tv Titans at the Table Bloomberg March 22, 2015 8:00am-8:31am EDT
emily: he wrote one of the most famous lines in hollywood history. >> i want the truth. >> you can't handle the truth. emily: "a few good men" catapulted aaron sorkin from starving actor to celebrated screenwriter, producer, truth-teller, and conflicted character creator. he went on to bring us "the west wing," "moneyball," "the social network," and, most recently, "the newsroom" on hbo. with a steve jobs biopic coming soon. joining me today on "studio 1.0," emmy, golden globe, and academy award winner, aaron sorkin. aaron, thank you so much for being here. aaron: it's my pleasure. emily: it's great to have you. it's no pressure to write an
intro for one of the most famous writers in the world, by the way. aaron: it's a nice intro. i appreciate it. emily: thank you. you just wrapped the last, the third and final season of "the newsroom." how do you feel? aaron: i feel great. this third season i think is the best of the three by far. i think it took me a while to learn how to write the show. it started to feel good in the third season. emily: talk to me about that process. aaron: i love series television. but the thing about it is that the schedule is ferocious and you have no time. so the worst part about it is that you have to write even when you're not writing well. and then you have to point a camera at it, and then you have to broadcast it to a lot of people. emily: "newsroom" has had its share of fanatical fans and also its share of critics. how do you deal with that? aaron: what i write is not going to be everybody's cup of tea. you learn that pretty early on and you're doing the show for the people who like it. emily: the media today is obsessed with ratings, going through major transformation,
criticized for being too sensational. what is your perception of traditional and cable news? aaron: i think that my perception is no more expert than anyone else's just because i have written "the newsroom." emily: but you are a viewer. aaron: yeah, you can feel when you're watching the news that they are desperate for you not to change the channel. i think there was a perception when "the newsroom" began that advice is exactly what i was trying to give with the show. that i was trying to show the pros, here is how you do it. the show was never set up to do that. i just wanted to inject it with a sense of idealism and romanticism. emily: what freedom did hbo give you to create your story, and tell your story, that you wouldn't have had on a traditional network? that you wouldn't have had 10 years ago with "the west wing?" aaron: hbo gave me complete freedom. the real difference is that when you are on network tv, the network is in business with the
advertisers. hbo is in business with the audience. that difference is all the difference. hbo doesn't care how many people are watching the show. emily: really? aaron: they just care how much the people who are watching the show like the show. that is a business model that a writer would love. emily: but they have to care about subscribers? don't they? aaron: they only care about subscribers, and the way to get subscribers is for people to be talking about your show, people to be writing about the show, for the show to get a certain amount of critical acclaim. once you've subscribed to hbo, they don't care if you're watching "the newsroom" or "game of thrones" or "boardwalk empire" or "girls" or anything else, because they are not trying to sell you a toaster in between acts. emily: let's talk about all the other options out there. you have netflix, you have amazon tv. how impressed have you been with some of the original content on some of these other outlets? aaron: if you are a writer, the
more vendors that there are for content, the better. obviously, netflix is on fire with "house of cards" and "orange is the new black." amazon has the gary trudeau show, "alpha house." nontraditional tv is great. emily: how about you? are you a binge watcher? aaron: yes. not just of new stuff. i am a binge watcher of old stuff. i can spend a weekend watching "the office." all nine seasons. by sunday night i have done nothing but watch 200 episodes of "the office." emily: is this the golden age of television? is content better than it's ever been before? aaron: i think content is better than it has ever been before. most television isn't very good, there is just more on the high-end now of what is very good. emily: how much more competition is there for writers like you,
show runners like you? aaron: i just don't see it that way. if you have something good, it's going to be done. emily: i have this vision of netflix and amazon throwing money at you. is that happening? aaron: i have never had any vision of amazon and netflix throwing money at me. [laughter] emily: does it change how much you are paid or how you are paid? aaron: sure. if you are in a position to make money for other people, if you have a track record, if you get in business with somebody who's very quickly trying to play in the big leagues like netflix and amazon, they will want to attract people with track records. money is one way they will do that. honestly, you get to a certain point where that is not the most important thing to you. it's not in the top 10 most important things to you. the most important thing to you is a story well told.
