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- Aaron Sorkin - In his own words from the Charlie Rose Show August 13, 2003 (the following started with a summary by Maureen Collins):
- "...in one hour television a script has to be delivered once every eight business days. If you deliver it every nine or ten business days, you start to incur budge overages. And the West Wing is an expensive show to do by the standards of television when its on time and at budget> Out of 88 episodes that I did we were on time and on budget never, not once. I don't think so.... I'm going to tell you what the problem is: Most shows are written this way: I write the first episode, you write the second episode, you write the third one (pointing at an imaginary other person), you write the fourth one (pointing at another imaginary other person), and it comes back to me. On "The West Wing", I, with a team of very bright people. wrote every episode. So you get behind. And you would incur overtime for that reason. We would incur overtime also because the actors and directors who work on the show --- their very committed to it, they want to get it right, the most expensive thing on any TV or movie show is going to be overtime --- so we would go into overtime hours. We were able to successfully convince Warner Brothers for four years that the better the show was the more money they were going to make. And it turned out that that was true by the way. That --- Warner Brothers over four years gambled a lot of money on The West Wing... they ended up making all that money back plus a profit of about $100 million. They did it not doing a show forcing anyone to eat snakes and worms, they did it, you know, doing a show that was given literally every award for excellence in television that's given. So, that's a success. You can be more successful than that, though, you can make $110 million on the show, but to do that each episode has to cost less money and if that's what you want do, then you probably want to do that with someone else, I'm not your guy to do that."
When Charlie Rose mentions that David E. Kelley writes three or four of these at the same time, Sorkin responds, "David Kelley is fantastic. My hat's off to him.... And I don't know how he does it. He has a deal with the devil that I was never offered."
"...'The West Wing' was without a doubt the best four years of my professional life.... 'The West Wing' because of the people I was working with on that show --- the cast and the crew, the writing staff and the producers that I was working with --- it was home for it, it was a family for me. It was a very difficult decision for me leaving the show...."
"NBC and Warner Brothers came to me and said, listen beginning in Season Five this is how we have to do the show from now on, not like this. And I made the decision, I'm really not going to be able to do my best work under those conditions. Perhaps now is the time for me to leave, I was here four years, I don't want to stay too long."
"I enjoy the sound of dialogue. It's the first thing that attracted me to writing in the first place.... My parents took me to the theatre when I was very very young before I knew what the plays I was seeing were about.... But the dialogue that I didn't understand did sound like music to me. And that's what I wanted to imitate.... not every line has to move the plot along There are moments in life which aren't about plot which are none-the-less entertaining to an audience...."
"there were a lot of highs and lows with 'The West Wing'.... 88 episodes, you know one of them is going to be your 88th best so are things I have written on 'The West Wing' I wish I could have back... oh yeah, give that back to me, I can do that much much better. But that's the way it goes, that's the nature of the thing. I'm proud of the work we did on the show and as I said I got a chance to work with these people --- it will never be like this again. It was the most fun I've ever had and I just couldn't wait to get to work in the morning."
"As much fun as they [the actors] were to watch on TV, it was even more fun spending a day and usually late into the night.... It was a great four years. it will really never be like that again.
"John Wells... will be the sole executive producer. I know he has written the first two episodes and beyond that... I am... probably less informed about the show. I am merely a fan of the show. I will be watching.... personally, 'The West Wing' has been absolutely the greatest thing that happened to me. I am so proud of it. And I will forever be friends with the people I worked with."
"There are three things I'm going to do now. I'm just not sure in what order I'm going to do them. First of all I have spent the last seven or eight weeks not doing anything .I watched.... baseball games... and I have a two and a half year old and we just play together all the time and that's been the greatest. That's been the good part of not being at the West Wing anymore is playing with my daughter. What'll be next --- again I'm not sure in what order --- I am writing a new play that will have its world premiere in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and there'll be a new movie....
