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On Directing Film Paperback – January 1, 1992

4.2 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

According to David Mamet, a film director must, above all things, think visually. Most of this instructive and funny book is written in dialogue form and based on film classes Mamet taught at Columbia University. He encourages his students to tell their stories not with words, but through the juxtaposition of uninflected images. The best films, Mamet argues, are composed of simple shots. The great filmmaker understands that the burden of cinematic storytelling lies less in the individual shot than in the collective meaning that shots convey when they are edited together. Mamet borrows many of his ideas about directing, writing, and acting from Russian masters such as Konstantin Stanislavsky, Sergei M. Eisenstein, and Vsevelod Pudovkin, but he presents his material in so delightful and lively a fashion that he revitalizes it for the contemporary reader.

From Library Journal

Noted playwright, screenwriter, and director Mamet offers his views on film directing taken, some in transcript form, from lectures and classes at Columbia. With only two films under his belt, Mamet is an odd choice to publish his opinions here, and his ideas are unsurprising. Although presumably being paid by Columbia, Mamet "suspects" film schools are "useless." Citing his heroes Eisenstein (story via cuts) and Hitchcock (pre-planning), he advises shooting scenes simply in the "least interesting way" possible and cutting everything extraneous to the story. He suggests reading in myth and psychology and watching a lot of animated cartoons. Refreshingly untheoretical, particularly regarding acting technique, this is fitfully interesting stuff, but a bit of an ego trip, too.
- David Bartholomew, NYPL
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140127224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140127225
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Mamet's numerous plays include Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award), American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow, Boston Marriage, November, Race and The Anarchist. He wrote the screenplays for such films as The Verdict, The Untouchables and Wag the Dog, and has twice been nominated for an Academy Award. He has written and directed ten films, including Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, House of Games, Spartan and Redbelt. In addition, he wrote the novels The Village, The Old Religion, Wilson and many books of nonfiction, including Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business; Theatre; Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama and the New York Times bestseller The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. His HBO film Phil Spector, starring Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, aired in 2013 and earned him two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing. He was co-creator and executive producer of the CBS television show The Unit and is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
After reading screenplay books for years -- the likes of Syd Field, McKee, Howard, Hunter, etc. -- Mamet is a refreshing change. I realized how the other books, for all intents and purposes, were analyses of scripts, avoiding or skirting the issues of method and process. In other words, it's not hard to look at a huge box office and critically-acclaimed hit (Chinatown being the consensus favorite) and explain what makes it so good. We all know it's good. We've seen the movie. We've read the script. We're all in awe. And we all know the elements. But the actual process of writing, of formulating a story visually, of actually creating instead of merely analyzing, seems to be an afterthough to these folks. I mean, in some way, you've got to ask yourself why these fellas -- McKee, Field, and others -- have never actually written a thing! Mamet espouses a simplicity to the process of storytelling in film, beat by beat. It's a bit repetitive and sterile, as is the man himself. I don't agree with him on everything, and neither will you. He contradicts himself all the time and seems to take delight in his own presence, but he is a great craftsman, and anyone looking to tell stories visually would be mistaken to think this book unimportant or trivial. A must read for aspiring filmmakers, especially those who write.
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Format: Paperback
"...so they don't have to suffer through the lives they lead."
Mamet is always Mamet. Even when talking about directing-- after having directed only two films, HOUSE OF GAMES and THINGS CHANGE. Never heard of 'em, you say? Yes, this book is taken from a series of lectures he gave at Columbia film school in 1990. Since then, Mamet has directed Steve Martin not to be funny (THE SPANISH PRISONER) and Gene Hackman not to be cool (HEIST) as well as other actors not to "inflect."
Most people, like me, love Mamet's writing but find his directing stilted and wooden. This book explains why. Written half as rant and half as Socratic dialogue, Mamet lays out his film theory with second-rate Sergei Eisenstein (I think he means Kuleshov) and third-rate Bruno Bettelheim (who wrote about fairy tales, not film). The result is a mixed bag, not too informative about directing, but always entertaining.
If you want to know why telling a story on film is like telling a dirty joke, this is your book. If you'd like to read how to construct a movie about a farmer who has to sell a pig, or a student who wants to "get a retraction," this is your book. If you want to know why "[t]he less the hero is described to us, the better off we are," this is your book. It's slim, it reads fast, and it's easier to understand than THE THREE USES FOR A KNIFE. If you want a book about directing by a real director, I recommend Sidney Lumet's MAKING MOVIES.
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Format: Paperback
I have found this book to be of great use. I have highlighted much of the text and have been assimilating it since it came out in hardcover. Technology is evolving toward consumer movie making and this book can serve as a point of departure for anyone with a video camera and a desire to tell stories but no pressing desire to become a part of "the industry". His technique is admittedly rigid but is simple to understand. When one honestly and patiently applies the technique in order to conceive a story outline, the results--since the unconscious is employed instead of the ego--can be quite enchanting. This book aims toward a more poetic cinema. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
Of course the question begs, why is David Mamet teaching us how to direct? In one instance, aside from the films he has directed, his expertise and notariety is in writing the script or even the play for the theater. On the other hand, when a good writer has control of his craft, it will be written well enough for any director who takes the script and turn out similar products (either to each other, or even to the script writers vision). Yet, Mamet discloses himself as a competent teacher and director. Its a short book, but there is some good practical information that is discussed, and with student dialogue Q&A to give a sort of "interactive understanding" of how to write and direct a film. On the other hand, Mamet is dogmatic about his approach to the craft and the student answers are all wrong unless answered, not only correct, but the way he wants you to answer them, that is, what he knows to be correct. The dilemma I personally have with all books about writing or directing is they are from a single perspective and allow very little intuition or personal style to interfere. This book is, for the most part, no exception when one has to meet Mamet's standards for what is right or wrong. Given the fact that it works for David, it does not mean it will work for everyone. The trick is to take it all with a grain of salt and skim it off the top. Take what appeals to you and what feels good and what can be applicable to your writing. Its a short book that is clear and concise which is based on lectures given at Columbia University. One of the better books on the subject, so if you feel you need a little more study before you write, I would reccomend this one (although not before Lajos Egris book Art of Dramatic Writing).
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