Aaron Sorkin MasterClass Review: Is it worth it?
Scores for the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass:
Lessons – 7 /10
Workbook – 8.2 /10
Community – 6.5 /10
Value – 7.5 /10
Overall Verdict – Thumbs up!
- The Aaron Sorkin MasterClass lessons are easy to follow, not that dense and to the point.
- Lessons have no time limit, so you can learn at your own pace.
- Furthermore, no lesson is longer than fifteen minutes, so they never seem that daunting.
- Sorkin’s distinctive perspective on screenwriting is clear from the offset.
- The use of anecdotes is very insightful, particularly if you are a fan of his work.
- The lessons cover all aspects of writing a script and are quite practical in how to apply his teachings to your own work.
- There are no visual examples of scripts.
- More examples of clips from films could be used when discussing Aaron Sorkin’s own work.
- The majority of the lessons just include talking to the camera. More variety could be used. It’s often hard to maintain attention for fifteen minutes straight of just someone talking to camera.
- Some lessons are quite broad. There’s an inconsistency from lesson to lesson. Some are really detailed, some are a lot more general.
- Sorkin’s anecdotal style often makes his points hard to follow. He has a tendency to ramble and sometimes his points don’t seem that well planned or thought through.
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass
Aaron Sorkin is the writer of some of the smartest dramas ever to hit the screen: The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game (which he also directed).
He’s that rare screenwriter whose work you can tell from a mile off, distinct dialogue and set ups characterising his work.
Through this class he becomes your screenwriting instructor. He’s kind of exactly how you’d expect him to be: informal, anecdotal, funny and deeply insightful.
If you don’t already know, MasterClass is a company that offers online courses in a wide variety of disciplines. The few years they have been around they’ve made waves for attracting some big names to the platform.
- You can learn cooking from Gordon Ramsay, singing from Christina Aguilera and filmmaking from the likes of Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese and Jodie Foster.
- Check out our previous reviews of the Martin Scorsese Masterclass and the Jodie Foster Masterclass.
But how useful is the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass for an aspiring screenwriter? And what are you getting for your money?
We’re going to to take an in-depth look at how the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass breaks down and how worth your time and money it is.
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass – The Lessons
The Aaron Sorkin MasterClass takes the form of 13 video lessons, which are on average about 12 minutes long.
- Talking directly to the camera, Sorkin creates the feeling that you are having a one-to-one lesson with him.
- Clips from his screenplays occasionally help break up the talking and illustrate the points he’s making.
After an introductory video, Sorkin gets into the first proper lesson…
Lesson 2 – Intention & Obstacle
Sorkin justifies why characters must have an intention and that an obstacle must be standing in the way of this intention.
This part is at its best when Sorkin uses personal anecdotes to illustrate his points.
- He talks of how he made the mistake earlier in his career of not having clear and distinct intentions and obstacles.
- Without them his writing was just ‘snappy dialogue that doesn’t add up to anything’.
Sorkin’s honesty is refreshing in this respect.
Where this section is less interesting is in his vague use of potential examples of intention and obstacle.
- These are quite forgettable and he rambles.
- There are some trademark funny moments as he talks but it feels easy to get lost in what he’s saying.
Sorkin isn’t particularly eloquent when describing the HOW of intention and obstacle.
- Again, he uses quite unfocused examples.
- You don’t leave the lesson necessarily with a clear step in what to do in establishing an intention and obstacle for your script.
However, it’s in describing the absolute necessity of having an intention and obstacle that Sorkin’s points really hit home…
‘You have to build the driveshaft first. And that driveshaft can only be intention and obstacle. That’s what creates friction and tension and that’s what drama is. If you don’t have that then it’s journalism’.
Lesson 3 – Story Ideas
Sorkin is particularly helpful here on how to break down story ideas into to key parts:
- Is there conflict?
- What is the ‘then/but’ of your idea?
Again, Sorkin is at his best when using personal anecdotes…
- How he found the kernel of the story idea for The Social Network within a book proposal.
- How he was never able to match up the idea of The Newsroom he had in his head to what he actually ended up writing.
Another rewarding part of this section is when Sorkin outlines how you can distinguish whether your story idea is right for TV, a feature or a play.
- This often feels like an ambiguous thing to grasp onto for a writer and so it’s a very helpful insight. Sorkin provides quite clear instruction on this.
Lessons 4&5 – Characters
In these two lessons of the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass, Sorkin outlines how characters ‘are born from the intention and obstacle’.
This is when the lessons start to tie together in a helpful way, utilising what you have already learnt in order to move forward.
‘What are the tactics that the character uses to overcome that obstacle? That’s what the character is going to be.’
This lesson proves thrilling when Sorkin outlines how he created the character of Mark Zuckerburg from Mark’s real life blog posts.
