Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster for THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

Geri talks to writer and director Aaron Sorkin about spending 15 years writing his latest film, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7; how intention and obstacle are the backbones of every good story; and how his career is kind of like being struck by lightning… if being struck by lightning were a good thing.

Aaron Sorkin is the Academy, Emmy, Golden Globe, and Writers Guild Award-winning writer behind myriad films, television series, and plays including THE WEST WING, THE NEWSROOM, the play A FEW GOOD MEN (and its 1992 film adaptation), MONEYBALL, MOLLY’S GAME—which he also directed, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, written and directed by Sorkin, is based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The film was released in the fall of 2020 and is available to stream on Netlfix.

Season 7 of OnWriting is hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys. She also performs sketch and improv at theaters and festivals around the country.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: You’re listening to OnWriting a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. I’m your host, Geri Cole and each episode, you’ll hear writers working in film, television, and news, break down everything from the writing process to pitching, favorite jokes to key scenes and so much more. Today I’m speaking with Aaron Sorkin writer and director of The Trial of the Chicago 7, now streaming on Netflix. Aaron’s written a few things you may have heard of including A Few Good Men, The West Wing and The Social Network. In our interview, we touched on how he’s been writing The Trial of Chicago 7 for the last 15 years, how intention and obstacle are the backbones of every good story and how his career is kind of like being struck by lightning, if being struck by lightning were a good thing. Thank you again for joining us today and thank you for making this film.

Aaron Sorkin: Thank you for having me and it was a great pleasure and thrill to make the film.

Geri Cole: So I’d like to start by talking about the first version of this film because you started it in 2007, if I’m correct and Steven Spielberg was going to direct.

Aaron Sorkin: In 2006 or 14 years ago, I was asked to come over to Steven Spielberg’s house on a Saturday morning, which just to be clear isn’t common, I don’t hang with Steven. And he told me he wanted to make a movie about the Chicago 7. And I said, “That sounds great count me in.” Left his house, called my father and asked my father who the Chicago 7 were. I didn’t know what he was talking about, I was just saying yes to doing a movie with Steven the way anyone would. So I had a lot to learn and there are a dozen or so good books written about the Chicago 7, some of them by the defendants themselves, there’s a 21,000 page trial transcript. But most critically during the research was that I got to spend time with Tom Hayden, Tom died a few years ago but he was very much alive in 2006.

Aaron Sorkin: And sometime in 2007, I turned in the first draft and the next day our guild went on strike. So of course, I wasn’t allowed to talk to the producer, the director of the studio, we kind of stopped. And for the next 14 years, I really never stopped writing the screenplay. I would just keep writing it, never to reflect what was going on in the world to keep up with current events, always just to make the screenplay better, to just do what screenwriters do. But it kind of kept getting kicked down the road and kicked down the road until Donald Trump was elected president. And he began getting nostalgic at his rallies when there’d be a protest or the old days that, “Carry that guy out of here on a stretcher, I’d like to punch him right in the face. Let’s beat the crap out of him. Those sons of who were in kneeling, the athletes.” Most of whom were black.

Aaron Sorkin: “Get those sons of off the field.” That happened and I had directed my first film Molly’s Game. Steven was sufficiently pleased with that, that he thought I should direct Chicago 7 and that the time to make it with now.

Geri Cole: Absolutely. I feel like you’ve covered so many-

Aaron Sorkin: Sorry, did I.

Geri Cole: Points that I wanted to. No, but that’s good.

Aaron Sorkin: Did I answer before questions.

Geri Cole: Because my followup question was going to be, how much has it changed over these years, especially given that sort of what’s happening in this new tumultuous time and it feels insanely relevant again.

