Aaron Sorkin

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Aaron Sorkin
Sorkin in 2016
Sorkin in 2016
BornAaron Benjamin Sorkin
(1961-06-09) June 9, 1961 (age 59)
New York City, U.S.
OccupationScreenwriter, producer, playwright, director
Alma materSyracuse University
Years active1984–present
Spouse
Julia Bingham
(m. 1996; div. 2005)
Children1

Aaron Benjamin Sorkin (born June 9, 1961)[1] is an American screenwriter, director, producer, and playwright. Born in New York City, Sorkin developed a passion for writing at an early age. His works include the Broadway plays A Few Good Men, The Farnsworth Invention and To Kill a Mockingbird; the television series Sports Night (1998–2000), The West Wing (1999–2006), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006–07), and The Newsroom (2012–14). He wrote the film screenplay for the legal drama A Few Good Men (1992), the comedy The American President (1995), and several biopics including Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Moneyball (2011), and Steve Jobs (2015). For writing 2010's The Social Network, he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

He made his feature film debut as a director in 2017 with the crime drama Molly's Game, which garnered mostly positive reviews and earned him a third Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. As a writer, Sorkin is recognized for his trademark fast-paced dialogue and extended monologues, complemented by frequent collaborator Thomas Schlamme's storytelling technique called the "walk and talk". These sequences consist of single tracking shots of long duration involving multiple characters engaging in conversation as they move through the set; characters enter and exit the conversation as the shot continues without any cuts.

Early life[edit]

Sorkin was born in Manhattan, New York City,[2] to a Jewish family,[3][4][5][6] and was raised in the New York suburb of Scarsdale.[7] His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a copyright lawyer who had fought in WWII and put himself through college on the G.I. Bill; both his older sister and brother went on to become lawyers.[8][9][10] His paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU).[10][11][12] Sorkin took an early interest in acting. During childhood, his parents took him to the theatre to see shows such as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and That Championship Season.[13]

Sorkin attended Scarsdale High School where he became involved in the drama and theatre club.[14] In the eighth grade, he played General Bullmoose in the musical Li'l Abner.[15] At Scarsdale High, he served as vice president of the drama club in his junior and senior years, and graduated in 1979.[16][17]

In 1979, Sorkin attended Syracuse University. In his freshman year, he failed a class that was a core requirement, which caused a setback because he wanted to be an actor, and the drama department did not allow students to take the stage until they completed the core classes. Determined to do better, he returned for his sophomore year, and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre.[18] Recalling the influence of theatre teacher Arthur Storch, Sorkin said: "Arthur's reputation as a director, and as a disciple of Lee Strasberg, was a big reason why a lot of us went to S.U. [Syracuse University]... 'You have the capacity to be so much better than you are', he started saying to me in September of my senior year. He was still saying it in May. On the last day of classes, he said it again, and I said, 'How?', and he answered, 'Dare to fail'. I've been coming through on his admonition ever since".[19]

Career[edit]

1983–1990: Early work and breakthrough[edit]

"I don't want to analyze myself or anything, but I think, in fact I know this to be true, that I enter the world through what I write. I grew up believing, and continue to believe, that I am a screw-up, that growing up with my family and friends, I had nothing to offer in any conversation. But when I started writing, suddenly there was something that I brought to the party that was at a high-enough level."

—Sorkin on becoming a writer[8]

Sorkin moved to New York City where he spent much of the 1980s as a struggling, sporadically-employed actor who worked odd jobs,[15] such as delivering singing telegrams,[15] driving a limousine, touring Alabama with the children's theatre company Traveling Playhouse,[8] handing out fliers promoting a hunting-and-fishing show,[15] and bartending at Broadway's Palace Theatre.[20] One weekend, while house-sitting for a friend, he found an IBM Selectric typewriter, started typing, and "felt a phenomenal confidence and a kind of joy that [he] had never experienced before in [his] life."[8]

He continued writing and eventually put together his first play, Removing All Doubt, which he sent to his former theatre teacher, Arthur Storch, who was impressed. In 1984, Removing All Doubt was staged for drama students at his alma mater, Syracuse University. After that, he wrote Hidden in This Picture which debuted off-off-Broadway at Steve Olsen's West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar in New York City in 1988. The quality of his first two plays earned him a theatrical agent.[21] Producer John A. McQuiggan saw the production of Hidden in This Picture and commissioned Sorkin to turn the one-act into a full-length play called Making Movies.[22]