emily: would you write or produce for netflix or amazon? have you considered it? aaron: i would absolutely write for amazon or netflix, or bloomberg. emily: great. aaron: yeah. i think that bloomberg should have more scripted content. i would love to do a show for bloomberg. emily: i knew you would have some advice. "sports night" is a series that was critically acclaimed with a small audience. aaron: but nobody watched it. emily: short lived. if amazon came to you and said we wanted to give you season three, like we did with "arrested development," would you do it? aaron: i would. you just happened to name all the right elements. from time to time i think about not so much doing the third season of "sports night" but doing "sports night" again. taking the exact same premise, behind the scenes at an espn type place and doing it again. emily: have you pitched it? aaron: no, i just did.
this is the first time i have said it out loud. i just pitched it to you. emily: we will let the networks know. should traditional networks be worried? aaron: i would not want to paint them all with the same brush. i think there are some very good things on network tv, but i think that people just don't watch tv the same anymore. this generation, abc, nbc, cbs, just doesn't mean anything. i take anywhere from six to eight showers a day. i am not exaggerating. i'm not a germophobe. it has nothing to do with germs. ♪
emily: you were born in new york city. what kind of kid were you? what did you want to be? aaron: i wanted to be what i am. emily: this was always your dream? aaron: it was. my parents started taking me to see plays starting from when i was very little. i loved the sound of dialogue. it sounded like music to me and i wanted to imitate that sound. i came to new york to start my life as a struggling writer. i was paying the bills a hundred different ways.
i was bartending. i was driving a cab. i was dressing up as a moose in times square. there was a now-canceled soap opera that i was acting on from time to time. i was doing all of that while i was writing my first play which was "a few good men" on cocktail napkins behind the bar where i was working. i would stuff them in my pocket, come home, dump them out and type them up on a machine that was just called the macintosh at the time. emily: "a few good men" opened on broadway. and then it went to hollywood. aaron: it did. lightning struck. emily: you were 28 years old. aaron: the film rights were sold instantly and nicole kidman came to see the play. she was married to tom cruise at the time. at intermission, she called her
husband and said, come see this play. you will want to play this part. i just got all the bounces. went my way. i was very lucky. emily: you can't handle the truth. did you have any idea how much that line would reverberate? aaron: i remember oddly enough when i wrote it. it was about 2 a.m. and i was writing the speech and getting very excited because i knew i was almost done with the play. i was rounding third base and coming for home. i was writing with a lot of energy. i wrote the line in the time it took me to type it. emily: you also gave jack nicholson the performance of a lifetime. aaron: i think jack would have done just fine without me. he had a very healthy career before i came along. emily: were you paranoid you could never do it again? what does that feel like?
aaron: paranoid that i can never do it again, that feeling has never gone away. i have written six movies, a seventh about to go into production. about 190 episodes of television and three plays. anytime i finish a script, i always feel like i am never going to be able to write another one. it is a terrible feeling of i have used all the words i know in every order i can put them in. i can't think of a story. i am never going to write anything again. emily: there are myths about so many of the greatest founders, creators, innovators that are so often boiled down into legend. what is the myth of aaron sorkin and what is the reality? aaron: the reality is i am an awkward guy who is more comfortable on paper than i am in person. i would give anything if we could do this interview by
e-mail. if you would e-mail me the questions, i could give you much better answers. emily: i would never know it. aaron: i would be more charming and likable if i could just get a couple of drafts. emily: you have been very open about your struggles with addiction. and i'm curious, where are you with that journey? aaron: this past april 15th was 13 years. emily: congratulations. aaron: thank you. it was a struggle. i lost 10 years of my life to cocaine addiction. i don't take anything for granted. it is easier now with 13.5 years between now and the last time. much easier. i want to say to everyone out there, it really does get easier, but you are not done. you're always aware that you are one call to your dealer away from ruining your life. i will tell you, being a father for me is a great hedge against that.
emily: you talked about your fears of not being able to write if you weren't on drugs. so i wonder, what is your writing process now? aaron: i have plenty of quirks. i go to an office early in the morning. early in the morning is really good writing time. i take anywhere between six to eight showers a day. because i'm not-- emily: you are not exaggerating? aaron: i'm not exaggerating. i am not a germophobe. it has nothing to do with germs. it is all about a fresh start. i was writing. i was writing. it was not going well, start again. take a shower, put on different clothes. you will feel refreshed. emily: is it harder sober? is it better sober? aaron: i don't care if it is harder or better sober. i should be dead seven times by now. and i am so glad i am not.
