Aaron Sorkin kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca Talks: Future of Film series last night with a conversation with President Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau (“the other Jon Favreau”) that encompassed his work on films such as “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network” as well as TV series “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom” and issues of heroism and storytelling.
Sorkin came off as surprisingly humble. “I haven’t become an expert in anything,” he told the audience. “I’m not sophisticated when it comes to politics, when it comes to journalism. I’m not as smart as the characters are – or, as you can see – as articulate.”
Here are some highlights from the talk:
1. He could never write an episode of “Breaking Bad.”
“I tend to write very idealistically and very romantically,” said Sorkin. “I have a very bad time with bad guys — almost as soon as I write one, I start writing them to become a good guy. Even on ‘The Newsroom,’ Jane Fonda and Chris Messina…you will see this season [they are] heroes now. What happens is I really like the actor and I want them to be part of the gang. It’s a terrible habit….I’m crazy about ‘Breaking Bad,’ but I wouldn’t know how to write an episode of it.”
2. He is proud of “Newsroom,” but would do it over if he could.
“I’m going to let you all stand in for everyone in the world, if you don’t mind,” he said. “I think you and I got off on the wrong foot with ‘The Newsroom’ and I apologize and I’d like to start over.”
He emphasized that he didn’t mean to teach any lessons.
“I think that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding,” he explained. “I did not set the show in the recent past in order to show the pros how it should have been done. That was and remains the furthest thing from my mind. I set the show in the recent past because I didn’t want to make up fake news. It was going to be weird if the world that these people were living in did not in any way resemble the world that you were living in…I wasn’t trying to and I’m not capable of teaching a professional journalist a lesson. That wasn’t my intent and it’s never my intent to teach you a lesson or try to persuade you or anything.”
Later in the talk, he said that while he’s proud of the show, he wish he could do it over. “I wish that I could go back to the beginning of ‘The Newsroom’ and start again and replicate what you have with a play, which is a preview period…But I’m feeling really good about how the third season is going. I’ll look back on it fondly and proudly and wish I could get every scene of every episode back so that I could do it all over again.”
He also expressed a desire to everything over again. “There’s not a single episode of TV I’ve written that I wouldn’t want back for another draft,” he said.
3. Sorkin’s upcoming Steve Jobs film is “not a biopic.”
“It’s not the story of Steve Jobs — it’s something much different than that,” Sorkin said. “He’s a fascinating guy — part hero, part antihero.” Saying he didn’t want to make any news on the topic, Sorkin added, “I’m going to make the movie speak for itself. But he’s a fascinating guy surrounded by fascinating people, and he had very interesting relationships with the people in his life.”
4. There should be a female secret agent movie.
Responding to a question about why there are so few women protagonists in Hollywood films when women make up the majority of ticket buyers, Sorkin said, “I promise you nothing but capitalism drives decision-making in Hollywood.”
He added: “You’re making a really good point about the disparity between who’s buying the ticket and who’s up on screen. Furthering that point, these decisions aren’t made entirely by men. There are roughly as many women who can greenlight a film in Hollywood as there are men. From Amy Pascal at Sony to Stacy Snider at Dreamworks, Donna [Langley] at Universal. I’ve always thought that there is a great female James Bond movie to be done. I’m not literally calling her Jane Bond, I mean, but a female secret agent.”
5. The culture has gotten really nasty — and the media is to blame.
“We have commoditized nastiness. It’s okay with us and you can make a living from it. It’s something I find troubling. It’s something I write about now because I see it. I’m also the father of a 13 year old and this is something parents of young kids should be alarmed by — if we’ve always been like this, if we came out of the cave being nasty, there was at least a societal factor that made us censor ourselves — saying it’s not cool to mock someone who has fallen down. That fire wall has been all but lifted. It’s almost as if there is like a generational responsibility. There’s always been a responsibility to check power, but we’ve never gotten a kick — it’s never been alright for those who get a kick out of other people falling down and it is now. I just think we can be a lot nicer to each other.”
6. Film isn’t going away anytime soon.
Sure, this may be the new golden age of television, but according to Sorkin, “Film doesn’t have to worry. Movies are awesome. Look where we are. Films have nothing to worry about. There is no war going on. Film is not going to lose. Television is not going to lose and theater is not going to lose. No matter how much binge-watching there is…I don’t believe anything is ever going to replace the feeling of sitting in a theater with a bunch of strangers when the lights go down and something happens on the stage or the screen.” But, he acknowledged, “maybe I’m living in one of my own romantic fantasies.”
7. The most valuable thing writers have is their own voice.
Asked for advice about how to succeed as a screenwriter today in such a cluttered and competitive market, Sorkin said, “I think the advice I have would likely be the same advice that somebody would give you 50 years ago. Don’t try to guess what it is people want and give it to them. Don’t ask for a show of hands. Try your best to write what you like, what you think your friends would like and what you think your father would like and then cross your fingers…The most valuable thing you have is your own voice.”