Sorkin was inspired to write his next play, a courtroom drama called A Few Good Men, from a phone conversation with his sister Deborah, who had graduated from Boston University Law School and signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. Deborah told Sorkin that she was going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who came close to killing a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer.[23] Sorkin took that information and wrote much of his story on cocktail napkins while bartending at the Palace Theatre.[24] He and his roommates had purchased a Macintosh 512K; when he returned home, he would transcribe the story and notes onto the computer, forming a basis from which he wrote many drafts for A Few Good Men.[25]

In 1988, Sorkin sold the film rights for A Few Good Men to producer David Brown before it premiered,[26] in a deal that was reportedly "well into six figures".[27] Brown had read an article in The New York Times about Sorkin's one-act play Hidden in This Picture, and found out Sorkin had a play called A Few Good Men that was having Off Broadway readings.[26] Brown produced A Few Good Men on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. It starred Tom Hulce and was directed by Don Scardino. After opening in late 1989, it ran for 497 performances.[28] Sorkin continued writing Making Movies and in 1990 it debuted Off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre, produced by John A. McQuiggan, and again directed by Don Scardino.[22] Meanwhile, Brown was producing for TriStar Pictures, and tried to interest them in adapting A Few Good Men into a film, but his proposal was declined due to the lack of star actor involvement. Brown later received a phone call from Alan Horn at Castle Rock Entertainment who was anxious to make the film. Rob Reiner, a Castle Rock producing partner, opted to direct.[26]

1991–1997: Writing for Castle Rock Entertainment[edit]

A Few Good Men at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket on August 31, 2005.

Sorkin worked under contract for Castle Rock Entertainment,[29] where he befriended colleagues William Goldman and Rob Reiner, and met his future wife Julia Bingham, who was one of Castle Rock's business affairs lawyers.[30] Sorkin wrote several drafts of the script for A Few Good Men in his Manhattan apartment,[29] learning the craft from a book about screenplay format.[21] He then spent several months at the Los Angeles offices of Castle Rock, working on the script with director Rob Reiner.[29] William Goldman (who regularly worked under contract at Castle Rock) became his mentor and helped him to adapt his stage play into a screenplay.[31] The film, directed by Reiner starred Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon, and was produced by Brown. A Few Good Men was released in 1992 and was a box office success, grossing $243 million worldwide.[32][33]

Goldman also approached Sorkin with a story premise, which Sorkin developed into the script for the thriller Malice. Goldman oversaw the project as creative consultant while Sorkin wrote the first two drafts. However, he had to leave the project to finish the script for A Few Good Men, so screenwriter Scott Frank stepped in and wrote two drafts of the Malice screenplay. When production on A Few Good Men was completed, Sorkin resumed working on Malice right through the final shooting script.[34] Harold Becker directed the 1993 thriller, which starred Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin. Malice had mixed reviews; Vincent Canby in The New York Times described the film as "deviously entertaining from its start through its finish".[35] Critic Roger Ebert gave it 2 out of 4 stars,[36] and Peter Travers in a 2000 Rolling Stone review summarized it as having "suspense but no staying power".[37]

Sorkin's last screenplay under Castle Rock was The American President; once again he worked with William Goldman who served as a creative consultant.[38] It took Sorkin several years to write the screenplay for The American President, which started off at 385-pages; it was eventually reduced to a standard shooting script of around 120 pages.[2] The film, also directed by Reiner, was critically acclaimed; Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described it as "genial and entertaining if not notably inspired", and believed its most interesting aspects were the "pipe dreams about the American political system and where it could theoretically be headed".[39] A Few Good Men, Malice and The American President grossed approximately $400 million worldwide.[2]

