Sorkin at the PaleyFest 2013 panel for The Newsroom
|Born||Aaron Benjamin Sorkin
June 9, 1961
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Screenwriter, producer, playwright|
|Alma mater||Syracuse University|
|Spouse||Julia Bingham (1996â€“2005; divorced; 1 child)|
When I was starting out, William Goldman took me under his wing, and he's still the person I show pages to.
If I am writing a movie and I am stuck, I can call the studio and tell them it's delayed. You can't do that with television – you have air dates to meet.
I spend most of my days pacing around, muttering that I have no ideas, feeling like I'm walking a plank.
I think socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.
It seems to me that more and more we've come to expect less and less from each other, and I think that should change.
I am all for everyone having a voice; I just don't think everyone has earned the microphone. And that's what the Internet has done.
When we were doing 'The West Wing,' the hardest thing about doing 'The West Wing' was being compared to yourself. You go out there and want every episode to be as good as your best episode. I wrote 88 episodes of 'The West Wing,' and when you do that, one of them is going to be your 88th best, so your 88th best better be pretty good.
It's important to remember that, first and foremost, if not only, this is entertainment. 'The West Wing' isn't meant to be good for you.
I don't have a great instrument. I don't have the kind of ungodly control over my voice and body that great actors have. And I've worked with enough great actors to know that I'm not one.
Writing never comes easy. The difference between Page 2 and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death.
I've always thought that there is a great female James Bond movie to be done. I'm not literally calling her Jane Bond, I mean, but a female secret agent.
I've never written anything that I haven't wanted to write again. I want to, and still am, writing 'A Few Good Men' again. I didn't know what I was doing then, and I'm still trying to get it right. I would write 'The Social Network' again if they would let me, I'd write 'Moneyball' again. I would write 'The West Wing' again.
Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world, it's the only thing that ever has.
I can't remember my dreams more than a couple of seconds after I wake up. It's frustrating because sometimes I dream that I'm watching a really good movie.
'Steve Jobs' is my seventh movie. I believe, if you added them up, I don't think there is more than a total of 10 minutes that takes place in a person's home. They're all in offices, courtrooms, laboratories, things like that.
The rules of drama are very much separate from the properties of life. I think that's especially true of Shakespeare.
'Molly's Game' was a true story about a remarkable young woman named Molly Bloom. She was this close to going to the Olympics; she was ranked third in North America in women's moguls.
Whether it's 'The West Wing' or anything else, my first thought is always, 'What's a good story?'
While I was doing 'The Newsroom,' I always had the news on on different networks on different TVs around my house and around my office.
It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.
If you lined up 10 writers and asked them to write a movie about Steve Jobs, you'd get 10 very different movies.
With 'The Social Network,' I got into it at first because frankly I thought there was a cool courtroom drama to be had with the intellectual properties. And then what further drew me in was that the most extraordinary social networking device ever created was created by the world's most antisocial person. I liked that story.
Any time you get two people in a room who disagree about anything, the time of day, there is a scene to be written. That's what I look for.
I'm more comfortable writing traditional protagonists. But 'Steve Jobs' and 'The Social Network' have antiheroes. I like to write antiheroes as if they're making their case to God about why they should be allowed into heaven. I have to find something in that character that is like me and write to that.
It's nice that HBO is in business with the audience and not with the advertisers. There's a difference.
When I create a TV show, it's so that I can write it. I'm not an empire builder; my writing staff is usually a combination of two kinds of people – experts in the world the show is set in, and young writers who will not be unhappy if they're not writing scripts.
Not all paintings are abstract; they're not all Jackson Pollock. There's value in a photograph of a man alone on a boat at sea, and there is value in painting of a man alone on a boat at sea. In the painting, the painting has more freedom to express an idea, more latitude in being able to elicit certain emotion.
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's all about a fresh start.
