Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu. (This is one of my favorite things to say. It is essentially a prayer hidden in a greeting. It means May the peace, blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you. Beautiful, right?)
So I watched the first season of The Newsroom.
Rarely has television ticked me off that much and fascinated me at the same time.
What ticks me off the most is the utter daftness of most of the characters. I’m trying to acknowledge their complexity but utter daftness is about as far as I can get.
The youngest member of that newsroom seems to be Maggie, who is 26 (same age as me by the way). She has no idea what she wants out of her life. Other than to impress her professional ‘parents’, Mackenzie and Will.
And she is being tossed like a cricket ball (or football, in this country) between Jim and Don.
Don says, “I want to move in with you. Even though I cheated on you. Even though we’ve broken up 50 times in as many days.”
And she says, “Okay.”
Jim says, “You should try and make things work with him.”
She says, “Okay.”
Jim says, “I want to kiss you in the middle of the street.”
She says, “Okay.”
What? Seriously, woman? I mean seriously?
I just want to smack her upside the head and tell, “Figure it out yourself! Would you prefer to be dating Don or Jim? That’s not a simple yes or no. Why Jim and not Don?”
Girl should be single till she can get her stuff together. And gain control of her life.
But what upsets me more is that freaking everyone – short of Sloane – has exactly the same neuroses. Even if they know what they want, but they don’t have the gonads to reach for it.
Mackenzie got stabbed in the stomach during a revolution but she can’t go up to Will and tell him she still loves him.
Will has to get high to tell the woman he loves the truth.
After planting a big wet one on Maggie in the middle of the street, Jim has the utter GALL to mew, “I’m with Lisa.” No, you’re not! You just chased Maggie down the street and kissed her!
And I love that Will McEvoy is almost a deity to everyone in the newsroom. By love, I mean puke.
That said, Aaron Sorkin does some things rather well.
I want to roll up my hard-won academic sleeves and take this thing apart.
Note: A lot of the below might seem quite obvious to some of you but I’m still diving into screenwriting so watching some of these rules in action has been a revelation to me.
- Call-backs within a scene.
I tried to find the scene where Will invites Mackenzie’s ex Brian to write a feature on Newsroom 2.0, since there was a great Camelot metaphor that occurred at the beginning and the end of the scene.
But this one will have to do.
In this scene, Mackenzie leads with a quote from Cervantez (or the lyricist from the Man of La Mancha) about Don Quixote. The scene ends with her bringing it back to Quixote by calling their shared mission ‘quixotic’.
These can also frame entire episodes. The movie “Rudy” frames one whole episode. Watch the brilliant set-up and pay-off below:
In this clip, Sloan is teaching Mackenzie about the Glass-Steagall Act. Mackenzie’s mind however is elsewhere – why she ever cheated on Will.
That conversation intrudes briefly into this one.
The two converge at the end of this scene. Parallels between Mackenzie’s infidelity and the repealing of Glass-Steagall are drawn.
It’s downright genius, in my opinion. But I told myself to keep the unqualified praise to a minimum.
3.Per scene, characters act according to a certain rule.
Again this might be awfully obvious. But it isn’t to me.
In the above scene, Sloan is the dry emotionally challenged professorial type. Mackenzie is the distracted, distraught, doesn’t-know-jack-about-economics type. Within the scene, they stay faithful to these rules to a tee.
These characters have obviously shown other sides of themselves. But in this scene, this is all they are. Making Sorkin’s scenes very coherent units by themselves. And making analyzing them quite easy.
4. Character rules become character intentions.
In more active scenes, character intentions remain constant throughout the scene and clash violently with each other.
Such as in the scene above when Mackenzie is trying to motivate Will to make a better news show, whereas Will is trying desperately to protect his ratings at the expense of a well-informed electorate.
Two conflicting intentions + two very verbal characters = juicy dialogue.
The intention in the scene matches the intention in this block of two episodes, which shows Will including a piece in the night’s broadcast about Sarah Palin, just to get ratings up, angering Mackenzie enough to ask him, “Are you in? Or are you out?”
All that jawing and TWO EPISODES ultimately reduced to one simple question.
Will’s arc closed. He’s in. Mackenzie locked in too.
This is all starting to sound very cinematic…
5. Characters inform all of the above.
If I don’t know their rules, or their intentions, I don’t get to write that juicy dialogue or…
6. Great scene buttons!
I really really LOVE the way Aaron Sorkin ends his scenes. Always on exactly the right note.
Like a concert violinist.
Gah. Okay I’ll stop gushing.
Valentine’s Day frames the conversation.
Maggie’s dialogue rule: Diss Valentine’s Day.
Maggie’s scene intention: Build up Jim by tearing down Lisa.
Scene button: Don comes in with flowers, making her look silly.
If anyone has any other observations, would be thrilled to hear them.
Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,