trees over Jet

On Directing Film

I'm now utterly in love with David Mamet. My favorite quote so far from On Directing Film:

Mamet: What do we do first?
Student: Establish the character.
Mamet: The truth is, you never have to establish the character. In the first place, there is no such thing as character other than the habitual action, as Mr. Aristotle told us two thousand years ago. It just doesn't exist.

It just doesn't exist.

In just 107 pages, Mamet does a very blunt, very thorough treatise on exactly what's needed to tell great stories, and, perhaps more importantly, much of what is NOT needed. It's based on his classes at Columbia University's film school.

I now understand why that first Lost Toys piece worked so well, and why I really want to continue in that style. Why my favorite stories I've written are Ishida's Ghosts and Some Things Never Change, why Watched For and Seen worked, and why there is so much of Twin Souls that does work for people and how not to just follow the boys around for *everything* they do. *dances about*
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It is... very clearly about throughlines and what that really means. How to structure scenes and beats within a scene, and it really implies FAR more upfront work and thought than I normally put into anything.
Sorry. I got that wrong. It is David Mamet. Says something that I don't know if I've ever seen one of his movies. *grins*
Although "Glengarry Glen Ross" was the most famous, followed by "Wag the Dog," my person favourite was "The Spanish Prisoner" about a con job. It starred Steve Martin, Campbell Scott, and his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon. His specialty is dialogue. I learned a lot from his phrasing, and how his characters would skirt around things with their words.
Mmmm... *smiles* This is going to be fun, I can tell.

Thank you for your recommendations!
I think ignoring character establishment might be one of those things that a master like a Mamet can use and come out of it with something unique, but a non-master trying it will end up with a muddled mess that nobody wants to read.

As the saying goes, after you've mastered the rules, you begin to learn where they can be bent and where they can be broken to improve the product. But not bothering to learn the rules of an art in the first place doesn't make one a master.

But he outlines the rules very clearly, cleanly and succinctly in the book; and "the establishment of characters" is less of a rule than an assumption that the reader/watcher can't tell where they are.

He had a good point in the book, most people, when they turn the TV on in the middle of a show or walk in on a movie know 'where they are' almost immediately. And he had a great point in that the fewer unique characteristics, mannerisms, oddities, you give a protagonist, the more likely the viewer/watcher can put themselves in the protagonist's place.
Attention, Interest, Decision, Action
I adore and recommend David Mamet's films, particularly Things Change and Glengarry Glen Ross. I really need to get around to seeing State and Main someday.

Other favorite Mamet quotes:

Instead of "following the protagonist around [a movie should be] a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between these images moves the story forward in the mind of the audience." -- David Mamet on Eisenstein's advice on directing

"Always do things the least interesting way, and you make a better movie." -- David Mamet

"The Steadicam is no more capable of aiding in the creation of a good movie than the computer is in the writing of a good novel -- both are labor-saving devices, which simplify and so make more attractive the mindless aspects of a creative endeavor." -- David Mamet

"We know who we love, but the devil knows who we'll marry." -- David Mamet

"Basically, the perfect movie doesn't have any dialogue." -- David Mamet

But especially, I like Mamet's focus on straightforward storytelling, where drama boils down to "the creation and deferment of hope," and every scene should be able to answer three questions: "Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don't get it? Why now?"

I'm delighted beyond words that On Directing Film was useful to your understanding of your own writing. HURRAH!

Re: Attention, Interest, Decision, Action
I especially loved that he really liked introducing chaos at the beginning of scenes and letting the rest of it being the playing out towards a state of entropy/rest.

I *liked* not having dialog in a lot of my stories... or minimizing it or making it the shorthand that people that know each other really well actually say instead of all these Explanations In the Dialog... which no one ever remembers the way they remember the actions and how things MOVE...

But, yes, those three questions are the bedrock on which everything else rests, and why the audience Wants To Know What Happens Next.

It was really really good.
Re: Attention, Interest, Decision, Action
Ooooh... I *loved* Heist!!

*thoughtfuls at the list* wow. Lots of fun stuff to explore.