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AFI Fest Q & A: Aaron Sorkin Talks Bad Journalism, The Social Network vs. All The President's Men

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood November 8, 2010 at 9:29AM

The AFI Fest hosted a tribute evening with The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing), who introduced a special presentation of Alan Pakula's 1976 Oscar-winning Nixon-Watergate scandal film All The President's Men, adapted by Sorkin hero William Goldman from the book by Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who were played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in the film.
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Thompson on Hollywood


The AFI Fest hosted a tribute evening with The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing), who introduced a special presentation of Alan Pakula's 1976 Oscar-winning Nixon-Watergate scandal film All The President's Men, adapted by Sorkin hero William Goldman from the book by Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who were played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in the film.

Here are ten things TOH's Sophia Savage learned at the Q & A:

Thompson on Hollywood


1. The Social Network bears some significant similarities to All The President's Men. Each has to deal with the issue of non-fiction feature vs. documentary, as well as dealing with the very recent--as opposed to distant--past.

2. Goldman is Sorkin's hero; he helped to convert him from playwright to screenwriter, for which Sorkin "will never forgive him." Goldman has said that if he could do it all over again, he'd never have written All The President's Men. That's because, said Sorkin, "he's a professional curmudgeon."

3. Despite some previously made and misinterpreted "accuracy for accuracy sake" soundbites, Sorkin confirmed that he honors accuracy, but only so far. Sorkin credited the prop department on All The President's Men for re-creating the Washington Post newsroom with trash cans full of crumpled true-to-the-story's-date 'yesterday's paper': "Are you kidding me?! The camera is never going to see that!"

4. The American public sees political films differently now. In 1976, All The President's Men was the second highest-grossing film behind One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Neither would be in the top twenty this year, he said laughing, as neither were in 3-D. Sorkin said we've lost interest since the summer of 1975 when the first blockbuster, Jaws, came out. Hollywood has been reproducing its winning box office formula ever since. "Hollywood discovered this huge audience of young boys," he says, and subsequently "the quality of the film matters less than the poster."

5. "Politics have become even more polarizing than in the Nixon era," said Sorkin, referring to a recent article stating we currently live in the most polarizing time since the Civil War. "When you make a film about politics there is a risk of alienating your audience and cutting it in half."

6. "If you're movie takes place in a desert or has a man wearing a turban - it doesn't matter how good a movie is - people don't want to see it!"

7. "All The President's Men made journalists want to be rockstars."

8. Sorkin agrees with the likes of Bill Maher, who blame journalists for not doing their job and properly informing the American people. Sorkin regularly yells at journalist Maureen Dowd, even if "doesn't deserve it, but she'll go off and yell at other journalists. The Most important thing in a democracy is a well informed electorate," he said. It's the press's fault for the American majority believing Osama Bin Ladin attacked us on 9/11 and the ensuing decade of war.

9. As soon as we allowed the broadcast news to sell advertising we made it impossible to get the real news. And while the internet has become a major source of news, "we've leveled the playing field in a bad way, where you don't have to have credentials." While The Social Network "has a legal team behind it that wouldn't fit in [the Egyptian Theatre]," the internet's news content is not legally regulated the way a film is. Sorkin said that as a writer, he has "a moral compass that says 'first do no harm.'" Not so for everyone writing the news or selling the advertising. "Everyone is entitled to a voice, but a microphone has to be earned," he said.

10. "There are members of the press that are trying like hell [to uphold good journalism standards]…but they are getting drowned out by a populous that doesn't have time or energy to pull the good from the bad."

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Stuck In Love, On the Town, Drama, Documentaries, Biopics, Books, Screenwriters


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.