Essential vs. stylish in the world of Mamet Matt 31 Jan 2006

7 comments Latest by August

Mr. Mamet Has a Few Choice Words is a look at David Mamet’s foray into creating a tv show. The article reveals some of the advice that Mamet gives to his writers, including the use of mantras…

As production began last year on “The Unit,” Mr. Mamet devised motivational tools to encourage the show’s writers to stay true to the spirit of Sergeant Major Haney’s memoir. “We made up this big banner and put it in the writers’ room on the first day,” Mr. Mamet said. “It said, ‘Only tell those stories which are told in the half-hour before closing time.’

…and his admiration of those who are economical with their words.

“Mr. Ryan said that Mr. Mamet’s most valuable instructions involved economical storytelling. “Dave’s always saying: ‘What is essential? And if it’s not essential, throw it out,’ ” Mr. Ryan said. “Especially in a ‘Desperate Housewives’ kind of universe, there seem to be a lot of style points given out these days, and Dave isn’t a style-points kind of guy. He came in one day and said: ‘You know who’s really brilliant? The people who write up the call sheets.’ “

7 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Spike 31 Jan 06

Writing good copy is so easy its hard.

Christopher Fahey 31 Jan 06

According to Mamet, acting falls under the category of “non-essential”. Mamet is a great writer, with a great mind for plot and for complex character relationships. But he’s a terrible director. His best movies, like Glengarryglenross, are ones in which the actors most boldly disobey his directorial wishes and do what they do best: act. Oh wait, he didn’t even direct that one! If he had his way, all of his actors would act like his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, who makes the robot girl on Small Wonder look like Meryl Streep. It’s bizarre.

Joshua Blankenship 31 Jan 06

But I think that’s part of Mamet’s “charm” as a writer. His dialogue ISN’T natural, even when it tries to be. But it is Mamet’s own little unique voice.

It’s not like you can deliver a line like “my motherf**ker is so cool he goes to sleep and sheep count him” in Heist

Joshua Blankenship 31 Jan 06

…without some measure of robotic-ness and/or cheekiness.

Will 31 Jan 06

I agree with Joshua. There is nothing “natural” about Mamet’s dialogue. It’s its own lexicon for sure.

I’d say you could pick out a Mamet-penned movie simply by listening to any random 30 seconds of dialogue.

I think you either love it or hate it.
Personally, I love it.

Patrick 31 Jan 06

I’ve always had a fondness for unique dialog from Mamet (Heist and State and Main, specifically) and Sorkin (Sports Night and the first four seasons of The West Wing). Each line is quotable, distinct, and gives you exactly what you need for the story or situation—and no more.

I won’t argue that the dialog isn’t natural. Not by a long shot. Far too “cool” for natural, and I wouldn’t want them to do it any differently.

“Cute as a pail full of kittens”, indeed.

August 02 Feb 06

Copywriting? Yes. Screenplays and other drama? Usually. All writing? Hell no. The “less is best” approach to writing gives you Hemingway, which is great, but you lose Faulkner and Nabokov and Joyce and Saramago in the meantime. Sometimes it’s about how you tell the story, not the story itself.

Appropriateness is the only mantra worth anything when the written word is your business.