Genre: Thriller
Premise: When a woman’s autistic son uncovers a half-century old UFO conspiracy, her life spirals out of control.
About: Writer-director David Mamet’s latest will star Cate Blanchett in the lead role. Mamet has been a writing powerhouse for 30 years. He started in plays, then came to Hollywood as a screenwriter, and eventually moved into writing-directing. He has two screenwriting Oscar nominations, with 1982’s The Verdict and 1997’s Wag The Dog. He also has two Tony nominations with 1984’s Glengarry Glen Ross and 1988’s Speed-the-Plow. At one time, he was the highest paid script doctor in town. In other words, this man is a writing badass. Mamet flaunts the fact that he was self-taught. “My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library. I got what little educational foundation I got in the third-floor reading room.” Mamet even has a type of dialogue named after him (“Mamet-speak”) where characters viciously and cynically talk over each other.
Writer: David Mamet
Details: 124 pages (October 2013 draft)

Cate Blanchett

The Mamster. Mammogram. Manjambo.

I don’t know if I’d call myself a Mamet fan. But I love reading scripts from anyone who’s been a powerhouse in the industry. In the 90s, if you needed a script polish before production, this was the guy at the top of your list. You threw 2 million at him without blinking. And that wasn’t by accident. He brought the goods.

That doesn’t mean he’s infallible. The 90s were all about dialogue. Tarantino, Rodriquez, and Shane Black made sure of that. And Mamet’s dialogue could hang with any of those guys. So it made sense that they’d bring in a writer who specialized in that world.

These days, movies are more about story and character. Drama and action take precedence over a snappy comeback. Which is possibly why we haven’t seen much of Mamet lately. But this is the snazziest and most mainstream concept he’s come up with in awhile, so if there’s going to be something that puts him back on the map, this would be it. Let’s check it out.

40 year-old Janet Mitchell has just lost her grandfather, photographer Edward Mitchell. Edward was a big deal. His most famous contribution to history was manipulating a World War 2 newsreel film to make it look to the Nazis like thousands of Allied ships were heading to Boulogne instead of Normandy. Many people think that fake-out won the Allies the war.

Janet’s flown to California with her young autistic son, John, to clear out her grandfather’s home, but gets more than she bargained for when her checks stop clearing. You see, Edward’s been sending her money for the past 20 years, and under the Trust agreement, she’s supposed to keep receiving those checks. But now that he’s dead, the checks have stopped.

As she tries to figure that out, John digs around Edward’s house where he finds that his great-grandfather had an unhealthy obsession with UFOs. At first it seems like Edward helped manipulate photos to create the illusion of UFOs, but the deeper John looks, the more evidence he finds that UFOs are real, and that Edward has proof. Somewhere.

John isn’t the only one interested in Edward’s records. The army is as well. And when they get the sense that Janet and John might know something, Janet’s life starts getting weird. First, she’s framed for arson. Then that’s used against her to take away her son.

She realizes that the only way to get her son back is to locate the UFO proof that John found. But where could it be?

Soon Janet is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, going to UFO conventions and trade shows. She eventually learns of a top-secret project called “Blackbird” that her grandfather was involved in. But the project is not what we think. It deals with, of all things, the JFK assassination. Or does it? Janet’s become so entrenched in this world of conspiracies and lies that she’s not even sure if she’s sane anymore.

Museum-Of-The-Moving-Imag-007David Mamet

Blackbird was a unique reading experience, I’ll say that. It’s hard to summarize my feelings about it because it’s so unlike any other script in the genre. Which is a good thing. The last thing I wanted was a remake of that awful Mel Gibson mess, Conspiracy Theory.

But Blackbird plays its cards so close to the vest that we’re never exactly sure what’s going on, and that can get tiring in a 124 page screenplay.

What Blackbird does have going for it is the Mystery Box. You get the feeling JJ Abrams would be going nuts at this premiere, the box is so prominent. We have the mystery of why the checks stopped coming, the mystery of Edward’s obsession with UFOs, the mystery of the Blackbird Project, the mystery of the JFK assassination. And all this is tied up in the mystery of, is Janet going crazy??

At the very least, that compelled me to keep reading. I wanted to know the answers.

The problem is, there weren’t any answers for too long a period of time. This script is what I call “backloaded,” as pretty much all the good stuff doesn’t show up until the last 30 pages. That still leaves 105 pages. If 90% of the good stuff is in the last 25% of the script, you can do the math about how entertaining the rest is.

For example, we don’t get to the reading of Edward’s will until page 45. PAGE 45! The script starts with Janet already in California for Edward’s funeral. Why, then, are 45 pages needed to get us to that plot point?

Part of the problem is repetition. We’re given the same information over and over again. I think I counted six times where we’re told John thinks UFOs are real. He keeps finding new stuff inside Edward’s house to bolster this theory. But we got it already. I don’t know why Mamet felt the need to keep telling us.

Another problem is that the majority of those first 45 pages take place inside Edward’s house. I’m all for single locations in movies WHEN THEY’RE WARRANTED. Like if our characters are stuck inside a nuclear fallout shelter because their city just got nuked, being in that shelter for a long time makes sense.

But when our characters can willingly go wherever they want yet stay in a house for 30-40 pages, something starts feeling off. Especially these days, when impatient audiences need their visuals constantly changing.

But even if you took that argument out of the equation, by keeping your characters in one location for a long time, you’re creating a static storyline. The location is still so the story stops moving.

That’s not to say you can’t keep a single location interesting. There are lots of tools you can play with like conflict and mystery. And Mamet does use these. But this leads to my one big critique of Mamet’s work, which is that his roots as a playwright hamper his efforts as a cinematic storyteller.

Being in one house for so long in a play makes sense. In a movie, it doesn’t. I remember with The King’s Speech, which was originally written as a play, Tom Hooper’s number one goal was to have David Seidler rewrite it until it felt like a movie. In a now famous exchange, Hooper first came to Seidler and said, “I love this script. It’s perfect. I want to do it.” They then proceeded to do another thirty drafts. But it was warranted. It takes time to expand three locations into thirty.

Plus, thrillers are supposed to MOVE FAST. I would never write a thriller over 100 pages, especially one with so few characters. This doesn’t hamper you as a storyteller. It helps you. Knowing you have so little space to tell your story in, you’re forced to constantly get to the point. That would’ve helped a lot here, especially in that 40 page first act. Mamet would’ve been forced to ask, “Do I really need another scene where John says he thinks UFOs are real?” And all of a sudden the script is cooking along.

Then again, it should be noted that Mamet is also directing this. Since he’s essentially writing for himself (and not the reader), he’s likely taking some liberties and overwriting stuff he knows he’s going to cut later. At least I hope that’s the case. Cause this script needs to go through the chop shop. But hey, I hope he pulls it off. I’d love to see a great Mamet movie.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Beware backloading your script. Readers are not going to wait around for 100 pages for the good stuff to start. Mystery boxes are great, but you need to give us at least some big answers before the final act or we’ll get impatient and give up.

  • andyjaxfl

    I love David Mamet’s Spartan from 2004, the last leading role Val Kilmer had in a studio picture. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out. I think it’s only misstep is the monologue by one of the villains at the end, but besides that it’s a flawless thriller. It’s my favorite Kilmer role next to “I’m your huckleberry,” aka Doc Holliday.

    • UrbaneGhoul

      And his role as Madmartigan in Willow.

    • brenkilco

      In the city always a reflection. In the woods always a sound.

      What about the desert?

      You don’t want to go in the desert.

      Love Mamet’s stuff. Here’s a bit of Spartan trivia. Did you know that the cute bartender Kilmer gets info from in the Boston nightclub is actually John Kerry’s daughter? She dodged a bullet. How about them Sox?

      • andyjaxfl

        I love that dialogue exchange. And Kilmer sells it perfectly.

        I was born and raised in Massachusetts, but didn’t know that was Kerry’s daughter. Very cool stuff!

  • Biblio

    “The 90s were all about dialogue. Tarantino, Rodriquez, and Shane Black made sure of that. And Mamet’s dialogue could hang with any of those guys. ”

    I’d say more than hang with… he’s an acknowledged influence on all of those writers. It’s a little like writing, “Salinger, Mailer, and Bret Easton Ellis all had great, punchy prose. And Hemingway’s prose could hang with any of those guys.”

