You don't have to look far to get a grasp on who Aaron Sorkin is -- he wrote A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, Moneyball and The Social Network, for starters -- and he showed up at D10 to talk creative media, how the digital age impacts his writing and his impending movie about late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. While not involving hard technology news, the interview was exceedingly refreshing, and it delved deep into the world of tech as it impacts his upcoming show about a fictional newsroom (The Newsroom on HBO). The highlights included a frank quote that whoever ends up playing Jobs in his movie -- not to be confused with the one already in production with Ashton Kutcher -- will have to be "good, and intelligent." He also confessed to being fully engaged in the "three screens" movement, but wasn't too prideful to admit that he taps into the brain of his 11-year old daughter for lots of technological help. Pretty wild for a guy that many would label "genius." For more from the interview, head on past the break.
Walt led the conversation as you'd expect, asking directly about his upcoming movie about Steve Jobs, and in particular, the writing process and how it'd look if we could see into that.
Said Sorkin: "I'm at the earliest possible stage with the Steve Jobs movie adaptation. It'll look more like watching ESPN. Which seems, to the untrained eye, it'll look a lot like watching college football. It's a process of procrastination, where you try to figure out what the movie is about. Walter Isaacson wrote a terrific biography -- but in making movies about these kinds of things, it's difficult to shake the cradle-to-grave structure, so I'm probably not going to write one. Instead, I'll probably identify the point of friction that appeals to me and then approach that.
Walt continued, "Did you know Jobs?"
Aaron followed up: "To be honest with you, one of the hesitations I had was that this was a little like writing about The Beatles. There are so many people out there that know him and revere him; I saw a minefield of disappointment. Hopefully when I'm done with my research I'll be in the same ballpark as some of the folks in here in terms of their knowledge about Jobs -- I hope people don't say 'You really missed the big thing.' But, that's bound to happen -- all I can say at this early stage is that you should think of this as a painting, not a photograph. There could probably be many movies about Jobs -- Ashton Kutcher's making one right now. Steve Jobs is a big enough person and led a big enough life to make multiple movies. I don't know who is playing Jobs in my movie, but it'll have to be a very good actor. Someone who is smart.
By and large, I write about people who are considerably smarter than I am. I was raised that way. My family members and friends growing up were all smarter than I. I really fell in love with the phonetic sound of intelligence and the sound of a really good argument.
[Jobs] is an extremely complicated guy, I know that for sure. Mark Zuckerberg is as well. I know this for sure: I can't judge the character. He has to, for me, be a hero. I have to find the parts of him that are like me. I have to be able to defend this character. With someone like Steve Jobs, to put it as simply as possible, you want to write the character as if they are writing their letter to God on why they should be allowed into heaven."
Walt followed with this: "Does Aaron Sorkin's writing work in the digital age? Let's talk about your view of the news, and how digital factors into it -- the internet, apps, Android, iPhones, etc."
Aaron used his upcoming show (related to a fictional newsroom) to explain: "The show takes place in a fictional newsroom -- none of the characters are inspired by real people, even a little bit. It's entirely fictional -- it's not meant to be anything on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. It's generic cable news, and it takes place in the very recent past; all the news events are real. About two-thirds of the way through the pilot -- I won't spoil it -- something happens and a date stamp comes up on a screen, and we realize it's two years ago. The first season, which is 10 episodes, covers about 18 months. There's dramatic discussion about the news and politics, but the show will only succeed or fail on how engaged you are with the characters.
Obviously, digital media plays a huge role in the show. There's a character that's extremely into the internet and the power it has -- there's a clip where he looks at the uprising an Cairo, and how the people that report the news first get it themselves, which is almost always digital. Our entire set is basically made out of electricity, and you put a satellite dish on the roof we could probably broadcast the news."
Walt soldiered on: "Does anything about the internet-centric world we live in factor into the way you see things now compared to prior? Do you live a digital lifestyle, and does it inform you in a way now that wouldn't before?"
Aaron's response? "I have the three screens -- probably more than three screens. I have a desktop, a couple of laptops, an iPad and an iPhone somewhere on my person here. I don't use them for as much stuff as my 11-year old daughter does, and I frequently ask her for help. I'm old and computer illiterate, and that's not something I'm proud of. But mostly, I use it to write -- to write scripts. But I'm amazed that when you put a computer into the hands of a three year old, it's amazing that they know what to do with it right away. If I could ask Steve Jobs something right now, it'd be 'How does that magic work?'
Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years, and what makes a good story hasn't changed. One of the things that the digital age has brought us is really short -- five minutes -- stories. I think that's cool. We've put the tools to make movies into everyone's hands. My daughter is crazy about making movies -- she can do it really easily with her laptop and iPhone, and she's making 'em all the time. I think that's wonderful; I think that what we might see is digital filmmaking becoming the new indie film. What you have to look out for -- once everybody can do something, is how do we distinguish between what's good and not good? There are plenty of crummy hundred-million dollar movies. But at least, when we bought that ticket there was some kind of vetting process.
In journalism -- you know, it's hard to get a job at The New York Times -- you have to start low and climb the ladder. One does not need credentials to start their own digital newspaper."
Walt asks about "mashups," and what Aaron's opinion on it is.
Aaron replies: "There's not much you can do about that. I smile at it; I'm a little flattered when something of mine is included in something like that. Every year, the American Society of Film Editors holds a contest for assistant editors where they have to take material from a famous movie, and cut a brand new trailer so that it seems like a brand new movie. If you want to laugh hard, find the new trailer for The Shining. I wouldn't want to stop anybody from doing that."