Aaron Sorkin: Well, like I said, it never changed to mirror events in the world. The world changed to mirror the script is what happened. I feel like we’ve been on a 14 year collision course with events. But I never even back in 2006, I never wanted the movie to be about 1968, I wanted it to be about today. I never imagined how much about today was going to be. Even last winter when we were shooting it, we all thought the movie was plenty relevant then, we didn’t need it to get more relevant. But then in May, George Floyd is killed by the police, brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. Now there are protests in cities, all across America and in many of those cities, protestors are met by once again, nightsticks, tear gas and the demonization of protest as un-American.

Geri Cole: Wow. Can we talk a little bit about the process of you trying to weave together these historical accounts and then your fictionalized versions of things? How much leeway do you give yourself, especially since these are real people. Can you talk about your approach to characterization?

Aaron Sorkin: Sure. In terms of fact versus fiction it’s a conversation I think we’re having today because of the crown mostly, but it’s a conversation I’ve been having with people for a few years. Because I from time to time I write nonfiction like Chicago 7, everybody has their own internal compass about what they’re willing to do to the truth. And if your internal compass is broken the studio’s legal department is usually happy to help you out, but here’s the best way I can put it. There’s a difference between art and journalism and there’s a difference between a photograph and a painting. And this isn’t a painting, now that’s not an excuse to just make stuff up for the sake of making a movie better. But that 21,000 page trial transcript because the trial was on those six months long, a movie audience would fall asleep and die hearing that.

Aaron Sorkin: Real trials, aren’t nearly as snappy as the ones that we do in movies and television so a writer does that. Obviously, all of the dialogue is invented that’s something that writers do. People’s lives don’t play out in a series of scenes that form a narrative arc, that’s something that writers do. But what I would never invent for instance, would be Bobby Seale getting bound and gagged in the courtroom. Not only did that actually happen, but all of that dialogue, all of the exchanges between Bobby and Judge Hoffman, not just surrounding his being shackled, but all of his objections throughout the court, those are directly from the transcripts. I felt like that was sacred territory. And I wanted to be able to say, “Absolutely not.” If anyone asked me, “Did you make any of that up?”

Aaron Sorkin: I didn’t invent any of the events those happened. The things that I have to invent are conversations between two people that you and I weren’t there to witness. Not only do I have to invent that because we weren’t witnesses to it, but you have to move a story along. So the answer is, it’s a painting, not a photograph it’s supposed to be subjective. Whereas journalism is meant to be objective. And I think Chicago 7 has not at all perverted history or any of the people in it.

Geri Cole: Can you walk us a little bit through production and what it’s like for you to switch hats from writer to director and when you’re directing, do you still hear that writer voice in your head?

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah, I don’t have two hats and I don’t think of it as a switch of hats. I’ve always been hyper aware when I’m writing that I don’t write things that are meant to be read, I write things that are meant to be performed. So I’m always thinking about that. Thinking about the audience experience and thinking about how this will be performed, not what it looks like on the page, but what it’s going to look like on the screen, a big screen, a television screen, or a stage if I’m writing a play. In neither of the movies that I have directed now, Chicago 7 or Molly’s Game. Did I know that I was going to be directing the movie when I was writing it and that was probably helpful because I think if I knew that I was going to be directing Chicago 7 while I was writing it, I may have tried to find a way to not show the riots because that was pretty scary. But I surround myself with very talented people who don’t have any problem at all saying, “That is a bad idea, let me pitch you a better one.”

Geri Cole: Nice. Has there ever been a time when a director has changed a line or something that you’ve written that upset you, but now that you are a director, you understand what was happening.

Aaron Sorkin: No, there’s never been a time that a director has changed a line. There was one time… It’s not really worth discussing… So no I’ve worked with directors who it’s been a great partnership and they’ve got of notes during the development period and during pre-production, but I and they want the script to be done by the time we’re shooting it. You don’t want to make those kinds of decisions on the floor, in fact, you want to make as few decisions as possible on the floor, you want them made before you get there. So I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

Geri Cole: You also have been very lucky because you had an amazing ensemble cast for this film. Can we talk a little bit about your expectations when you hand the script to actors and that relationship?

