Aaron Sorkin, Creator of The West Wing & The Social Network, Teaches Screenwriting in an Online Class

FYI: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Sports NightThe West WingThe Amer­i­can Pres­i­dentThe Social Net­work — hard­ly shame­ful items to appear on any­one’s résumé. Sure, peo­ple dis­agree about the likes of Stu­dio 60 on the Sun­set Strip and The News­room, but we’ve all got to admit that when Aaron Sorkin writes, he hits more than he miss­es, and even the sup­posed miss­es have more of inter­est about them than many oth­ers’ hits. How does this mas­ter of the mod­ern Amer­i­can scene — its con­cerns, its per­son­al­i­ties, its con­ver­sa­tions, its pol­i­tics — do it? You can find out in his Screen­writ­ing course on Mas­ter­Class, the new plat­form for online instruc­tion as giv­en by big-name doers of high-pro­file work.

Back in May, we fea­tured Mas­ter­Class’s offer­ing of Wern­er Her­zog on film­mak­ing, and though most every­one can enjoy hear­ing the man behind Aguirre, the Wrath of GodFitz­car­ral­do, and Griz­zly Man talk for five hours, not every­one can sum­mon the will to make movies like those. Sorkin, by con­trast, uses his also con­sid­er­able cre­ative vital­i­ty to a dif­fer­ent end entire­ly, writ­ing snap­py scripts that bring his own com­pelling idio­syn­crasies to main­stream film and tele­vi­sion.

But he start­ed, accord­ing to Mas­ter­Class, by writ­ing his first screen­play on the hum­ble medi­um of cock­tail nap­kins — cock­tail nap­kins that became A Few Good Men. Since then, he’s come up with “rules of sto­ry­telling, dia­logue, char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and what makes a script actu­al­ly sell,” now ready to share with his online stu­dents.

In fact, he gives one away for free in the trail­er above: “No one in real life starts a sen­tence with, ‘Damn it.’ ” That alone may get you writ­ing your own Oscar-win­ning screen­play, thus sav­ing you the $90 fee for the whole five-hour course, but Sorkin goes on to tease his meth­ods for break­ing through his “con­stant state of writer’s block” to craft dia­logue as he con­ceives of that process: “Tak­ing some­thing some­one has just said, hold­ing them in your hand, and then punch­ing them in the face with it.” He also makes ref­er­ence to Aris­totle’s Poet­ics, mak­ing his own lec­tur­ing sound like the very same high-and-low, intel­lec­tu­al and vis­cer­al cock­tail that his fans so enjoy in the dia­logue he writes. “The worst crime you can com­mit,” he warns, “is telling the audi­ence some­thing they already know,” and it sounds as if, in teacher mode to his audi­ence of aspir­ing screen­writ­ers, he plans on fol­low­ing his own advice.

Note: You can get a year-long pass to all Mas­ter­class cours­es for $180. Or give any indi­vid­ual course as a gift.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Her­zog Will Teach His First Online Course on Film­mak­ing

10 Tips From Bil­ly Wilder on How to Write a Good Screen­play

Ray­mond Chan­dler: There’s No Art of the Screen­play in Hol­ly­wood

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Eric John says:

    First of all, I’m thrilled to have found this site. It’s like the Library of Alexan­dria Online.

    Ques­tion: Do you have any Screen­writ­ing cours­es online? Could you get some??

    Thanks again for your hard work. E

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