My parents took me to see plays, starting from when I was very little. Oftentimes, I was too young to understand. I don't know what my parents were thinking – 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' when I was eight years old, that kind of thing. So lots of times, I didn't understand what was going on, but I just loved the sound of dialogue.
I have all of the Apple products. Everything I've ever written, I've written on a Mac. My first computer, my roommates and I chipped in, and we got that first Macintosh – 128K. It had as much memory as a greeting card that plays music.
Trying to guess what the (mass) audience wants and then trying to satisfy that is usually a bad recipe for getting something good.
There really isn't a story that you can't tell inside of it. It's very much a clearinghouse for anything that goes on in the world. So you're not at all limited.
The upside of web-based journalism is that everybody gets a chance. The downside is that everybody gets a chance.
Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.
I get the 'The New York Times' and 'Los Angeles Times' thrown at my door every morning. I'll read the front page of 'The New York Times,' then the op-eds, then scan the arts section and then the sports section. Then I do the same with the 'L.A. Times.'
First scenes are super-important to me. I'll spend months and months pacing and climbing the walls trying to come up with the first scene. I drive for hours on the freeway.
I do not diminish the incredible symbolic importance of a black man getting elected president. But my euphoria was a smart guy getting elected president. Maybe for the first time in my lifetime we had elected one of the thousand smartest Americans president.
I get nervous before openings or premieres or when someone's reading a new script, and I get nervous when my daughter isn't in my immediate field of vision.
I am uncomfortable talking about the things that I write. It seems unseemly to me. I have no problem at all when I see anybody else talking about the same project, but I feel my work should speak for itself.
As long as you keep one foot in the real world while the other foot's in a fairy tale, that fairy tale is going to seem kind of attainable.
I'll get cast occasionally as sort of the jerk version of myself, and I have fun doing that. But it's really better for everyone if I stay behind the camera.
I desperately need the love of complete strangers. That's one reason I overtip. I love when skycaps, waiters, and valets are happy to see me.
I have a big problem with people who glamorize dumbness and demonize education and intellect. And I'm giving a pretty good description of Sarah Palin right now.
The Internet, in general, I find troubling. The anonymity has made us all meaner and dumber. This thing that was supposed to bring us closer together, I see it doing the opposite.
When I wrote 'The West Wing,' the juice behind it was that in popular culture, our leaders in government are generally portrayed as Machiavellian, or as idiots. I thought, well, how about writing about a group of hyper-competent people?
There have been times – and not just on 'The Newsroom,' but on 'The West Wing,' 'Sports Night,' 'Studio 60'… – where it was hard to look the cast and crew in the eye, when I put a script on the table that I knew just wasn't good enough.
The first thing I wrote was a one-act play that got accepted at a one-act play festival, and I was in it along with Nathan Lane and a couple of other very good actors.
I'm crazy about 'Breaking Bad,' but I wouldn't know how to write an episode of it.
But HBO is less interested in how many people are watching than in how much the people who are watching are liking the show. They didn't set up their business model to make writers happy. It's just a nice unintended consequence.
I find television, and particularly live television, very romantic: the idea that there is this small group of people, way up high, in a skyscraper in the middle of Manhattan, beaming this signal out into the night.
A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing – when words won't do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern.
There's a great tradition in storytelling that's thousands of years old, telling stories about kings and their palaces, and that's really what I wanted to do.
I'm very physical. When I'm writing, I'm playing all the parts; I'm saying the lines out loud, and if I get excited about something – which doesn't happen very often when I'm writing, but it's the greatest feeling when it does – I'll be out of the chair and walking around, and if I'm at home, I'll find myself two blocks from my house.
Our responsibility is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention. That said, there is tremendous drama to be gotten from the great, what you would say, heavy issues.
If the characters on 'The West Wing' were watching a TV show wherein a character like Trump was leading in the polls, they wouldn't find it believable.
My way of getting the best from people on a set is to notice their work, to make every prop master, every seamstress, part of 'The Newsroom' or 'The West Wing' or 'Steve Jobs.'
