David Mamet Masterclass: Learn Dramatic Writing from Pulitzer Prize Winning Master
David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize winner of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. He’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.
40 years of writing experience condensed into 5+ hours of video lessons on dramatic writing. Learn from the Pulitzer Prize winner in his first-ever online class.
David Mamet Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the creator of Scandal is priced at $90 and includes:
- David Mamet teaches you his unique approach to television writing in over 5+ hours of lessons (25 Videos)
- Interactive exercises
- A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.
- Lifetime access, with classes that never expires
- Learning materials and workbooks
- Accessible from any device
- Watch, listen, and learn as David teaches his most comprehensive tennis class ever.
- Office Hours: Upload work to get feedback from the class. David Mamet will also critique select student work.
If this class is anything like past masterclass’ you are in for a treat.
- Martin Scorsese Masterclass: Learn Directing from the Master
- Werner Herzog Filmmaking MasterClass
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting MasterClass
- David Mamet Dramatic Writing MasterClass
- Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the Creator of Scandal
- Steve Martin Teaches Comedy Writing & Acting MasterClass
Music / Performing MasterClasses:
- Reba McEntire Country Music MasterClass
- Christina Aguilera’s Singing MasterClass
- Hans Zimmer Film Scoring MasterClass
- deadmau5 Electronic Music Production (EDM) MasterClass
- Gordon Ramsey Cooking MasterClass
- Serena Williams Tennis MasterClass
- Frank Gehry Design & Architecture MasterClass
BONUS: FREE David Mamet Masterclass
David Mamet Masterclass Conversation
David Mamet Masterclass Conversation
David Mamet Masterclass – The Playwright Directs
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DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS
INTERVIEWER: I think the first question that I want to ask everyone that is writing who is a writer is how do you become a writer.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: You started writing I am sure every one of you have the same experience, my favourite motto is a historical motto that I put on a milk box which say what hinders you so I try to remember that. So sometimes like you, you know being human full of sin and lazy good for nothing.
I try to remind myself to just do it rather than say what stands in my way so I started writing as a kind because I was not good at anything and I got into theatre and as a young child actor I discovered the writing of people who revolutionised the English drama which was Beckett and after Beckett it was Pinter and they changed my life because I read Harold Pinter’s every view sketches where he can make you laugh and cry within 30 seconds and create this incredible atmosphere and you couldn’t analyze it.
You couldn’t say okay where is the inspiration right, its Jewish you know Rabi would say let’s prophesy, prophesy is not the ability to tell the future prophesy is some connection to the eternal so Pinter especially comes after Beckett had this great gift to create this magical world and he did very few words and he did it without stage directions and he did it without directions to the actors but yet it was undeniable but he did.
So I said hell, I want to do that so I started doing it and I went to very famous theatre school in New York called The Neighbourhood Corner School Theatre and I didn’t understand anything they are talking about. One reason was because it was a school for actors and they had me count as an actor so nothing that said struck a responsive cord in me, but I learned so much from watching the other actors perform when it was there term to do the scene.
When it was my term to do the scene I learned nothing except that I am terrified and I have no talent when I was watching them I tried to understand what was happening between them and what I saw was it was the same thing that Pinter was talking about and then if you could write a scene where you took away everything except your understanding of the two people’s objective the audience would follow it.
You didn’t have to tell the audience anything and so because I didn’t have any talent as an actor but I didn’t want to leave the theatre I became a director, I like bossing people around I had a vision right, also as an actor and grew up in the United States I met a bunch of dreadful, dreadful acting teachers and dreadful, dreadful directors.
Who couldn’t express themselves sand who were cruel and exploitive and I said you know what, there is a better way to do this and I can do it I am going to figure out how to talk to actors in a way that they can understand. I am not going to ask them to do something that is impossible. I am going to ask them to do something that is fun and because I know how to write I am not going to ask them to carry the scene. I said you don’t have to carry the scene you don’t have to be happy you don’t have to be sad you don’t have to be impulsive just say the silly words and its going to take care of itself and so I started doing that and I worked with a lot of theatre companying and I do a lot of plays and then (name 4:20) was doing a movie called Post..Read Twice in the late seventies and he has seen my plays off Broadway and I said give me job writing movies and he said okay sold.
So I wrote the movie for him and I started following him around the set he loves discovering talent he put his arm around me walking around the set and so I looked at him directing the movie like every good Jew, every good Jew looked at his or her boss and what do they think, anyone?
Of course oh, “I can do that” I looked at him oh I can do that, my next movie I wrote for Sidney Lubell who I also befriend he has been a friend of mine for the last 30 years and he took me along and I starred directing movies and he also encouraged me to direct so I fell into it by accident.
So I have been doing movies and TV for about 35 years I still feel like a new comer because of my original career in the theatre so I feel like I came to the movies late, but I have been doing it a long, long time that’s my story.
INTERVIEWEE: And now the transition between from writing theatre and writing to the movies is there a difference in your opinion.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Yes of course the difference is it’s all writing right, I mean if you were a wood worker some of the same tools that you use to make a jewellery box you are going to use to make a boat its working with wood, okay but, obviously there is are requirements, a jewellery box doesn’t have to be water tight okay and a boat doesn’t have to fit on your bedside table.
So writing for the theatre and writing for the movies is about telling the story but all understanding as far as I am concerned is understanding the medium, what is the medium of the theatre what do you need. Two actors Becket says you just need one actor. Ancient Greek says one actor ad a text that’s it.
You need a set no, you need big costumes no you need lights no. You need a text which will hold the audience’s attention. The audience’s attention is hold by the text it’s not old by the actors, how do we know? Because you do a play on the radio you can’t even see the actors.
How else do we know you can read the text if the text is great you can their attention without the actor so writing for the theatre is writing a text that the actors can perform in such a way that hold the attention of the audience. Writing for movies is scripting images that the position of which will create an idea in the mind of the audience.
Its Einstein right, you got a shot of a woman weeping, right and the second shot over hangman holding the door open and looking at his watch we get the idea right, she is going to be hung. You have exactly the same shot of the woman weeping and you cut to the other shot of a little boy who is going off to school for the first time you get the idea her son is leaving home.
The shot should be unreflected and the jocks positions is to created the idea in the mind of the audience that how you write a movie. Can you make a movie without dialogue, you bet. A, we have silence movies and B you ever watch a movie on an airplane you ever turn the sound off.
It is about a movie not only is a better movie but the flaws become more evident when you watching a movie on the air plane with the sound off you say wait a second I got it when I saw the first shot they are having a fight why is the scene going on for 15 minutes, okay so I always say if you want to know who really knows how to make a movie look at commercials.
They got 10 seconds to tell a story bomb the tell a story we get it they can’t build up to it they can’t we were looking at commercial in a movie yesterday, there is a guy coming around the corner he is long at his machine there is a woman coming around the corner she is talking on her cell phone, we get it they are going to run into each right, so our mind leaps ahead.
We think we know the answer they rub into each other they knock each other down they pick each other up they got 3 little babies so we thought we knew the answer it is our mind leading up to its own destruction we laugh because we thought we knew perfectly well what was going on and we are rewarded by a surprise.
So they take I get they are going to look into …they are going to bump into each other they are going to fall in love they are going to exchange notes they are going to fall in love they are going to fall out of love but, no bam they bump into each other and they turn around they got 3 babies they need a better car so it is an advertisement for a car, so that’s genius thinking right.
So (name 9:44) anybody knows who he was its Fred son in law he invented something called public relations what public relations is, is lying for profit so he said the only effective public relations that would break the though process you got to make the people stop wait a second so you put that together with Einstein and that’s how you make a movie.
It is a jostling position of images that tells a story in such a way that the jocks in position creates a new idea in the minds of the audience which didn’t exist previously, so a plot all drama comes down to plot it is the only way to hold the attention of the audience. You can’t hold it through character try it you can’t hold it through writing you got to sleep, you will then I will.