maybe it would be easier to write with coke and maybe i would write better with coke. writing well is so important to me that there is no advantage i wouldn't give myself, except that. i talk out loud all the time. i start fights with myself to see if i can get a scene going. emily: what about movies? we see superhero movies greenlighted time after time after time. is that depressing? aaron: no. of course not. like i said, any time there is a lot of anything, some of it will be better than others. emily: is it a golden age of movies? aaron: yes, because there are also great movies. the comic book movies, some of which i am a huge fan of. i don't think i could ever write one because i don't know how. they are what is paying for the
emily: you are working on a big steve jobs movie. what is the latest? aaron: we will start shooting in a couple of months. danny boyle, who directed "slumdog millionaire," "127 hours," "trainspotting," is directing. it is not a cradle-to-grave biopic where we do a survey of his whole life. we are doing something else. i am very, very excited about it. emily: is it still three long scenes?
aaron: i wish i hadn't let that cat out of the bag. so i will take this opportunity to try to make up for it. no. it's not. it's a traditional biopic. it's what we call a cradle-to-grave structure where we survey his entire life. and then this happened and this happened and this happened. emily: there have been so many books written about steve jobs, there has been another movie starring ashton kutcher. why do you think there is more of a story to tell? aaron: i think you could do 10 more movies about steve jobs. if you lined up ten writers and said write a movie about steve jobs you'd get 10 different movies, all of them worth going to see. emily: did you meet steve jobs? aaron: i spoke to him on the phone three times. the first time he called me it was because i gave an interview in which i said that everything i have ever written i have written on a mac. he called me to thank me for saying that and asked me if he
could send me -- they were coming out with a new laptop. he said, let me send you this thing and just play around with it and tell me what you think. the second time he called me, it was to invite me up to the bay area. it was to tour pixar. he wanted to know if i would be interested in writing a pixar movie. and the third time he called me was to ask for help with his commencement address at stanford. emily: you helped him write that? aaron: honestly, i fixed a couple of typos. emily: i was there that day. aaron: are you kidding? emily: yes, my sister was graduating that day. aaron: oh, wow. that's amazing. emily: it was beautiful. aaron: i don't want to suggest for a moment that any of those thoughts were my thoughts. that was the brain of steve jobs and i helped him put the music to it. emily: how hard a character is that to write? how hard is that to bring to life? how much pressure is that? i'm not putting any pressure on
you. aaron: the same pressure that i feel when i am writing anything. maybe with a little sauce on top of pressure because he is a person so many people have so many strong feelings about. i spent a lot of time with the other seven characters who are in the movie, like woz. joanna hoffman, who is a fantastic character. she was the head of marketing for the mac team. john scully, who was the ceo of apple and became famous, or infamous, for firing steve jobs from apple. he is a wonderful man and a great character. in this movie, jobs has conflicts with all of them that get dramatized and worked out in
a very compressed and claustrophobic environment. in particular, one of the more interesting relationships is with his daughter. his eldest daughter, lisa. emily: you spoke with steve jobs. did you ever meet with mark zuckerberg? did you ever speak to mark zuckerberg? aaron: no. we met with senior facebook people and said we are doing this movie, would you like to cooperate in the making of this movie. badly wanting them to say no, which is what they did. we needed them to say no because if they did cooperate, the integrity of the movie would be compromised. the movie, i think kind of humanized him in a way. if you were over 35, you thought
it was a cautionary tale. if you are under 35, you thought mark was a rock star who did what had to be done to achieve his dream. i don't think anyone would be comfortable with a movie being made about who they were when they were 18, 19, 20 years old. and i thought that mark was an incredibly good sport about it. really classy. emily: knowing what we know now, in the few years since the movie came out, would you have changed the way you wrote the character? aaron: i don't think so. i've never written anything where i wouldn't like to have it back and write it better. i haven't really seen the movie since it came out. i don't like to revisit these things. we made the movie that we wanted to make. i think it came out well. with steve jobs, i can say that the rest of the world may not agree, but this is the first time i felt, at the end of a script, like i wrote exactly the movie i wanted to write when i started.
i got to the end and it managed to get from my head to the piece of paper intact. emily: if you could write your own ending to the aaron sorkin story, how do you want to be remembered? aaron: being my daughter's father, and then there is everything else. i have been involved in some things that are well-liked and have earned their place in the zeitgeist and in our pop-culture. i would be very depressed if i thought i'd already written the best thing that i'm going to write. i still want to write the best thing that i'm going to write. emily: aaron sorkin, thank you so much. it has been an honor and a pleasure to have you here. aaron: my pleasure. thank you so much. ♪
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