- Provided of course that you’ve seen The Social Network, this is a fascinating look at the birth of an iconic character.
- Not only that, it provides a very helpful blueprint for how you can establish the key elements of a character.
If you haven’t seen The Social Network, it’s still helpful and insightful. What’s more, he refers to The West Wing in more depth to show how to use tactics to develop characters.
If you haven’t seen either it’s still helpful none the less! Plus there are clips that feature to show what Sorkin means. But certainly knowing these stories intimately makes his points all the more resonant.
This section becomes more engaging when Sorkin is more direct about how to start writing characters.
- He outlines what to do and what not to do. And he has strong opinions on this.
- For example, he gives long explanations on why you shouldn’t write long character biographies, why you should ‘write characters not people’ and the importance of ‘writing characters unlike yourself’.
Lessons 6 & 7 – Research
Here Sorkin discusses research and how to incorporate research into your writing. He teaches about the two different types of research: Nuts and bolts research and finding the movie research.
This is a great way of breaking down how to research a story idea, whether you’re still trying to find an idea or trying to find the detail of one you’ve already settled on.
- Once more, Sorkin uses helpful anecdotal evidence to explain what he means, talking about Steve Jobs and The West Wing.
This section also provides some instruction on how to get started with your research, outlining how best to find, meet and interview relevant people.
- He also goes quite in-depth on the best practices to employ when doing these things, again referencing his own research on Steve Jobs, for example.
In the second part of these lessons on research, Sorkin talks about how to incorporate research into your script, even into your dialogue. He uses examples and there are more clips. Sorkin’s advice becomes practical in a really helpful way.
There’s also a great section in which he talks about the importance of truth in fiction. These are, again, strong, distinctive opinions from Sorkin. They highlight what he has to offer that other screenwriters couldn’t.
Lesson 8 – The Audience
Next Sorkin shows how best to keep your audience satisfied, allowing them to put things together as they watch your story unfold.
He outlines how giving clues along the way allows the audience to feel satisfied at the end. In this way, his advice is practical. But he also goes into the theory side of engaging an audience.
- Sorkin explains the value of letting the audience ‘participate’ rather than telling them the story in direct, expositional terms.
- He tries to get to grips with why, as audiences, we intrinsically know when something isn’t convincing in a story.
This section is really enjoyable and possibly one of the most esoteric, unique parts of the class.
- Building a relationship with an audience doesn’t feel a particularly well-tread topic in typical screenwriting tutorials and so this part feels refreshing.
‘The worst crime you can commit is telling the audience something they already know’
Lesson 9 – Rules of the Story
In this ninth lesson of the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass, Sorkin ranges from giving quite predictable advice (such as watch a lot of movies) to more original advice like how to sit in front of a movie and break down the story beats.
Sorkin outlines his faith in rules for stories…
‘There’s a tendency to think that art is finally the place where there are no rules…I’m just going to sit down in front of the keyboard and it’s just going to flow out of me onto the paper and it’s going to be pure art. NO. What you are describing there is finger painting’.
Lines like this illustrate where this section is most rewarding. It’s funny but it also highlights easy mistakes than can be made and should be avoided.
Sorkin’s habit for free talking here does let him down a bit though, as he makes analogies, for example, about rules in sports and music. He makes good points but the way in which he draws them out does test your attention.
Lessons 10 & 11 – Writing Scenes
Sorkin next teaches how to write scenes. He looks at how to always push your story forward. This section is perhaps where the class is at its most specific.
- Sorkin specifically looks at how you might move one scene onto the next.
- He talks about different ways you might end a scene and build sequences.
Furthermore, he lays into a certain show that he has been watching for not moving the story forward. Why doesn’t he have a clear idea of what the purpose of the story is after watching four episodes?
- This example is very helpful is showing where a script, and the scenes that make it up, can alienate an audience by not sticking to the key steps of writing a scene.
As Sorkin goes on, he touches on how you might write comedic scenes, opening scenes and character introduction scenes. As mentioned, these two lessons are very specific.
- At this point it feels you are learning in a very direct way.
- It’s perhaps the point that feels the most akin to being in a classroom.
- Sorkin is direct, in-depth and uses concrete examples to illustrate his theories.
Lesson 12 – How to Write Captivating Dialogue
In the final lesson of the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass, before a brief conclusion, Sorkin teaches how to write dialogue.
Dialogue is his calling card. And this section does live up to the billing. However, he starts out with a bombshell…
‘Once we start talking about dialogue, we are talking about the least teachable part of writing.’
Okay, so how do we remedy this. Sorkin outlines a couple of things you can do, primarily referring to how he writes dialogue, suggesting writing dialogue is very personal thing and every writer will be different.