In the second half of the 1990s, Sorkin worked as a script doctor. He wrote some quips for Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage in 1996's The Rock.[40] He worked on Excess Baggage, a 1997 comedy about a girl who stages her own kidnapping to get her father's attention, and rewrote some of Will Smith's scenes in Enemy of the State.[40] Sorkin collaborated with Warren Beatty on several scripts, one of which was 1998's Bulworth.[41] Beatty, known for occasionally personally financing his film projects through pre-production, also hired Sorkin to rewrite a script titled Ocean of Storms which never went into production. At one point, Sorkin sued Beatty for proper compensation for his work on the Ocean of Storms script; once the matter was settled, he resumed working on the script.[41][42][43][44]

1998–2006: Television series and theatre work[edit]

Sports Night

Sorkin conceived the idea to write about the behind-the-scenes happenings on a sports show while residing at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles writing the screenplay for The American President.[8][45] He would work late, with the television tuned into ESPN, watching continuous replays of SportsCenter.[45][46] The show inspired him to try to write a feature film about a sports show but he was unable to structure the story for film, so instead he turned his idea into a television comedy series.[47][48] Sports Night was produced by Disney and debuted on the ABC network in fall of 1998.[49]

Sorkin fought with ABC during the first season over the use of a laugh track and a live studio audience. The laugh track was widely decried by critics as jarring, with Joyce Millman of Salon magazine describing it as "the most unconvincing laugh track you've ever heard".[50][51] Sorkin commented that: "Once you do shoot in front of a live audience, you have no choice but to use the laugh track. Oftentimes [enhancing the laughs] is the right thing to do. Sometimes you do need a cymbal crash. Other times, it alienates me."[50] The laugh track was gradually dialed down and was removed by the end of the first season.[52] Sorkin was triumphant in the second season when ABC agreed to his demands, unburdening the crew of the difficulties of staging a scene for a live audience and leaving the cast with more time to rehearse.[49] Although Sports Night was critically acclaimed, ABC canceled the show after two seasons due to low ratings.[53][54] Sorkin entertained offers to continue the show on other television channels but declined all the offers, as they were dependent on his involvement but he was already working on The West Wing at that point.[45]

The West Wing

"Stockard Channing had done an episode of the show as the First Lady ... She took me out to lunch and said she really liked doing the show and wanted to do more and started asking me questions like, 'Who do you think this character is?' And those aren't questions I can answer. [As a writer] I can only answer, what do they want?"

—Sorkin on creating characters[55]

Sorkin conceived the political drama The West Wing in 1997 when he went unprepared to a lunch with producer John Wells; in a panic he pitched to Wells a series centered on the senior staff of the White House,[2] using leftover ideas from his script for The American President.[56] He told Wells about his visits to the White House while doing research for The American President, and they found themselves discussing public service and the passion of the people who serve. Wells took the concept and pitched it to NBC, but was told to wait due to the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal. There was a concern that television audiences would not be able to take a series about the White House seriously.[57] A year later, other networks started showing interest in The West Wing. NBC decided to give the project the green-light despite their previous reluctance.[56] The pilot debuted in the fall of 1999 and was produced by Warner Bros. Television.[56]

The West Wing garnered nine Primetime Emmy Awards for its debut season, making the series a record holder for most Emmys won by a series in a single season at the time.[58] Following the awards ceremony, there was a dispute about the acceptance speech for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. The West Wing episode "In Excelsis Deo" won, which was awarded to Sorkin and Rick Cleveland, but The New York Times reported that Sorkin ushered Cleveland off the stage before he could say a few words.[59] The story behind "In Excelsis Deo" is based on Cleveland's father, a Korean War veteran who spent the last years of his life on the street, as Cleveland explained in an essay titled "I Was the Dumb Looking Guy with the Wire-Rimmed Glasses".[60] Sorkin and Cleveland continued their dispute in a public web forum at Mighty Big TV in which Sorkin explained that he gives his writers "Story By" credit on a rotating basis "by way of a gratuity" and that he had thrown out Cleveland's script and started from scratch.[61] Sorkin eventually apologized to Cleveland.[62] Cleveland and Sorkin also won the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama at the 53rd Writer Guild of America Awards for "In Excelsis Deo".[63]

In 2001, after completing the second season of The West Wing, Sorkin suffered a drug relapse, and was arrested at Hollywood Burbank Airport for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, and crack cocaine. He was ordered by a court to attend a drug diversion program.[64] There was huge media interest but he did make a successful recovery.[13] In 2002, Sorkin criticized NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw's television special about a day in the life of a president, "The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing", comparing it to the act of sending a valentine to President George W. Bush instead of real news reporting.[65] The West Wing aired on the same network, and so at the request of NBC's Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, Sorkin apologized, but later said, "there should be a difference between what NBC News does and what The West Wing TV series does."[66][67]

Sorkin wrote 87 screenplays for The West Wing, which is nearly every episode during the show's first four Emmy-winning seasons.[68] Sorkin described his role in the creative process as "not so much [that of] a showrunner or a producer. I'm really a writer."[45] He admitted that this approach can have its drawbacks, saying "Out of 88 [West Wing] episodes that I did we were on time and on budget never, not once."[25] In 2003, at the end of the fourth season, Sorkin and fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme left the show due to internal conflicts at Warner Bros. Television, causing John Wells to serve as showrunner.[69][70] Sorkin never watched any episodes beyond his writing tenure apart from a minute of the fifth season's first episode, describing the experience as "like watching somebody make out with my girlfriend."[71] Sorkin later returned in the series finale for a cameo appearance as a member of President Bartlet's staff.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Farnsworth Invention

Sorkin discussing The Farnsworth Invention at the Music Box Theatre, November 2007

In 2005, Sorkin returned to theatre; he revised his play A Few Good Men for a production at London's West End. The play opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the fall of the same year and was directed by David Esbjornson, with Rob Lowe of The West Wing in the lead role.[72] Sorkin told The Charlie Rose Show that he was developing a television series based on a late-night sketch comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live.[25][73] In October 2005, a pilot script dubbed Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip, written by him and Schlamme as producer, started circulating in Hollywood and online. In that same month, NBC bought the rights from Warner Bros. Television to air the series on their network for a near-record license fee after a bidding war with CBS.[74] The show's name was later changed to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin described the show as having "autobiographical elements" to it and "characters that are based on actual people" but said that it departs from those beginnings to look at the backstage maneuverings at a late night sketch comedy show.[75]

On September 18, 2006, the pilot for Studio 60 aired on NBC, directed by Schlamme. The pilot was critically acclaimed and viewed by an audience of over 12 million, but the show experienced a significant drop in viewership mid-season. Even before the first episode aired, there was a large amount of thoughtful and scrupulous criticism in the press, as well as negative analysis from bloggers.[76] In January 2007, Sorkin spoke out against the press for reporting heavily on the low ratings, and for using blogs and unemployed comedy writers as sources.[77] After two months hiatus, Studio 60 resumed airing the last episodes of season one, which would be its only season.[78]

As early as 2003, Sorkin was writing a spec script about inventor Philo Farnsworth; he was approached by producer Fred Zollo in the 1990s about adapting Elma Farnsworth's memoir into a biographical film.[13][79] The following year, he completed the film screenplay, The Farnsworth Invention, which was acquired by New Line Cinema with Schlamme as director. The story is about the patent battle between Farnsworth and RCA tycoon David Sarnoff for the technology that allowed the first television transmissions in the United States.[80] No additional details were released about the film. Shortly, Sorkin was contacted by Jocelyn Clarke of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, requesting he write a play for them, a commission which he accepted.[81] Sorkin decided to rewrite The Farnsworth Invention as a play.[13][81] He delivered a first draft of the play to the Abbey Theatre in early 2005, and a production was planned for 2007 with La Jolla Playhouse deciding to stage a workshop production of the play in collaboration with the Abbey Theatre. In 2006, Abbey Theatre's new management quit involvement with The Farnsworth Invention.[81] Despite this, La Jolla Playhouse carried on with Steven Spielberg serving as a producer.[82] The production opened under La Jolla's signature Page To Stage program which allowed Sorkin and director Des McAnuff to develop the play from show-to-show according to audience reactions and feedback; the play ran from February 20, 2007 through March 25, 2007.[83][84] A Broadway production followed soon after, beginning in previews, and opening on November 14, 2007; however, the play was delayed by the 2007 Broadway stagehand strike.[85][86] The Farnsworth Invention eventually opened at the Music Box Theatre on December 3, 2007, and closed on March 2, 2008.[87][88]