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah, you’re right. The cast of this movie, it was amazing. And when I would come to the set in the morning, I felt like somebody was tossing me the keys to a formula one race car. And as long as I didn’t put the car in the wall, these actors were going to win. So I was excited to be working with these actors, I was nervous about a few things. I was nervous because most of these people are used to starting in their own movies and not being part of an ensemble. How would they be about that? They are also different actors, very different actors. And could I make sure that they were all in the same movie? It turned out that I had no reason to be concerned with either of those things. They are in addition to being extremely talented and skilled, they’re very generous actors.

Aaron Sorkin: So they are there for somebody’s big scene, giving them everything they can give them. There would be two, three days in a row where it was all about coverage, where they were sitting at the defense table while someone else was at the stand, while Frank Langella was doing one of his things. And they understood how important the coverage in those scenes were. So never a complaint, everybody just so happy to be at work, everybody by the way working for scale, which they’re also not used to. Steven said, “Take one step forward if you want to be a part of Chicago 7.” And then these were the actors who did.

Geri Cole: Wow, that’s incredible. This isn’t your first political project, obviously, from West Wing to Newsroom and Charlie Wilson’s War, A Few Good Men given where activism is now. What is your advice for writers trying to tell political stories?

Aaron Sorkin: When I write about politics, which just to point out I’ve done a few times, the impetus hasn’t been activism. It hasn’t been that I I’m trying to persuade you of something politically so here I go. When I write about politics it’s because it’s just an area where there’s a treasure trove of stories that I like to tell. I have a style of writing that’s romantic and idealistic and it suits that style. The conflicts that I write about tend to be conflicts of ideas, and so again, the politics suit that style. So with Chicago 7, it began, like I said, it began as, “Oh a chance to work with Spielberg.” And then it was, “Hey, this is a really good story on its own. This is a good story to tell. I have a chance to write a good screenplay here.”

Aaron Sorkin: And then it began to get eerily chillingly relevant. And then it was at a point where I would watch CNN’s coverage of the protests in Minneapolis or Kenosha or Portland and the law enforcement response. And think if you just degraded the color on CNN coverage a little bit, it would look exactly like the footage you used from 1968. So your question was, what advice would I have to a writer who wants to mix their writing with political activism? I would say you have got to cling to the rules of drama and storytelling and let the activism seep into the blood supply of what you’re working, but it’s still about intention and obstacle. It’s still Aristotle, it’s still drama.

Geri Cole: That’s good advice. So I’d also like to talk a little bit about your process. You were saying that you don’t start off having necessarily political intentions, but politics is an area that’s ripe for the types of things you like to write. Where do you write? Do you work in outlines, in cards or have any rituals?

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah. Well, first of all, just going back to the beginning of your question of not starting out with a political motivation, starting out with a storytelling motivation. Take The West West Wing, for example, which I suppose is the most overtly political thing that I’ve written. For me, that started out as thinking, “In popular culture, our leaders, especially our elected leaders have almost always been portrayed as either Machiavellian or dolts.” Idiots. “What if there was…” And I like workplace drama. “What if there was a workplace drama that took place in this very exotic romantic workplace, the White House. And instead of Machiavellian and instead of dolts, the people who worked there were everybody’s competent and dedicated as the doctors and nurses on a hospital show, or that the detectives on a cop show, or the lawyers on a legal drama.” It started from that place, not from a place of political activism, but many of those stories had to do with a clash of ideas and these characters that have strong opinions about those ideas.

Aaron Sorkin: We were going to words that we weren’t used to, remember this show went on the air in 1999 and a lot has changed on television in the last 21 years. But we weren’t used to hearing words like Democrat and Republican on TV. You didn’t want to split your audience in half and this show was going to do that. There was going to be a right and the left and opinions were going to be challenged. Anyway, you asked me about my process. I’ve never used an outline before, but I’m not discouraging anyone else from using it. I use index cards when I get there, especially if it’s not non-fiction there’s a research period. And there’s often a research period when it’s fiction too. Then there’s the climbing the walls period of just weeks and weeks, if not months of pulling your hair out because you can’t think of what this looks like or what it is, what’s the plot? What’s the story that I’m telling? Any of that stuff.

Aaron Sorkin: You finally get a glimmer you’re ready to start. You know what your first scene is, and then maybe what your second scene is. And yet if you have two scenes, you have two index cards and you put them up there and it becomes like walking in the dark with a flashlight, where you could only see as far ahead of you as that beam will go, just a few feet ahead of you. But the further ahead you walk, the more you’re seeing. So I don’t think I’ve ever written anything where I knew how it ended when I started it. I just had confidence that somewhere in the middle I’d figured out… Or by the time I got to the end of the first draft, I would have figured out what it’s about now I can go back to the beginning and change it. I call it the Skylab method of writing.

Aaron Sorkin: In fact, in the seventies, I think it was, NASA sent a satellite into space called Skylab. It was on a seven year mission to collect data, it was an unmanned satellite. And the only thing was when they shot it up into space, they didn’t know how they were going to get it back. But they were confident that the seven years that it was up there, they were going to figure out how to get it back. They did not. So Skylab after seven years came crashing down to earth, but they managed to make it crash in a thousand miles swath across the Indian Ocean so nobody got hurt, but they never did figure out how to I got it back. I still have faith in the Skylabs.

Geri Cole: Wow. That’s fantastic. Also it’s like faith, I guess.

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah. You got to have faith. But what you really got to do is start. For me, the difference between being on page two and being on page nothing is life and death.

Geri Cole: You started in theater and occasionally do still write plays. I’d like to talk a little bit about how theater has informed your screenwriting. And if your process changes at all, going back and forth between the two.

Aaron Sorkin: Here’s what I am I’m a playwright who fakes his way through movies and television. All of my friends who do what I do for a living, they can all tell you who the first AD was on every Hitchcock movie. I can’t, but I can tell you who the stage manager was on every play in the 20th century, I’m a theater geek. I studied theater in college and I wanted to be a playwright. Now I came to New York and got incredibly lucky, hit by lightning lucky if getting hit by lightning was a good thing. I wrote A Few Good Men and a group of really legendary producers produced it on Broadway. And the film rights were bought. And I came out here and did the screenplay for A Few Good Men, my intention being to go right back to New York and write my second play.

Aaron Sorkin: And it’s the oldest story of the book I stayed and I wrote another movie, and then I wrote another movie, and then I wrote a TV series and then I woulds run another TV series. And it was 17 years after my first play that I wrote my second play. But only a few years after that, that I wrote my third play, which was on Broadway. When all of Broadway, all theaters in America actually shut down on March 11th. And we believe we’re reopening in October, November. But yet I’m happiest when I’m in a rehearsal room. I’m happiest when I’m pacing the back of the theater during previews and in movies and television, and I guess I shouldn’t say this in a place where studios can hear it, I’m faking it.

Geri Cole: Well, you’re doing a very good job faking it [crosstalk 00:19:50].

Aaron Sorkin: Thank you very much.

Geri Cole: So I heard actually, when you were writing A Few Good Men, you were in a writing group back then.

Aaron Sorkin: Wow. I can’t believe you know that.

Geri Cole: Actually, my producer told me that. I don’t know how he found out, but do you still work with the writing group or have someone you share your work with?

Aaron Sorkin: There are people I show my work to but that writing group, which was an incredible group, it doesn’t exist anymore. There’s a theater in New York called Playwrights Horizons off Broadway and it’s a legendary theater. It started in the ’70s and it’s served as this nurturing place for this brand new group of young playwrights that included Wendy Wasserstein and just a murderer’s row of great playwrights and Andre Bishop, who at the time now he heads Lincoln Center at the time he was the head of Playwrights Horizons. He realized that these playwrights that he had nurtured we’re supposed to grow up and leave the house and now be on Broadways to make room for the new group. And that that had never happened. So he decided now is the time to find a new group and I was part of that new group. It was five playwrights we were all in our early mid twenties. And one of them was Peter Hedges. Who now I think a lot of people know as Lucas Hedges’ father, but Peter Hedges is a fantastic writer and director.

