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Arts & Entertainment

The West Wing Writers' Room: Part 8

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 04:11 min

Aaron and the students wrap up the virtual writers' room and discuss lessons learned.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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To write the rest of the show, what we need is specificity. OK? Specificity when you're writing-- I mean when you're actually writing, when you're writing dialogue, is hugely important. For instance, something that I was thinking when we were talking about this scene over in the residence with Bartlett and Abby, and we were talking about what's the FBI doing, Abby wouldn't say, well, call the FBI director. She'd say, well, call Bob. Right? That kind of specificity is hugely important. The specificity that we'd need to do the rest of the show is we're talking about, right now, just some vague-- we're talking about the illusion of a threat, not the real thing, but the illusion that they're trying to create. We're talking in the vaguest possible terms. We would need to start getting specific about that. How is it unfolding over the course of hours? What exactly is being done? We're now past the time when Clark Gregg and Anna Deveare Smith can just stand around theorizing. Something has to be going on. They have to be following clues. And we need to get specific about that. We also want it-- we're desperate for the appearance of reality. And with a plot like this, it's very easy to slide off into fantasy of the world coming to an end, that kind of thing. What's going to help us with the appearance of reality is getting people in who know what they're doing. So what we would do is we would obviously-- either have on a speakerphone the guy who's our Secret Service consultant-- we would have various expert consultants in the room or on the phone. And we would tell them, here's what's happened. OK? What do you do now? And we'd ask them a ton of questions-- all the questions that we can think of. Tell us what can go wrong. What's the wrong thing to do? What can our people argue about? And we would want to know, for a show like this, answers about the military, about the FBI. We would want to know, in terms of the press and the public, how do you deal with this? What's CJ's job in this situation? If we want to bring Tim Busfield, Danny Concannon back in, what he's doing-- we would remind them about Shareef. And we would get all these real answers. And that is what would make it seem real to everybody. And what we would do a lot of is struggle. OK? We would do a lot of banging our head against the wall. We would do a lot of looking at each other around this table, and then retreating back to our own offices to think there, going home at night, coming back in with ideas. Days would go by with no movement at all. Panic would start to set in, because this thing starts shooting on X day, and there's an even harder deadline than that. There's an air date for this episode that hasn't been written yet. And in this particular case, we've promised the audience a lot. Something big has happened. We've aske...

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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.


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

In depth, illustrative and actionable. I truly felt like a student of Professor Aaron Sorkin. The downloadable screen plays are invaluable.

Very good class. I have never seen the West Wing so I really wish alot of that material had been omitted and replaced with info we could benefit from.

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.

this is the most useful screenwriting course i have been on - THANK YOU - writing my screenplay now..



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!

Greg D.

Had to sleep on this one. By the end of the writer's room segments I was skipping parts and watched it pretty passively. But it seeped in and I awoke feeling that the process I'd been using instinctively was now validated as well as clarified. This concept of breaking a story, of problem-solving what the scene outline needs to be as a slow-going but necessary conversation with a leader and contributors, is the step I'm currently in (solo, with the voices in my head) with a screenplay I'm very excited about. I'm going to go get back to that now. Thanks.

A fellow student

G. M. Thomas, WA. Part 8. Writing. Specificity...hugely important. Here is an illusion of the threat...What is the FBI doing? What is the threat? You get real personnel from more than one agency. You ask many questions about hypothetical situations. What do we do? Jot down answers to various situations. Then, with your notes you go to your office and begin to write. Coming together with the other writers you share your ideas and solutions, The audience is anxiously waiting. With these ides and with network deadlines, you finish the scene s begin to form and the scripts gets done.

Judith M.

For me the real secret behind being specific is knowing the characters. If you were taking part in a real writers room the most important thing that you need to do before attending the first brain storming session is to watch the series, at least the preceding one, because the nuances added to characters by their actors brings the script to life. From there you can enter the room with ideas that might only have occurred to someone binge watching episodes back to back. The ideas may not be what was in the mind of the producer/head writer but in some cases what you saw may bring a new perspective to the coming plans for the new series.


It's a good reminder to stay in reality and not slide off into fantasy. It's easy for me to do. I can see everything being wrapped up. Getting the experts in there, asking them what could go wrong, figuring out what CJ's going to have to say to the public at the next press conference... I can also imagine the deadlines and panic setting in. Sounds like fun!

Maros M.

Thank you. It was helpful and I felt like a part of the writers' room. For me a takeaway is that no matter how pro one is, there still is a struggle, a battle to fight and there is a way to get through it and come up with a final draft.


I think it is a great idea to ask experts not just how would a situation unfold but also what can go wrong and what would people argue about. Intention and obstacle.

Emilio F.

Great screenplays, specially Blood Money which I do think has the more potential. All this sessions in regards have been very helpful and the most important thing is to learn from your mistakes, and not to be affraid of commiting them. You learn from your failures than successes.

Alex I.

Hi, Im from argentina and speak spanish. And I can tell you Bloody money - as far as I know - were translated, and also based on true events as many of you may know. Like Selena's diary or the Death flights. It all happened kind that way. Were the darkest years of XX century in Argentina. Pure terror. There are many tiny mistakes, but over all very good. The othewr two I won't read it cause I was expecting a different kind of closure to this Masterclass. Im a little dissapointed. There's a netflix mini series, called Llamame Francisco (Call me Francisco), that's about the current pope, where you can see in action, many of the scenes of Blood Money.

Cong N.

Where can we read their writings of the E501, the result of this discussion?