Steve Jobs

Show a Story, Not an Agenda 

“The characters I tend to write are going to be quixotic. They’re going to fail a lot and fall a lot, but there’s a romance in trying for honorable things. I think because of the way I write and some of the subjects I write about — whether something is taking place in the White House or a newsroom — it would be easy to look at that and feel like I’m trying to give you a lecture on ‘here’s how things should be done,’ if everybody just lived the way I wanted them to live, live how the characters are showing as an example. That isn’t on my mind at all when I’m writing. I don’t have an agenda. I certainly don’t have a political agenda.”

Whether intentional or not, you could argue that wasn’t the case with The Newsroom, a show that wasn’t always subtle.


Go Outside, Breathe Some Air, and Open Your Ears 

“Frequently if I’m really stuck I’ll go out into a public place – a diner, a bus stop, any place you might overhear a conversation. I hope that I can land in the middle of a conversation that will get me thinking, ‘What in the world was the beginning of this conversation?’ I’ll try to write that. I was in a diner once and overheard somebody really frustrated say, ‘I mean, honestly, how many people can you think of named Gordon?’ I thought, ‘I’m going to get out of here and write the rest of this scene, not the beginning of this scene.’ I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and passed by a park bench, and two men were sitting there, and one of them said, ‘Who thought they were going to get the jump on Jesus?’ Again, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’ He wrote the best line in the scene, now let me write the rest of it.”

How can you understand people if you’re sitting in your room all day writing?

west wing 1

Flukes Happen 

“Television has a much different relationship with its audience than movies or plays do. It’s a much more intimate relationship, because television comes into your home, and it’s something you do frequently while you’re flipping through a magazine, talking on the phone, putting the kids to bed, or making dinner. The West Wing wasn’t supposed to be a hit or even get on the air. It was a fluke it go on the air. It didn’t not test well. They let let us make the pilot, and the pilot didn’t test well. It didn’t test horrendously, but it didn’t test through the roof. Then Warner Bros., our studio, in order to convince NBC to put it on their schedule and order 13 episodes of the show, they came up with a new testing sample that no one had tried before. It tested extremely well with four groups — households earning more than $75,000 a year, households where there was someone with four years of college, households that subscribed to the New York Times, households that had home Internet access — and that fourth one was such a big deal because it was right in the middle of the dotcom boom. Warners was able to show NBC where they could advertise.”

Sometimes even Aaron Sorkin needs luck.

a few good men

Just Let the Story Fly 

“When it comes to the voice, if I’m consciously doing anything, I’m probably doing something wrong. There needs to come a time when you’ve got it, know what the scene is about, what needs to happen in the scene, and what the problem is. There does need to come a time when you just have to let it fly. You’re lucky to get to that point. If I just wrote genuinely badly, I’ll know it, stop, and be upset with myself. If I’m writing the way I write, I’m okay with that.”

When people say Steve Jobs is a very Aaron Sorkin-y movie as a criticism, it’s hard not to laugh. Of course it’s an Aaron Sorkin movie. He wrote it. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your own voice, especially if it’s a good one.

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