Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘David Mamet’

“Drama has rules. We’re given a premise. The hero wants something. To find the cause of the plague on Thebes, or to free the Jews, or to establish civil rights, or to fly the Atlantic. We get it. We are going to follow his or her journey until the end. And the end is going to be surprising—and inevitable. Just like in a great football game.”
Screenwriter/ Playwright David Mamet 
Masterclass/Purpose of Drama

Mamet (like Aaron Sorkin) points to Aristotle’s Poetics for direction and says, “The rules are pretty simple. Start at the beginning. Go on until you get to the end. Don’t stop. Be interesting. Make sure everything is on the line.”

And by “on the line,” Mamet means that if the story is about a character who needs to go from NY to LA that you must stay on that through line or plot line.

Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

 

“The whole thing is a mystery to me. It’s like I go to work and I sit around taking a nap and read a couple of books and curse myself for being a lazy swine. And at some point a work of some description shows up and I say how did that get there?…What I’m trying to do—I’ve written a lot of books [on acting and writing]—is understand a mysterious process. Try to get closer to a mysterious process.”
David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Verdict)
WTP with Marc Maron podcast interview 

Trying to understand the mysterious process of writing pretty much describes what I’ve been trying to do on this blog for the past decade. It’s why I’ve quoted over 700 sources of writers, filmmakers, artists, and others talking about the creative process. And if you’ve been reading this blog for long you’ll have read that many quiet successful people have had contrary views on the topic.

And if I was limited to listing just a couple of things that set people apart I’d go with talent and hard work (get stuff written/produced). But there’s a lot of mystery involved in the process. And while I agree that it’s a little tricky to dissect the creative process, I do think there’s a lot of wisdom the following advice:

“Story is about principles, not rules. A rule says, ‘you must do it this way.’ A principle says, ‘This works…and has through all remembered time.’ The difference is crucial. Your work needn’t be modeled after the ‘well-made’ play; rather, it must be well made within the principles that shape our art.”
Robert McKee
Story

Every once in a while you hear a writer say they’ve never read a book on writing, or taken a class on writing. But what they have done is read a lot of books/screenplays, watched a lot of movies, and/or gone to a lot of plays and in the process learned basic principles (conflict, character, plot devices, etc.) that are common in Greek plays, Shakespeare, Dickens, Flannery O’Connor, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Billy Wilder, Nora Ephron, Ang Lee, Sam Shepard, Aaron Sorkin, Jordan Peele, etc., etc.. etc.

P.S. David Mamet’s newest book, Chicago, is set in the 1920s.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Screenwriter/playwright David Mamet began working in show business at seven or eight years old portraying Jewish children on a 6:30am radio/television programs, then as a kid in community theater in Chicago. At 16, he began working as a busboy in the early days of Second City watching actors like Peter Boyle, Fred Willard, Judy Graubart, and David Steinberg work their improv magic.

“So I was exposed to the whole idea of a seven-minute scene with a payoff. Which was extraordinarily influential in me because that’s what every scene’s got to me. If you look at what passes as improv comedy now some of it’s pretty funny but it doesn’t have a punchline. Like sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live they just dial it out. But what Second City said was they had to have an out. You gotta get off stage. So that really taught me a lot about drama because if the scene doesn’t have an ending there’s no reason to go on to the next scene. The reason to go on to the next scene in the play is because the first scene didn’t work. Somebody found out something that made them go on to the next scene.”
David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Verdict)
WTP with Marc Maron podcast interview 

Related posts:
Every Scene Must Be Dramatic—David Mamet
Mission: Rip Off David Mamet
What Happens Next?—Mamet

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“If you listen to the way people tell stories, you hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by the juxtapositon of images—which is to say, by the cut.

“People say, ‘I’m standing on the corner. It’s a foggy day. A bunch of people are running around crazy. Might have been the full moon. All of a sudden, a car comes up and the guy next to me says…’

“If you think about it, that’s a shot list: (1) a guy standing on the corner; (2) shot of fog; (3) a full moon shining above; (4) a man, says, ‘I think people get wacky this time of year’; (5) a car approaching.

This is good filmmaking, to juxtapose images. Now you’re following the story. What, you wonder, is going to happen next?”
Writer/Director David Mamet
On Film Directing, page 3

Read Full Post »

“What does the hero want? What hinders him from getting it? What happens if he does not get it?
David Mamet

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.

