David Mamet on Writing Good Scenes

This clip is from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet is considered by many to be a genius at writing dialogue. His dialogue is certainly very different from Linklater’s in Before Sunrise, as are his thoughts about what makes a scene or a story dramatic. Here’s a link to an email he wrote to the staff writers on a television show called The Unit, which he was producing at the time. Lots of pithy (and, at times, somewhat salty) advice for story writers of all types.

Writing for Film: “Seeing Eye” Script #1 Location Stills

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  • These were taken about 9 a.m. on March 14.
  • This is the intersection of 1st Avenue North and 22nd Street.
  • That’s not too far away from ASFA. Less than a mile.
  • The light is (obviously) different in the afternoon.
  • The afternoon light is much brighter.
  • I think I prefer this light (the a.m.); plus, the midday light’s not bad.
  • Thus: Logistically, it might work best to start shooting around 9 a.m.
  • However: I’m open to discussion/persuasion on that.

Writing for Film: Beginners Extras


Above: an interview with Mike Mills about his film Beginners.

A confession: so there’s Mike Mills and there’s this fella interviewing him.  For multifarious and multifaceted reasons, I identify with both of them. They’re both good at what they do. That’s not the confession. This is the confession: I’d way rather be Mike Mills; I worry I’m “just” the interviewer.

I offer up that little bit of unsolicited insecurity for a couple of reasons:

  • I think it’s important to be able to point to what someone else is doing and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
  • I think it’s important to be able to articulate the (mostly irrational) fears that limit you/me/us. Like: extremely important.
  • I think it’s (extremely) important to be able to identify the strengths in what you think are your weaknesses. To wit: interviewer guy hits pay-dirt with the “emotional graffiti” observation. Yeah: I’d rather be Mike Mills (I mean: he’s married to crazy/brilliant Miranda July!) but props to interviewer guy. He’s smart, he’s observant, he’s prepared, and he cares. There are far, far worse ways to go through life. In fact, I’m pretty sure his is the only worthwhile way of going through life.

And then here’s the link to the screenplay of the film. A must-read, if you ask me.

Some Screenplay Tips

Writing-for-Filmers (and other interested parties): Here are some really useful pages on the Dartmouth College website, with a ton of useful material for someone who’s setting out to write a (short) film. Please consider writing a short film, in fact. You don’t have to try for a feature-length screenplay. It’s very difficult to do in nine or ten weeks, especially when you’ve never done it before and you have a (over)full ASFA schedule.