    Neither are inaccurate by any means, but it’s putting the cart before the horse.

    • ArabyChic

      What throws me is Rodriguez being in that list. We’re talking about Robert Rodriguez? Known for his dialogue?

      • andyjaxfl

        I think it was a typo…

      • Midnight Luck

        Yeah, don’t think Rodriguez is known for his awesome dialogue.

        Kevin Smith maybe.
        No wait,
        Unless cussing and sex jokes count as awesome dialogue…

        • Matty

          I think Kevin Smith’s dialogue is amazing. Some people may not like the sex jokes and swearing, but believe it or not, some people do talk like that.

          IMO, he’s got one of the best ears in the business for “realistic” dialogue (realistic yet still cinematic, is why I put it in quotes).

          And CHASING AMY is a masterpiece.

          • Midnight Luck

            Yeah, I agree.

            I think Clerks was awesome. His dialogue work there was just crazy funny. It hit the time right, the setting, he really does have a great ear for “real” dialogue.

            Plus I love some of the choices he made. Like getting George Carlin (love George Carlin) to play a character, “Buddy” Jesus with a thumbs up, and Alanis Morissette as God. Also introducing the world to Jason Lee in Amy. Smith is just hilarious. I have no problem with swearing or sex jokes, especially when they are funny, and his are.

            I was pointing Smith out mostly because Carson was picking out 90’s screenwriters, and I would’ve gone with Smith over Rodriquez.

            Loved Chasing Amy, though I haven’t been much of a fan of Ben Affleck as an actor (great Director though), but he does get it right now and again.

          • astranger2

            I used to work with Caitlin Bree and Randal… they were pretty cool people… One holiday Knob Creek evening, Caitlin blasted me for bringing up Catcher in the Rye… as he was inspired to re-read it, much to her disdain… ; P

      • Kirk Diggler

        He’s not even known for his storytelling. He’s all flash and dash and character tropes and not much else.

      • Matty

        Yeah, Rodriguez writes some utterly terrible dialogue.

  • Steffan

    By and far my favorite Mamet piece is “American Buffalo.” I’ve only read and seen the play though–not the movie. Anyone see it?

    The thing with Mamet is so much depends upon actor delivery. When done well watching a performance of Mamet’s work is like listening to instrumental music–it just flows over you while the tones and rhythms make meaning just as much as the words.

    This story sounds like something William Gibson might have written in the past ten years. I know his work always flirts with getting made (Neuromancer is perpetually in the works), but this has hints of his latest trilogy; of which, Pattern Recognition is the first and was also, supposedly, in the works:

    From IMDB

    A marketing consultant, who has a psychological sensitivity to corporate symbols, is hired to seek the creators of film clips anonymously posted to the internet – before uncovering a larger conspiracy.

    • Jonathan Soens

      The “American Buffalo” movie works well, assuming you don’t mind that they let it basically remain a play (not adding in action or changes of scenery just because they could, which is what happens when a play gets converted into a movie).

      Dennis Franz, with that voice, sounds like he was born to recite Mamet dialogue. (And there was a time when I’d have said Franz was born to recite David Milch’s dialogue, but that was before I got my hands on this DVD.) Hoffman, too. Some actors struggle with it, making them sound awkward and stilted. Hoffman and Franz make it sing.

      • Steffan

        I’ll have to check it out.

    • brenkilco

      Have never seen it onstage. Both Pacino and Duvall played Teach on Broadway. And I understand they each made it a completely different play.

      • Steffan

        Great writing has that elastic quality to it that–when it’s performed by different people, they can bring it to places you hadn’t imagined. In a world where the novel and it’s preciseness and completeness is so popular, it’s great to go back to works that are to be performed.

      • Ambrose*

        I saw the Pacino production twice.
        I would have loved to see the Duvall version and compare the two.

  • davejc

    “Put That coffee Down. Coffee’s for closers”

    • Scott Strybos

      “The leads are weak.”

      • brenkilco

        …Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize, you’re fired.

        • Scott Strybos

          “You ever take a dump made you feel like you’d just slept for twelve hours?”

          • brenkilco

            That whole monologue. If you analyze it, it’s pure bullshit, all designed to con the businessman into buying real estate, but delivered by Pacino as if he’s divulging all his most intimate secrets. Just amazing.

          • Scott Strybos

            That’s why it is so awesome! Bullshit about shit.

    • Jarman Alexander

      “A, always; B, be; C, cobbling. Always be cobbling.”

    • cjob3

      Ever read the play? Those lines aren’t in there. In fact, Alec Baldwins character isn’t in there. The story begins after the sales contest is already underway. Personally, I agree with Jack Lemmon, the screenplay is better.

  • Magga

    “These days, movies are more about story and character.”

    I’d say these days movies are more about trailer moments. There certainly has never been a time when movies were less focused on character.

    • MGE3

      I disagree. Audiences are tired of just spectacle– we want tentpole movies with real story. Movies like Captain America 2 or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes do well because they offer both of these. Trailer moments absolutely have to exist, but many times studio notes are about refining characters and story.

      • Ambrose*

        The success of the Transformers movie franchise says otherwise.

  • Nathan

    The book: “David Mamet on Directing Film” is a great one if anyone can get their hands on it. Breaks the art of telling stories for the screen down to it’s barest bones. It’s Eisenstein for people who don’t want to read Eisenstein. It’s a surprise that you say he repeats the UFO-thing five of six times – that’s one of the main things I remember from the book: Find the simplest and most elegant way to deliver your beat and you’ll only have to do it once…
    I find if I keep repeating the same beat it’s usually because I wasn’t convinced that the first one stuck. In this case I assume that it was meant to take a while for the mother to “come around” and warm to the idea hence he had to keep repeating the “call to adventure” beat. Not my preference but who are we to question the man.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      One of the rare books that’s never far from my writing desk :)

      • Scott Strybos

        Another book that should be on everyone’s desk is Invisible Ink, by Brian MacDonald.

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out (didn’t know about this book) :)

  • IgorWasTaken

    It strikes me as odd that Mamet decided to title his story BLACKBIRD.

    And I can’t believe that Mamet is unaware there is some oddness to using that name for a program/plan in that particular time period – around when Kennedy was killed.

    “Blackbird” was the name used for the SR-71 spy plane that was developed by Lockheed, with the USAF and the CIA, in the early 1960s; the prototype’s first test flight was in 1962. Granted, I don’t know when the name “Blackbird” was first used as a reference to that plane; maybe not until after Kennedy was killed.

    In any event, especially in the context of that time period, secret government programs, and the UFO craze of the 60s, “Blackbird” is strongly associated with the SR-71 spy plane.

  • Bifferspice

    i think an important point to make is that cate blanchett looks immensely attractive in that photo.

  • Randy Williams

    A thriller of 95 pages. As Carson states, “mystery boxes are great , but you need to give us at least some big answers before the final act…”

    Your estimation of an “ideal” page for a “big answer”?

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Is there an “ideal” page number for that ? Wouldn’t it be better to give parts of the answer all along (if possible) ? Or maybe answer one thing and then pose another question to keep the reader engaged ? And then, of course, make sure that all answers are satisfactorily answered by the end :)

  • Somersby

    Love to read this if a copy happened to mysteriously land in my Inbox…
    anvil [at] total [dot] net
    Thx. in advance.

  • Cfrancis1

    I love Mamet. But he is inconsistent. “House of Games” is one of my all time favorites. One of the best “con” movies ever made.

    • Scott Strybos

      House of Games is often forgotten.

    • cjob3

      I wish he would re-make that movie and re-cast Lindsay Crouse.

      • Jonathan Soens

        I think casting has been an obstacle in his career. I know casting can’t entirely be laid at his feet (since it’s not really the writer’s job). But, man, his projects suffer from some of the worst hit-or-miss casting of any “name” writer I can think of. Even when they nail all the lead roles, it seems like there will be some smaller roles that will become problematic as soon as the actor speaks up.

        He’s so dialogue-heavy, so dialogue-dependent. Any time a clunker of an actor shows up, the dialogue stops singing.

        And, really, there are so many worse examples than Crouse. Frankly, if you were putting together a super-cut highlight reel of clunky deliveries of Mamet dialogue, I don’t know if Crouse would even make the cut. The choice examples are usually really small roles (but still speaking roles), if my memory serves me.

        • cjob3

          I think he was once married to two of his leading ladies. In House of Games and Spanish Prisoner. So those are kinda his fault.
          No, I personally thought Crouse was pretty bad. So wooden. And Oleana, well, at least she was SUPPOSED to be annoying. (I think)
          Notice none have those actress have done much else.

          • brenkilco

            His second wife Rebecca Pidgeon is often cited as the weak link in the movies he’s put her in. She wasn’t the actress in Oleanna by the way. But generally I think his movie are well cast. He’s historically given a lot of the supporting parts to his Chicago theatre pals who know his stuff. It should be kept in mind that Mamet dialogue aint easy. Its as stylized as Shakespeare and even good actors can have trouble with it.

          • Scott Strybos

            I would not be one of the people who say Pidgeon is a weak link. She has a quality… when she talks it’s like she has marbles in her mouth, which I am noting, without any sarcasm, as a positive, because it goes towards this quality that she does have.

          • brenkilco

            In the interest of full disclosure I find her as cute as pail full of kittens as Ricky Jay might say, so I’m fine with Mamet casting her.

          • Scott Strybos

            before I posted I googled her to check the correct spelling of her name and saw that she is also a singer-songwriter…

          • Scott Strybos

            He still is married to Rebecca Pidgeon, who shows up in almost all of his films. I like her.

        • Cfrancis1

          I don’t think Lindsay Crouse is bad in House of Games at all. She’s quite good, actually. There’s a certain way Mamet likes his lines delivered. Staccato. It’s a stylistic choice that some people don’t care for. I like it. It’s distinctive and interesting.

          He didn’t like “acting”. He likes his actors to let the words do the work. He wrote a really interesting book on acting a while ago.

          • Guest


          • Scott Strybos

            My comment got deleted, but… I still agree.

          • Jonathan Soens

            It’s true enough that it’s a style choice. But the thing is, there are actors in whose hands Mamet’s dialogue isn’t really allowed to play that way.

            Some people show up and act blandly or blankly, and they recite it like they’re still in rehearsals with Mamet standing over them with a metronome in one hand (to make sure they keep the proper rhythm) and a script in the other (making sure they get every word and every pause right).

            And other people play an emotion, or play it fidgety or distracted.

            If the director isn’t going to give every actor something to physically do so they look occupied and act more natural (and, as I understand it, Mamet would probably look down on such direction anyway), and if the writer isn’t going to give every character a clear emotional state to play, it’s up to the actor to figure out how to deliver the line without looking like a blank-face gadget that only shows up on screen to speak a line to move the plot along.

            Sometimes they cast actors who know how to be a person, and sometimes they cast actors who only know how to be a gadget that shows up to speak a line.

        • Scott Strybos

          The thing with a style-heavy film/ director is you can argue every performance, even stilted ones, as not bad, but stylized.

          • brenkilco

            Joe Mantegna used to be his go to guy and the actor’s delivery was a long way from naturalistic

  • cjob3

    I really liked The Spanish Prisoner. I especially liked that he cast a lot of comic actors in dramatic roles. Steve Martin, Ed O’Neil, Jonathan Katz.

    • Scott Strybos

      The Spanish Prisoner, one of Mamet’s films that typically gets the least praise or no praise at all, is one of my all-time favorites of his.

      • Jonathan Soens

        You’d think it would get more play just because it’s rated PG and it’s got a name like Steve Martin. I remember, when I finally got my hands on that movie, I found myself wondering how I’d never seen it before. It seemed much more TV-friendly than most of the Mamet movies I’d seen on actual television before.

        • Scott Strybos

          I think the film is unsettling for many viewers, which is why it isn’t more of a cable staple.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      A (sadly overlooked) masterpiece.

      • Scott Strybos

        It really is. And too much time has passed since I have watched it. I am going to screen it today when I get home from work.

    • brenkilco

      All kinds of great stuff in that movie. I like how Mamet takes the Maguffin to the next level. Not only do you never find out what the “process” is. You never even find out what Campbell Scott’s company does.

