The most important memo!

So far anyway, this is the most important memo I’ve read. It is from David Mamet to his fellow writers on the TV show, The Unit. I encourage ALL writers (novelists, screenwriters, etc.) to read it carefully and think long and hard about what Mamet says. While working on new projects, including the screenplays for my novels Bonk’s Bar and An Island Away, I’ve taken this message at full face value and it has helped immensely in terms of producing better story tellings. So here it is:

“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 NEXTSCENE.

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 DOTHAT 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 ANDHIRE 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, OFSPEECH. 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.)”

There you have it! A brilliant memo. Read, learn, and make your work better.

Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All those dollars…

and what to do with them? Imagine your China, sitting on a trillion or more US dollars. What would you do with them? Ponder no longer because the Chinese have made their move with a few of them. They’ve decided to take 1.8 billion of those greenbacks and buy Volvo automobile operations from Ford Motor Company. It sounds like a great deal considering that Ford paid $6.5 billion for Volvo way back in 1999, you know, before the US government socialized Ford’s competitors, GM and Chrysler. At any rate, things are looking up for the circulation of the US dollar.

It seems the Chinese have finally woken up to the hangover of having lent a bit too much cash to their drunken sailor pal, the United States Federal Government. Therefore, the move is on to get rid of those dollars so as not to be stuck holding the bag when their deadbeat finally balks and decides either 1) not to pay, or 2) to devalue the currency. Better buy what you can, while you can, or else you’ll be holding paper that has a more valuable use in the lavatory.

In the scheme of things, $1.8 billion sounds like chump change compared to the trillions floating around out there. But there’s more to this game than a single field with a few guys tramping the grass. The Chinese are buying hard assets everywhere from Cartegna to Canberra, Mongolia to Madagascar. They’re quite pleased to hand pieces of paper printed at the US Treasury for these assets because the paper will soon be declining in value and China has a billion people to feed, clothe, shelter, and tote around every day. What would you rather own: a) a promise from Barack Obama’s non-tax paying treasury secretary; b) a promise from the very recently but temporarily removed chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; or c) a coal mine in Colombia that produces hundreds of thousands of tons of raw energy for your economy. Quick now! What’s it going to be?

The conversion will continue and accelerate. This is sad news for those saps taking the paper. Soon they’ll figure out they sold cheap as they try to return those bucks to Uncle Sam at an ever decreasing value to buy things like Hollywood Movies, which are hard to eat, ride in, or re-sell. Man are they going to be angry. They might also be perturbed that the ugly Americans on their soil were one thing, but the Chinese are something else entirely. Are the Chinese managers going to embrace all the new fangled global environmental regs? How about the unionization of the employees? How about the safety standards? Take a look at China’s factories, mines, and cities and you’ll see people don’t wear masks to celebrate Halloween every day of the year. Nor do they have sky-high cancer rates because of too many cigarettes, although that is a problem, too.

Yet, the biggest menace of all will come in the future as the Chinese leap frog ahead in technological innovation. They’re buying the Volvo assets that include factories and systems developed over 90 years. They’re getting it all for a song and getting it right now. They can build upon this huge step up and launch toward the future not only in automobiles but in the many other technologies that they’re buying. In the mean time, America and Europe fester in a limbo of socialistic delusion that if only we work less, we’ll have more. We’ll have more allright, more imports from China, more idiotic policies from a US Administration and Congress dominated by ingrates and fools, and more free time to learn Mandarin and Cantonese, which will come in handy in a couple of years when those nouveau riche tourists from behind the Great Wall arrive by the 747-load. Sorry, that won’t be a Boeing-built 747, it will be a Geely-built model 1.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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One more straw…

Today I read Peggy Noonan’s regular piece in The Wall Street Journal. Normally I appreciate Ms. Noonan’s insightful and carefully crafted missives. Today was one more straw on the back of a camel’s back that’s about to break. You see, Ms. Noonan, like so many others, refers to the people in the current administration as “so bright” and also mentions that these dolts are led by someone who is also “bright.” Ahem. I beg to differ.

In the first place, the current US Administration has produced nothing successful in terms of domestic or foreign policy. They have recycled a mantra born of Marx, raised by Euro-socialists, and finally polished to high gloss by Hollywood, USA. Please, “spreading the wealth” policies aren’t ones created by “bright” people. They’re created by bitter, angry, envious, and dim people, ones typically bent on telling the rest of the country that the rules are to be obeyed except by themselves. Consider the results: consistent failure by any measure. Does the Euro-socialist have less debt and higher living standards? No. They’re invoice has come due and they’re scrambling with how to pay. Has the Middle East been mollified to even a minor degree. Sorry, no. Have the Iranians given up the quest for the A-bomb? Uh, not hardly. Has the economy snapped back? Not yet. Has China agreed to free-float their currency? Nope. Have the Russian laid off their former satellites? Nyet. Chavez taken a powder? No.

As for leadership by Ms. Noonan’s supposedly “bright” person, consider that he drops a list of demands before the prime minister of Israel and walks out for a meal. Is this the action of a “bright” man? No, this is the method of an angry, arrogant, envious, and pitifully dim man. He results to brute thuggery. Why? Isn’t this the one who is supposed to be so eloquent, so persuasive, so congenial? No, he is not. If he were “bright” as too many claim, he would not have had to bribe Congress and various constituencies to pound through his health care plan. He would have made appeals that gained support without the purchase price of billions. He would have been able to have a meaningful and productive dialog with another head of state. No, the Oval Office is not occupied by a particularly bright person. All evidence points to the exact opposite.

What the evidence also shows is that the “press” and many members of Congress and too many people in the public no longer have an accurate method of measuring the quality of those in high office. What passes for “bright” today is woefully below the mark. If you wear a snazzy suit, walk with a swagger, and wag your finger in moments of barely controlled hostility, well, you’re a bright fellow capable of leading a nation. Never mind that you’re a retread worn down to the cords the moment you stepped into the light. You look good through the soft-focus lens. Peggy Noonan said so. And that makes it true.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Enjoy!

Stalin is reported to have said something along the lines of, “If you know the rape is coming, you might as well enjoy it.”

To those members of congress and the current administration, who now gloat over their pyrrhic victory, let me advise another text, this one from the Book of Proverbs, 16:18. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Today and all this week, the compromised media will crow for the administration. Reporters will thump out pieces about the need to “move forward” to “heal wounds.” This is a natural reaction because too much of the media enjoys the rape room. They were born to lose and prefer the sweet misery of defeat and victimhood over the diligent but laborious nature of victory. What? Read that again and then follow this: Many media members actually prefer to be abused. Consider the evidence of their recent behavior. How many challenged the double accounting of the health care bill that just passed? How many confronted the reality that this bill is laden with deals? How many asked well structured questions about how many doctors will be leaving the profession? Precious few. Why? Why are they sitting idly by?

A major reason is that the modern reporter seeks the balmy light of the royals currently in power. The modern reporter basks in the famous-by-association nature of their positions close to the tyrants. “I was there when the health care bill passed,” they’ll tell their grandchildren. And when the grandchildren ask, “Why do you have to wait years for open heart surgery?” the retired reporter will admonish them with, “Don’t be selfish!”

The lure of fame and power is strong indeed. Certainly the current government knows how to do wield it. They admit to rock star management styles, to staging events like Hollywood spectacles, and to conjuring up a bit of suspense to keep everyone on their seat. The press and the public, humans one and all, have taken the bait. They’ll soon be experiencing the other side of this mysticism and that will indeed be uncomfortable. The rape will begin soon. It will start with taxes, move on to rationing, and then to what is known as and I double E in my novel, Universal Coverage. That’s an Imminent Expiration Event, when the administration of the health care system figures a person isn’t worth the  effort and money it would take to keep them alive. It may be that much of the populace, like the reporters, will sit back and enjoy the beast. They’ll sigh and moan, “I sacrificed for the cause.”

However, with this attack will begin the collapse of the nation. Through the arrogant, prideful ways of a maladjusted administration, the United States will descend into the ranks of also-rans. That is unless a cadre of brave souls, like those CEO’s mentioned yesterday in this blog, rise to the challenge. If they discover another Biblical passage, Matthew 7:13. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

Yes, we freedom appreciating members of the citizenry need to form a Party of Restoration. We must find the narrow gate and enter a place of righteousness that denies the largesse of the common pot, that provides opportunity without political preference, that denies purchase to the savages who would make us their victims. We must seek the difficult not for the sake of pain but because the hotter the furnace and heavier the hammer the higher quality the mettle. The easy road is now clogged with the damned. Let them enjoy their folly at their peril. When they come to us, the producers, in search of protection and respite from their beloved doom, well, then they will find the narrow gate has been walled up by their own hand, just as they beg for it to be.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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