“What does the hero want? What hinders him from getting it? What happens if he does not get it?
The following excerpt is from a Creative Screenwriting interview with six time Oscar-nominated writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia):
Kristina McKenna: Did you consciously train your ear to be sensitive to how people talk?
Paul Thomas Anderson: I probably did when I was eighteen and was just starting as a writer. Actually my mission then was to rip off David Mamet, because I foolishly believed Mamet’s dialogue was how people really talked. It took me a while to realize that Mamet had developed a wonderfully stylized way of highlighting the way humans speak. People immediately think of dialogue when they hear Mamet’s name, but I think the strength of his writing is his storytelling—he uses very solid, old fashioned techniques in setting up his stories. House of Games, for instance, is one of the best scripts ever written, and it’s the story structure that makes it so brilliant.
What does Mamet say about structure? Glad you asked:
“I was a student in the turbulent sixties in Vermont at a countercultural college. In that time and place, there flourished something called a school of Countercultural Architecture. Some people back then thought that the traditional architecture had been too stifling, and so they designed and built a lot of countercultural buildings. These buildings proved unlivable. Their design didn’t begin with the idea of the building’s purpose; it began with the idea of how the architect ‘felt.’
“As those architects looked at their countercultural buildings over the years, they have reflected the there’s a reason for traditional design. There’s a reason that doors are placed in a certain way.
“All these countercultural buildings may have expressed the intension of the architect, but they didn’t serve the purpose of the inhabitants. They all either fell down or are falling down or should be torn down. They’re a blot on the landscape and they don’t age gracefully and every passing year underscores the jejune folly of those counterculture; architects.
“I live in a house that is two hundred years old. It was built with an axe, by hand, and without nails. Barring some sort of man-man catastrophe, it will be standing in another two hundred years. It was built with an understanding of, and a respect for, wood, weather, and human domestic requirements.”
David Mamet On Directing Film/pages 57-58
Based on a series of lectures given at Columbia University film school
P.S. I think Mamet would say amen to what writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars, Episode VIII) said about structure in yesterday’s post Screenwriting Structure, Snake Oil & Star Wars.
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