From the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and playwright: an exhilaratingly subversive inside look at Hollywood from a filmmaker who's always played by his own rules.
Who really reads the scripts at the film studios? How is a screenplay like a personals ad? Why are there so many producers listed in movie credits? And what on earth do those producers do anyway? Refreshingly unafraid to offend, Mamet provides hilarious, surprising, and refreshingly forthright answers to these and other questions about every aspect of filmmaking from concept to script to screen. A bracing, no-holds-barred examination of the strange contradictions of Tinseltown, Bambi vs. Godzilla dissects the movies with Mamet's signature style and wit.
Mamet's a veteran screenwriter and director (currently producing The Unit for CBS), but that doesn't mean he has any great love for the industry--his Hollywood is the stereotypically corrupt and cutthroat world where screenwriters willingly change their stories to accommodate every stupid suggestion from producers, who are blatantly lining their own pockets, while stars bicker over who has the bigger trailer. But his stories are entertaining even when they're unsurprising, and though loosely organized, a few broad themes emerge. He expounds at length, for example, upon his well-known penchant for straightforward storytelling, where drama boils down to "the creation and deferment of hope," and every scene should be able to answer three questions: "Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don't get it? Why now?" At other times, he's happy simply to explain why he thinks Laurence Olivier was a terrible film actor or to test out a theory that the early film industry owes its development to Eastern European Jews with Asperger's syndrome. As usual with Mamet, each word is precisely chosen for maximum effect, and nearly all hit their mark. (Feb.)
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February 11, 2008
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Excerpt from Bambi vs. Godzilla by David Mamet
Hard Work Billy Wilder said it: you know you’re done directing when your legs go. So I reflect at the end of a rather challenging shoot. The shoot included about five weeks of nights, and I have only myself to blame, as I wrote the damn thing. Directing a film, especially during night shooting, has to do, in the main, with the management of fatigue. The body doesn’t want to get up, having had so little sleep; the body doesn’t want to shut down and go to sleep at ten o’clock in the morning. So one spends a portion of each day looking forward to the advent of one’s little friends: caffeine, alcohol, the occasional sleeping pill. The sleeping pill is occasional rather than regular, as one does not wish to leave the shoot addicted. So one recalls Nietzsche: “The thought of suicide is a great comforter. Many a man has spent a sleepless night with it.” One also gets through the day or night through a sense of responsibility to, and through a terror of failing, the workers around one. For folks on a movie set work their butts off. Does no one complain? No one on the crew. The star actor may complain and often does. He is pampered, indulged, and encouraged (indeed paid) to cultivate his lack of impulse control. When the star throws a fit, the crew, ever well-mannered, reacts as does the good parent in the supermarket when the child of another, in the next aisle over, melts down. The crew turns impassive, and the director, myself, views their extraordinary self-control, and thinks, “Thank you, Lord, for the lesson.” The director, the star players, the producer, and the writer areabove the line; everyone else isbelow. There is a two-tier system in the movies, just as there is in the military. Those above the line are deemed to contribute to the fundability or the potential income of the film by orders of magnitude greater than the “workers”—that is, the craftspersons—on the set, in the office, or in the labs. On the set, the male director is traditionally addressed as “sir.” This can be an expression of respect. It can also be a linguistic nicety—a film worker once explained to me he’d been taught early on that “sir” means “asshole.” And, indeed, the opportunities for tolerated execrable behavior on the set abound. I was speaking, some films back, with the prop master about bad behavior. He told me he’d been on a film with an ill-behaved star who, to lighten the mood or in a transport of jollity, took to dancing in combat boots on the roof of a brand-new Mercedes. “He did about ten thousand dollars’ worth of damage,” he said, “and this kind of hurt, as I’d given up my day off, unpaid, to go searching for a prop.” There exists in some stars not only a belligerence but also a litigious bent. I have seen a man take a tape measure to his trailer, as he suspected that it wasnot quiteperfectly equal (as per his contract) in length to that of his fellow player. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the prop master is giving up his day off to ensure that the wallet or knife or briefcase or wristwatch is perfect on Monday. This is not a picayune instance but, in my experience, the industry norm. While the star is late coming out of the trailer, while the producer is screaming obscenities on the cell phone at his assistant regarding, most likely, a botched lunch reservation, the folks on the set are doing their utmost to make a perfect movie. I do not believe I overstate the case. Nevil Shute wrote a rather odd book calledRound the Bend. Its hero is an Indonesian aircraft mechanic. He is so dedicated to both