Aaron Sorkin on technology and becoming a content creator

Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin knows a thing or two about movies, television and theater – he’s done it all, from writing to directing them.

In a conversation with Stacy Martinet, Adobe’s Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Sorkin explains that initially he wanted to be an actor, having earned a degree in musical theater.

“It wasn’t until the day after I graduated college that for the first time ever, I tried writing for pleasure. And I tried writing dialogue. And suddenly I realized I felt much more confident with writing than I ever felt as an actor,” he said. “I’ve been a playwright, a screenwriter, and a director… but I’m a content creator now.”

Live from Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Martinet and Sorkin talked creativity, storytelling, the challenges we face in our ever-changing world, and his tips to becoming a hitmaker.

“Storytellers, content creators, we’re leaders, we’re not followers.”

-Aaron Sorkin

The cocktail napkin that started it all

“I wrote ‘A Few Good Men’ on cocktail napkins during the first act of 'La Cage aux Folles’. I’d moved to New York after graduating college and had a bunch of ‘survival jobs’. One of them was bartending at Broadway theaters. You work walk-in and intermission, but you don’t work during the first act. So, I started writing. I fell in love with storytelling.”

Technology is creativity’s co-pilot

“Movies are where art and science meet. I’ve directed the last 3 movies I’ve written, and the fact of the matter is that technology is not only helpful, but it is necessary.

Technology has allowed me to make movies that I wouldn’t have been able to make 10 or 20 years ago. Crowd duplication advancements and erasing/adding in certain architecture is incredibly helpful to me.

But I get nervous about technology – and where I don’t think it’s as useful as we’re celebrating it to be – is when software or AI can write a screenplay. The screenplays have obviously been uploaded – thrillers, westerns, romantic comedies, all of them – and a computer produces something similar.

Here’s the thing – a computer didn’t write the screenplays being fed into the machine in the first place, and I think we’ll still enjoy things done by humans more. I’m more impressed by movies where I know everything was done by humans – not computers.

“Human ingenuity is the heart of creativity and technology is the tool to express it. Technology can be a co-pilot.”

My attitude comes from me sitting in a room with technology experts and me not knowing anything. I feel left behind. “

Breaking down a drama

“I tell stories. Drama is all about intention and obstacles, where someone wants something and something is standing in their way. The tactics they use to overcome the obstacle – that’s the story. I aim to, and like writing romantically, idealistically and with aspiration. I want the audience to feel two inches taller when the lights come up at the end.”

He doesn’t play favorites

“The characters I write are like my children. Actually, most of the characters - the protagonists - in one form or another, have been a version of my father.” (On April 13, a new version of “Camelot” opens on Broadway, featuring a new book written by Sorkin.)

On writing the antihero

“When you’re writing a problematic character or antihero, as a writer you can’t judge them, you have to be able to identify with them. You write the character as if they’re making the case to God on why they should be let into heaven. I did that with The Social Network, and the same thing with Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. If I’ve been successful, the reaction to that speech is, “Well, he’s got a point.”

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“Well, it sure caught on. I was as surprised as anyone – I was driving down the street and saw a giant billboard for Burger King, that said, “You can’t handle this Whopper” and I thought, well there’s my parent's tuition money put to work.“

Writing ‘the’ iconic line

“There have been moments where I’ve been in my office late at night writing a scene and I’ve thought, “Oh that’s good right now, and I’m going to like it tomorrow too.” But there are many more times that I’m frustrated and it’s just not working. Just like a golfer lives for that moment where for some reason they can hit a shot perfectly, a writer lives for it too – when they write a good scene.”

Breaking through as a hitmaker

“Trying to figure out what it is everybody wants and giving it to them is a bad recipe for storytelling. There are hundreds of ways to prepare a food, like beef, but if you prepared it the way that you’re sure would appeal to most people, it would be a hamburger every single time.

Writing is hard and I try to write what I like, and I keep my fingers crossed that enough people like it that I get to keep doing it.”

Watch the entire conversation with Martinet and Sorkin here.

View over 200+ sessions, keynote speeches, and Summit’s Inspiration Keynote, stream Summit virtually here

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