David Mamet: Bambie vs. Goliath

I recently read David Mamet’s

Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business

And while it was an interesting read, I ended up re-reading again to find the real gems about writing and filmmaking.  Here are my notes on the book, mostly a list of quotes.


Standard Dramatic Strucutre:

Once upon a time
Then one day
And just when everything was going so well
When just at the last minute
They lived happily ever after
(or sadder but wiser in a drama)
(or realizing the essence of the human condition, they put thier eyes out and wander around a blind beggar in a tragedy)

Jack and the Beanstalk is a perfect example.

Make the audiance wonder, then answer in a way both surprising and inevitable

You get to make a movie 3 times- 1 when you write it, 2 when you shoot it, 3 when you edit

The slate piece: shoot the moment before “action” is called, it often has moments of real emotion.

Drama structure: the creation and deferment of hope
Reversals, surprises and conclusion of the hero’s quest

Stay with the money- give the best lines to the hero

Throw out the first 10 minutes, it’s usually all exposition

If you think perhaps you should cut, then cut.

Start with a scaple, end with an axe

If you laughed at dalies, you won’t laugh at the picture.  Same with tears.
-because it stops the show

Less is better- the timing of a gag is the essence of a gag

Give them tahiti in the winter, and alaska in the summer
-like politicians in wag the dog?

Get out on your biggest laugh / always leave em laughing / always leave them wanting mroe

If you cant figure what a scene is about, it’s unnessecary

Always shoot an entrance and an exit

After a closeup, have the actor look up, left, and right.  Just in case.

The engine of a love story is what keeps them apart, not what keeps them together.

Shoot the pretty girl closeup first.  Don’t save it for the end when she is tired.

Most american films lack irony.  Aside from Kubrick, Cy Endfield and Jules Dassin.  Eg: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, Zulu, Night and the City, Rafifi

Brit Gangster Films are more how-to videos, not misguided souls in a clean fight, but actually not very nice people.  eg: The Blue Lamp, Robbery, Peeping Tom, The Long Good Friday, Sexy Beast, Mona Lisa, The Krays, Lock Stock, etc.

No narration means more narrative.

“I love you” is a good ending to a speech.  It’s not nearly as strong if followed by “and one more thing”

The Lady Eve – example of a good plot
Act I / Premise: con woman tries to con rich guy
Complication: she falls in love w him
He finds out, calls off the wedding, says he knew and was just stringing her along
-what keeps them apart?  loathing, and her need for revenge

Act II She impersonates a countess and wins him again, and they marry

Act III She wants revence so she tells him of her past sexual encounters
He dumps her, and his family offers her money
Revenge was empty, she went too far
She returns to the ship as failed con artist, they fall in love for real

-No backstory or characterization required
-He comes in, we see where he’s going, and it’s more interesting than any back story could be

Audiance will undergo only the journey that the hero undergoes
Story should come to life by unique event, instead of an ongoing process
Begin with a theme or quest, and describe the progression in unconnected actions and images that will be revealed as unified at the end, which restores order.

Plot should be easy to summarize, easy to follow.

Film structure allows imagination to reign.

Like a campfire story- leave out the adjectives- they just distract the viewer from what is happening.

A scene is superflulous when it doesn’t advance the progression of the film.

Drama is a succession of scenes, each must end so the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal.  He is forced to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.

Questions the writer must answer:
Who wants what from whom?
What happens if they don’t get it?
Why now?

Things that have the power to dissuade writer from these questions:
scene is so interesting, meaningful, revelatory of character, deeply felt

Other books about drama:
Uses of Enchantment
Hero with 1000 Faces
Three Uses of the Knife

Classic “Perfect Films”
A Place in the Sun
Galaxy Quest