Some of what I synthesized from David Mamet's book, "On Directing Film" by Josh Tomany.
When I took Fiction Field 1 at Ithaca College in the Spring of 2015 I was pleasantly surprised to receive a rather small book, 107 pages, in the form of "On Directing Film" by David Mamet. I was told before hand to keep in mind that perhaps his views were skewed or extreme, quoting "If he could I think he would only make silent films." The book itself was divided from his own narrative and ideas and lectures he gave at Colombia University in the fall of 1987. I was unsure of how such a man who if he could only make silent films could make a book on Directing Film in a little over 100 pages, but I was eager and curious to find out what I could. I read a couple chapters, thought it was good, and then...I put it down. The weight of short films and projects that do tend to happen at the end of the year arrived and reading wasn't a luxury I could afford. However just recently on a camping trip I brought it along to pass the time and I would like to share with you my surprises and insights that I gained on the concepts of Film and how to approach it.
Not that our prelude together is over, and in the interest of time (your and mine), I won't go into the minute details and relationship that Mamet has with his Students (however hilarious), and I won't go into anymore large paragraphs or write the next Great American Novel, and I certainly won't give you all the knowledge I gathered from this book (that is for you to discover on your own). Instead, for all you BuzzFeed listicle readers, bloggers, tweeters, and Facebook stalkers (all myself included) here's a list. Plain and simple, and the thing that you scrolled down to read first. Because that's really the most important part anyway, right?
1) The best writers are the one's that know how to cut, to strip away everything that is fancy, moving, descriptive and that takes away only the story, "the essential progression of incidents."
2) A film is not a record of what the protagonist does, a directors aim should not be to follow the actors around. A true film should be in some ways Einstein's own theory on film, "a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between these images moves the story forward in the mind of the audience." This is absolutely essential to understand, take away this if nothing else. Don't tell the audience why something is important to the story, the only important thing is to tell the story, let the audience be surprised by it. "Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration" (Mamet 2).
3) "The purpose of technique is to free the unconscious" (Mamet 6). This goes into the very important concept that the dream and the film are the same thing. Refer to the very important quote I have highlighted above. What is a dream? What is a film? It was like a dream, it was like a film. Can they both be the same? Aren't they? Truly free your unconscious and and you will be free.
4) Beats, Objectives, and Super-objectives. These are tools to keep you on the path, to make sure you tell the story, "Keep It Simple Stupid" (K.I.S.S). Refer to these concepts to make sure you aren't adding more than what needs to go into the scene. Keep It Simple Stupid.
5) Back story is shit. Defining character's are horrible and nobody cares. "Hi let's sit down because I just came back from Vietnam." That's how movies in Hollywood now and in 1987 were and are made. "Character" and David Mamet puts it, is the what the person literally does in the pursuit of the super-objective (Mamet 13). So don't give me a load of crap on how a kid's first bicycle ride with his dad made him like baseball, SHOW ME.
6) The only thing that matters in a scene, in a movie, is the want (the lack). That is the only thing you should be answering and showing through a juxtaposition of images because that's the only thing the audience actually cares about, what happens next. "You tax the audience every time you don't move on to the next essential step of the progressions quickly as possible. You're taxing their good nature" (Mamet 60).
7) How do we direct our actors? For Mamet we Keep It Simple Stupid. "Just as the shot doesn't have to be inflected, the acting doesn't have to be inflected, nor should it be" (Mamet 68). If the actor is going to walk down the sidewalk and tie his shoes, tell him, "walk down the sidewalk and tie your shows." Literally tell him that? Yes. How else would you do it?
8) "'Where do I put the camera?' That's a simple question, and the answer is, 'over there in that place in which it capture the uninflected shot necessary to move the story along'" (Mamet 73).
9) "The shots are all you have. That's it. Your choice of shots is all you have. It's what the movies going to be made up of. You can't make it more interesting when you get to the editing room. And you also can't rely on the actors to 'pick up the slack.' You can't rely on them to make it more 'interesting,' That's not their job either. You want them to be as simple as you are in your choice of the shots" (Mamet 104)
In conclusion (though I primarily just used quotes from Mamet's text) I would say this. Though Mamet may be rather extreme and passionate about his views, the essence of what he's saying and what he's saying should be able to influence and resonate through all of us. A film is a story, a dream, a myth. The film has a goal, the scene has a goal, the beat has a goal. Stick to the basic, keep it simple stupid, and you will be able to create something less crap...it could still be crap, but it would be less. And you audience will thank you for that. As Mamet says, "It's only up to you to do your job as well as you can, and when you're done, then you can go home." Go home.