I had a lot of survival jobs. One was for the Witty Ditty singing-telegram company. I was in the red-and-white stripes with the straw boater hat and kazoo. Balloons. Even when you're sleeping on a friend's couch, you have to pay some kind of rent.
When I write something, I want the best director to direct it. And that's not going to be me. So when David Fincher comes along and wants to direct 'The Social Network,' when Bennett Miller comes along and wants to direct 'Moneyball,' or when Danny Boyle wants to direct 'Jobs'? Hallelujah. I want them directing it.
Well, I must tell you I write the scripts very close to the bone. So I'm writing episode seven now and couldn't tell you what happens in episode eight.
We're about to shoot an episode on Air Force One, for instance, and we're going to take liberties, small liberties, with Air Force One, as we take small liberties with our White House set.
I think I would have done very well as a writer in the Forties. I think the last time America was a great country was then or not long after. It was before Vietnam, before Watergate.
Television is a visual medium. You have to create some kind of visual interest. And it's entertainment for your eyes.
You know, one of the things I like about this world, or at least I like about the way we're presenting this world, is these issues are terribly complicated – not nearly as black and white as we're led to believe.
Everything can be going well, but if I'm not writing, I'm not happy. When I'm writing well, I'm like a different person.
The rules are all in a sixty-four-page pamphlet by Aristotle called 'Poetics.' It was written almost three thousand years ago, but I promise you, if something is wrong with what you're writing, you've probably broken one of Aristotle's rules.
The properties of people and the properties of character have almost nothing to do with each other. They really don't. I know it seems like they do because we look alike, but people don't speak in dialogue. Their lives don't unfold in a series of scenes that form a narrative arc.
I've loved every minute I've spent in television. And I've had much more failure, as traditionally measured, than success in television. I've done four shows, and only one of them was the 'West Wing.'
I consider plot a necessary intrusion on what I really want to do, which is write snappy dialogue.
I grew up in the theatre. It's where I got my start. Writing a television drama with theatrical dialogue about the theatre is beyond perfection.
All my heroes wore coats and ties to work. What happened to men wearing hats? Maybe I should bring back hats.
Certainly, last year we did an episode about the census and sampling versus a direct statistic. You just said the word 'census,' and people fall asleep.
There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups… but they're coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.
I feel like the better version of myself is on paper… I'd rather have people know me on paper.
I have a lot of respect for people who are great at ad-libbing and for writers and directors who are able to create a scene in which that works. Judd Apatow is fantastic at it. But as an audience member, I like the sound of something that's been written – I like it to sound written.
I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white, and it says, 'You may have fooled some of the people some of the time, but those days are over, giftless. I'm not your agent, and I'm not your mommy; I'm a white piece of paper. You wanna dance with me?' and I really, really don't. I'll go peaceable-like.
I think socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.
A news organization has a much different responsibility. I might not be telling you the whole story. I might not be telling you a story in a manner that is properly sophisticated.
When a movie is being rolled out, the studio publicists and all our individual publicists get together and come up with bullet points and talking points – 'Make sure you stay away from this,' and 'Don't say that quite that way, because that quote can be taken out of context,' and that kind of thing.
Don't try to guess what it is people want and give it to them. Don't ask for a show of hands. Try your best to write what you like, what you think your friends would like and what you think your father would like and then cross your fingers… The most valuable thing you have is your own voice.
I'm not sophisticated when it comes to politics, when it comes to journalism.
It's populated by people who, by and large, have terrific communication skills. Every day is an extraordinary day. For me, it was just a great area for storytelling.
I am truly at my happiest not when I am writing an aria for an actor or making a grand political or social point. I am at my happiest when I've figured out a fun way for somebody to slip on a banana peel.
I'm not on Facebook, and I don't tweet, but I know plenty of people who love both.
Heroes in drama are people who try hard to reach a virtuous ideal. And whether they succeed or fail really doesn't matter – it's the trying that counts.