may be the best-known screenwriter working today, but he had never directed a movie before “Molly’s Game.” It opens on Dec. 25 and raises a pointed question: What has Aaron
learned about the unique challenge of directing an Aaron Sorkin screenplay?
Directors of Mr. Sorkin’s prior scripts, for TV shows “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom” and films including “
), “The American President” (
), and “Moneyball” (
), mastered the art of turning the writer’s dialogue-dense style into cinematic action. Sorkin scenes are thick with ardent soliloquies and spitfire wordplay designed to reveal characters’ intentions, often as they sit across tables or walk down hallways. Jeff Cronenweth, the cinematographer of “The Social Network,” which
directed and for which Mr. Sorkin won an Oscar for writing, said the aim was to “make the dialogue the hero of the movie.”
“There’s no question I borrowed very liberally from everyone who has done something I liked,” Mr. Sorkin says of his directorial debut. He recalls the first table-reading of his screenplay for 2007’s “
directed. Actors including
Philip Seymour Hoffman
assembled to read the wordy script, and Mr. Nichols’s simple instruction to them was: “Start talking as soon as it’s your turn, and don’t stop talking until your turn is over.”
In “Molly’s Game,”
who organized one of the richest private poker games in America, seating movie stars, business billionaires and other hotshots. The film tracks her entrepreneurial drive building the glitzy game and her resilience after the FBI arrests her.
portrays her lawyer and
her demanding father. The film, from STX Entertainment, has received Golden Globe nominations for
and for the screenplay.
‘There’s no question I borrowed very liberally from everyone who has done something I liked.’
It wasn’t clear who was going to direct after Mr. Sorkin adapted Ms. Bloom’s 2014 memoir into a 200-page script, which for writers of less tightly packed dialogue could translate into a three-hour film. Mr. Sorkin met at a restaurant with producers
“Each of us had a list of about 20 directors’ names,” he recalls. “And when we got to the end, Amy and Mark said, ‘We think you should direct it.’ I kind of just ‘aw shucks’-ed it. I didn’t really think they were serious, and I didn’t want to hold them to it.”
Then he thought about it and took them up on the offer—partly to be sure that nobody turned the movie into a raucous female version of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he says. “I knew there would be a natural gravitational pull toward the shiny objects in the story: the decadence, the glamour, the money, the Hollywood boldface names.” He wanted a more subtle and emotional film, and “didn’t want to litigate my choices.”
As an acting student turned playwright turned TV show runner and film screenwriter, Mr. Sorkin had been involved in practically every element of production, from casting to editing. Still, as a neophyte director, “I knew I would have to surround myself with very talented people who had the ability to work with a first-time director. “ They included first assistant director
(from films like “Baby Driver” and “Spotlight”) and set designers David and
who won an Oscar for “La La Land” while “Molly’s Game” was shooting.
Mr. Sorkin knew he wanted Danish cinematographer
who shot “The Girl on the Train” and “Fences” (”wall-to-wall
dialogue,” he points out).
“I had to confess to her that in my 25 years of doing this, I had managed to absorb none of the science of filmmaking,” Mr. Sorkin says. “We would huddle up before a shot, and Charlotte would say ‘I think we should throw on a 60 [millimeter lens]’ and look to me for confirmation. And all I’d be able to say was ‘Sixty, 61—whatever it takes.’ ”
Given the chance to direct his own words, Mr. Sorkin avoided the sorts of “Sorkinisms”—signature phrases and techniques in his prior work—such as the “walk and talk” or someone skeptically saying “Ya think?”—that have been widely spoofed. “Except for a seven-second walk from Idris Elba’s reception area to his office,” he says, “there is no moment in the movie when a character is walking and talking at the same time.”
The newbie director, who brought in the film at 2 hours and 20 minutes, found strength in all the collaboration. He isn’t ready to buy into the auteur theory, the idea that films are the singular vision of their directors.
“I’m going to tell you this story just ’cause I think it’s funny. I’m not angry about it in any way,” he says. “My first play—and my first movie—was ‘A Few Good Men.’ I have two posters side-by-side in my office. One of them says ‘A Few Good Men. A Play by Aaron Sorkin.’ The other one says ‘A Few Good Men: A Film by Rob Reiner.’ And my job was exactly the same on both.”
“I don’t know who said movies are a director’s medium, but I promise you it was a director,” Mr. Sorkin says. But he enjoyed directing, and says he would do it again, now that he’s getting the hang of it.
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