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Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Sorkin’

“[William Goldman]was the dean of American screenwriters and still is.”
Aaron Sorkin (after learning of Goldman dying in November)
LA Times

Where were you in 1983? Some of you weren’t even born yet. But that’s when William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade came out. I was in film school in 1983 and had never lived in a house or apartment that had cable TV, had never used a personal computer, was still a year away from owning a VCR to rent VHS movies, and more than a decade away from using the Internet for the first time.

Yes, 1983 was a different world. Movies for a large number of people were still the chief form of entertainment. Like many Americans then, my high school and college years were full of weekly movie going. Often multiple movies in the same week. And I even remember once going to three different movies on the same day.

I remember movie lines that wrapped around the theater when ET came out in 1982.

Contrasts that with high school and college students today who tell me they rarely go to movie theaters, and when they do stream movies they do it in spirts (often in the background while playing video games).

So the movie-going experience has evolved greatly from the world that Goldman wrote about in 1983. But Adventures holds up well and it’s well worth your time to read, or re-read.

It’s the book that Aaron Sorkin read when he was learning to learn and write screenplays. The original book version included the screenplay for Goldman’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (back when you couldn’t just go to the Internet and find screenplays) which proved instructional to Sorkin because it was “an incredibly readable screenplay” (as opposed to the screenplays as just a blueprint idea of screenwriting).

“Bill wanted you to have the movie experience while writing screenplays. . . . So now when I’m writing a screenplay I want whoever is reading it, the studio, a director, an actor, I want to come as close to the experience that you’re going to feel in the theatre as possible, I want to put that on the page.“
Aaron Sorkin
TIFF Masterclass via Mentorless

Goldman later actually became a personal mentor to not only Sorkin, but others including Scott Frank, Tony Gilroy, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

If you’re just starting your screenwriting journey consider cutting through all the clutter out there a read Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and his book Four Screenplays with Essays—which include his scripts for Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, and Misery.  

Then watch those movie versions as well.

That’s a pretty solid education from the dean of American screenwriting.

You’ll be learning from a two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter who was born during the Great Depression, was enthralled by the classic movies of the 30s and 40s, who after college and a stint in the Army became a novelist in the 1950s, a screenwriter beginning in the 1960s, and when he’s screenwriting career slow in his fifties he became known for his non-fiction writing including Which Lie Did I Tell?, Hype & Glory, and The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood.  

William Goldman lived a full life of 85 years and lived to write about it, and be apart of Q&As at various film festivals in his closing years.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“You had me at hello.“
Dorothy Boyd (Rene Zellweger) in Jerry Maguire

Most of the time, me writing looks—to the untrained eye—like someone watching ESPN. The truth is if you did a pie chart of the writing process, most of the time is spent thinking. When you’re loaded up and ready to go—when you’ve got that intention and obstacle for the first scene that’s all you need.  For me at least, getting started is 90% of the battle. The difference between page zero and page two is all the difference in the world. So once I had the technical jargon to write [the ‘Hello’ scene in the movie Steve Jobs] and I also knew that scene would take us into a dressing room of some kind. . . . In the dressing room I knew they were going to talk about the overinflated projections and managing expectations, and that was going to get us into Time magazine, which was going to get us into paternity. I was able to see that far ahead. So once I knew everything about what I was doing—once I start typing it’s not going to be finger-painting, I’m not just going to be feeling my way in the dark and ‘let’s see where these characters take me.’ . . . Once you do know what you’re doing—for me, it’s intention and obstacle, for you it could be something else. You do understand there isn’t one way of doing this, right? Whatever way works for you is the right way, for me it’s intention and obstacle. Once you have that, there does come a time when you actually now are ready for your talent to take over. Start writing. Do your thing.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Related post:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention, and Obstacles

Scott W. Smith

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“Andy Hertzfeld’s reaction to the movie [Steve Jobs] was probably the most accurate—‘My god, none of that happened, but it’s all true.’”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

This post is three years behind the times since the movie Steve Jobs came out in 2015, so I’m going to begin at the end. So if you haven’t seen it—spoiler alert. But since Jobs’ daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, had her memoir Smal Fry recently published this seems like perfect timing.

