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because I say so
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Va Va Voom

This will come as no surprise to anyone who really knows me. So if you're one of those people, you may want to hold out until next week's column. Otherwise, feel free to read on about my man crush, who may, to some degree or another, have an impact on my writing, or at least what I would hope that it would be.

My man crush, the promised topic of this week, is Aaron Sorkin.

For the uninitiated, and God help me, there are some of you out there, Aaron Sorkin is an American writer of such films as The American President, A Few Good Men - both the screen and stage plays, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Social Network, for which he won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

More importantly, he is also the writer, creator and creative force behind the television series Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, and most recently, The Newsroom, HBO's entirely compelling series chronicling the daily trials and crises of a nightly cable newscast in New York.

That Aaron Sorkin.

If you're still not with me, if none of his television work sounds even remotely familiar to you, I'm going to tell you something no sane writer should ever say to his readers: stop reading now. Move on. Close the page and go pick up the Province (I've written for them - I'm allowed to be dismissive). You're not ready to be party to this discussion.

Such is the power of my man crush.

I first became aware of Aaron (I will henceforth commence referring to him by his first name: what kind of crush would it be if I needed to use his surname?) during the run of Sports Night on ABC. By that time I had seen both A Few Good Men and The American President and, in the latter particularly, noticed something different in the storytelling and a hint of what might be yet to come in the dialogue. But it was in Sports Night that both the power of the stories Aaron wanted to tell and a particular form of dialogue and production had begun to develop. In simple terms, it is often referred to as the "Walk and Talk", a signature scene delivery in which characters are seen walking quickly and purposefully through their place of employ while delivering rapid-fire dialogue that builds conflict and raises dramatic tension through each conversation.

It is, in a word, wonderful.

It is critiqued as being artifice, artificial and unrealistic. His detractors claim that no one speaks that way. I'm not so sure. I have worked with, spent time with, and hung out with a lot of very smart people. Sometimes the conversations are incredibly intelligent,snappy, witty, thoughtful, and occasionally even profound.

Sometimes we make fart jokes.

The point is - and I've heard Aaron describe his writing this way - that good speech, carefully crafted speech, is not something we should shy away from. He once said of the characters that inhabit the fictional White House of The West Wing that this is the White House he hoped would be in an ideal world. If thoughtful, dedicated, yes, even patriotic people were really in the hallowed halls of government, this might well be what they would sound like. The same could be said of the sportscasters of Sports Night, the producers of Studio 60 and the journalists of The Newsroom.

His dialogue is often laden with metaphor. It frequently makes allusions to history, politics, literature, the bible and other religious texts. It is sharp, often biting, and rhythmic to the point of poetic. It stretches both the actors' and viewers' vocabulary and occasionally requires a pausing of the pvr to rewind and catch the clearly important piece of dialogue that sailed by. Again, his critics assert his writing is too heavily focused on style over story, and in doing so can be repetitive. There is evidence to support this point of view. But hey: that's a lot of writing. One is bound to repeat oneself occasionally. And if your writing is brilliant, maybe seeing it a second time in a fresh context isn't such a bad thing.

For me, watching some of the better episodes, and there are many from which to choose, can be inspirational and prompt bursts of vigorous creativity. Indeed, after my movie poster from Charlie Wilson's War was damaged and I had to remove it I have been working on obtaining posters from The Newsroom to hang in my office for inspiration. The fact Aaron cast my doppelganger in the lead doesn't hurt either.

Now if only he felt the same way….

Next week: if I worked for my man-crush

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 26 December 2013 9:29 AM PST
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