Aaron Sorkin: Doug Wright, who would end up winning the Pulitzer prize for, I Am My Own Wife. It was a group of five writers we call it playwright therapy on Mondays and The Reason Why It Worked So Well. And we’d each come in with a fist full of pages that we’d done that week. We’d pass them out, we’d read them. And then we’d talk to the writer about the pages and the reason why it worked so well. Why taking notes from four other playwrights on your play works so well was because we were five very different writers. They put that group together well, none of us wanted to write the other person’s play. So we were just giving them observations and helping them with who they were. And it was a big success, just a year later I think four of the five of us our plays that we had been working on in that little room with the fist full of pages were on Broadway.

Geri Cole: Wow. That’s like being struck by lightning, if being struck by lightning were a good thing.

Aaron Sorkin: If it were a good thing.

Geri Cole: So speaking of groups of writers, you’ve obviously had some amazing writers rooms for your series. What do you look for in a writing staff and what do you think makes a good writing staff?

Aaron Sorkin: Okay, well first let me say that you’re right. I’m really proud that so many of the writers that I’ve worked with in television are now show runners, EPs, creators, I really like that tree. For my writers’ rooms and television it’s really different than most other writers rooms, most writers rooms… And I know this, this is for your listeners who might not. At the beginning you get there several months before our production starts. You talk about the whole season, just a long rage arc what we want to do this season and then you break it down into slightly smaller bits. Okay, well then we need to be here by Christmas and we need to be here by October and that kind of thing. And then you go around the room. “Okay, you’re going to take up episode two. You’re going to take episode three. You’re going to take episode four, bring me pitches then I’ll give you notes on those. Bring me outlines, I’ll give you notes on those. Then a first draft notes on those, second draft notes on those.” And probably the final draft runs through the shot runners computer.

Aaron Sorkin: I write all the episodes of the shows that I’ve done all of Sports Night, all of West Wing, all of Studio 60, all off the Newsroom. With the West Wing, I should say the first four seasons of The West Wing, I stepped down after season four. With a tremendous amount of help from a writing staff, they are there to pitch ideas… So while I’m writing, they’re working out pitches to pitch me when I’m done writing for the next episode. They do a lot of research… And I want to make a clear that they have been I’ve written the scripts, but they’ve been a big part of those episodes. And if you have a favorite moment in any of those shows, I am sure the credit belongs just as much to someone else as it does to me, and just in terms of the writing.

Geri Cole: It sounds like so much work.

Aaron Sorkin: Well, it is, it’s a lot… And more than the work it’s the anxiety because I love television. I love working in television. I love working with the same group of people every week. I love putting on a show every week. I love the kinds of stories you can tell on television that you can’t in the movies, you can’t in a play. But what I don’t like is that if I’m writing a screenplay, if I’m writing a play and I have run into trouble, I’ve driven into a snowbank, I’m stuck. I can call the studio, call the producer, call whoever is waiting for it and say, “I know I said I was going to deliver it Christmas, it’s probably going to be more like Easter because I’ve got to stick this drawer and step away from it for a few days, something’s gone wrong.” In television you can’t do that.

Aaron Sorkin: You have air dates to meet, those are hard deadlines that can’t be moved, which means that you have to write even when you’re not writing well. When you know you not writing well, you’ll have to write anyway. And then you’ve got to put it on the table for the cast and crew off the table read, and then you’ve got to point a camera at it for everyone to see and that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Geri Cole: So you are famously known for your dialogue, can you walk us through how you construct those famous walk and talk scenes?