      • Scott Strybos

        This is a reason why The Spanish Prisoner wasn’t more successful. The lack of explanation to those prominent mysteries within the story I think frustrated many viewers. The biggest mystery of The Spanish Prisoner is how Mamet got away without opening all of his Mystery Boxes, two big ones, while still creating a great film.

        • brenkilco

          Then again, if you’re bothered by non sequiturs, elliptical conversations, and dialogue tangents you should probably stay away from Mamet altogether. Even though some of his best stuff is around the edges. Love this out of nowhere exchange from the underrated Heist:

          I was in this firefight? One time?
          Motherfucker, always carried a bible, next to
          his heart. And we used to mock him. But
          that bible stopped a bullet.

          No shit.

          My hand to god. That bible, stopped a bullet,
          would have ruined that fucker’s heart.
          And had he had another bible, in front of
          his face, that man would be alive today.
          What time you got?

          • Scott Strybos

            “You know why the chicken crossed the road? Because the road crossed the chicken.”

      • cjob3

        I assumed he worked at a Maguffin factory.

    • Scott Strybos

      In the last hour I have become re-obsessed with this film. I tried to find the screenplay online but only found a PDF copy to buy for $14.99, which I am seriously considering; however, if someone knows of a link to a site that hosts it please post.

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        I just sent it to you at your gmail address :)

        • N.A.

          could you send to hquattlebaum at gmail dot come as well?

        • Miranda Q Plumb

          Ooh, if you could send it to me it would be much appreciated! whothehellismiranda at yahoo dot com.

        • Scott Strybos

          Considering how you pulled The Spanish Prisoner out of thin air (thank-you again for the script), and posted today’s script, I’m going to get greedy, cross my fingers, and ask if you have Sorkin’s unproduced screenplay The Farnsworth Invention…

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            I’m sorry, I don’t ;)

        • Thomas Anderson

          Hi Marija ZombiGirl. Sorry, I know this is way late, but if possible I would love it if you could send me a copy of Blackbird.

          My e-mail adress is “”

          Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Hey :) I was talking about the SPANISH PRISONER script, I don’t have BLACKBIRD. Sorry about the confusion…

  • Scott Strybos

    It has been a while since I’ve an alien-government-conspiracy story. They were popular in the 90s, thanks-in-part, or maybe entirely, to The X-files, but then the genre died out.

    • witwoud

      I wonder if MiB killed them off?

      • Scott Strybos

        That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard… the extra-terrestrial-government conspiracy projects were obviously killed off by the alien-human hybrids stationed on the dark side of the Sun.

        • witwoud

          Noooooooo …. you chowderhead! That’s what they want you to think, but it’s all a big lie. The sun isn’t even real. They do it with mirrors. Grrrrrrggh!

          If anyone wants me, I’ll be in the angry dome.

  • Midnight Luck

    I would really enjoy seeing a well done Talkie again, it has been a long time.
    Not sure this is the one, as I have never been a big Mamet fan.
    But wow, I have to say, the movies have gone so far away from dialogue being important in the last 20 years. Every year it becomes less and less important to film. It is all about Spectacle anymore, dialogue has become throwaway (see Trans4 or any recent biggie).
    I have hope that it is all cyclical, it typically is, though I am not sure anymore. I think we have passed a certain stage in film, it might just keep heading in the same direction now.
    Thankfully TV has picked up the slack with things like Breaking Bad and Fargo, and even Orange is the New Black, we have some good dialogue sets in there now.

  • brenkilco

    “These days movies are more about story and character.”

    I’m not sure it’s helpful to think of dialogue as something distinct from story and character. Great dialogue is a lot more than snappy comebacks.

  • cbatower

    Hey guys, I posted a script of mine a couple of days ago. A few typos were pointed out — big shout out to Matthew Garry (for the feedback as well!) and Rachel Woolley.

    So, I re-read the script and weeded out some mistakes and thought I’d try to post again.

    Here goes:

    TITLE: The Platonics

    LOGLINE: A young, pregnant woman marries her gay best friend, but what starts as a sham blossoms into a 17-year marriage. When the couple is finally outed, they must contend with the reaction of their small, conservative town and their son who was never told the truth.

    GENRE: comedy-drama


    Thanks, guys!