In The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith (which is a favorite podcast of mine), Goldsmith does a great job of interviewing Aaron Sorkin about his process of writing the screenplay.

Jeff Goldsmith: Here’s one of the toughest challenges to writing [the screenplay for Steve Jobs], because Isaacson’s book [Steve Jobs] was very clear about [Steve] Jobs having a not so friendly side to him. And you’re writing a story where your protagonist is also your antagonist, and that is not an easy feat. So what were your challenges as a writer? Because audiences love Steve Jobs, but not everybody has read that book yet. For some people, this is new news—this dark side. Part of your task is to get the audience to engage with your characters. And I think you did it, but it’s a tough balancing act to show the dark and the light together and have us care. So what were the challenges in doing that for Jobs?

Aaron: Well, the biggest challenge for sure—I’ll forgive a lot, I was not able to get past his denying paternity of Lisa and the way he treated her. Lisa was the one who got me past that. Now I found the emotional center of the story, because I’m not getting that emotional about the computer that won’t say hello. Here’s the emotional center of the story . . .  she would tell me stories about her father that often weren’t the most flattering stories about him. But she would always at the end of the story, turn it like a prism for me, and say, ‘But you can see how he really did love me.’ Because think about this and this and this. . . .The rest of it goes back to don’t judge the character. See how much you can identify with that character. And I can [identify with Steve Jobs]. . . . It’s not hard for me understanding Steve wanting end-to-end control of all his stuff. ‘Here, you get to buy it or not. I’ve made this thing, but I don’t want you messing with it’ . . .  

While Jobs is not the most sympathetic person to write about, Sorkin said he was looking for a way that showed Jobs change “even just a little bit.” In the closing scene, he does that. Though he’s clear that not everyone liked the ending. One lady at a Q&A in San Francisco even asked Sorkin if he was pressured by the studio or director into writing the final scene with Lisa that humanized Jobs and Sorkin replied he wrote, “exactly the scene I wanted to write.” Goldsmith said it was the right ending.

Goldsmith: Characters need redemption. And if you did a movie like this without a scene like that that where there was absolutely no redemption whatsoever there would be—

Sorkin:—I couldn’t agree more. The story of the movie is Will Steve and his daughter get together? The fact is that in real life they did find each other isn’t even the reason why I did it. Although I like it’s supportable by facts. I did it because I don’t just think there’s a movie if you don’t do it. I think what you’d have is a theater full of people saying, ‘Why did you make me sit here for two hours?’

Related posts:
Insanely Great Endings
What’s Changed?
Martin Luther King Jr. and Writing Strong-Willed Characters
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
The Major or Central Dramatic Question

Scott W. Smith

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“The last 15 minutes of any movie are the most important, but the first 15 pages of any screenplay are the most important just from the standpoint of getting the movie made. I’m talking to young writers now who want to get their foot in the door. They want their scripts made. If you have a kickass first 15 pages, a studio executive will forgive the crummy 110 pages that follow. It’ll need to be re-written. But those first 15 pages, if they really hook you—someone’s going to be interested.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Masterclass

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There is a tendency to think that art is finally the place where there are no rules, where you have complete freedom. I’m going to sit down at the keyboard and it’s just going to flow out of me onto the paper, and it’s going to be pure art. No. What you’re describing is finger painting. Rules are what makes art beautiful. Rules are what makes sports beautiful…Think about the rules to baseball. Abner Doubleday was a freaking genius. That’s a great game. Football is a great game. It’s the rules that makes sports beautiful, and it’s the rules that make art not finger painting. Think about music and all the rules that music has. Anyone who studied music for a year or two when they were in elementary school, anyone who picked up a flute or a trumpet, knows that at the beginning of every piece of music, there’s a time signature and a key signature. If you’re in 4/4 time, it means there are four beats in a measure and a quarter note gets one beat. There can’t be five beats in a measure. There can’t be three beats in a measure. If you’re in the key of C, it means that there are no sharps and no flats. There can’t be a sharp. There can’t be a flat. These rules also apply to writing. The rulebook is The Poetics by Aristotle. All the rules are there.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
Masterclass/ Rules of Story

Link to Poetics. (S.H. Butcher version on The Project Gutenberg site.)

