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May 24, 2022

Who Is Aaron Sorkin?

If you want to become a screenwriter, then - as with all careers - you should also take some time to study the most successful people in your industry.

A prime candidate to consider is Aaron Sorkin, whose nearly 40-year career has spanned numerous multi-season television shows and box office hits.

How did he do it? And what can we learn about his route to success that you can emulate today? Let's take a look at some Aaron Sorkin movies. 

Who is Aaron Sorkin? 

Aaron Sorkin is an American screenwriter born in Manhattan, New York, in 1961. His father was a lawyer who fought in WWII, and his mother was a teacher.

In high school, he got involved in the drama and theater society and enrolled at Syracuse University in 1979. He graduated in 1983 with a B.A. in Musical Theater, intending to become an actor.

However, after graduation, Sorkin returned to New York and took odd jobs while moonlighting as an actor, taking any job that came his way. Some of Sorkin's side-gigs included driving a limousine, handing out fliers, and touring Alabama with a children's theater company. 

His writing career began when he discovered a typewriter at a friend's house while house sitting for him.

Sorkin started by writing plays. He sent his first, Removing All Doubt, to his former university professor, who enjoyed it so much he agreed to stage it for students. This and the success of his next play, Hidden in Pictures, brought him to the attention of a literary agent.

From theater to screen 

His first big success came with his next play, A Few Good Men, opened in New York in 1989. Soon after, he sold the film rights to producer David Brown, best known for producing and adapting Jaws from the novel of the same name.

Brown succeeded in getting Castle Rock Entertainment on board for the film, and they contracted Sorkin to write the film version, and he learned on the job. Sorkin's connection to Castle Rock and the commercial success of A Few Good Men in 1992 gave him the ability to write more films for them, including Malice and The American President. 

What are the most successful Aaron Sorkin movies?

Many of Sorkin's films depict contemporary anxieties about political issues. For example, A Few Good Men centers around a court-martial trial and revelations about a conspiracy. 

Charlie Wilson's War (2007) focuses on the real-life congressman Charlie Wilson and his attempts to secure U.S backing for the Mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War, a decision that became controversial following the 9/11 attacks as the Mujahideen were heavily involved and backed by Osama Bin-Laden. 

Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, the protagonist in A Few Good Men pumps his fist into the air during the court-martial setting of the film.
Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, the protagonist in A Few Good Men pumps his fist into the air during the court-martial setting of the film.

The Social Network (2010) explores the college life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and the legal battles that followed.

The 2015 film Steve Jobs follows a similar theme depicting the flawed personal life of the Apple founder. 

Case Study: Steve Jobs 

Sorkin adapted the screenplay for Steve Jobs from Walter Issacson's 2011 comprehensive biography, one of the top Aaron Sorkin films despite not being a box office success. 

Sony bought the film rights to the book in the year it was published and straight away hired Sorkin to write it. 

The film is tricky because it covers 14 years, 1984–1998, following Jobs' life at critical moments. Sorkin told Variety magazine that he didn't want to simply write a cradle-to-grave biopic and instead focused on a three-act structure

David Boyle, who directed Steve Jobs, said of Sorkin's script, "There's literally 185 pages of dialogue, three scenes, all interior day continuous and six characters, how are you going to make this into a film? But what Sorkin is doing is a provocation: there's no stage directors or ideas about how you might do this, but every limitation is actually an opportunity."

It took Sorkin the best part of three years to finish the script, and production only began in 2014. This is most likely due to the amount of research a biography of a real person takes. Sorkin consulted Job's former Apple partner Steve Wozniak to make sure the film accurately portrayed Jobs. 

When it opened, the film received critical acclaim from newspapers but was a commercial disaster making just $34 million to a budget of $30 million.

Steve Jobs is an example of a film artistically a masterpiece but a commercial flop showing that being experimental doesn't always play off commercially. 

"No one signed up to this movie to get rich," Sorkin said. 

Case Study: Molly's Game 

Molly's Game (2017) was a more mainstream film that grossed $59.3 million, making it a relative box office success compared to Steve Jobs. This is one of the top Aaron Sorkin movies currently on Netflix.

Based on a memoir of Molly Bloom, the film follows Bloom as she runs an illicit poker tournament for high-profile individuals. Eventually, her activities became the subject of an FBI investigation. 

Sorkin was approached to write Molly's Game at the end of 2014 by The Mark Gordon Company, which had already purchased the rights.

A poster of Sorkin's 2017 film Molly's Game based on the biography of Molly Bloom about an elite poker ring.
Molly's Game was the first film that Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed.

Unlike Jobs, who was already dead when Sorkin wrote the book, Bloom was excited by the prospect of Sorkin adapting her memoir and was her first choice.

For the first time, Sorkin also directed Molly's Game. The script took around two years to complete, with the shooting beginning in 2016. 

Sorkin is not a fan of voice overs but decides to opt for a voiceover in Molly's Game. "I wanted Molly to tell the story of the past and not the filmmakers. I wanted it to feel like the best TED Talk you've ever been to," Sorkin tells Indie Wire.  

"I was knocked out by Molly when I met her and spent hundreds of hours talking to her during the research phase. She has a particular sense of humor about the observations she makes. She has a way of talking about these calamitous decisions she made, which was very winning. I wanted to get that in there. I wanted it to feel like Molly telling her story."

Study Aaron Sorkin's films if you want to write great films 

Aaron Sorkin has been successful in both film and television and has forged a career telling stories about contemporary America that have consistently stayed relevant to the zeitgeist. 

Today with the advent of streaming services like Netflix, independent films, and the internet, there are more opportunities to make it in the film industry than ever before that he didn't have. 

The best way to emulate his success is to write every day, watch some Aaron Sorkin movies and read his screenplays. 

However, unlike Sorkin, you don't need to write on a typewriter; Arc Studio offers tools to help you generate ideas and craft the perfect screenplay to help you succeed, whatever level you're at.

Happy writing! 


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Who Is Aaron Sorkin?
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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