Excerpts: On Directing Film by David Mamet

David Mamet’s books are always entertaining reads. David Mamet is to live-action screen/play writing what John K is the animation: The wise-ass old curmudgeon with a chip on his shoulder and a knack for expressing his opinions in a way that makes you laugh AND think…because he’s usually right. I recommend anything he writes. You don’t have to agree with him on everything, but at least let him affect you. I have more excerpts from more of his books coming up soon. Click the book or title to be redirected to Amazon where you can buy this book.

A good writer gets better only by learning to cut, to remove the ornamental, the descriptive, the narrative, and especially the deeply felt and meaningful. What remains? The story remains. What is the story? The story is the essential progression of incidents that occur to the hero in pursuit of his one goal

Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration.

If you find that a point cannot be made without narration, it is virtually certain that the point in unimportant to the story (which is to say, to the audience): the audience requires not information but drama.

Only the mind that has been taken off itself and put on a task is allowed true creativity.

It is the objective of the protagonist to keep us in our seats

How do we keep their attention? By withholding all information except that information the absence of which would make the story incomprehensible.

You tell the story. Don’t let the protagonist tell the story. You tell the story; you direct it. We don’t have to follow the protagonist around. We don’t have to establish his “character.” We don’t need to have anybody’s “back story.”

The more we “inflect” or “load” the shot, the less powerful the cut is going to be.

Make each part do its job, and the original purpose of the totality will be achieved – as if by magic.

If the job is the objective, then when that job is given or when that job is absolutely denied, the scene will be over.

The less the hero is inflected, identified, and characterized, the more we will endow him with our own internal meaning – the more we will identify with him.

When the hero either gets a retraction or finds that he cannot have a retraction or will be restored. The story will be over.

Every time you make a choice as a director, it must be based on whether the thing in question is essential to the story telling.

It’s the nature of human perception to go to the most interesting thing.

You tax the audience every time you don’t move onto the next essential step of the progression as quickly as possible.

It is the nature of human perception to connect unrelated images into story, because we need to make the world make sense.

To get into the scene late, and to get out early is to demonstrate respect for your audience

If a person’s objective is truly – and you don’t have to do it humbly, because you’ll get humble soon enough – to understand the nature of the medium, that objective will be communicated to the audience.

If you’re honest in making a movie, you’ll find that it’s often fighting back against you.

The acting should be a performance of simple physical action. Period. Go to the door, try the door, sit down. He doesn’t have to walk down the hall respectfully. This is the greatest lesson anyone can ever teach you about acting. Perform the physical motions called for by the script as simply as possible.

Cartoons are very good to watch – are much better to watch, for people who want to direct, than movies.

Every time you show the audience something that is “real,” they think one of two things: (1) “oh, dash it all, that’s fake” or (2) “oh my God, that’s real!” Each one of these takes the audience away from the story you are telling, and neither one is better than the other.

We don’t have to know it’s a slaughterhouse. We have to know it’s where he wants to go.

Stick to the channel. The channel is the super objective of the hero, and the marker buoys are the smaller objectives of each beat, and the smallest unit of all, which is the shot. The shots are all you have.

The task of any artist is not to learn many, many techniques but to learn the most simple technique perfectly. In doing so, Stanislavsky told us, the difficult will become easy, and the easy habitual, so that the habitual may become beautiful.

It’s not up to you to decide whether the movie is good or bad; it’s only up to you to do your job as well as you can, and when you’re done, then you can go home. This is exactly the same principle of the through-line. Understand your specific task, work until it’s done, and then stop.