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll follow this post with David Mamet taking the torch from Sorkin and driving this point home. You can believe what you want to believe about rules, but if Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet agree on something then you might want at least pause before you embrace the “there are no rule” viewpoint.

But Sorkin is also clear that the “The only rules there are are the rules of drama.”

Related posts:

Trying to Understand the Mysterious Process of Writing 
“There are no rules.” (Tip #92)
There are no rules, but…(Tip #93+)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Rules, Breaking Rules, No Rules
Screenwriting & Structure 

Scott W. Smith

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“I know when I write a line that I like. When musically it feels right. What the words sound like are as important to me as what they mean….I don’t know [while writing] we’re going to be saying ‘You can’t handle the truth,’ however many years later.”
Aaron Sorkin
Interview with David Brooks

“I’m not writing something that’s meant to be read; I’m writing something that’s meant to be performed. Just having written a screenplay is no more satisfying to me than if a songwriter handed out pieces of sheet music.”
Aaron Sorkin
Inside Aaron Sorkin’s Writing Process
by Christy Groaz, Variety  

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is one of those exceptions to the rule. Movies are a visual medium so there is much emphasis to write visually. (Visual Conflict, Visual Subtext, George Miller Masterclass in Visual Storytelling, Show Don’t Tell.) Which explains these quotes found on the ScreenCraft website.

“A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.”
Screenwriter/playwright David Mamet (The Verdict)

“Dialogue is a necessary evil.”
4-time Oscar-winning producer/director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon)

And this one from a Timeout interview:

‘I’m not one of those people who writes long soliloquies… And I just think that visual storytelling, for me, is more interesting. So if I can show something rather than say it, I will. And to have a character who almost says nothing is perfect for me, I love that.’
Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List)

But Sorkin wasn’t a hyper movie buff growing up, his parents took him to plays and he developed an ear and appreciation for dialogue. He majored in musical theatre. And so one of the things that set Sorkin apart was his knack for writing sharp dialogue.

P.S. Ironically the two credited screenwriters on Moneyball are Sorkin and Zaillian. A film which happens to have some moments that play out visually and others that play out with dialogue that flows like music. Sorkin & Zaillan—yin & yang.

Related posts:
‘Everyone wants to say cool dialogue.’
‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
The Four Functions of Dialogue 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“It’s both surprising and fascinating to learn that people are more creative in the shower than they are at work….The relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.
Co-author, Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of Creative Mind Psycho

You’ve tried everything, right? Everything to improve your writing. Your creativity.

Well, maybe not EVERYTHING.

“I’ve got plenty of quirks. I go to an office early in the morning. Early in the morning is really good writing time. I take anywhere between six to eight showers a day. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not a germaphobe. It has nothing to do with germs. I’m writing, writing—it’s not going well. Writing, writing—it’s going badly. Take a shower. Put on different clothes and you’ll feel refueled and start again.”
Oscar & Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin
Bloomberg interview with Emily Chang

So while sure concept,  conflict, interesting characters, that Mamet stuff on drama, and an insanely great ending are all important, give that six to eight showers a day a try.

Let me know how it goes.

P.S. If I recall correctly, in one of Julia Cameron’s book (The Artist’s Way or The Right to Write) she mentioned how water (either showers or swimming), walking, and driving all seemed to been means of improving the creative thought process. It not only works for Sorkin, because two time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino talks about how swimming is part of his creative process (and how instead of spending money on drugs, he has a heated pool at his home). And two time Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was known to actually write screenplays while sitting in a bathtub.

Dalton-Trumbo-Bathtub-1100x1390

P.P.S. “In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you’ve left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you. It’s the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that’s crippling you when you’re trying to write.”
Four time Oscar-winning writer/director Woody Allen
Esquire 

Related post:
Professor Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin on Good vs. Great
Sorkin on Revealing Character 
‘Bird by Bird’

Scott W. Smith

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Aaron Sorkin is that rare breed of dramatic writers who has had success with Broadway theatre, Hollywood feature films, and broadcast television. But did you know part of his start was in small southern towns?

After he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in musical theater he moved to New York City, but he got work as an actor not off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, but way the hell off Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of OzRip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

His first completed play was Hidden in This Picture, a single-scene one act play involving four characters. A few years later he found breakthrough success.

“His older sister, a naval lawyer, told him about a 1986 incident at the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when an informal disciplinary action had gotten out of hand, resulting in the death of a young soldier. Sorkin immediately recognized the possibilities of a courtroom drama based on the event. In November, 1989, his play, ‘A Few Good Men,’ about two naval lawyers defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow corpsman, began a 14-month run on Broadway.”
Patrick Pacheco
1992 Los Angeles Times article 

That led to Sorkin writing the film version of A Few Good Men (1992) with a star cast that included Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore. He would go on to win an Oscar award for writing The Social Network, and multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing.

Now to come full circle, earlier this year NBC announced plans to stage a live version of A Few Good Men in early 2017.

I’m not saying all that wouldn’t have happened if Sorkin career path didn’t take to Jasper, Alabama and who knows where Georgia, but magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

P.S. Jasper, Alabama is also where stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead spent some of her childhood, and where SciFy channels docuseries Town of the Living Dead was shot.

Related posts:
(Because I love writing about a sense of place, here’s some love I’ve written over the years centered around Alabama and Georgia.)

Alabama:
Tuscumbia to Hollywood
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville)
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisted’
Bama, Bobby & The U
Screenwriting from Huntsville, AL
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Georgia:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
Postcard #35 (Villa Rica)
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Writing Quote #40 (Harry Crews)
Writing from Rural Georgia…to Dreamworks
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Truett Cathy–Bird by Bird
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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The extended title of this post could be called, Dramatic writers don’t all agree on various techniques, but when Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and Paddy Chayefsky all basically agree on the same approach it’s wise to follow their lead—but I thought that was a little too wordy.

“Rather than tell the audience who the character is, I like to show the audience what a character wants. It all boils down to intentions and obstacles.  Somebody wants something; something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the girl, they want the money, they want to get to Philadelphia — it doesn’t matter, but they have to want it bad. If they need it, that’s even better. Something formidable is in standing in their way, and the tactics that character uses to overcome the obstacle is going to define who the character is. It’s like having a Christmas tree and then hanging ornaments on it…I worship at the temple of intention and obstacle. That’s the drive shaft of the car.”
Producer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, West Wing)
The Aspen Institute interview with David Brooks

And if Sorkin, Mamet, and Chayefsky don’t sway you how about a Pixar example from the same interview?

“If you look at the characters in Toy Story, beginning with Woody on down, they had one big desire which was to be there for Andy. To fulfill their essence of a toy, which is to make him happy. A ton of obstacles were thrown at them. And their characters were defined by how they overcame them.”
Aaron Sorkin

P.S. Intentions and obstacles leads to Conflict-Conflict-Conflict and helps you follow Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule: Don’t be boring. And Intentions, obstacles, and conflict are all cousins of The Major or Central Dramatic Question.

Related posts:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet)1. Who wants what from whom? 2. What happens of they don’t get it? 3. Why now?”
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?” Paddy Chayefsky
‘There is only one plot’—A person, or group or an entity (an animal, or an alien, or whatever) wants something…” David Morrell
Character Introductions (Tip #71)
Show Don’t Tell
Show Don’t Tell (Part 2)
Writing the Pixar Way 

Scott W. Smith

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“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.”
Aaron Sorkin

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.)

Related posts:
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 

Related Professor posts:
Professor Stephen King
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor/Pirate Steven Soderbergh

P.S. On a micro doc I made a couple of years ago, I started off a quote from Moneyball:

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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