You are holding it through plot you making the audience wondering what is going to happen next and then dashing their expectations in a way that is logical so oh, yeah I get it right, rather than say (10:50) and he discovered he could fly and then we started with giant cockroach so if you can do that moment to moment in a film if you work very hard at it you can take these moments and build them into a scene which has one objective and stars by itself and the one theme leads to because it fails leads the hero to the next scene.
Because if the scene succeeded the move will be over right, I love, I love you too. So Billy Wilder says the question in a love story is what keeps them apart, right we know what keeps the together right, they are in love what keeps them apart.
So to write a film pick a lot of work crafting images and if you are good at something the writing dialogue you better be very careful not to use it.
INTERVIEWER: Which bring me to the questions which you are famous for your dialogue your quote before we saw House of again just before you entered I told the audience mind structure because we know that you write great dialogue but look at the structure look at how the movie is good so how do you work out the gift for dialogue and the structure that has to be so rigged so you have to work very hard at it to.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Yes, you got to work at your weak point right, work on your weak points I do this for a living I was bad at everything I was doomed to be a failure I just thought that I knew how to write I said to myself this is a gift if you screw this up you deserve everything bad that is going to happen to you, so you better start writing and learn how to do it better all the time.
And when you make mistakes you better learn from them because there is nothing between you and poverty and disgrace and self loathing except using the gift you were given as well as you can so you can fail yes just not all the time.
INTERVIEWER: Are there pointers you think you can hand out if you think you are good at how to keep your focus on the structure how to talk to a movie how to find when movie works.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Yes sure but I like to say that I feel very, very free in sharing my opinions with you because A either you won’t understand them or B you won’t believe them or C you will forget them right, so that good which is your right you know so that you think that they are stupid or wrong which is your right in me sharing my ideas with you.
So the question was what are the tools and one of the great tools is if you think maybe you should cut, cut what are you waiting for, so that’s why the way you learn to write drama you writing for an audience, you go write dram for an audience and when you see that audience start nod off you want to cut your throat.
That’s how you lean geez that was my favourite, favourite scene that puts the audience to sleep so what good is it, when the lights go down you got their attention they paid you the gift you got my attention go ahead, but it yours to lose can you keep their attention at the moment because if not the play is over.
Anybody ever say oh you should have stayed in the move it gets better in the second half, so I always say then they should have put the second half first, right so one of the first rules I learned is how to make any movie better.
Throw out the first reel, people still talk about reels, the first 10 minutes any movie make it better by throwing out the first 10 minutes. Look at it the next time you see a movie look at it for the first 10 minutes, they should have started here right and then after about 15 minutes they should have started here.
You know we went to see Ben-Hur it lasted 3 minutes a photograph of 2 guys riding through the Arabian dessert with a voice over, how long do we need to see 2 guys riding through a dam desert, right a tenth of a second. Cut, if you think you should cut, cut.
Now here is the best way that I know to figure out immediately invaluable if the story works talk to somebody else say I got this great idea and watch at what point that their eyes glaze over that mean that either you don’t know what you doing or you have to rethink it or you (blah, blah) and so you find when you tell the story you have to tell it to somebody else you have to tell it concisely and there is only one thing in the world that I don’t like with movie making that’s pre production.
Because that’s what all movies are made, all movies are made in pre production all movies are ruined in pre production so when you do preproduction and you director you have to tell the same stupid story to 12 different groups of people who absolutely have to know it and who absolutely deserve your attention.
So you have to tell it to the scenic design to the location design, to the costume design, to the lighting design to the cinematographer, to the transport to the second AD, blah, blah you have to keep going back to the locations and keep telling the story they need to know right so what you find is the more and more you tell the story the simpler the story gets.
So the simpler the story gets the better movie you are going to make because you are not going to and then things happened that I really can’t explain. So somebody once said, I said to somebody what’s new he said every moment is new and I said except at a French movie. So what is a French movie is about they left people thinking. Who want to see movies about people thinking?
MAN: My wife loves David Mamet Masterclass.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Well they are very rusty, so you look at the great masters you know would (17:18) say the visuals were great what would that mean.
MAN: The movie is trash.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Yes, the movie is trash visual couldn’t take a picture of anything so what, so you know in the United States in my life time what does everybody say about the movie they saw with a few exceptions, what, anyone? It’s not that bad.
It’s not that bad for god’s sake you got a camera and a fool and a script make something great for god’s sake so I always think the toughest part after you make the script we all like the script and this is great this is the bests thing anyone has ever written, so you give it to your director your friends and they yes but I don’t understand the thing about blah, blah,.
Okay you don’t understand it well then how about never speaking to me again, how about cutting your throat for not recognizing a genius and you think about it for a while oh yeas that surpurpolus (18:24) and so the process of moving towards filming is just cut it out, cut it out till you are left with a story.
A story that you can tell over a glass of beer in 10 lines and keeps somebody’s attention, you can do that you can make a movie, a good movie and if you can’t do that you can’t make a good movie that’s all it is keeping the audience’s attention because they do understand the form a bunch of pictures.
INTERVIEWER: All of your movies had many twist and turns you capture in 12 sentences do you reveal it
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: It is not going to hurt the movie to reveal the transport captain because what each person is asking is what’s the essence of the scene transport captain wants to know how any trucks he or she needs okay the scenic designer wants to know the essence of the scene okay, so there is two ways you can talk about it you say it’s the place where they all fall in love.
Okay how do they design that, you can’t design it in general so you say what is the essence of the scene in terms of the plot, right it is the place where they meet in secret oh I get it they can’t get married so they meet in secret so it is not the place where they fall in love you getting more specific it is the place where they meet in secret.
So now you telling the story to each person in a way that allows them to use their art to serve the origin of the of the play which is the plot and all the plot is what the hero wants that’s what the plot is and nothing else makes any difference.
Just pay attention because if you tell them the joke they are going to pay attention to the joke they are going to anticipate the punch line, okay so if I say to you 2 guys are on leave and they are walking down the highway and they are hot and thirsty and they walking down the highway to try and hitch a ride to an area once controlled by Samarian, Samaria an ancient land blah, blah, whose customs different from.
What happen to the joke, it’s 2 guys walking down the road you can’t make Samaria interesting enough to make up to the fact that you just ruin the joke so that how movie making is very close to telling a joke. We laugh because we think we understand the progression and was surprise at the end by something that as surprising and inevitable, which we know that by the best Jew that ever live Aristotle said that the ending has got to be surprising and inevitable.
INTERVIEWER: Your earlier spring praise you make (21:21) the untouchable is there a difference in your opinion from adapting and fitting your own.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS MAMET: Yes, so the untouchables I made that after (inaudible) I made from a book ad also the verdict I adapted from a book.
INTERVIEWER: So how do I do it.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Here is the problem if somebody I would say, I was raised around a lot of mo vies not anymore(inaudible21:52) I use to lot of movies and people would say what’s your deal and I would say here is my deal, you pay e a lot of money I write the best movie I am capable of writing an you hate it .
That was always true because somebody writes the book they don’t have a script writer right, they aren’t the movie make they aren’t the script writer they are the executive they legitimately live by the book and “when he looked into her eyes he saw a reflection of everything he ever wanted to be and it frightened him”. How do you make a picture of that, right at the end of the day you got to get a picture. I read one scene it was outside the window New York in all its specious splendour.
So the people who write books or the people who buy books buy them for the narrative content, that’s what they like about the book. He remembers the squish, squish of her sandals on the wet streets of Jerusalem, how has that scene change since the last. I mean you can’t take a picture of it.
If you can’t take a picture of it, it doesn’t belong in a scene play so the guy paid you a lot of money to write you the best script which he know how which he is going to hate, where is the squish, squish of the sandals so he has got a legitimate point but there is no spoken about.(23:23)
INTERVIEWER: You go to a producer or studio and pitch for new movies like David Mamet Masterclass?
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: No because I am always brilliant on a pitch because I never know what I am saying so it doesn’t make any difference because they are not going to remember anyway, but the pitch for the movie is really it basically disappear Hollywood is basically dead to the highest point of the movies business is who controls the distribution.
