Screenwriting: MASTERCLASS with Aaron Sorkin

Masterclass Link Aaron Sorkin’s Screenwriting Masterclass

Notes/Highlights by Hani R. Eskander

What I found interesting and worth taking away from this Masterclass is a lot. This is by no means a plagiarism or an attempt to summarize the entire class. This is simply my notes during my attending of it.

HE

INTENTIONS & OBSTACLES

  • The pillars of drama.
  • Start with intention and obstacle (has to be formidable). It’s the driveshaft, if you don’t have that, it’s journalism.
  • Press on the intention and the obstacle.
    • avoid: Why didn’t he just… ?
    • eg. give and immediacy (urgency).
  • The Protagonist doesn’t have to win, he just has to try.
  • How to show intention? (I want…, I need…)
  • When? (Don’t lose you sudience) – in a feature film: 2-15 mins approx.

STORY IDEA

  • but…
  • except…
  • and then…

FINDING THE CONFLICT

  • From idea to story (conflict creates drama)
  • Could be a conflict of ideas.

FEATURE vs. TV IDEA

If place attracts you —> TV Series

If main characters die at the end —> Feature FIlm

ADVICE FOR NEW SCREENWRITERS

Try dramatizing an already existing broken-down plot… eg. a short story.


DEVELOPING CHARACTERS

  • Start with intention, obstacle, and tactics.
  • Characters are born from the intention (the want!) and obstacle, and tactics used to overcome those obstacles.
  • DO NOT write long biographies.
  • Writing character traits doesn’t help either.
  • Write Characters, NOT People.
  • Write Characters that are not you.
  • Identify with your anti-heroes.
  • The Actor will complete the Character.
  • Write for performance, not to be read.

RESEARCH

  1. Nuts and Bolts research (not subjective).
  2. When you don’t know what you’re looking for,
  3. Talk to people.
    • How to interview them? eg. “Tell me something I don’t know about…
    • Beware of meaningless research… taking details too far. If actors don’t use it and camera doesn’t see it… SCRATCH it!

Treat your audience as smart, and they like to figure stuff out.

Don’t lose your audience. “Believability” – Avoid: “That wouldn’t happen…”

Avoid Confusion: Was it comprehensible?

Don’t tell the audience something they already know.

Create a balance between not confusing your audience and telling them something they already know.


RULES OF STORY

  • Best way is to watch movies and watch while reading the screenplay.
  • READ and UNDERSTAND Aristotle’s Poetics.
  • Be a Diagnostician: Figure out why something didn’t work.

FILM STORY ARC

STORY vs. DRAMA

Story is a series of events.

Drama introduces conflict.

Metaphorically:

  1. Chase a guy up the tree
  2. Throw stones at him
  3. Bring him down from the tree

First 15 pages (mins) are super important & last 15 pages (mins) of any film are important.


WRITING HABITS

  • Bulk-up to write (researching, banging head on the wall)
  • Start with the first scene.
  • Use tools to organize your writing eg. Final Draft, Writer Duet, index cards…
  • Write what you like, and write like yourself (practice a lot).
  • Listen to music to get unstuck & inspired
  • Focus on progress (checklist)

Feel Good —> Write —> Feels Good …. one feeds the other.

WRITING SCENES

  • Purpose of a scene: Moving the story forward.
  • Reward audience’s patience.
  • Lay the theme.
  • Start in the middle of a conversation (let audience catchup)
  • Character intro scene: Showing audience what the character wants, not who he is.
  • Dialogue is music (cadence, pitch, tone,…)
  • Don’t make it sound like real people, or like people on TV.
  • Be physical when writing dialogue.
  • Perform it to test it (clunkiness, add idiosyncrasies, mmm, hiccups, false starts,…)
  • Stories involve motion. There has to be travel.
  • Launching from one scene to the next. Let one scene jettison to another.
  • Comedy scenes: Set up the joke earlier and let it pay off later.
  • Draw from your own perspective.
  • Opening Scene/s:
    • Lay out the theme
    • Grab the audience
    • Start mid-conversation
  • Character intro scene:
    • Show what he/she wants! – “I want…” scene.
    • Show Intentions / Obstacles / Stakes

DIALOGUE

  • Dialogue is music.
  • Don’t imitate real people.
  • Don’t make them sound like people on TV.
  • Be physical when writing dialogue.
  • Perform dialogue to test it.
  • Don’t tell the audience something they already know.
  • Speakable vs. Clunky writing.
  • Add idiosyncrasies, hiccups,…
  • Add false starts

REWRITE NOTES

  • Collect the right script editors.
  • Be careful who you listen to.
  • Listen for the problem, not the solution.
  • How to get through notes: (Checklist, one-by-one)
  • Common Notes:
    • Did you understand it? Did it land?
    • Don’t let characters perform the emotion that’s expected from the audience.
  • Retype your drafts.

REWITES (FIRST DRAFT)

  • Get to the end before you rewrite.
  • Chip away anything that isn’t the Main Conflict.
  • Kill Your Darlings.
    • If the thing works without it, it shouldn’t be there.
    • Is you can cut it, you should.

.the end.

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