that they're supposed to launch the missiles. So what if we have, roughly, the same race that if we devise-- and we're going to need some military consultants in here to make this all legit. But we have John Goodman and his peop...

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.

Very informative. I will be able to put a lot of this to good use!

Aaron's movie/show examples aren't that interesting. Besides that we can get into his head, and touch his way of thinking.

He's and excellent teacher and I appreciate his honesty about the craft.

Aaron Sorkin gives you insight on screenwriting. He's helped me find obstacles and intention for my main characters in my screenplay. Which I actually finished because of this class. Very inspiring. I recommend this class to all serious screenwriters.



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!

Ben W.

it's not easy hearing the writers room talk about a series i have never watched before. but i found it easier to tap in when they mentioned scenes (two cathedrals for example) and watch it online.


I am terrified of putting my work out there, and this master class has filled me with so much inspiration, motivation, and has blessed me with incredible insight. I am very grateful.

Nina T.

2 index cards on the board, a room full of writers sharing their ideas, and and zero scenes written - It will be interesting to see what they finally come up with. I think the young writers are doing a great job!

A fellow student

G. M. Thomas, WA. West W. Writers room , part 6. Discussion of tension created by "rapturists" is presenting a debate between military move (G. Hackman) with group of pacifists (Denzil W.) and John Goodman wants to use military action. Bartlett wants to block it. The scene ends with Bartlet realizing he is like Superman when he was temporarlly without his superpowers.

A fellow student

Over several of these lessons Aaron has given "homework" and referred to any ideas any one had "over night". But all these students, as well as Aaron, haven't changed clothes? Was this all filmed in one sitting? Was it over several days? Was everyone required to do laundry every night? It's kind of strange.


Loved it. It's amazing how much harder it is to come up with the bad ideas. It's a good exercise to flush out the good ones. I did love when Walken told Bartlett that he was relieved of his duties. If they're looking for another way to show Bartlett's lack of power maybe have a staff member not take an order from him.

Rowan S.

Love it. As the lessons proceed, he gets more and more relaxed and playful, all the while still keeping his eye on the ball. This is a lot of fun.

Carla C.

I wish I had watched The West Wing now. I didn't watch The Sopranos either. I watched The Office, and Boston Legal some. I don't watch a lot of television. I'm not sure this is the writing class I was expecting. I guess I think of the craft of writing rather than the job of writing.

Anastacia S.

Since The West Wing is considered one of the best television shows of all time, and this is an opportunity to enter its writer's creative process, those who are complaining about not have been given the assignment to watch it, as you might have in grade school, should have just stopped the lesson and watched TWW on Netflix so that you could fully benefit. That said, after having just finished watching the first four seasons of TWW on Netflix, which I had not seen when it was originally on television, I found this lesson to be enlightening.