- Sorkin teaches that dialogue is like music; what the line sounds like in terms of tone and volume is just as important as what the line actually is in its content.
- Furthermore, he stresses not to worry about making the dialogue sound strictly realistic.
- Whilst he also warns against making the characters sound like they are talking on TV.
Advice to be ‘physical’ when writing dialogue feels particularly unique – standing up, walking around and performing the dialogue. Sorkin goes pretty in-depth into how and why he does this.
- It’s interesting to hear this theory of writing dialogue and it certainly goes some way to explaining Aaron Sorkin’s unique style!
The Lessons & Their Ratings:
- Introduction – 9/10
- Intention and Obstacle – 6/10
- Story Ideas – 6/10
- Developing Characters Part 1 – 7/10
- Developing Characters Part 2 – 8/10
- Research – 7/10
- Incorporating Research – 7/10
- The Audience – 9/10
- Rules of The Story – 6/10
- Writing Scenes Part 1 – 7/10
- Writing Scenes Part 2 – 9/10
- How to write Captivating Dialogue – 8/10
- Closing Thoughts – 9/10
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass – The Workbooks
The Aaron Sorkin MasterClass also comes with a workbook to go hand in hand with the lessons.
- In this workbook there are exercises which are designed to teach you the craft of screenwriting from Sorkin’s unique perspective.
- This helps you to learn the ins and outs of storytelling and develop the skills to craft and pitch your next script.
You can download the workbook as a PDF which can then be printed out.
- For each lesson, the workbook contains an overview, a significant quote, two assignment tasks and a notes page.
- Agreeably it is simple but effective, making the learning process much more efficient as it helps to enhance your screenwriting skills practically.
For example, one of the assignment tasks from the Intention and Obstacle lesson is a task whereby the participant has to:
- Watch their favourite film, play, and TV show and write down each of the main characters as they were introduced.
- To add to that, they’re required to note their intentions and main obstacles.
- Finally, the instruction is to note any differences in when and how the intentions and obstacles are introduced in TV, movies, and plays.
This exercise is a great way to get writers thinking of potential intentions and obstacles for their own characters, and to know where it is best to introduce these in a screenplay.
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass – The Community
The community works alongside the workbook and lessons, allowing participants to comment on the lessons and to share their assignments with the MasterClass online community.
- Participants of the class are encouraged to comment below each lesson and participate in the “Hub”, a community forum.
- Looking at the comments section, the first few lessons are busy and active, with participants sharing their thoughts and opinions on the lessons.
- However, this seems to trail off slightly towards the last few lessons.
Similarly, some class participants do share their work on the Hub, but it’s mostly a general discussion forum and not particularly active.
MasterClass is not a substitute for building a real life network and community around you, especially as the participants come from all over the world and take the class at different times. However, the community is a nice attempt none the less.
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass – The Value
The MasterClass courses are well produced and presented. There are fewer lessons in the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass (13) than in others.
- However, Sorkin manages to cover the majority of aspects of screenwriting, and uses the time efficiently to teach aspiring writers key steps.
Those who follow the workbook’s tasks properly will find the class the most rewarding.
- It’s a one-time purchase for lifetime access to the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass, or an annual subscription for access to every MasterClass.
- If you’re planning to do multiple classes, the annual subscription would work out cheaper.
Aaron Sorkin MasterClass – Overview
Above all, the Aaron Sorkin MasterClass offers a take on screenwriting that is impossible to separate from the man himself.
- He’s very anecdotal, informal and opinionated on what you can do, shouldn’t do and what he has done himself throughout his career.
- He talks extensively about his own films/TV series. If you’re a fan this is really rewarding. If you’re not, you’re less likely to find it quite so interesting but still likely to learn from it.
Sometimes in these lessons, Aaron Sorkin‘s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.
- His informality and tendency for anecdote often distracts from the key takeaways.
- He can ramble, labour a point and make it hard to remember what you’re actually supposed to be learning.
However, spending this time with him, is undoubtedly worthwhile.
There’s an occasional practicality that leaves you with things to do to get your screenplay going. Whilst there’s also unique philosophical musings on the very essence of writing and drama.
- What did you think of this article? Share it, Like it, give it a rating, and let us know your thoughts in the comments box further down…
- Struggling with a script? Story analysis is what we do, all day, every day…check out or range of services for writers & filmmakers here.
Disclaimer: this article contains affiliate links which will result in us being paid a small commission if you purchase the product in question. We are not being reimbursed for this review and would not write it unless we honestly believed in the value of the product.
Get *ALL* our FREE Resources
Tackle the trickiest areas of screenwriting with our exclusive eBooks. Get all our FREE resources when you join 60,000 filmmakers on our mailing list!