Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Review (Pros, Cons, Free Notes)

So your thinking of taking Aaron Sorkin’s masterclass. Well so was I about two years ago today, and after going through it several times, I think I can finally write this review correctly. Giving you the cold hard truth. And the truth is this class might be the best thing that has ever happened to your career, or it could be totally a waste of money. Let’s examine which category you fall under.

Who is Arron Sorkin?

First, we have to take the time out to discuss who this guy is and why we are even considering learning from him. If you already have a good grip on his “Sorkinisms” skip to the next section.

In his 20’s he worked in a restaurant in New York and wrote the popular film “A Few Good Men” on cocktail napkins between tables. Hes a traditionally a playrwite as most great screenwriters seem to be. He mentions playwriting very often and considers himself a better playwriter than film or TV writer. With that said Tarantino and Mamet also believe themselves play writes. But what separates him is his fantastic TV resume.

  • The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
  • The Newsroom (2012 – 2014)
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006 – 2007)
  • Sports Night (1998 – 2000)

His break out TV show was The West Wing. He became a household name with that one. His movie list has nothing but hits on it in my opinion. They are as follows.

  • A Few Good Men (1992)
  • Malice (1993)
  • The American President (1995)
  • Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
  • The Social Network (2010)
  • Moneyball (2011)
  • Steve Jobs (2015)
  • Molly’s Game (2017)

A few good men probably has one of the most quotable lines in movie history.

“You can’t handle the truth.”

A Few Good Men

His recent success, Molly’s Game was his first written and directed project proving he’s always trying to strive farther creatively. The most important thing about this resume is its ongoing meaning he hasn’t stopped creating. Aaron Sorkin isn’t one of those guys who is making a masterclass because he’s done and wants to share knowledge. This class is just his knowledge up to this point.

So yea his resume is all impressive and all, but for most, the reason for taking this class is because of his world-class dialogue. Yes, this guy can write with the best of them when it comes to what characters say. Just take a look at the film “Steve Jobs” as an example of what he can do with just a couple of people in a room.

The entire movie is like this, and most of his other films follow these explosive conversations.

With this said there has been many copy cats of Aaron including himself. Aaron Sorkin has been one of the first people to copy themselves when it comes to dialogue. Yes, there is something called “Sorkinisms” that has gone viral showing how Sorkin plagiarizes his past work most likely on an accent. It pretty funny check it out.

Class Description

Arron Sorkin teaches you how to write screenplays in this 35 lesson video series. He starts with the basics and as you continue the topics get more and more complicated. Also in the course he as workshops with a group of young upcoming writers. I call this section putting it all together. Here you can hear screenplays read in an around table format as Sorokin gives notes in real time.

Then some intangible advice to keep you motivated, topping it all off with case studies from his famed and longest running TV show The West Wing. If your not a big fan of The West Wing, this might not be the most exciting thing you will watch, but you’re not here to be entertained your here to be educated.


Aaron Sorkin’s Teaching Style

If your considering this class this part in of the review is one of the most critical in my opinion because people learn in different ways. You probably can remember only a few teachers from all your schooling because only a few impacted you. For me, it was 5 out of 18 years in school. Five that taught me things I still use today and never forget. The question is can Aaron Sorkin do that for you.

He talks very sporadically. I know this for a fact because it leaks through even in this well-edited video class. The “ums” and “ahs” people say in everyday conversation is splattered throughout this video series.

It’s so much who he is, and you can tell, it’s almost as if his brain is moving twice as fast as his mouth causing him to break words and start a new sentence. This could bother some, but for me, it was fine as long as I got the message.

The first ten lessons as you can see from the next section teach you basics of story, and in this part, he has an exciting way of teaching story that’s different from the other masterclasses. He uses the word Intention, obstacle and conflict almost religiously.

This simplistic way to view a story works well for newer writers. Before me, I wanted something more in-depth. But I realized that most people taking this class probably just started learning to screenwrite. So if you’ve just written your first second or even third script, this class is highly recommended.

The basics are the foundation of any story, but I believe the fundamental problem with the film industry are people are looking at the basics as a blueprint for story, and this is what makes stories dull. But no worries he shows later how to take this to the next level during the case studies section.

Masterclass Lessons

Below are all the lessons that are presented in the class. The length of each section is on the far right. The average duration of each video is about 12 minutes, which is longer than most film writing courses on Masterclass.

