Film & TV

Writing Scenes: Part 2

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 11:34 min

Your script only has one opening scene. Make it memorable by introducing your theme, grabbing the audience, and setting up your characters' intentions and obstacles.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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Boy, there are a lot of different great opening scenes. There are some great opening scenes that, without you even realizing it, lay out the theme for the entire movie. Go to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is always a great lesson in everything. Opening scene, Paul Newman goes into a bank. And he looks around. And everywhere he looks are new, modern, modern being late 19th century, new, modern security systems, a safe with a heavy iron door and a big lock, a grate coming down over a thing, things being closed. And he says to the security guard, "What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful." Security guard says, "People kept robbing it." And Paul Newman says, "It's a small price to pay for beauty," and walks out. Three lines in that opening scene, and it lays out the theme with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is that their days are over. This is the end of the wild west. Modernity, I never know how to pronounce that word. Is it modernity? Modernity has caught up to them and is passing them. Now it plays as a very charming scene. Meet Paul Newman. He's a handsome cowboy. And he's great with a quippy one liner. But that scene lays out the theme of the movie. [MUSIC PLAYING] There are opening scenes basically just meant to kind of grab you. I like, for instance, I like starting right in the middle of conversations. Back to The Social Network. It begins in the middle of a conversation. Steve Jobs begins in the middle of a conversation. If you do that, if you drop the audience into a situation where you're already going 100 miles an hour, it forces them to sit forward and catch up. In other cases, with A Few Good Men, it was a very traditional opening scene. You'll see it at roughly the same opening scene at the beginning of any television procedural, which is to say, we see a crime being committed, then cut to main titles, and now we'll-- by the end, it will be resolved. If it's an action movie, there's an action comedy with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg that's terrific called The Other Guys, in which they both do that kind of opening scene and mock that kind of opening scene. It's just a hellacious crime chase with Dwayne Johnson and Samuel Jackson, I think. And you'll find out at the beginning of buddy comedies. They'll just-- they'll be action that'll grab you. And then you have the scene with the captain who gives you your real assignment. And that's what the movie's going to be about. Could you start with that scene with the captain giving the assignment? Absolutely. If you needed to cut 10 minutes off this movie, you could cut the first scene off that kind of movie. But you don't want to, because it's an action comedy. And we want to be grabbed a little bit. It sort of plays like an overture for a Broadway musical, that action scene at the top of action movies. For those...

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.

Thank you for this great opportunity to hear and learn from Aaron Sorkin's screenwriting.

I knew that this was going to be good. But had not idea how great it really is. His honesty is unquestionable and is, in the end, highly inspiring and motivating.

Great way to learn about storytelling. The writers' workshop was the biggest learning curve for me.

Just hearing Aaron Sorkin discuss his process helped me refocus my work on the key elements of dramatic writing. I felt like a white belt taking class with a martial arts master.


Sergi V.

Amazing lesson again!! pd: check the subtitles. Spanish ones are in german ;)

Alexis L.

"Showing what a character wants…" I can't apply this with Frodo (lotr) or Luke Skywalker, because we see them in their daily life. Why does this still (100%) work ?

Śmigły .

Can a single character's intentions and obstacles be shared amongst the other characters? I have organized 4 separate groups of characters who will be introduced throughout Act One. While each of these character groups have a history of shared experiences, they all meld into a complete ensemble with a "group" I&O, but nearly every single character has their individual one(s). Selfishness and ego could become part of the conflict, but how far into the script should that continue? Do ALL of them need to be resolved?

Glen G.

I think this lesson might have just helped me crack something I've been struggling with in my screenplay - what should the first scene be? I thought I knew. I feel like I have a lot to establish before the inciting action will make sense to the audience, but this helped me think of things differently.


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

He got off to a slow start but he was worth the wait. What a special person he is. He has amazing people skills and is emotionally engaged and has genuine interest in everyone.

Jordan C.

Inspiring lesson - it definitely gave me a new appreciation of the opening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I already loved that film, but I appreciate the story even more now. Also (and maybe this is a bit juvenile), I liked that he gave the Other Guys a shout out. I'm the only one amongst my group of friends who likes that movie.

Sophie C.

Jumping from this lesson to watch the social network. He really is a genius!

Carla C.

How do you share your pages here? I see the attachment button, but it isn't working.

Gino M.

I wish there was a "favorite" button so we can save our favorite lessons. I'll be coming back to this one.