AFI Fest Tribute to Aaron Sorkin

By Tom Dever · November 18, 2017

By Tom Dever

In the closing spot originally intended for All the Money in the World, attendees of the 2017 AFI Film Fest were instead treated to a screening of Molly’s Game and a tribute to its writer-director, Aaron Sorkin. Jessica Chastain and Martin Sheen were in attendance to heap praise and speak of the brilliance of renowned-screenwriter but first-time director, Sorkin.

Chastain praised Sorkin’s writing of a classic film heroine with a “delicate dexterity.” Sheen compared his writing to “musical notes.” Sorkin finally entered to a prolonged standing ovation. He delivered a short, prepared speech before sitting for a brief Q & A.

Sorkin, undeniably one of the best screenwriters of his generation, has succeeded in distinguishing his voice as its own brand, even with others directing his material. At the apex of his writing career but the beginning of his directing career, here are a few bits of wisdom from his talk.

Learn from those around you

Sorkin has had the opportunity to see his work directed by David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennett Miller, Danny Boyle and Mike Nichols. On each project, he made a focused effort to absorb as much information as possible from these masters of their craft. Each time, he walked away feeling they had made the best possible version of his script.

Take responsibility

Sorkin was attracted to the responsibility and accountability of the entire project ultimately falling on his shoulders as a director. He has had a similar role as show runner on The West Wing, Newsroom, Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It is an attitude he has always taken with his career, though. By taking responsibility and inevitably the blame for as much as possible, he pushed the projects to their full potential.

Keep challenging yourself

At one point, Sorkin said, “In a perfect world, I would simply slide my pages under a door and somebody else would slide back food.” While it got a laugh from the sold out Chinese Theater, it spoke to the fragile reality most writers have when it comes to engaging others about their work. For Sorkin, he absolutely did not need to force himself out of his comfort zone with directing at this stage of his career. However, challenging yourself is the only way to find what you are capable of.

Be who you want to be on the page

More than once during his speech, Sorkin stammered or paused. Such is to be expected in a public speaking setting. But it was jarring to see Sorkin, the voice of so many brilliant confident and loquacious characters, pause for even a moment. He even mused at point, that he is “way more eloquent on the page.”

This serves as yet another reminder that a screenplay is the canvas for writers to be the smartest, funniest, wittiest and most self-assured version of themselves. Never miss the opportunity. Sorkin sure hasn’t.