Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mr Mamet writes a memo

Excellent find on Movieline: a memo written by David Mamet to his writing staff working on his action/drama series 'The Unit' (now cancelled)

Full text over at Movieline, but here's a choice bit (caps model's own):

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.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.


I hear the bolded stuff a lot, though never from anyone involved in Green Wing, or (now) Campus. It's very specifically a drama thing rather than a comedy thing. To be fair, the development people I hear it from are usually very far from being dickheads, and rarely in suits. But I do hear it a lot.

Which is interesting, because something I've been wondering a lot lately, is if the writer's main job is to a) keep the audience guessing (as long as they're engaged enough to care), and b) make sure he or she is the only person who know everything about his characters (but give the audience enough that they're constantly wrong-footed rather than, say, left in the dark).

*ponders*

EDIT: actually, all that said, I have to remind myself I only actually like about a third of Mamet's stuff that I've seen, and a constant problem I have with his stuff is that I don't care about the characters that much. Nor do I really ever know what's going on, but I get that with pretty much anything above 'Shaun The Sheep' length.




6 comments:

Nathaniel Tapley said...

I'm reminded of Stephen Moffatt's (possibly apocryphal) comment, which was something like: "I would rather have the audience be confused for a couple of minutes than bored for even a second."

james henry said...

Ooh I like that.

Nathaniel Tapley said...

'Snice, isn't it?

Just wrote a blog post about the Mamet memo: http://nathanieltapley.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/mamet-y-glans/

laurence timms said...

...aaaaand here it is set to music. http://soundcloud.com/chuquet/write-drama

Anonymous said...

Hi James

'Dicks'?

'Blue-suited penguins'?

Please tell me you got similar profane and authoritative notes on 'Bob the Builder'?

Jim

Fat Roland said...

Which reminds me, I finally caught your Shaun The Sheep episode before it expired on the BBC iPlayer. It was lovely and made me smile a lot. I'd love to see what the script looked like, though.