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Arts & Entertainment

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

That I'm not alone in feeling that the hardest part of writing is coming up with what to write. I learned how to work through that and motivated to stay determined with my skill.

Great teacher. I hope one day I'll be as great as him. Thank you

Great class! I look forward to going through the materials over and over again.

Writing takes time.Learning where you fit in in the world of writing is important for success.


Jasmine K.

I found the workshop as a whole do be no more than a safe space. All of the writers are pretty much at the same level, and Mr. Sorkin is basically not really providing them with much criticism , other than minor technical notes. Without criticism 2 things happen- You don't get any better and you stop caring. It would have been far more instructive if there was more of a diverse group of students. You learn more from the mistakes you make than the praise you get .


My bad. I found the hide button, sorry. This lesson engages us in how the process of developing ideas work, in that it isn't immediate, and how Sorkin gets to the crux of sifting out what needs to be said and when. It is a critical point.


I think all of the writers are incredibly good and are sharing valuable information. I just want to be able to hear all of it.


I can't really say how I liked this lesson because MasterClass won't let me follow it. If I have to pause, to pee, they pop up with "Go to Discussion," and the only option seems to be to go back and restart the whole thing. Frustrating! Also they aren't letting me go back a few words if I need to hear something over. What's that all about???


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.