“Baseball players say they don’t have to look to see if they hit a home run, they can feel it. So I wish for you a moment—a moment soon—when you really put the bat on the ball, when you really get a hold of one and drive it into the upper deck, when you feel it.”
Producer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Syracuse University’s 2012 commencement speech
Just today I learned that I share not only a birthday month with Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), but we were born the same year. That’s about where the similarities end. (Well, he co-wrote Moneyball and I’ve seen that movie a bunch of times so we have that in common, too.)
One of the themes of Moneyball is how one can have incredible baseball talent in high school—even be a first round pick—and still not have an appreciable career in the major leagues. While I imagine the attrition rate is pretty high of writers, directors, and actors who hit the ground running with Sorkin after he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983, he’s been able to find tremendous and lasting success in both film and television.
In the great production pyramid today, Sorkin is tucked away somewhere in the little corner at the top. So when MasterClass announced last week it was soon releasing Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, a 5 hour plus video workshop, I was pretty excited about the news.
I haven’t seen the MasterClass videos, but can’t imagine it not being worth the time and money ($90.) to gather a few takeaways on your way to becoming a better writer. Here’s a list of Aaron Sorkin-centered posts I’ve written over the years that give you a glimpse into what he could touch on:
Aaron Sorkin’s Survival Jobs
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Sorkin’s Emotional Drive
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)
Screenwriting Quote #43 (Aaron Sorkin)
Writing ‘The Social Network’ (Part 1)
Writing ‘The Social Network’ (Part 2)
Writing ‘A Few Good Men’
‘Moneyball’ & Coach Ferrell
And since those Sorkin teaching videos won’t be released until later this month, here’s a story from his graduation speech where he talks about a lesson he learned while a student:
“As a freshman drama student, I had a play analysis class—it was part of my requirement. The professor was Gerardine Clark. The play analysis class met for 90 minutes twice a week. We read two plays a week and we took a 20-question true or false quiz at the beginning of the session that tested little more than whether or not we’d read the play. The problem was that the class was at 8:30 in the morning, it met all the way down on East Genesee, I lived all the way up at Brewster/Boland, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but from time to time the city of Syracuse experiences inclement weather. All this going to class and reading and walking through snow, wind chill that’s apparently powered by jet engines, was having a negative effect on my social life in general and my sleeping in particular. At one point, being quizzed on Death of a Salesman, a play I had not read, I gave an answer that indicated that I wasn’t aware that at the end of the play the salesman dies. And I failed the class. I had to repeat it my sophomore year; it was depressing, frustrating and deeply embarrassing. And it was without a doubt the single most significant event that occurred in my evolution as a writer. I showed up my sophomore year and I went to class, and I paid attention, and we read plays and I paid attention, and we discussed structure and tempo and intention and obstacle, possible improbabilities, improbable impossibilities, and I paid attention, and by God when I got my grades at the end of the year, I’d turned that F into a D. I’m joking: it was pass/fail.”
And just to make that lesson a It’s a Wonderful Life moment, years later Sorkin was asked by Arthur Miller if he could fill in as a guest lecturer at NYU where the subject was Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. (Cue the Walk of Life music.)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught?
Screenwriting Quote #175 (Arthur Miller)
Murray, Miller & Mass Appeal (Tip #78)
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller on Writing
What Would Miller Do?
The Best Film School
P.S. On a micro doc I made a couple of years ago, I started off a quote from Moneyball: