Improve Your Experience

It appears you’re trying to access HBO Connect from a browser or version that’s not recommended. For the optimal experience, please download one of the following browsers:

Continue to HBO Connect

Log in with:

June 27, 2012 3PM EST

Q&A with Aaron Sorkin

Share

  • Q

    Thanks to Aaron Sorkin for joining us for today’s Q&A. Welcome Aaron!

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Thanks, it's great to be here!

  • Q

    How long does it take for the actors to get a hang of the walk and talk? Was there any struggle for them trying to go at your pace?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Actors like having a physical task to accomplish during a scene and this cast was ready on the first day of rehearsal. It's hardest on the Steadicam operator, who has to walk backwards, fast, with a 120-pound camera harnessed to their shoulders. A few of them have gone down in battle.

  • Q

    Do you have all of the characters' back-stories mapped out before you write, or do you wait to let them come to you?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I don't like to make decisions about a character's biography until I have to--until the story asks for it. I knew why Will and MacKenzie broke up (which you'll learn about this Sunday) and why it's so hard for Will to get over it (which you'll start learning about in a few weeks.)

  • Q

    How long did it take you to come up with the pilot?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Well, I had to think about it for about a year and then the writing about 6 weeks.

  • Q

    What is it about "The Lion In Winter" that you love so much?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The Lion in Winter is one of my favorite plays. I saw the Lion in Winter when I was very young and it stuck with me.

  • Q

    Hi Aaron, loved the show. DiD you already know the news stories you wanted to use prior to writing each episode, or did you have an overarching theme and then select stories which fit?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I didn't choose when an episode took place based on a news story. I choose where an episode took place based on the character development. I knew where the season started and I knew when it ended. The first thing we did was wallpaper the writer's room with every single news event that took place in our timeline.

  • Q

    How much do you tend to change scripts from the first draft to the final? Do you think it's more difficult to fix it once it's written?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I like rewriting more than I like writing. I hate staring at a blank page, I'd much rather be fixing a problem. With The Newsroom there's been a little more time, so I've been able to polish a script after I've written it.

  • Q

    Will the show continue to deal with real life news events or will it also deal with fictional ones?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    All the news on the show is real, all the characters on the show are fictional. I really wanted to do "His Girl Friday" set against the backdrop of real news events.

  • Q

    What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing The Newsroom, especially after success of The West Wing?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The biggest challenge I think is the same challenge I faced when I wrote my first play "A Few Good Men." Just knowing I wanted to set a show in a Newsroom wasn't enough, something has to happen.

  • Q

    What's the biggest difference between writing for television and writing for the stage?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Two big differences. One with TV (and with film) I get to use the camera as a character. I can slowly push in on something and that tells you that that's important. On stage, I can't direct the audience where to look. But I only really know how to write plays, but even when I'm writing a TV show I let the directors see what's interesting. The other big difference is when I'm writing a play and the writing isn't going well, I can stop and start again. With a TV series you have hard deadlines, which means I have to write even when I'm not writing well and that's a hard pill to swallow. In a 10 episode season, one of those episodes is going to be your 10th best and I'm not good good enough for my 10th episode to be good enough.

  • Q

    You mentioned "His Girl Friday." Some people have compared your style of dialogue to that film. Has it influenced you in any way?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Yes, I love "His Girl Friday," and the romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s and the workplace shows of the 30s, 40s and 50s too. I love the sound of dialogue, words crashing into each other, staccato duets...I think the influence of "His Girl Friday" is pretty clear in The Newsroom.

  • Q

    When you are creating a new show, how far out do you plan out? Two seasons, three? And once you make those plans, do you commit to a bible?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The Newsroom is the first time I've done any planning at all. With the other shows I've done I was really flying by the seed of my pants at the time. With The Newsroom I knew what the arc of the season would be when I started. There's some room for making course adjustments along the way. By at large the first season of The Newsroom is a 10 hour story broken into 3 acts.

  • Q

    Do you feel you have more freedoms writing for HBO rather than a network series?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Yes, but the best part isn't just the creative freedom. One of the challenges with TV is that TV historically had a very passive relationship with it's audience. People watch TV when they're flipping through a magazine, watching dinner or talking on the phone. The HBO audience is used to watching a TV show the way they'd watch a movie or a play- from beginning to end. The other difference is that while we want as many people as possible to watch the show, it matters who is watching the show. With HBO, you get end credits and the reason why that's important is that the last moment of a song, or a book or a play or a movie or an episode of TV is meant to resonate. With a show on one of the broadcast networks you can have one of the last moments and immediately have to smash cut into a commercial, not allowing it to resonate. When you have end titles you have music allowing the audience to breath and really experience the end of a show.

  • Q

    Which upcoming episode of the show are you most excited for the audience to see?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The answer to that question will always be "the next one."

  • Q

    I loved the comedy in the pilot. Do you have a process for where and when to insert humor into the drama?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I think that when you can tell a serious story funny, you're doing yourself a big favor. There's a lot of screwball comedy and romantic comedy in The Newsroom. The show is really meant to be watched with popcorn. But no, I don't have a formula, it's just instinct.

  • Q

    We're seeing a Sam Waterston that is really fun to watch. How does having him playing that role affect the range of his character's development?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    If you think Sam is fun now, you ain't seen nothing yet.

  • Q

    Which do you enjoy writing more? Dialogue or monologues? Do they serve different purposes for you dramatically?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I love writing both. You have to pick and choose your places where you're going to have a speech. Musicals work best when characters have to sing, when speaking won't do the trick anymore..when you can't just say "Hey I just met a girl named Maria and I really like her," you just have to sing it. By the same token, a speech works best when a normal rhythm of a conversation just doesn't do the trick anymore.

  • Q

    So why did you set the newsroom story to start in 2010?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I wanted to set The Newsroom in the recent past because I didn't want to make up fake news events. I chose 2010 because at the moment that I realized that the trick was going to be setting the show in the past, I happened to be staring at footage of oil spilling out of Deepwater Horizon.

  • Q

    Who is your favorite character to write for?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I loved writing for all the characters. It's a very deep bench on the show and there are a lot of mouths to feed but that's a problem that any writer would be happy to have.

  • Q

    What is more important for you - plot or character?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Everything is important to me. Character only reveals itself through plot. I don't like telling the audience who a character is, I like showing the audience what the character wants.

  • Q

    There are many young characters in the Newsroom that surprise and humble their superiors: have you had such an experience as a writer?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I'm surprised and humbled all the time. I work with a great group of people. Many of whom who are alarmingly young and incredibly brilliant.

  • Q

    You mentioned Frank Capra films in the "We Decided To" episode - were his films a factor on you, and how you viewed American life?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I love Frank Capra movies and that particular moment was meant as a sideways insult towards MacKenzie. Don Keefer (Tom Sadoski) said that MacKenzie was locked in a room and showed Frank Capra movies till she was 21, to indicate that she's a wide-eyed over eager American patriot.

  • Q

    Where were you when the BP oil spill news broke?Can you talk about the journey from that moment in your life to its inclusion in the show?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I can't remember where I was when the story broke, but on day 55 of the spill I was hanging out at MSNBC in NYC being a fly on the wall and I was about to give up on the whole show because I simply couldn't figure out how I could do this without making up fake news (and obviously I wasn't going to be able to know what the news was when the episode was airing). I was sitting there in a chair, thinking this was it and that I was going to have to give up. While I was thinking all these things, I was staring at footage from the 24 hour spill cam and that's when I thought the show doesn't have to take place today. We can start the pilot and it can seem like any other pilot, we have any other reason to assume that this is today when all of a sudden a computer beeps with iNews (that happens about 100 times a day and usually it's nothing) and we hear that an oil well has exploded on the Gulf of Mexico and a legend appears on the screen and we realize that everything we are watching happened 2 years ago. Not only would this solve my problem of making up fake news, but adding story elements that are fun. For instance, when the audience knows more than the characters do and we're watching the characters catch up. It's exciting for instance in Episode 7, watching the characters realize that the strange bleeps and texts they're receiving at a party all add up to "we killed Bin Laden."

  • Q

    Do you read reviews of the show or do you just focus on writing and not worry about what other people think about it?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    One of the nice things about HBO is that whole season is written and shot before the first episode airs. This removes any temptation to change your writing in order to change the minds of your critics.

  • Q

    Do you start with story or dialogue when you write?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I have to start with an intention and an obstacle. Somebody wants something, something's standing in their way of doing it.

  • Q

    How do you manage projects in terms of attention? For example, do you work on one script while another is already in progress? Best, Elisa

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I give 100% of my attention to the thing that's right in front of me. The last year and a half has been all Newsroom. I've been writing one script while another was being shot and another was being edited and another was being prepped. We've wrapped the first season and, obviously, I'm doing press, but now I can turn my attention to the screen adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs and a new Broadway musical I'm collaborating on with Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked", "Godspell", "Pippin") that takes place during the last minutes of Harry Houdini's life. It'll star Hugh Jackman and open in 2013. I'll also be preparing to write the story of the Jihn Edwards trial that just concluded in Greensboro.

  • Q

    What is your hope for this show? Do you think it can be the basis for talks about hard, "real" journalism and how much we are lacking that?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Discussions about journalism and current events would be a huge bonus but this show is meant to be watched with popcorn. It'll succeed or fail depending on how engaged you are with the characters and the personal stories that begin to unfold during the first season.

  • Q

    You chose to tie storylines to prior current events. What was your reasoning behind this and how recent do you plan regarding current events?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The show's set in the recent past because I didn't want to make up fake news. I wanted to do "His Girl Friday" set against the backdrop of actual news events. I knew when the first season started and when it ended and it was a year ago this month that the staff and I began wallpapering the writers room with every single news event from that 18 month period.

  • Q

    Why was Jeff Daniels chosen for this role? Great choice by the way!!!!