So if you can control the distribution you can control the movie business so if you can control the cinemas you say wait a second okay if you want Spiderman you got to take these 3 other movies or I am not going to give you Spiderman you control everything. So if I say to you here is a great idea, you don’t care about a great idea not should you.
You are in the business of making movies right, which is the same as making money so the movie business is basically a bank they say I’ll get my money over there I’ll bet on a Spiderman are they going to bet on my movies, no, are they going to bet on little movies no that’s the bad news the good news is you guys don’t need money to make movies anymore.
Put it on the internet, why not. It is the equivalent of when I was a kid of putting on a play in the garage its brilliant. You got to go like Dave do it what’s stopping you.
INTERVIEWER: The question would be how do you define success if you want success the world recognition and perhaps money, then putting the film on the internet won’t do it.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Well here is something to bear in mind Hollywood is like a casino for the young people once in a while the casino has to pay somebody off right why, yes so more people would come, so ten million people come in a month and lose all their money one guy comes twice a year and the guy wins twenty five million bucks and ten more million comes every month.
So Hollywood is an illusion, so what they are saying is I am not going to, we convince ourselves we want fame I want fortune I want money so you know (name 25:45) use to say you know is Hollywood going to give it to you probably not. How many actors working in Hollywood 4 probably not so it would be nice to have success fame and money yes sure, but can you award it to yourself no.
INTERVIEWER: I have a personal question, one of the things they teach you in La is script analysis read script sheet and then I read a passage from your book don’t listen to those who teach writing screen writing because they know everything that happen in the past but they don’t know and the things that’s going to be new and you will be (inaudible 26:34).
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: I don’t think I said that I think what I said was go out and get your teeth knocked out, there is nothing wrong in going to school there is a lot of stuff to be learnt in school I learned a lot of stuff at 19 years old not acting but I learned a lot of stuff in acting school and I learned script analysis like I drove my family crazy everything we go to see a movie we come out and we say to each other or I come out and I say to them okay where did they go wrong.
How could we have made this better I think we meaning I looking at that work and trying apply my theories to somebody’s work it doesn’t hurt as bad that the point to my own .
INTERVIEWER: Mentors in terms of screen writing who did you turn to when you read script.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: Certainly Hitchcock because he was the master of keeping your attention and press and surge is a great American comic and (inaudible 27:37) and you look at Wells Amberson all the movies that you know I mean we got we are looking at Japanese looking cinema looking at OZO and looking at, I tell you if you have a perfect script prey dog by (name).
Because it starts with the most simple premise in the world this new recruit to the police force has his pistol stolen and he is still you can imagine he is horrified and ashamed and he still has seven bullets in them and he murder keeps murdering people, you got to get to the murderer because he is going to kill 7 people it is magnificent movie and a very simple premise.
I have got to say that at one point I was teaching 2 years ago I was asked to teach in an English class at a high school so I said okay, never done it but I said, so I was teaching this English class and just about this time everyday people would start going to sleep just like you because it is time to go to sleep.
So I come home and I said to my wife I said what about if I passed out chocolate she said no, you know what I should b at that time I should be more interesting so she said go with the chocolate so I did.
Q: What is your secret of match making actors.
DAVD: Okay so Stanley Kubrick dies right. Stanley Kubrick one of the greatest film makers genius one of St Peters guarding the pearly gates, because St Peter a lot of Jewish jokes he is guarding the pearly gates nobody gets in to heaven without talking to St Peters, so it is the same Stanley Kubrick welcome to heaven we are so happy to have you here I supposed you would like to make some movies.
So Stanley Kubrick says yes, I really would so St Peters said that’s great he says who do you want to write it for, so Stanley says who can I help so St Peters says help anyone who you want so he says could I get Shakespeare he said yes Shakespeare right this way, so Stanley says I kind of like who can I get to do the music St Peters says you want Bach yes you can have Bach. He says I am going to do this great musical written by Shakespeare music by Bach. He says oh, you know I want for the female lead and St Peters says has this actress McGrath has this actress. So I hope that answers your question.