2007–2015: Return to film and The Newsroom[edit]

Sorkin interviewed William Goldman at the Screenwriting Expo, 2008

In 2007, Sorkin was commissioned by Universal Pictures to adapt George Crile's non-fiction book Charlie Wilson's War for Tom Hanks' production company Playtone.[89] The biographical comedy, Charlie Wilson's War, is about the colorful Texas congressman Charlie Wilson who funded the CIA's secret war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.[90] Directed by Mike Nichols, and written by Sorkin, the film was released in 2007 and starred Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.[91] The film earned five nominations at the Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay for Sorkin.[92]

In August 2008, Sorkin announced that he had agreed to write a script for Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin about the beginnings of Facebook.[93] David Fincher's The Social Network, based on Ben Mezrich's novel The Accidental Billionaires, was released on October 1, 2010. It was a critical and commercial success; Sorkin won an Academy Award, BAFTA and a Golden Globe for the screenplay.[94][95][96] A year later, Sorkin received nominations in the same award categories for co-writing Moneyball.[96][97][98] It is based on Michael Lewis's 2003 non-fiction book of the same name, an account of the Oakland Athletics baseball team's 2002 season and their general manager Billy Beane's attempts to assemble a competitive team. The film was directed by Bennett Miller, and starred Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called the script "dynamite", in which Sorkin's "sharply witty touch is everywhere".[99]

In 2011, Sorkin played himself on the series 30 Rock, episode "Plan B", where he did a "walk and talk" with Liz Lemon played by Tina Fey.[100] While still working on the screenplay for The Social Network, Sorkin was contemplating a television drama about the behind-the-scenes events at a cable news program.[101] Talks had been ongoing between Sorkin and HBO since 2010.[102] To research the news industry, Sorkin observed the production crew at MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and quizzed Parker Spitzer's staff.[103] He also spent time shadowing Hardball with Chris Matthews, as well as other programs on Fox News and CNN.[104] Sorkin told TV Guide that he intended to take a less cynical view of the media: "They're going to be trying to do well in a context where it's very difficult to do well when there are commercial concerns and political concerns and corporate concerns."[105] Sorkin decided that rather than have his characters react to fictional news events as on his earlier series, it would be set in the recent past and track real-world stories largely as they unfolded, to give a greater sense of realism.[106]

"[T]he trick is to follow the rules of classic storytelling. Drama is basically about one thing: Somebody wants something, and something or someone is standing in the way of him getting it. What he wants—the money, the girl, the ticket to Philadelphia—doesn't really matter. But whatever it is, the audience has to want it for him."

—Sorkin[107]

HBO ordered a pilot episode in January 2011 with the working title More as This Story Develops, with Scott Rudin serving as an executive producer.[104] In September, HBO ordered a 10-episode series of The Newsroom with a premiere date of June 2012.[108][109][110] A day after the second episode aired, HBO renewed the series for a second season.[111] Sorkin said The Newsroom "is meant to be an idealistic, romantic, swashbuckling, sometimes comedic but very optimistic, upward-looking look at a group of people who are often looked at cynically. The same as with The West Wing, where ordinarily in popular culture our leaders are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dumb; I wanted to do something different and show a highly competent group of people."[112] The series concluded after its third season.

In 2015, Danny Boyle's biographical drama Steve Jobs was released. The screenplay by Sorkin was based on Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs,[113] and starred Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. Sorkin expressed hesitation for tackling the film, saying "it was a little like writing about the Beatles—that there are so many people out there who know so much about him [Jobs] and who revere him that I just saw a minefield of disappointment. [...] Hopefully, when I'm done with my research, I'll be in the same ball park of knowledge about Steve Jobs".[114] He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay,[115] although some journalists were surprised that he did not receive an Academy Award nomination in the same category.[116] While the critic from South China Morning Post thought it was the best-written film of the year,[117] Ashley Clark of Little White Lies magazine criticized the script for its "overly verbose dialogue".[118]

2016–present: Venture into directing[edit]