Related posts:
‘What Happens Next?’—Mamet
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet)
Screenwriting Quote #133 (David Mamet)
Filmmaking Quote #16 (David Mamet)
Screenwriting, Mamet & Teachable Moments
‘The Verdict’ Revisited

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“If I take the money I’m lost.”
Lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict

One of my all-time favorite screenplays and movies is The VerdictI happened to see it when when it first came out in theaters back in 1982 when I was in film school. And as I revisit it from time to time I just appreciate the multi-layers of the film.

The David Mamet screenplay is listed at 91 on WGA’s list of 101 Greatest screenplays  just after Sidways and before Psycho. It was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Sidney Lumet’s direction, and Paul Newman lead role.

I think the film follows the Simple Stories/Complex Characters model, but what the film does is shows us a textured glimpse into the legal world. I haven’t read the Barry Reed book which the screenplay is based on, but my guess is Reed did the heavily lifting.

Reed (1927-2002) served in the Army during World War II before getting his law degree at Boston College. He was in private practice in Boston specializing in, according to Wikipedia, medical malpractice, personal injury, and civil litigation cases.

He’d actually been practicing law for 25 years before The Verdict novel was published so he had plenty life experiences to draw on. But there is a simplicity how the screenplay handles all the complexities of law and medical which make the script a wonderful study even for the new screenwriter.

The core the story is about a fading, alcoholic lawyer whose mentor throws him a case that appears to be an easy cash settlement case. One that will help him get back on his feet. That is until Galvin’s conscience kicks in and he decides to try the case for justice to prevail. And at the same time be a personal redemption for himself.

On page 38 of the screenplay Galvin actually verbalizes to a female friend in a bar what I believe is the theme of the story:

“The weak, the weak have got to have somebody to fight for them. Isn’t that the truth? You want another drink?” 

At the end of a Christopher Lockharts’ post Screenwriting 101 he has an excellent detailed outline of The Verdict which is well worth your time to read. Here’s some of his highlights:

LOG LINE: A drunken, washed-up attorney struggles against a goliath law firm to win a medical malpractice suit.

ACT ONE

PROTAGONIST INTRO

Galvin is introduced as an attorney lower than an ambulance chaser – he chases Hearses. He is a washed-up attorney- glory days long behind him. He is a drunk – who only seems to show signs of life when he is in a bar.

INCITING INCIDENT

For physical/external storyline: MICKEY jolts GALVIN into consciousness, reminding him that he has five-days to prepare for the ONLY case on his docket. This is a definite money-maker that will ensure GALVIN some much needed income (page 6-7).

For psychological/internal storyline: GALVIN visits his comatose client in the nursing home. He comes to understand the severity and enormity of the case before him (page 8).

PLOT POINT: END OF ACT ONE

GALVIN decides to try the case, “I have to try this case. I have to do it, Mick. I’ve got to stand up for that girl” (page 31). NOTE: This is the point in the story where the goal is establinshed. GALVIN’s goal is to win the case. A MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION is proposed: WILL GALVIN WIN THE CASE? The MDQ is the linchpin of the dramatic narrative – the purpose for which the story is being told. 

P.S. To find a link to most of the 101 WGA top scripts visit Simply Scripts.

Related links:
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) Galvin belongs in the end of the rope club Oscars ’83.
Writing ‘Flight’ Another alcoholic/redemption story with some echoes of The Verdict. And one Lockhart actually had a role in getting produced.
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 2)
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Great example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

 “I write dialogue fairly easily. Plot is a big pain in the ass.”
David Mamet

“The question is how do you get somebody to suspend their disbelief—that’s the central question in drama. And the answer in drama is you have to give them a plot. You have to make them wonder what happens next?…How’s he going to get out of the locked cage? What’s going to happen to Othello? And this goes back to the primal—the essence of the cerebral cortex. How do I get away from the wolf that’s trying to kill me? Which is very, very different than trying to figure out a logical problem. I think it’s absolutely two different parts of the brain…The forest is on fire, how do I get out of here?…It’s hard to write a drama, because it’s hard to write a drama with a plot. Because a plot means that at the end of the drama you have to resolve that problem which gave rise to the drama in such a way that’s both surprising and inevitable as per Aristotle. ”
David Mamet
House of Game  director’s commentary
Excellent site for condensed commentaries: filmschoolthroughcommentaries 

Related posts:
Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
‘There is Only One Plot’
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)
Making Dramatic Writing Dramatic (Tip #98)
“Don’t bore the audience!”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: