MAMET TALKS by Tom McCurrie
After reviewing several multiplexes worth of movies, I figured I'd take a break and review one of the writers of those movies: David Mamet (THE UNTOUCHABLES, HOFFA, HEIST.)
Recently I (Tom Currie) attended a Q & A session with Mamet at the Writer's Guild Theatre in Los Angeles. Now I have to admit, Mamet came across like an irascible, cocksure SOB -- then again, if you won the Pulitzer for GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, wouldn't you? Still, Mamet had some very interesting, and controversial, things to say about screenwriting circa 2003. Here they are, in no particular order (forgive my paraphrasing, Mr. Mamet):
1) Don't write screenplays to sell. If they're good, Hollywood won't want them. And if you try and write down to the mediocre tastes of studio execs, you're only training yourself to be subservient to the demands of "second-class minds" who will soon kill off your creative spark altogether. Instead, write something you're passionate as hell about...and make a movie of it yourself (unless your spec has the budgetof MASTER & COMMANDER, of course).
2) Never write exposition. And I mean never. Let plot and dialogue push your story along.
3) The ability to write is a gift. If you don't got it, you don't got it. If you do got it, Craft can make this gift even better.
4) Most writers don't got it (a.k.a. they suck).
5) Directing makes you a better writer since it teaches you to cut for pace.
6) Write till you can't do any better, then move on to the next project.
7) Read Aristotle's POETICS and Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. These will tell you all you need to know about writing.
8) Write each day, even if it's just for three minutes at a time.
9) Writing is hard and always will be. It doesn't get easier the
more you do it.
10) There's no such thing as character in a script. There's just a good story with good actors talking.
11) Narration can be either good or bad, depending on the writer.
12) Get out of school as soon as possible. Experience Life. Put that experience in your script.
13) Biography is the hardest to write since you're trapped by actual events -- and actual events aren't necessarily dramatic. Use Poetic License to remedy this situation.
14) Don't write and drink at the same time.
15) All movies are about good and evil (or should be).
16) Some of Mamet's favorite movies are DUMBO, GALAXY QUEST and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF COLONEL BLIMP.
17) All writing is getting over what happened to you before you were ten years old.
18) God is a mystery. And writing is a way of getting closer to that mystery.
19) Mamet's formula for a good script -- a simple premise with unforeseeable twists and turns.
20) Mamet can't explain the writing process. That's because he works unconsciously.
21) Forget every rule Syd Field, Robert McKee or any other screenwriting guru ever taught you. Except one..."Never Be Boring."
A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive and a story analyst. He is currently a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.