In February 2016, it was announced that Sorkin would adapt Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird for the stage, and work alongside Bartlett Sher.[119] His Broadway adaptation opened on December 13, 2018 to positive reviews at the Shubert Theatre.[120][121] Next, Sorkin made his directorial debut with Molly's Game, an adaptation of entrepreneur Molly Bloom's memoir. He also wrote the script for it, which starred Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.[122][123][124][125] Production began in 2016 and the film was released in December 2017 to mostly positive reviews; Sorkin received his third Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.[126][127] On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Molly's Game garnered an approval rating of 81% based on 297 reviews, with an average rating of 7.07/10.[128]

Sorkin told Vanity Fair in July 2020 that Steven Spielberg offered him a job in 2006 about "a movie about the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and the trial that followed."[129] However, after meeting at Spielberg's home, Sorkin said, "I left not knowing what the hell he was talking about."[129] On July 12, 2007, Variety magazine reported that Sorkin had signed a deal with DreamWorks to write three scripts. The first was The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin was already developing with Spielberg, and Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald.[130] In March 2010, Sorkin's agent, Ari Emanuel, had stated that the project was proving "tough to get together."[131] In late July 2013, it was announced that Paul Greengrass would be directing,[132] but Sorkin eventually both wrote and directed the film.[133] Focusing on the Chicago Seven (and Bobby Seale), the film began a limited release on September 25, 2020, before streaming on Netflix. It received positive reviews.[134]

Prospective projects[edit]

In March 2007, it was reported that Sorkin had signed on to write a musical adaptation of the hit 2002 record Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by psychedelic-rock band The Flaming Lips, collaborating with director Des McAnuff who had been developing the project.[135][136][137] In August 2008, McAnuff announced that Sorkin had been commissioned by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to write an adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard.[138] In 2010, Sorkin reportedly obtained the film rights to Andrew Young's book The Politician (about Senator John Edwards), and announced that he would make his debut as a film director while adapting the book for the screen.[139]

In November 2010, it was reported that Sorkin will write a musical based on the life of Houdini, with music by Danny Elfman.[140] In January 2012, Stephen Schwartz was reported to be writing the music and lyrics, with Sorkin making his debut as a librettist. The musical was expected for release in 2013–14; Sorkin said: "The chance to collaborate with Stephen Schwartz [the director], Jack O'Brien, and Hugh Jackman on a new Broadway musical is a huge gift."[141] In January 2013, he quit the project, citing film and television commitments.[142]

In September 2015, Entertainment Weekly reported that Sorkin was writing a biopic that will focus on the twenty-year marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and their work together on I Love Lucy and The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour. Cate Blanchett is set to star as Ball, while the role of Arnaz is yet to be determined.[143] In 2017, Amazon Studios acquired the rights to the film.[144] In March 2016, it was announced that Sorkin would adapt A Few Good Men for a live production on NBC, originally slated to air in 2017;[145] as of November 2017, "Sorkin is still mulling the project".[146]

Writing process and style[edit]

"You almost never see how anyone travels from point A to point C [in most TV shows]. I wanted the audience to witness every journey these people took. It all had a purpose, even seeing them order lunch. It just seemed to be the proper visual rhythm with which to marry Aaron's words. I got lucky that it worked."

Thomas Schlamme on the "Walk and Talk" device.[68]

Sorkin has written for the theatre, film and television, and in each medium his level of collaboration with other creators has varied. He began in theatre which involved a largely solitary writing process, then moved into film where he collaborated with director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman, and eventually worked in television where he collaborated very closely with director Thomas Schlamme for nearly a decade on the shows Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; he now moves between all three media. He has a habit of chain smoking while he spends countless hours cooped up in his office plotting out his next scripts.[7] He describes his writing process as physical because he will often stand up and speak the dialogue he is developing.[77]

A New York Times article by Peter de Jonge explained that "The West Wing is never plotted out for more than a few weeks ahead and has no major story lines", which De Jonge believed was because "with characters who have no flaws, it is impossible to give them significant arcs".[8] Sorkin has stated: "I seldom plan ahead, not because I don't think it's good to plan ahead, there just isn't time."[55] Sorkin has also said, "As a writer, I don't like to answer questions until the very moment that I have to." The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's TV critic John Levesque has commented that Sorkin's writing process "can make for ill-advised plot developments".[2] Further complicating the matter, in television, Sorkin will have a hand in writing every episode, rarely letting other writers earn full credit on a script.[8] de Jonge reported that ex-writers of The West Wing have claimed that "even by the spotlight-hogging standards of Hollywood, Sorkin has been exceptionally ungenerous in his sharing of writing credit".[8] In a comment to GQ magazine in 2008, Sorkin said, "I'm helped by a staff of people who have great ideas, but the scripts aren't written by committee."[147]

