Thursday, April 26, 2012

David Mamet letter to Unit writers - excerpts



QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.
 
SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.
1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON'T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE - THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING "BOB AND SUE DISCUSS..." IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

 ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER "AS YOU KNOW", THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

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

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF "IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.
IF THE ANSWER IS "NO" WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU'VE GOT ANY

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I learned

Make sure each (or most) obstacles provide conflict on more than one level. In order to achieve one goal, what is the protagonist jeopardizing? Remember the tug-of-war between the protag's wants and needs!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

practice log lines

Double XL
When a cynical prostitute and a compulsive liar team up to steal the patent for the world's first penis enlargement pill from a pharmaceutical giant, they discover the great lengths that some people will go for money.

That's bad, but at least I worked a pun in.

What I've learned

Make your protagonist CHOOSE between her two goals (mainplot/subplot goals). That's the ultimate test of character.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

script iderp

A marriage counselor who bangs the troubled wives he meets with. Jesus, I've clearly been in LA too long, it's fucking with my mind.

Monday, April 9, 2012

script iderp


When an artist is conned out of his (i'd say her, but goddamit I need male protag's!!) prized piece by an oversees scammer, he travels to (wherever) to get it back. I'm thinking taken slash robert crowne or something. The con man offers to buy a painting, but sends a check that's well over the established price. When protag informs the buyer, the buyer just has him mail back the difference. Of course, the original check is fake. Needs a love interest and a hook to raise the stakes (he uncovers an international whatever whatever or such). How to work with established conventions, but not be incredibly boring and predictable? It also needs to be PITCHABLE. Not high concept, neccisarily, but it has to have an exciting hook.

script iderp

American Universities Infected by Foreign Spies Detected by FBI

Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon contacted the Central Intelligence Agency in late 2009 with an urgent question.
The school’s campus in Dubai needed a bailout and an unlikely savior had stepped forward: a Dubai-based company that offered to provide money and students.
Frank Figliuzzi, assistant director for counterintelligence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), sits for a photograph in front of a wall of convicted spy profiles at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., on March 29, 2012. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State University speaks during a video taping in her office in East Lansig, Michigan on Dec. 17, 2010. Photographer: Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University via Bloomberg
Then Penn State University President Graham Spanier. Photographer: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Sergei Tretyakov, a former Russian intelligence agent. Source: Pete Earley via Bloomberg
Russian spy Lidiya Guryeva was pursuing a master's degree in business at Columbia under the name of Cynthia Murphy. Guryeva was arrested for acting as an agent of a foreign power and deported to Russia. Source: U.S. Department of Justice via Bloomberg
Simon was tempted. She also worried that the company, which had investors from Iran and wanted to recruit students from there, might be a front for the Iranian government, she said. If so, an agreement could violate federal trade sanctions and invite enemy spies.
The CIA couldn’t confirm that the company wasn’t an arm of Iran’s government. Simon rejected the offer and shut down undergraduate programs in Dubai, at a loss of $3.7 million.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's been a long time

Carson Reeve's 'Twit-Pitch" is coming up, so I've got to turn "BULLET" into an amaazing 135 (!) character pitch.
Let's do this shit mayn.

"When her brother is murdered, a reformed gang-member returns to her criminal past to find the killer--her ex bff."

and again

"when her brother is killed, an ex gang-banger returns to the crime underworld to find the killer, her ex-bff"

"When her little brother is murdered, an ex-gangbanger must return to her criminal roots to find the killer -- her high school BFF"

"A reformed juvenile delinquent, a single mom and a 16 year-old male prostitute team up to take down a crime queen-pin. "

"when her brother is murdered, a reformed gang-banger returns to her criminal past to find the killer - her high school BFF"

"when her little brother is murdered, an ex gangbanger must return to her criminal past to find the killer - her high school BFF