I was very fortunate when I started out directing movies the people I work with in the theatre for many, many year and I got enough money to make the movie I said come on guys we all go make the movie together. So I made a bunch of movies together it was a great blessing people I work with now almost 50 years it is a great, great blessing.
Q: Do you decide on the style before you shoot or there is times when you decide when you edit it if you could just give us about the styling.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: They say you find this yourself you get to write a movie 3 times, you write it when you write it, you write it when you direct it, and you write it when you cut it. So you write and write and write and you get the best script you can get then you go on to the set and so what happens on the set everything falls apart but, the dog dies it rains the actor doesn’t like the line you don’t like the line the main prop breaks.
Spielberg said why is the movie so successful, Jaws because for the first 3 months the mechanical shark didn’t work so he had you screaming at pictures of water so that was genius, so you got to write it when you write it and when you get on the set it is a bunch of garbage and nothing works do the best you can and then when you get into the editing room and you are screaming at the editor get me out of here what have I done. So you don’t give up until you are done.
Q: The next thing if you could specifically about the movie Song, when the visual style of the movie was it coherent and very obvious to you when you started shooting the movie or.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: It is the cinematographer is one reason I really don’t understand about the things I you know there is only one person on the set that doesn’t have to know anything and that’s the director because everybody else will lose their job and so if they are smart and courteous they will help you figure out your job so I don’t know how to take pictures with camera but the cinematographer does.
So he and she was creating the style of the DAvid Mamet Masterclass movie you know and he doesn’t know how to write dialogue so there, but the other thing is a lot of the things that people write about and movie historians and so forth and tabalize are complete accidents, we are just complete accidents, I have spoken to things that happen on the set.
I was talking to Bob (name) about a movie he made called The King of Marvin Gardens and at the end of the King of Marvin Gardens this woman comes out of the shower and she place the thing on her head with the towel and I said to Bob you know I was so impressed by that and I don’t know how it is right but it is completely right.
Where did that vision come from that this woman had this long flowing beautiful red hair all of a sudden in the last scene her hair was covered up, and he said she came to the set with a crew cut right, so what is he going to do so a lot of the things you see on the set see in the movie is an accident and the other thing is when you get into the editing room a lot of the brilliant things that I found that my cutter found and showed me are found footage, lost footage, you say oh my god I need the corresponding shot I am in the wrong highline let’s go back in the bin, whatever the bin is these days and find another piece there and you find something you didn’t even know was there and so you use to talk I don’t know if they have it any more the slate piece.
You know what the slate piece is, sate piece they say okay scene 2 shot 15 everyone sitting around, okay they turn the camera on and everyone is sitting round they haven’t said action yet they haven’t slated the shot, right so they are sitting around the camera is rolling scene 2 blah, blah and action.
So there is a piece before I said action right called slate piece and a lot of times you go back to slate piece and you see something that is fascinating and you didn’t even know it was there or you see somebody do something when the camera out of focus, somebody do something and just like you discovered things that you didn’t expect you discovered things in the directing that you didn’t expect and also in the cutting room you didn’t expect.
A guy came to me the other day said I would like you to see my, it is the smartest thing I ever said, he said would you come see my movie I was cutting and I have problems with 2 scenes I said throw them out, he said what do you mean. I said throw them out I don’t have to see the movie throw the scenes out.
He said how would you know because you are having problems with them. If you make a movie and you are having problems and you don’t know where it goes it doesn’t belong in the movie.
INTERVIEWER: Do you do a lot of research before you write movie about con man movie about specific scenes movie about.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: I try not to do research my great friend (name 36:09) said to me never do research because when you do research all you doing is reading stuff written by somebody who didn’t do research so if I have to know the facts I try to get the facts right sometimes I don’t and I am embarrassed and I want to kill myself.
INTERVIEWER: Do you just sit at your desk and invent or do you go out and try to meet con men and hear their stories.
DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS: No if I can’t write more I figure I can talk more I am in the wrong business thats why I did David Mamet Masterclass.