Sorkin's long-term collaboration with Schlamme began in early 1998 when they found they shared common creative ground on the soon to be produced Sports Night.[45][148] Their successful partnership in television is one in which Sorkin focuses on writing the scripts while Schlamme executive produces and occasionally directs; they have worked together on Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Schlamme will create the look of the shows, work with the other directors, discuss the scripts with Sorkin as soon as they are turned in, make design and casting decisions, and attend the budget meetings; Sorkin tends to stick strictly to writing.[45] In response to what he perceived as unfair criticism of The Newsroom, Jacob Drum of Digital Americana wrote, "The essential truth that the critics miss is that The Newsroom is Sorkin being Sorkin as he always has been and always will be: one part pioneer; one part self-conscious romantic; two parts actual Lewis & Clark-style pioneer, trapping his way across an old, old idea of an America that can always stand to raise its game—but most importantly, spinning a good yarn while he does so."[149]

For me, the writing experience is very much like a date. It's not unusual that I'm really funny here and really smart here and maybe showing some anger over here so she sees maybe I have this dark side. I want it to have been worth it for everyone to sit through it for however long I ask them to.

— Sorkin on his writing as characterized by mentor William Goldman[2]

Sorkin is known for writing memorable lines and fast-paced dialogue, such as "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men and the partly Latin tirade against God in The West Wing episode "Two Cathedrals".[8] For television, one hallmark of Sorkin's writer's voice is the repartee that his characters engage in as they small talk and banter about whimsical events taking place within an episode, and interject obscure popular culture references into conversation.[150] Although his scripts are lauded for being literate,[8][15][151] Sorkin has been criticized for often turning in scripts that are overwrought.[152] His mentor William Goldman has commented that normally in visual media speeches are avoided, but that Sorkin has a talent for dialogue and gets away with breaking this rule.[38]

MasterClass

In August 2016, Sorkin launched a screenwriting course on MasterClass. The course includes dialogue, character development, story pacing, plot, and his process of working.[153] Students can watch videos, download workbooks, and share their observations and progress through discussion boards and social media groups.[154]

Personal life[edit]

Sorkin at a Generation Obama event, following a screening of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 2008.

Sorkin married Julia Bingham in 1996 and divorced in 2005, with his workaholic habits and drug abuse reported to be a partial cause.[155][156] Sorkin and Bingham have one daughter, Roxy.[157] He dated Kristin Chenoweth for several years, who played Annabeth Schott on The West Wing (after Sorkin had left the show).[158] He has also reportedly dated columnist Maureen Dowd and actress Kristin Davis.[159][160]

A consistent supporter of the Democratic Party, Sorkin has made substantial political campaign contributions to candidates between 1999 and 2011, according to CampaignMoney.com.[161] During the 2004 US presidential election campaign, the liberal advocacy group MoveOn's political action committee enlisted Sorkin and Rob Reiner to create one of their anti-Bush campaign advertisements.[162] In August 2008, Sorkin was involved in a Generation Obama event at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, California, participating in a panel discussion subsequent to a screening of Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.[163] However, Sorkin does not consider himself a political activist: "I've met political activists, and they're for real. I've never marched anyplace or done anything that takes more effort than writing a check in terms of activism".[71] In 2016, after President Donald Trump won the election, Sorkin wrote an open letter to his daughter Roxy and her mother Julia.[164]

