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Posts Tagged ‘David Mamet’

“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

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“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

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“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

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 “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

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“As the day ended, the five were satisfied, they had done something new, something different, something more!”
The Numberlys
William Joyce & Christina Ellis

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Cool Change/Little River Band (Written by Glenn Shorrock)

Today is post #1,901 on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I know I haven’t done something as “different” as The Numberlys did. After all they took a world that knew only numbers and formed letters and words. Now that was revolutionary.

All I’ve done is spend a few thousand hours laboring over books, magazines, online interviews, etc. looking for a cohesive (and sometimes contradictory) view of screenwriting (sometimes spilling over into other filmmaking disciplines). I think I have 99 more posts in me to make it to 2,000. After that? I don’t know.

But it’s time for a cool change.

My original goal in 2008 was a book and it just grew and grew. I’m actually on the tail-end of editing the “best of” posts down to three 60,000 word books. Sort of a beginning, middle and end. I’m exploring some ebook options and if you have any experience or advice in that world please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

I don’t have much more of a game plan than that. When I was in film school I used to have a Nike poster in my dorm of a lone runner with the words, “There is no finish line”—which seemed cool at the time. But on a little reflection, I realized I like finish lines. We need finish lines. Finish lines are useful. It’s a way to measure things.  (You know what doesn’t have a finish line? Hamsters running on a wheel.)  It just seems like 2,000 posts on screenwriting is a good finish line.

theres-no-finish-line

The Regional Emmy Award and shout-outs from Diablo Cody, Edward Burns, and TomCrusie.com–as well as the many readers over the years have all been much appreciated. (Heck, yesterday had the most views all year.) Even if I stop writing daily posts here I’m sure something new will pop up. A new blog or perhaps weekly videos.

Finding a way to monetize it or have it open up more speaking opportunities would be great. Spending time getting more dramatic writing done would be ideal.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet was once asked if the theater was dying and replied, “The theater is always dying and always being reborn.” Certainly that definition could be used to explain a lot in our ever-changing society. I just found out today that the cable on our TV has been off for two months because we didn’t get a new box thingy. They credited our account and since we didn’t miss it we dropped cable altogether.

I’m not a Luddite, I’ve been watching The Sopranos via Amazon Prime and movies on Netflix streaming through my BluRay and playing on my TV.  Most college freshman I’ve read don’t have a TV in their room preferring to watch everything on their computers or phones. TV is dying and being reborn.

And so it is with Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—it’s dying and being reborn. I’m just not sure yet what that new manifestation will look like. All suggestions welcomed.

‘The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning….”—Arthur Miller

P.S. The Numberlys book, App, and film was created by Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana—Shreveport qualifies as an unlikely place. I wrote some posts about them ( Filmmaking in the Other LA, Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge) a couple of years ago.

Update: Soon after I wrote this post, I heard some people talking about the bowling alley at Downtown Disney (Splitsville Luxury Lanes) and one of the people said, “Bowling’s coming back.” Bowling is always dying, and always coming back.

Related Posts:
Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New World Order
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster

Scott W. Smith 

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“Protagonists have to be active, they’re making their own fate all the time.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)

“David Mamet says the one question an audience asks is WHAT’S NEXT? I agree. Let each scene drive the story forward. Make sure each moment is vital no matter what page it’s on.”
Ken Levin (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Fraiser)
Post on his blog The World As Seen By A TV Comedy Writer

“I think of [story beats] more in terms of one scene pushing the next scene into existence. And within a scene there will be certain beats because there’s a kind of progress that happens in every scene. And I think everybody who knows much about drama understands that the character is starting here, certain revelations or actions take place in the scene and you’re in a different place at the end of that scene. And what happens in that scene then makes the other scene happen. And so there’s this kind of because, because, because, that runs all the way through dramatic writing.  And so I don’t create schematics the way so many screenwriting books have done. I don’t think there’s anything magical about a certain page number, but I do know that the story happens in three large sweeps. The three act structure is not that artificial. Some people break it down into five— I think that’s quite legitimate, because act two is very long, so that can be broken down into whatever size you want. But generally speaking there is a progress toward and that is what makes dramatic writing dynamic.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 2)—at the 14:25 point of the above clip.

Related Posts:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet) “Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal—so that he, as discussed elsewhere, is focused to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.”

Scott W. Smith

 

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“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
David Mamet 

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don’t want to know that they’re doing that. That’s your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you’re making them work for their meal. We’re born problem solvers. We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct,because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in. There’s a reason that we’re all attracted to an infant or a puppy. It’s not just that they’re damn cute; it’s because they can’t completely express what they’re thinking and what their intentions are. And it’s like a magnet. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.

I first started really understanding this storytelling device when I was writing with Bob Peterson on Finding Nemo. And we would call this the unifying theory of two plus two.Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience. Editors and screenwriters have known this all along. It’s the invisible application that holds our attention to story. I don’t mean to make it sound like this is an actual exact science, it’s not. That’s what’s so special about stories, they’re not a widget, they aren’t exact. Stories are inevitable, if they’re good, but they’re not predictable.”
Two time Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E)
TED talk The Clues to a Great Story

P.S. I think I first read that 2+2 story concept in an interview with Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch. (I’ll try to track it down.)

Related Posts:
Mr. Silent Films
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1) “I thought making a silent film would be a magnificent challenge.”
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46) “One of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.”—Hitchcock
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 7) “The reaction to the action is critical.”—Blake Edwards via Marshall
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
Ken Burns on 1+1=3

Scott W. Smith

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