  • 01 Introduction – 4:30
  • 02 Intention & Obstacle – 10:13
  • 03 Story Ideas – 15:17
  • 04 Developing Characters: Part 1 – 11:43
  • 05 Developing Characters: Part 2 – 15:15
  • 06 Research – 9:38
  • 07 Incorporating Research – 9:15
  • 08 The Audience – 10:48
  • 09 Rules of Story – 8:05
  • 10 Film Story Arc – 11:26
  • 11 Writing Habits – 15:25
  • 12 Group workshop united by JJ Braider – 14:24
  • 13 Group workshop E is for Edie – 29:12
  • 14 Group Workshop: Chronic by Roland Zaleski – 20:51
  • 15 Group Workshop: The Merc by Evelyn Yves – 16:46
  • 16 Group Workshop: From Here to Alli by Corey Wright – 18:14
  • 17 Writing Scenes: Part 1 – 9:18
  • 18 Writing Scenes: Part 2 – 11:34
  • 19 Scene Case Study: Steve Jobs – 8:35
  • 20 Scene Case Study: The West Wing – 16:43
  • 21 Writing Captivating Dialogue – 12:41
  • 22 Dialogue Case Study: The West Wing – 12:01
  • 23 Rewrites: First Draft – 7:46
  • 24 Rewrites: Notes – 16:27
  • 25 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 1 – 18:35
  • 26 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 2 – 8:09
  • 27 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 3 – 16:34
  • 28 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 4 – 19:33
  • 29 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 5 – 22:24
  • 30 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 6 – 21:20
  • 31 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 7 – 13:00
  • 32 The West Wing Writers’ Room: Part 8 – 4:14
  • 33 Group Workshop: Pitch – 13:37
  • 34 Group Workshop: Aaron Pitches Mission to Mars – 10:10
  • 35 Closing Thoughts 14:46

Total Runtime: 7 hours and 38 minutes

The First 10 Lessons

These describe the basics of story. When I mean basics, he talks as if you never even had a lesson in your life but its refreshing to hear someone else perspective on it. Out of all the masterclasses I’ve learned from one story each one had some sibilance of story structure at the beginning. And this is understandable this is not an advanced class nor is it a beginner class, so he has to reach all skill levels.

The Group Workshops

The group workshop section is the part of the class where Aaron hears readings from up and coming writers at a round table affair it’s great because you can listen to what screenwriting notes sound like in real time. They introduce five different stories, and in my opinion, I could see all of these being produced in the near future.

Pros of the Class

He didn’t waste time talking about things we can easily google like Formatting.

This class is long. You will have your hands full taking in all the little minute details of Sorkin’s words as you learn. So first it could be overwhelming, but this means your learning. You never genuinely want to feel “easy mode” to grow truly.

One of the first writing classes to bring in real world people

From the lesson list, you can see he brought in real world people and gave them a chance to read from a there script while he and everyone else gave notes. Awesome add on.

Included Research lessons

I’ve read a lot of scripts, and when there is a topic that I know somewhat about It throws me out of the story when I hear inaccurate information. Aaron doesn’t skimp on the research portions of his scripts. From The West Wing to the social network he found it extremely important to incorporate research and the correct information into his writing. And with his approach, the research adds to the story rather than drag it down.

Cons of the Class

Not enough about the dialogue

For someone who is known for there dialogue, he doesn’t have a big section on it. I would have liked to see at least three lessons on that alone. But as you can see from the lesson list above, there are only two sections on it. This is because he thinks it’s not teachable — the opposite of what David Mamet thinks.

Who knows he might be right, but I would have liked it more if he tried.

The Group workshops sound perfect.

What I mean by this is when Aaron Sorkin is giving notes on these stories from these up and coming writers the written material is so good that he even says himself I wish we could have a bad example. It almost seems too rehearsed a little like a tv show about screenwriters. I would have liked to see him take five writers off the street or from a freshmen USC course than these simi-professional people.

More of a TV show screenwriting course

One thing I’ve noticed as I took this course is it’s heavily focused on TV dramas. Not saying that he doesn’t put time into explaining feature-length films but from the lesson list above 15 out of the 35 lessons focus on TV dramas alone including the group workshops. I would have liked to see more of an even split.

My Expereince with the Class

This was the very first class I ever took as a screenwriter a couple of years ago, and for that reason, it was confusing at first.

Intention and obstacle, the film story arc seemed like an overload of information. On top of that, I binged watched it. I was so excited about learning I didn’t take my time causing me not to absorb a lot fo Aarons wisdom. So I went through the class again. And again. After the third time, I took the class. It started to click for me.

What I carry to this day from this class is probably the basics. Intention and obstacle is the most fundamental truth to any story yet alone screenplay. Without that, you don’t have anything you have a news article.

The second thing I learned from this class is rewrites are a good thing. Almost no screenwriter gets it right the first time. This fact put me at ease. I thought good screenwriters get it perfect the first time like tiger woods in the PGA finals or something like that. Not true.

The last thing I took with me is writer’s block happens to the best of us. And knowing that the great Aaron Sorkin gets it too made me see that I was going to be ok. He also gives some helpful advice on how to unblock.

I feel like the rest of the things I learned from my time taking thing class has evolved past what he teaches in this course. I’m not saying that im a genius or anything. Just saying I have specific issues in my work now that this course can no longer answer proving that I’ve grown. If Aaron Sorkin comes out with an advanced class, I will be his first sign up.

My Cliff Notes From Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass

Just in case you decide against this class I want you to learn something from this post other than the fact you don’t think this class is for you. So below are some notes I took the first time I took this class. Please use them to review your script. I almost guarantee they will get better.

Class Notes

The intention of the characters and the obstacles they go through is the heart of the story. The stronger they are, the better the story. They don’t have to win; they have to try.

When you’re looking for an idea, you want there to be two having each belief be equally as strong as the others.

if its the place that you’re attracted too then it’s better to have a tv series but if people die at the end then its a feature.

There are two types of research the tangible kind is how high is the empire state building. The intangible kind is on the second day of building the state building there were talks of making it taller than it eventually became.

Story and drama are two different things:
Fact: The Queen died
Story: The Queen dies, and the King dies of a broken heart
Drama: The Queen dies and the kings alone, and it turns out the Queen was the brilliant one, and no one trusts him to run the land. So they plan to assassinate him.

Act one: you chase your hero up a tree.
Act two: You threw rocks at him.
Act three: You get him down. Or not it’s ok if they die in the tree as long as they die pressuring there goal.

If they get down from the tree in the third act, you have to introduce the way in the first act.

You never want to tell an audience who a character is you want to show an audience what a character wants.

In every scene, every character has an intention and obstacle. Make it clear.

THREE THINGS in a PILE: When three characters in the same scene have different perspectives on the same idea at the moment. This helps raise the conflict.

Write sparely don’t write everything. Write just enough so that people understand what’s happening.

What is Masterclass.com

Masterclass.com is a hub of professional information. Think of youtube if it had all paid content and looked professional. They add a new instructor every couple of months anywhere from TV & Film to cooking. They recently just came out with there apple and android app that lets you learn on the go — making it very convenient for anyone on a train or long uber commute to work.

How much are these masterclasses?

Every single class they offer is here is relatively the same price. You will get access to this class forever or as long as the masterclass platform is around. Now that’s a deal. There’s something better than that. For the price of two classes, you can get access to every single masterclass for an entire year. This includes all the film and television classes and cooking etc.

All 12 filmmaking courses. If you are an indie filmmaker, any information will be beneficial to you. As well as cooking, photography, games & sports and so much more you might be interested in learning.

What comes with it?

Along with the class, there is a comment section at the bottom of each video where you can interact with your classmates. Bouncing ideas off each other and becoming stronger writers. Next, there are class workbooks that come with each lesson worked out by the instructor. They usually are summaries of the teaching and other material to help you work out your scripts as you along.

Finally, there are office hours that the instructor lays out to the students — Times where they are online to interact and ask questions. Yes, you can talk to Aaron Sorkin and ask him anything.

Why Take this class In the first place?

You should take this class because I guarantee there is something that’s holding your screenwriting back you might not be familiar with. If you’re not already hired on a show or someone hasn’t given you money for your movie you probably need this. Mamet will find that source of your stories problem and crush it. In one of the 26 lessons holds the answer to fixing your story or ultimately making it better.

When is a great time to take this class?

You should take this class right before writing your screenplay and right after. I say this because before writing you have an excellent idea in your head and its burning to express itself. You have so much energy that you end up writing on tangents and dead ends. You might write cool things but means nothing in the end. This class will ground you and help you find a core for this journey for your hero. Watch this after to reform your story make sure it’s tight and grounded. This alone will save you money on script note services.

How to take this class?

The first time you take this class does it at a slow pace. Don’t ever do it on the first day. The problem I had is I rushed through it. The information is meant to compound, and you can’t do that if your halfway through the course in a day but if you’re unsure I don’t suggest it. Watch about 30 minutes a day.

Happy Writing.

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