"I am going to be doing a new TV series. I love television. I really had a great time in television.... The thing that you have in movies is you have time. I'm going to write a movie now and its not due a week from Tuesday. It's due when it's good. And I'm as eager to make it as anybody.... That said first of all if I had a great idea for a movie right now and I was able to write the screenplay in a week --- which you know I can't --- that movie would be released two years from now and if it was a huge hit, it would be part of the public consciousness for a week. That's what movies have become now --- they're like greeting cards almost. With 'The West Wing' we've put on a show once a week and we've been part of the consciousness for four years, I expect it will continue to be.... I created 'The West Wing' and 'Sports Night' before that, I realize that the show was done differently and the show was done economically inefficiently, which is to say one person writing it --- I want to make clear: one person writing it with a group of very talented people helping --- one person writing it as opposed to a kind of committee putting out. I think first of all you stand a better chance of doing something good if it has a single point of view.... Whether than having to clear it with you --- is this joke funny --- all it has to be is funny to me.... Otherwise, I think you're going to just going to kinda get standard construction of jokes. I like writing every week, I like frankly being that prolific... Mostly I like coming and working with the same people every week. A repertory company instead of a pick up.... You're in the trenches together. The lows and the highs on the show were lows and highs for all of us collectively. "
Back onto the new Television series: "I hope it's going to be what Larry Sanders did with... talk's show. I would like to do that with late night sketch comedy --- with 'Saturday Night Live'. In other words behind the scenes at a network late night sketch comedy; edgy show.... We should talk about it only when I've done it.... I haven't done any of these things yet.... I'd like nothing better than to sit and talk about them but it just postpones the inevitable which is you have to sit and do it."
As to when he's going to go back to work, "I am having a great time with my two-year-old but she's going to want to go to college I hope some day so I had better go back to work."
- Other things discussed:
- About the ratings drop:
"I want to go back and defend those ratings for a second and say that none-the-less the audience remains the most upscale audience on TV: upscale being defined by households earning $75,000 a year or more and education...."
"The places where you and I were reading about 'The West Wing's' ratings drop. They weren't the business pages. You could read about it in the business pages.... But why have the ratings of show and the box office grosses of movies and who is doing better in sweeps NBC or Fox among women 18-34. Why has that sporting event made it into the arts pages of good newspapers? LA Times, my home town newspaper, several times a week writes about who's winning the... sweeps race. The reason why I worry about that isn't just that I'm often on the low end of that contest whether it's 'West Wing' or 'Sports Night' --- or I'm sure the next one isn't going to be a barn burner either -- it's... the reason why it's dangerous to be writing about it.... leads one to believe that if a lot of people are watching something you should be watching it too. If a lot of people have stopped watching something, you should stop watching it too. That your attention should be where the crowd is. And the fact of the matter is that when you're watching 'The West Wing' it does not impact your enjoyment of the show one way or another whether two other people are watching or 20 million other people are watching it. And I can understand why this is information you should read about in the business page because it has a big effect on NBC or Warner Brothers. I just don't understand why arts critics are writing about it.... One of the nice thing about no longer being with the show is that I no longer have to care what the ratings are. I want the ratings to stay healthy because all my friends are still at the show. But it is a great relief not to have to be super sensitive about where the ratings are anymore.... I do think that the sport of who's ahead and who's behind is over played for those who aren't in the business of it. And its not just television. It's movies, too.
- About the profits:
"It's the first time in my career that anyone who has invested money in something I've written has made money. It's the first time I have made money for anyone."
summary: Investors in the play AFGM made back 60c on the dollar. He had a piece of AFGM and TAP and he's never seen any money, so he guesses they didn't net a profit. AFGM cost $42 million to make and grossed $350 million.
- About the cast on 'The West Wing':
This was a cast that liked to pass as much as they liked to shoot.
