Even though Aaron Sorkin has a great love for politics, he admits that he didn’t know who the Chicago 7 were at first. It all started when he met with Steven Spielberg at his house and the director said he wanted to make a movie about the Chicago 7. “I said, ‘The Chicago 7? Count me in! That sounds great.’ I left his house, called my father and asked him who the Chicago 7 were,’ Sorkin reveals to us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). He was familiar with several of the figures, but he had to do a lot of research on the subject. “Most critically, I got to spend time with Tom Hayden and that’s what gave me a look into the tension between Tom and Abbie Hoffman.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is available to stream on Netflix, explores the trial of seven leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement who were accused of instigating riots against the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The film is rounded out with an all-star cast that includes Eddie Redmayne as Hayden, Sacha Baron Cohen as Hoffman, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale and Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman. In addition to the five Emmys that he won for “The West Wing,” Sorkin also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010 for “The Social Network” and received two additional nominations in the category: “Moneyball” in 2011 and “Molly’s Game” in 2017.
The intense rioting scenes presented a challenge for Sorkin that was two-fold. The first was as a writer. “For me, even as a writer, when I write ‘EXT.,’ I get nervous. That’s why mostly I write people talking in rooms.” The second part of the challenge was due to the budgeting of shooting the riot scenes, which is the biggest reason for why the film took so long to make. By the time Spielberg felt the film had to be made, Sorkin already had directed “Molly’s Game.” “Steven was pleased enough with it that he thought I should direct ‘Chicago 7’ and he said, ‘Now the riots are your problem.’ I had to figure out how to do it and how to do it on a budget.” Sorkin was eventually able to shoot those scenes on a budget by utilizing wide shots with the tear gas, tight shots of people as they are brutalized by police and the use of archival footage.
This past Sunday, Sorkin got a big boost to his awards chances this year when he won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. The win marked his third victory in the category, tying him with Robert Bolt and Quentin Tarantino as the biggest winner in that category’s history. The experience of being a part of a virtual ceremony did have some downsides to it. “You miss the socializing a little bit that happens this time of year, especially if you’re a writer. Writers, we don’t get to work with each other, so we don’t really see each other that much.” But Sorkin did like the intimacy that he was able to experience with the family and friends he had gathered at his home that made the win special. “I realize it wasn’t as good a television show for the TV audience but as far as people suffering during the COVID crisis, I would say we’re pretty far down the list.”
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