Aaron Sorkin: Well, I’m really only responsible for the talk part of the walk and talk scenes. But listen dialogue there’s a lot about writing that can be taught and that can be learned. It is an important chunk of writing that is teachable and learnable and then there’s a part that’s not. The part that’s not is usually what we mean when we talk about talent whether it’s a piano player or a painter or anything else. So I try to bulk up as much as I can on the part that can be taught. I worship at the alter of intention and obstacle. Somebody wants something, something’s standing in their way of getting it, they want the money, they want the guy, they want to get to Paris. If they can meet it, that’s even better. And then as a writer, you’re going to stick an obstacle or a series of obstacles in their way, and the tactics that your protagonist uses to overcome that obstacle, that’s who the character is, that’s what the journey is.

Aaron Sorkin: So I make sure that I understand what the intention and obstacle is. I make sure I understand what the scene is about. Is it a negotiation? Is it a seduction? Is it a fight? And once I’m ready to write then I just let it fly. And if you’ll forgive the hubris of this, whatever talent I may have, it’s time to call on that. I let it fly and I write the way I write.

Geri Cole: It’s a little bit of magic. You ask for it from the universe and it filters down.

Aaron Sorkin: A little bit. But what I don’t do is sit down or I fade in and then, “Let’s see, what should this person say?” If it’s flowing, like ketchup out of a new bottle, “Stop. You don’t have it. You don’t know what the scene is about.” Once you do, once you’re on solid ground, let it fly.

Geri Cole: So what attracts you to a project? You talked earlier about you always attracted to romantic and idealistic stories, but how do you know when something is like, “Oh that’s…” When you’ve got it, I suppose.

Aaron Sorkin: Well, that’s a good question. And I take a pretty long time thinking about whether I’m going to sign on to a project and it’s about essentially, do I have a chance to write a good movie? Just like a baseball player, a batter when he’s hit the plate is looking for their pitch to hit. “Oh, okay. Here comes the fast ball, low and outside that’s my pitch. So I have a chance if I can swing just right. I have a chance to get a hit here.” Do I have a chance to write a good screenplay? And so the followup would be, well, what are the things that tell you have a chance to write a good screenplay and usually it’s going to be is there a clear intention and obstacle?

Aaron Sorkin: One of the things that I’m drawn to other than politics or courtrooms, because the intention and obstacle the stakes they’re all laid out so clearly as if they’re on a playing field with a demarcation. And that the dynamic between a lawyer and a witness that’s being cross-examined on the stand that is drama right there that’s a conflict. So I like courtroom dramas because well they’re very dramatic and because you don’t have to work too hard to get two people facing each other and arguing.

Geri Cole: And it’s already set up.

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah. Additionally, the jury is a standard for the audience. you’re always looking for a character just to make exposition work. You’re always looking for a character that knows as little as the audience does about a situation, well, that’s the jury. They know as little as the audience does and the lawyers and the witnesses get to tell them what happened while they’re telling the audience what happened.

Geri Cole: So there’s a question that I like to ask everyone who comes into the podcast, which is what does success look like for you? I feel like success never looks like what you think it’s going to look like and or you find yourself in it. And it’s like, “Is this it? Am I in the success?” So how has the idea of success changed for you over the years?

Aaron Sorkin: Listen, all I ever wanted to be was a professional writer. I wanted to be able to pay my bills with the money I made writing. I wanted to be able to pay my rent, pay my phone bill, buy food with the money I made writing. That’s not a modest goal, that’s tough to do and that was my goal. Everything else that’s happened beyond that blows my mind. Frankly, it doesn’t feel really like it’s happening to me. It feels more like it’s happening to an avatar because my definition of success hasn’t changed from back when I was 21, I get to earn a living doing exactly what I love doing. I get to earn a living doing something I’d happily do for free. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

Geri Cole: Yeah. I agree. The goal is always to just make great things with friends.

