Mamet master class

  points out to me the following article: "David Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of The Unit."

The memo is a good distillation of Mamet’s altogether straightforward thoughts on the nature of drama, for those of you too poor to buy (or too honest to steal) copies of Writing in Restaurants, Some Freaks, Three Uses of the Knife or On Directing Film.


10 Responses to “Mamet master class”
  1. robjmiller says:

    Someone staple this to the forehead of every writer on “Heroes”.

  2. gazblow says:

    Ah, Mamet. It’s always the same like a broken fuckin’ record. And yet, there is no one who has described the WORK of a dramatist better than him. Thanks for the link, Todd. It comes at a good time for me.

  3. dougo says:

    I loved “The Unit”, and I still miss it. But, it’s hard to trust that he knows what the audience will “TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH” when apparently the audience did not stay tuned.

    • Todd says:

      Enough of them tuned in for four seasons, which puts Mamet’s TV career further into the black than most of his movies.

  4. Have you read any of Raymond Chandler’s pieces about writing? The intelligence, conviction, and simplicity in Mamet’s essays reminds me of Chandler’s, as well as the wry wit: “you can buy a house in Bel Air AND hire someone to live there for you” reminds me of the writer of such lines as “If my books had been any worse I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better I should not have come.”

    “Remind the actors to talk fast” as a description of the director’s duty gave me a laugh. I need to reread On Directing Film. The memo prompted me to pull Three Uses of the Knife off the shelf.

    My favorite shorthand for “as you know” expository dialogue is a Mamet creation Todd has brought up before: “Please come in, because I am the King of France.”

  5. Oh, and speaking of Mamet and knives, have you noticed how often he uses them in his work? The Edge, Spartan, Edmond, Heist, The Cryptogram, The Spanish Prisoner, Redbelt…

    • Todd says:

      Well, knives are special to Mamet — they symbolize manhood or something. A knife is always some kind of special talisman to a Mamet character, usually having little to do with actually cutting things. Me, I’ve never really had a special knife, but then I’m not a hunter like Mamet.

  6. curt_holman says:


    Do you agree with this and would you care to expound on it? While I know what Mamet means here, it strikes me that most detective stories involve two characters (ex., the detective and a witness or source) talking about a third (either the victim, the perpetrator or a suspect). Am I missing something?

    • Todd says:

      I think there has to be a little license taken with the good professor’s advice here. I can think of plenty of scenes where two characters talk about a third that aren’t a crock of shit, and I could probably find a number of them in Mamet’s work as well. My interpretation of this dictum is that it is important to avoid exposition for the sake of exposition. If, in your detective story for instance, there is a subtext to the expository scene, for instance, the older cop is using his superior information to prove that his way is better than the young turk’s, that information still gets across without the scene being purely expository. When Vito Corleone tells Michael what’s what toward the end of The Godfather, it’s not a crock of shit, it’s a scene about a father and son finally seeing eye to eye after a lifetime of estrangement. We don’t really care whether it was Barzini or Tattaglia who set up Vito, we care that Michael has come to understand his father.

      • Anonymous says:

        I was just watching an episode of The Unit the other day, and spotted two scenes in which, yes, two characters were talking about a third. All I could think was, “Somebody didn’t listen.”

        (In fairness, the first scene was more an illustration of one characters’ worst fears about her husband’s death being realized, and the second seemed to be more about what the characters weren’t saying.)

        — N.A.