Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Mr. Mamet

By now, I'm sure all of you have read David Mamet's amazing ALL CAPS letter/rant to the poor, unimaginative, exposition-bound writers of the now canceled TV series The Unit.  I was so inspired by this amazing education in the art of writing, that I decided to leave you all with a few nuggets.

TV execs shall heretofore be known as penguins -
"OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE *INFORMATION* — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US."

Audiences won't watch information -
"BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA."
 
What the freak is drama?
"DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL."

What should any writer ask of themselves when writing a scene?
"THESE THREE QUESTIONS.
1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?"
"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."
"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."

Should I write a scene that is boring and filled with exposition? 
"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."
"IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT *WILL* BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE."

What should i do if I get stumped?
"QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.
LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05"

And my personal fav - "(IT IS *NOT* YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO *ASK THE RIGHT Questions* OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)"

Thanks Dave (if I can call you Dave)....


Read the full letter here.




Saturday, March 13, 2010

Breathless


So we finally got around to watching the amazing Criterion Collection DVD of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, a personal favorite and inspiration for our music video we shot this past fall for the band Eva. Watching the special features on the transcendent Jean Seberg, I was struck by her tragic life and the overall rebellious revolutionary spirit of that era. Which leads me to this past Sunday's Oscars. Don't get me wrong, I couldn't be happier that films like Precious and The Hurt Locker were nominated and when they won their various prizes, was heartily affirmed in the power of the "little" film and it's journey from film festival to Oscar ceremony. I was happy to see last year's Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler get honored after struggling to find distribution after premieres at major film festivals. It gives a filmmaker hope that the great and new will find a way out.
But I can't help but think back to that image of Jean Seberg hawking New York Herald Tribunes on the Champs-Elysees and the era of filmmaking that unleashed after Breathless - the likes of 8 1/2, Bonnie and Clyde, Blow Up, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider, Rosemary's Baby, Midnight Cowboy, and the the great decade of 70's cinema to follow.

I have this dim memory of an era of great craft, great politics, and great shock value that infiltrated the Oscars, when Brando refused his Oscar for The Godfather and George C. Scott 2 years earlier for Patton. A time when every actor, writer, director wasn't so eager to spew out the name of the designer of their tux or evening gown, but when it seemed like the whole roof might fall in on the evenings proceedings. I guess it was a different time, and all we can hope for now is the occasional mumbling of Sean Penn or Michael Moore's rants when he manages to get nominated. More than Oscar interrupting politico speeches, I guess I miss the kinds of films that made you want to go out and pick up a movie camera.