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah. And listen, that doesn’t mean like I’m kicking back. I live and die with each thing that I do. So success often for me means, “Did I make the thing I wanted to make? Is that the movie I wanted to do when I started writing? Is that the play that I wanted to do when I started writing it?” Then of course, there’s the reality of success of failure, critical success, critical failure, box office success, box office failure. And I’m not indifferent to those things. And when people bet on me, I want them to win. But the image that I have is if you cup your hands and fill them with water and try to walk from here to there with your hands filled with water, chances are by the time you get to there, there’s not going to be much water left in your hands. In fact, it may be all gone, but every once in a while if just… And it’s always because of the people that you’re working with, the people that you’ve decided to surround yourself with, not just the cast, but the crew, the designers, the composer everybody.

Aaron Sorkin: Every once in a while, you cup your hands and you fill them with water and you try to get it from here to there, which is the process of getting it from your head to the page, to the screen. You try to get it from here to there and by the time you get there, it’s turned into brandy, it’s turned into cognac, it’s turned into something better than what you started with.

Geri Cole: So I’d like to end talking a little bit about one of your mentors who was the late great William Goldman.

Aaron Sorkin: Sure.

Geri Cole: Could you talk to me a little bit about what you remember of him and what he taught you?

Aaron Sorkin: I’d love to. First of all, Bill Goldman was my mentor before I ever met him, the same way he was for a lot of people. We would study his screenplays, we would devour his fiction books like Adventures in the Screen Trade, which I recommend to anyone listening to this podcast. You won’t be able to put it down. And then he read this play of mine A Few Good Men, which was just casting, it hadn’t gone to rehearsal yet but the script was getting passed around. And he called me out of the blue, and I remeber this was Bill Goldman. “Would you like to have lunch?” I said, “Sure.” I put on the only suit I owned. And I met him for lunch and ever since then, he really took me under his wing.

Aaron Sorkin: And I’m not the only one. Scott Frank, Tony Gilroy there are a lot of writers, writer directors in town who Bill nursed along the way. He’s a wonderful guy, he was a fantastic curmudgeon. He was brilliant, a heart as big as Montana and a brain as big as Montana too. Incredibly generous with his time and with his talent, loved movies so much and the people who made them. And just as he was my mentor and a lot of people’s mentor before I ever met him, he remains that even after he’s passed on.

Geri Cole: I feel like mentorship is… Or at least it feels to me like a thing that is a forgotten path or it’s like… Especially, when you have a craft, it’s like you need someone that helps you, that understands the craft to help pull you along.

Aaron Sorkin: You do, that apprenticeship is important. And those of us who were lucky enough to be mentored by Bill are trying to pass his generosity on by helping out a new group of young writers in their twenties.

Geri Cole: What’s your screenwriter therapy?

Aaron Sorkin: What I do is I drive around in my car and I listen to the music I listened to when I was in high school. And every once in a while, you’ll hear a song and it’ll take you back to that place where you were in high school, where your girlfriend broke up with you and now you’re listening to that song over and over. You’ll hear a song… Well, this happens to me, I don’t know if it will work for other people. You hear a song and you think, “I would love to write a scene where the score is that song.” I know it sounds like working backwards, it is working backwards but anything to get you started. But here’s what I don’t recommend for playwright therapy, drinking and getting high. It may work for a minute, but then all the minutes after that are going to be the worst minutes of your life.

Geri Cole: Okay. I think that that’s fantastic advice.

Aaron Sorkin: Are you bummed that I ended on a bummer?

Geri Cole: No. No. I don’t think that we ended on a bummer, I think that that’s great advice because the connecting to music or rather using music to connect to a true emotion, I think is fantastic advice.

Aaron Sorkin: It’s very helpful.

Geri Cole: And not cheating. No cheating with booze and-`

Aaron Sorkin: Yeah. All right. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Geri Cole: It’s been so good to talk to you as well. Thank you so much.

Aaron Sorkin: You bet.

Geri Cole: That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. Tech production and original music is by Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the Writer’s Guild of America, East online at And you can follow the Guild on social media @WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. I’m Geri Cole, thank you for listening and write on.

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