- About the show being criticized for its liberal bias:
The fantasy behind 'The West Wing' wasn't the fantasy of having a liberal President with a liberal administration, it was the fantasy of having committed people, honest committed bright, energetic people doing what they felt was the right thing. In our popular culture our leaders have only ever been portrayed as Machievellian or dolts. And here was something else. Here suddenly were people.... It had to seem real. It couldn't seem like a fairy tale White House. And to seem real, these people had to believe in something.... They can't drive down the middle of the road.... In this case the President's a Democrat and the staff Democrats. It hasn't appeared to me like Conservatives have had any trouble getting access to the air waves. I'm not sure what the problem was with one hour on Wednesday night. It was fiction. As opposed to Fox News which bills itself as news.... Absolutely. Fair and Balanced.
- Writing: Do you sit at a computer to write?
"Ultimately. But before you do that there's just a lot of climbing the walls that you have to do. When I'm writing a casual observer wouldn't guess that that's what was going on. When I'm writing 'The West Wing', I'm talking to the people on the staff and then I'm driving around in my car, I'm wondering around in my house. And it's when I have the idea. It's when I'm ready to write that I start doing this. And I try to do it with as much energy as I can. I really think that that energy makes its way onto the page and then onto the screen. But I do it this way.... ['this way' means typing.] I do it this way because there isn't time to do it the way I used to do it which is that the very first thing I wrote --- which was 'A Few Good Men' --- I wrote on cocktail napkins during the first act of Broadway shows where I was serving as a bartender.... you work what's called the 'walk-in' which is the half hour before the show and people are coming in, you work the 15 minutes of intermission: during the first act you have nothing to do and I was writing 'A Few Good Men' on cocktail napkins, I'd go home with my pockets filled with cocktail napkins; I'd dump them out. I had a Mac 512 K which was the second generation MacIntosh computer which my roommates and I, we pooled our money and we bought it. And I'd start to type it and that would be my first polish that I was doing. I'd type it out and I'd cross things out --- and I'd type it again. i would do seven, eight, nine, ten drafts before I would even show anybody the thing. 'West Wing' we'd shoot my first draft. There isn't time to polish it.
- Aaron Sorkin - From Warner Brothers, some years ago
- "Raised in Scarsdale, New York, a suburb of Manhattan, the young Aaron Sorkin was instilled with a love of theatre by his mother and father, who brought him to Broadway shows on a regular basis. When Sorkin was old enough to venture into the city on his own, his five-dollar allowance bought him the round-trip train fare but was not enough to buy a ticket for a theatre matinee.'I would plan to arrive at a theatre around intermission time,' said Sorkin, 'and sneak in with the crowd as they returned to their seats. I've seen the second acts of every Broadway show you can think of!'
"Ironically, Sorkin had always thought of writing as 'a chore to be gotten through for an assignment,' and he set his sights on becoming an actor. He pursued that dream and went on to graduate from Syracuse University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre. After graduating, Sorkin came to New York and worked in a children's theatre troupe. After what must have been a particularly enlightening game of poker with the other members of the troupe, he had an epiphany of sorts. 'I realized that after all of my years reading and absorbing language and dialogue, speaking it wasn't enough--I wanted to write it.'
"To support himself, Sorkin worked as a bartender in theatres, where he saw 'all the first acts of Broadway shows.' While working at the Palace Theater during the run of 'La Cage Aux Folles,' Sorkin began to write what would become his first professional piece, 'A Few Good Men,' on paper cocktail napkins from behind the bar.
"In 1989, he received the Outer Critics Circle award as Outstanding American Playwright for 'A Few Good Men. and followed that with the off-Broadway comedy "Making Movies." The screen adaptation of '"A Few Good Men' was nominated for four Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
"Sorkin received his second Golden Globe nomination for 'The American President,' and his screenplay for 'Malice' was nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Award by the Mystery Writer's Association of America. Most recently he won the coveted Humanitas Prize for his work on 'The West Wing' and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.
"A founding member of the Playwrights Unit of Playwrights Horizons, Sorkin is also the creator and executive producer of the television series 'Sports Night.'
"He lives in New York and Los Angeles with his wife, Julia. His birthday is June 9."
He has since separated from his wife.
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