Aaron Benjamin Sorkin (born June 9, 1961) is an American screenwriter, director, producer and playwright. He's the man behind Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sports Night, The Newsroom and The West Wing. His scripts have many distinctive traits, including a dialogue style known for timing and finesse that has garnered the moniker "Sorkinese". His shows are also notorious for characters walking down hallways while expositing at high speed.
Sorkin also wrote several plays, such as A Few Good Men and screenplays such as the film adaptation of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, for which he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
His most recent venture into television, the HBO series The Newsroom, starring Jeff Daniels premiered in 2012 and ended with a shortened final season in December 2014. Unlike several of his other TV projects, The Newsroom was not canceled by the network and he also wasn't thrown out (as happened on The West Wing) but he thought the story and characters did not provide material for more seasons. Sorkin has since stated in interviews that he does not want to write anything but theater and feature length movies in the future, explicitly citing that The West Wing is a Tough Act to Follow.
Trope Namer for:
- A Few Good Men (1992) note
- Malice (1993)
- The American President (1995)
- The Rock (1996, uncredited)
- Excess Baggage (1997, uncredited)
- Bulworth (1998, uncredited)
- Enemy of the State (1998, uncredited)
- Sports Night (TV, 1998-2000)
- The West Wing (TV, 1999-2006)
- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (TV, 2006–07)
- Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
- The Farnsworth Invention (2007)
- The Social Network (2010)
- Moneyball (2011)
- The Newsroom (TV, 2012-2014)
- Steve Jobs (2015)
- Molly's Game (2017, directorial debut)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (2018) note
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020, directed as well)
- Being the Ricardos (2021, directed as well)
- Camelot note
Tropes associated with Aaron Sorkin
- As Himself: In Entourage and 30 Rock.
- Author Avatar: A tool for Writer on Board.
- Author Catchphrase:
- Based on a True Story: Five of last six screenplays are adaptations of nonfiction books, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is also based on real events.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Dana in Sports Night and Harriet in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
- Character Filibuster/Motor Mouth: Some of his characters have more poetry memorized than anyone in the world (besides English majors) and love quoting it.
- Deadpan Snarker: His works are set in a World of Snark where rapid-fire Snark-to-Snark Combat is the name of the game.
- Expy: He loves to iterate his characters from one work to another. The president and staff from The American President are pretty blatant precursors to parallel characters in The West Wing.
- Kirk Summation / Break Them by Talking / "The Reason You Suck" Speech: It's almost ripe for parody how many Sorkin storylines end up with someone smacking down someone else (and their point of view) with a climactic rapid-fire Character Filibuster. Most apparent in his political shows.
- Motor Mouth: A requirement of all characters in his works. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't speak at 150 words a minute.
- Self-Deprecation: In his appearance on 30 Rock which, given his famously thin-skinned reputation, is nothing short of astonishing.
- Shout-Out: You'd be surprised how many references to Gilbert and Sullivan he can cram into his works. Outright quoting the songs, an episode on Studio 60 centered around a Major General Song and to say nothing of the fact that every second resume ends with "and I'm never ever sick at sea"
- Signature Style: Machine gun fast dialogue. Comedic repetition. Casual ShoutOuts by the metric ton. Tall, smart, sexy, sassy women who give as good as they get. Characters who veer oh-so-close to cynicism, only to come back to hope and idealism. Extremely liberal world view (at least by US standards). He also has an odd fondness for names like Donna, Dana, Danny and so on and likes them shouted across the room. He includes common criticisms of his writing style in his short play Hidden in this Picture; a film director tells his Sorkin-proxy screenwriter the following"I think your work has a tendency to be long-winded and cynical, I think you have trouble handling exposition, you take forever to introduce the inciting action, and all your female characters talk and act as if they've just stepped off The Love Boat."
- Actors who have worked on his shows equate his scripts to playing in an orchestra. Unlike most acting gigs where actors can freestyle and include their own takes and personality (like in jazz), Sorkin performers have to follow every note on the page, every inflection, every punctuation exactly to its last detail, like individual players in each section of an orchestra, because his cadence builds and swells with a natural, musical harmony. The best example of this is the Pilot of The West Wing, where dozens of characters talk and bicker and argue, call and respond for 40+ minutes, escalate to a dramatic crescendo... only to fall silent to a solo performance by the President himself.
- Martin Sheen once told a story about trying to convince Sorkin that he should read a punctuation mark in one of his scripts as a semi-colon instead of a hyphen. According to Sheen, he gave a very long explanation, to which Sorkin only responded, "I'll think about it." That's how seriously Sorkin regards the text of his scripts.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: An Idealist through and through and goddamn proud of it.
- Speech-Centric Work Sorkin has stated that he went to the theater before he really understood what was going on there but liked the sound of the dialogue. And it shows in his work, well read characters rattling off complex thoughts - often on politics - with a handful fo author catchphrases thrown in here and there. He also defied the common wisdom that speeches don't work in scripted TV.
- Suspiciously Apropos Music: Sorkin plays around with characters' knowledge of music/songs and the different ways a soundtrack selection (frequently a high point of a Sorkin episode) can be set up in a diegetic or in-character way.
- In Sports Night Casey and Dan discuss the Three Dog Night song "Eli's coming" and that it represents "something bad" that's just around the corner. At the end of the episode, it plays when Casey has to share some bad news with Dan (with the latter in the anchor's seat, with seconds back no less). The episode fades to black as the song reaches its full power and a devastated Dan tries to keep his composure on live TV.
- Uncredited Role: He was a script doctor for several films, including Schindler's List, The Rock, Bulworth and Enemy of the State.
- Walk and Talk: His stuff is a Trope Codifier (and former Trope Namer: "Sorkin Walk"), to the point of a moment in The West Wing where the characters who've just done it stop and wonder where the heck they're going. He made a point of avoiding it in The Newsroom, utilizing it exactly once in the pilot episode and never again after that.