Chapter 18 of 35 from Aaron Sorkin

Writing Scenes: Part 2


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.

Topics include: Opening scene • Character introduction scenes

Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.

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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. You’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you'll write unforgettable screenplays.

Watch, listen, and learn as Aaron teaches the essentials of writing for television and film.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Aaron will also critique select student work.


Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting