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Posts Tagged ‘Syracuse University’

A nice segue from my recent Rod Serling posts (and even my golf/movie related posts from a couple of weeks ago) is the following quote by Oscar-winner screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and Sorkin went to Syracuse University.

“I have a lot of experience with failure, and I hate it. It’s going to happen again, but it’s like electroshock therapy. So combined with the pressure that you put on yourself, that’s pretty much the jet fuel for writing. You know when you’re not [writing well], when you’re slogging through it and it’s all coming like molasses, you know something’s wrong. But when you’re writing well, there’s nothing like it. It’s like the golfer who hacks his way around a golf course all day long, but then for some reason, you don’t know why, just hits a beautiful shot. That’s the reason they keep coming back to the golf course.”
Aaron Sorkin (West Wing creator)
Emmys Roundtable—The Hollywood Reporter 

Bonus failure quote from the same article:

“When I’m being really honest with myself, the only thing I ever learn from is failure. Because Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”
Vince Gilligan

Related posts:

J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Spectacular Failures
Rod Serling on Rejection
Winning. Losing and Little Miss Sunshine “From my perspective, the difference between success and failure was razor-thin…”—Oscar-winning Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (Part 3) “Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat.”—Welles

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about listening and reading about writers talking discussing the writing process is you see how everyone’s approach is different. Some write in the morning, some at night, some write quickly in bursts and others methodically take their time. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) was very successful writing from theme, but fellow Syracuse University grad Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) has a little different perspective on theme:

“When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.”
Aaron Sorkin
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010

Related Post: Screenwriting Via Index Cards (Touches on the writing process of Aaron Sorkin.)

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“Believe me, for a 28-year-old writer, getting a check for $200,000 was a big deal indeed.”
Aaron Sorkin

Before Aaron Sorkin created the Emmy-winning TV program West Wing and wrote the four-time Oscar nominated film A Few Good Men, he was just another writer in New York trying to make a living.

“I was working as a bartender at the Palace Theater, I had graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in theater and I had come to New York to begin my career as a struggling writer. So every night, really eight times a week, during the first act of La Cage Aux Folles I would write notes on cocktail napkins and stuff them in my pockets. I would go home to my apartment that I shared with about 17 other people and kind of spill the cocktail napkins out on the desk and started writing A Few Good Men.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

It took him a year and a half to write the play A Few Good Men, and he went through 23 drafts of the play before it made its way to Broadway where it ran for a year and a half. In 1989,  he was awarded Outstanding American Playwright by the Outer Critics Circle. Following the success of the play he was asked to write the screenplay for A Few Good Men, which was directed by Rob Reiner and starred Tom Cruise. On the Special Edition DVD of A Few Good Men Sorkin explains;

“I didn’t know anything about movies. I had grown up just watching plays and reading plays. Plays were all I knew. I went to the movies like anybody else, but I wasn’t paying attention like the way friends of mine were. Other people I know who do what I do can tell you who the make-up guy was on every Hitchcock film, I was never that person. So when I was writing the A Few Good Men screenplay, not only had I never written a screenplay before, I had never read a screenplay before.”

But it worked out well and the movie received an Oscar nomination for best picture. And the trademark line from A Few Good Men— “You can’t handle the truth”— spoken by Jack Nicholson’s was named by the American Film Institute as the twenty-ninth greatest American movie quote. Not bad for your first script.

But where did the original idea for A Few Good Men come from? Sorkin’s sister was a lawyer in the Navy and told her playwright brother about a case she was involved with at Guantanamo Bay involving a Marine killing a Marine.

The Cedar Falls—Aaron Sorkin connection: Actress Annabeth Gish, who was on West Wing for six seasons, grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. On Main St., just a block from my office there is a plaque in the sidewalk honoring her, complete with a signature and hand prints.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #43 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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