In 1987, Sorkin started using marijuana and cocaine. He said the drug gave him relief from certain nervous tensions that occur on a regular basis.[8] In 1995, he sought rehabilitation at the Hazelden Institute in Minnesota, on the advice of Bingham to combat his addiction.[165] In early 2001, Sorkin and his colleagues John Spencer and Martin Sheen received the Phoenix Rising Award for overcoming their drug abuse. However, on April 15, 2001, Sorkin was arrested when security guards at Hollywood Burbank Airport found hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, and crack cocaine in his carry-on bag, and a metal crack pipe was detected by a magnetometer.[8][166] He was court-ordered to a drug diversion program,[13][64] but continued working on The West Wing during the time.[155][156] In a commencement speech for Syracuse University on May 13, 2012, Sorkin said he has not used cocaine for eleven years.[167]

List of works[edit]

Films[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Notes
1992 A Few Good Men No Yes
1993 Malice No Yes With Scott Frank
1995 The American President No Yes
2007 Charlie Wilson's War No Yes
2010 The Social Network No Yes
2011 Moneyball No Yes With Steven Zaillian
2015 Steve Jobs No Yes
2017 Molly's Game Yes Yes Directorial debut
2020 The Trial of the Chicago 7 Yes Yes

Uncredited roles

Television[edit]

Year Title Writer Executive
Producer
Creator
1998–2000 Sports Night Yes Yes Yes
1999–2006 The West Wing Yes Yes Yes
2006–07 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Yes Yes Yes
2012–14 The Newsroom Yes Yes Yes

Plays[edit]

Year Title Playwright Venue Ref.
1984 Removing All Doubt Yes Syracuse University
1988 Hidden in This Picture Yes West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar [168]
1989 A Few Good Men Yes Music Box Theatre [169]
1990 Making Movies Yes Promenade Theatre [22]
2007 The Farnsworth Invention Yes La Jolla Playhouse [83]
2018 To Kill a Mockingbird Yes Shubert Theatre

Acting credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1992 A Few Good Men Man in bar
1995 The American President Aide in bar
1999 Sports Night Man at bar Episode: "Small Town"
2006 The West Wing Man in crowd Episode: "Tomorrow"
2009–10 Entourage Himself Two episodes
2010 The Social Network Ad executive
2011 30 Rock Himself Episode: "Plan B"
2017 Molly's Game Man in bar

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
2011 Academy Awards Best Adapted Screenplay The Social Network Won [94]
2012 Moneyball Nominated [97]
2018 Molly's Game Nominated [127]
2011 British Academy Film Awards Best Adapted Screenplay The Social Network Won [95]
2012 Moneyball Nominated [98]
2016 Steve Jobs Nominated [170]
2018 Molly's Game Nominated [171]
2008 Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Writer Charlie Wilson's War Nominated
2011 Best Adapted Screenplay The Social Network Won [172]
2012 Moneyball Won [173]
2016 Steve Jobs Nominated [174]
2018 Molly's Game Nominated [175]
1993 Golden Globe Awards Best Screenplay - Motion Picture A Few Good Men Nominated [96]
1996 The American President Nominated
2008 Charlie Wilson's War Nominated
2011 The Social Network Won
2012 Moneyball Nominated
2016 Steve Jobs Won
2018 Molly's Game Nominated
1999 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series ("The Apology") Sports Night Nominated [176]
2000 Outstanding Drama Series The West Wing Won
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series ("In Excelsis Deo" & "Pilot") Won
2001 Outstanding Drama Series The West Wing Won
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series ("In the Shadow of Two Gunmen") Nominated
2002 Outstanding Drama Series The West Wing Won
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series ("Posse Comitatus") Nominated
2003 Outstanding Drama Series The West Wing Won
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series ("Twenty Five") Nominated
1995 Writers Guild of America Awards Best Original Screenplay The American President Nominated [177]
2000 Episodic Drama ("In Excelsis Deo") The West Wing Won
Episodic Drama ("Take This Sabbath Day") Nominated
2001 Episodic Drama ("Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail" & "Two Cathedrals") The West Wing Nominated
2002 Episodic Drama ("Game On") The West Wing Nominated
2005 Dramatic Series The West Wing Nominated
2006 New Series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Nominated [178]
Episodic Drama ("Pilot") Nominated
2010 Best Adapted Screenplay The Social Network Won
2011 Moneyball Nominated
2012 New Series The Newsroom Nominated [179]
2015 Best Adapted Screenplay Steve Jobs Nominated
2017 Best Adapted Screenplay Molly's Game Nominated

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]