David Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of The Unit

Great knowledge for storytelling is never dated…

BY: SETH ABRAMOVITCH
MARCH 23, 2010 01:45 PM EDT

CBS’s drama The Unit, about the lives of the highly trained members of a top-secret military division, was canceled last year, but a memo to its writing staff from its executive producer David Mamet has just surfaced online. (The source appears to be the online writing collective Ink Canada.) If you think you know where this is heading, you might be wrong:

Besides the fact that it’s written in all-caps, there’s nothing particularly ranty, pejorative or potty-mouthed about it. Rather, Mamet lays down an extremely sensible case for what makes good television, imploring them to avoid expository writing for what he characterizes as authentic “drama.” Along the way, he refers repeatedly to the “blue-suited penguins” (probably the copious-note-givers at the network), while passing along some very useful advice (“any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit”) and helpful writing exercises (“pretend the characters can’t speak and write a silent movie”). Screenwriters, take note: You may think you knew this already, but there’s nothing like Mamet for a good kick-in-the-ass reminder.

"TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?

2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?

3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE - THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

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.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME” WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE,

BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*.

WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)”

CONCERNING VIOLENCE - Lauryn Hill Narrated Colonialism Documentary

Source: youtube.com

ghanailoveyou:

hatteaizgoneuhh:

Resident Barber Nimo gave his nephew a fresh cut this week.  I always find it interesting to watch.

Cape Coast, Ghana

Watch the teaser video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZJq7vut0X0
Website: amerigomusic.com

Facebook: facebook.com/amerigogazaway
Twitter: twitter.com/amerigo615 

Shifting focus for the second installment of “Yasiin Gaye”, Amerigo aimed to highlight the often overlooked accomplishments of Marvin Gaye’s role as the producer.

“I wanted to build this side from more of Marvin’s original production work. He was doing a lot of what we do now, in terms of looping and pulling samples from other pre-recorded sessions decades before hip-hop made it common practice to do so. This also gave me the room to feature other artist [Chuck Berry, The Temptations, Talib, etc.] and re-present those classic Mos [Def] versus in a new context.”

Soul Mates Series:

Amerigo Gazaway’s *Soul Mates* series continues the theme of his previous work in creating collaborations that never were. On the series’ latest installment, Amerigo unites Brooklyn rapper Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and soul legend Marvin Gaye for a dream collaboration aptly titled “Yasiin Gaye”. Building the album’s foundation from deconstructed samples of Gaye’s Motown classics, Gazaway re-purposes the instrumentation into new productions within a similar framework. Carefully weaving Bey’s tangled raps and Gaye’s soulful vocals over his new arrangements, the producer delivers a quality much closer to an authentic collaboration than a lukewarm “mashup” album.

Produced by: Amerigo Gazaway
Executive Producer: Rickey Mindlin
Album Artwork by: Drew Dernavich
DIY Acapellas by: The Goodwill Projects


facebook.com/amerigogazaway
twitter.com/amerigo615 
twitter.com/soulmatesremix

amerigomusic.com
soulmatesproject.com

"Jay Electronica brought out Jay Z to join him onstage at Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s closing performances Saturday, an event so singular that it’s almost like BHHF’s organizers told lightning to lick two strikes in the atmosphere for Brooklyn.” - Okplayer.com

Counterpoint in Film Music: An Audiovisual Essay

Source: vimeo.com

Beyond Bechdel: Testing Feminism in Film

Source: vimeo.com

andywarnercomics:

Here’s an excerpt from an explainer I did for KQED’s Lowdown blog about how income mobility in America is deeply tied to where you live. Go check out the whole thing.

andywarnercomics:

Here’s an excerpt from an explainer I did for KQED’s Lowdown blog about how income mobility in America is deeply tied to where you live. Go check out the whole thing.

ted:

So that’s a weird list. Where did it come from? Here’s where you can read more about the changes we might see in the years to come:

  1. These studies say crime will rise when people are hot and bothered.  
  2. If you want to get even more freaked out, here’s more on violence.
  3. Animals might get it on more, but we’re not so sure about humans
  4. This whole climate thing is a big mental burden, according to these people
  5. A study says we’ll get lazier, but don’t try that excuse on your boss.
  6. And let’s all hope that this study isn’t prophetic.
  7. Here’s why climate change might be the end of sea turtles. We’re too upset to read it.  
  8. And if you’re mourning the real-life Pokémon, read this and this and end with this
  9. Remember how everything is melting? That could affect trade like this and this.
  10. Siberia might explode. Let’s hope it doesn’t. 
  11. It’s really not the best time to buy a house on the water.
  12. And finally, we might stop buying tons of crap. Hallelujah. 
ourtimeorg:

Agreed.

ourtimeorg:

Agreed.

upworthy:

You Know All The Scary Talk About Sea Levels Rising That Seems Like A Bunch Of B.S.? Well…

Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like you to meet some of the facts about global warming. What they have to say is pretty darn eye-opening.

tribecafilm:

Sharon’s Shorts: ‘Noreen’ by Domhnall Gleeson

The About Time/Harry Potter actor directs his father, Brendan Gleeson, in this hysterical short about two cops that discover a dead body in a cottage and get more than they bargained for.

dynamicafrica:

It’s Lagos in the early 1970s, a little over a decade of independence, and bursting on to the popular music scene comes a multi-talented high school outfit out of St. Gregory’s College in the Obalende area of the then capital city of Nigeria.

Blending a mixture of pop lyrics, catchy harmonies, funk blends, psychedelic sounds and Afrobeat, the band of six teenagers named themselves Ofege and, whilst still in high school, recorded their one and only full-length album creating a distinctive Afro-rock sound of the 1970s.

They toured the local music scene creating what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Ofege phenomenon’ but soon disbanded thereafter.

Here’s one of their most well-known singles, Nobody Fails. Another recommended track for those of you more into the heavy psychedelic afro-rock sounds is Gbe Mi Lo.