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I couldn't agree more. I've been a fan of Jeff's since he did "5th of July" off-Broadway. My only concern was that I thought he might be too nice. (Will McAvoy, as you'll learn, is a damaged guy with a lot of chaos going on inside.) Jeff was tipped off that I thought he was too nice so he came to a lunch meeting with me determined to demonstrate that he's a sonofabitch. It didn't work--he's still the nicest guy in the world--but his performance "God of Carnage" is what landed him in Will's anchor chair.

  • Q

    Do you have any plans to guest-star any real reporters like Christiane Amanpour, Jake Tapper, or anyone else on the show?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Real people will only play themselves in news footage. There are some shows where stunt casting is fun (in fact I've played myself on 30 Rock and Entourage) but I think on this show it would just seem out of place. These characters inhabit a heightened and idealized version of a newsroom.

  • Q

    From working on Social Network to West Wing (both amazing works of art), what is the biggest difference between writing for film and TV?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    When I'm writing a screenplay and it's not going well (which is most of the time) I can put it down for a few days. The only part about television I don't like is that because of the hard deadlines I have to write when I'm not writing well. I have to put a script on the table that I know is weak and we're going to shoot that script and you're going to see it. In a 10 episode season, one of the episodes is going to be your 10th best and I'm not goo enough to have my 10th best script seen by a couple of million people but that's what's going to happen. It's a tough pill to swallow.

  • Q

    First episode of The Newsroom felt more like watching a play than T.V. Was this intentional and if so why?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I'm glad you picked up on that. I don't really know how to do anything but write plays and so that's what I do and I let the director figure out how to make it visually interesting. Greg Motolla, Alan Poul and our guest directors have done a fantastic job bringing all the talking to life.

  • Q

    How does it feel to be back in the TV game years after The West Wing & does HBO give you more opportunities that you didn't have before?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I love series television and HBO is a fantastic home for writers, actors and directors. They're in business with the audience and not advertisers so the emphasis is less on how many people are watching than it is on how much the people who ARE watching like what they're seeing.

  • Q

    Was the first couple of minutes of your new show was a mission statement that will run out thru the rest of The Newsroom Series?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    The whole first episode was written as a prologue to a nine-hour story that will play out over the next nine episodes in the same three-act structure used in screenplays. It's really the Don Quixote metaphor that plays through the entire season (along with references to Camelot, Brigadoon, Atlantis and other lost, imaginary cities.)

  • Q

    Hey from an EP in Oregon. Grrreat writing with several storylines. What is your primary goal for using this platform? Congrats to HBO and ur Team 4 exploring these topics.

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Thanks, E.P. in Oregon--if nothing else this series will show people that it's you guys who are running the show. I decided to set the series in the recent past because I didn't want to make up fake news. It's also fun when the audience knows more than the characters do (see "All the President's Men".)

  • Q

    Ive noticed recently that your writing is drawing on your previous work. Has there been a determination to pull from your previous success?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I think that's a very kind way of saying the truth--which is that I have a limited imagination.

  • Q

    With 12 episodes per season, how did you choose which news stories to include? Did you chose your *news* from a list of really important events, ones you think people will remember or ones you think people didn't pay enough attention to at the time?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    It's actually a 10 episode season and most of the time it's not a news event that governs when an episode takes place, but rather where we are in the development of the characters and their relationships. News events are chosen based on how much story they can deliver for our characters. Most of the News Night team is young so for them, the killing of Bin Laden is the biggest story of their careers. It fit right in our timeline so there was no way I was going to pass that up.

  • Q

    My dream is to someday write for television, and you're one of my biggest inspirations - it's great to have you back on TV. What advice would you give about writing and making it in the industry?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    That's awfully kind of you to say and good luck with your writing. My advice would be to read a lot of scripts--read scripts from movies and TV shows you like. Then give yourself a sold intention and obstacle and start writing. Write a lot, it takes practice. Trust your own voice. And read William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade".

  • Q

    In writing the old adage is write what you know. You have a BA in FIne Arts. Did you just use a specific writing formula to create these stories and characters to fill in the blanks? Also, where did you go to do research for these shows and what type of experience do you have in sports, politics, and newsroom day to day activities.

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I've hardly ever written about something I know (if I did, I'd be writing a lot about Pop Tarts.) Whether it's the White House or a newsroom or writing code for a new social networking site, I use expert tutors who give me crash courses so that I can make you believe that the CHARACTERS know what they're talking about.

  • Q

    Was that Jesse Eisenberg on the phone as Eric Neal?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    You've got a good ear. That was Jesse, reciting almost verbatim an interview Eric Neal gave about a week after the spill. I don't put fake words in real people's mouths.

  • Q

    You always slip in those ideas about being" engagged" and "showing up". Is this your way of being the change you want for this country? I for one agree with those ideals.

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    I agree with them too, but first, last and always I have to obey the rules of drama and tell a good story well.

  • Q

    That's all the time we have for today's Q&A. A huge thank you to Aaron Sorkin for joining us. Anything else you'd like to say, Aaron?

    Share

    A
    Aaron Sorkin says:

    Thanks for the great questions, thanks for being interested in the show and if you keep watching it'll pay off.

Related Events: See all events