  • themovienerd

    Today’s “What I learned” is pure greenback. Took me a good long while to learn that one (too long really).

  • Pugsley

    Carson, good dialogue wasn’t just for the 90s. It’s always been a part of solid writing. We’ve still got masters of the craft working today. Tony Gilroy — check out the opening pages of MICHAEL CLAYTON if you’re not sure. Even Max Landis is doing some pretty insane stuff with his words. I love it when he allows his characters to rant in the third act of his scripts. Then, of course, there’s the master, Joss Whedon, who whips off zingers, even on his press junkets. Dialogue is doing quite well in the ’10s, thank you.

    As for Mamet, the single best Mamet story I’ve ever heard is probably apocryphal, but nevertheless, totally Mamet. He once taught a screenwriting class at NYU, and told all his eager young students to bring their finished scripts to class the next time they met, and identify the single best scene from their scripts, the scene that made the reader stop in the middle of her read and marvel at how astonishing the words on the page, nay, the mastery of the human condition through mere words on the page was here. The one scene that stood out from all the other scenes and screamed out loud, “THIS IS GREAT WRITING!”

    So, dutifully, each student brought his or her finished script, and had dog-eared that one great scene in their scripts. Mamet asked them to all stand up. Turn to those pages. Then said, “Now rip them out.”

    Fucking Mamet.

    • witwoud

      Elsewhere he says, ‘The best advice I ever got was: get rid of your best lines!’

      • Pugsley

        True that. But where would we be if Quentin Tarantino followed that advice?

        He… he’s black…

        Go on…

        He’s bald

        Does he look like a bitch?


        (Shoots Brett in the shoulder)


        Then why you try to fuck him like a bitch?

        I didn’t…


        You didn’t? Okay, we cool.

        • witwoud

          Maybe those were the second-best lines. :)

          • IgorWasTaken

            THAT is funny.

            I am wondering, though, if that advice was intended as: “Get rid of your best lines. Because then, you’ll be surprised when you find even better lines to replace them.”

          • witwoud

            I don’t know. I’d assumed it was another variant of ‘kill your darlings’. Obviously, I don’t think Mamet means it literally. As with the scene-ripping exercise that Pugsley describes, it’s about learning to be ruthless with your delete button, no matter how attached you are to a particular line or scene or idea. He’s saying that the coolest lines are probably in your script because they’re cool lines, not because they move the story forward.

            So yeah, maybe after deleting it you’ll think of an even better line. But the important thing is to get rid of the old one.

            To ease the pain of having to delete some good stuff, I tell myself: nobody will ever know that you’ve deleted it, because they never knew it existed in the first place. All they’ll see is a better story. Weirdly, that helps.

    • Citizen M

      Probably based on this passage in his book “On Directing Film”:

      There is a wonderful book called The Profession of the Stage Director, by Georgi Tovstonogov, who writes that a director may fall into one of the deepest pits by rushing immediately to visual or pictorial solutions.

      This statement influenced and aided me greatly in my career as a stage director; and, subsequently, in my work as a screen-writer. If one understands what the scene means, and stages that, Mr. Tovstonogov was saying, one will be doing one’s job for both the author and the viewer. If one rushes, first, into a pretty, or pictorial, or even descriptive staging, one may be hard-pressed to integrate that staging into the logical progression of the play. And, further, while so hard-pressed, and while working to include the pretty picture, one will undoubtedly become wedded to its eventual inclusion, to the detriment of the piece as a whole.

      This concept was also stated by Hemingway as, “Write the story, take out all the good lines, and see if it still works.”

      My experience as a director, and as a dramatist, is this: the piece is moving in proportion to how much the author can leave out.

      A good writer gets better only by learning to cut, to remove the ornamental, the descriptive, the narrative, and especially the deeply felt and meaningful. What remains? The story remains. What is the story? The story is the essential progression of incidents that occur to the hero in pursuit of his one goal.

      …Screenwriting is a craft based on logic. It consists of the assiduous application of several very basic questions: What does the hero want? What hinders him from getting it? What happens if he does not get it?

  • craze9

    Anyone have a pdf of the script? Please send!

    craze9 AT


  • themovienerd

    Sebastian, I respectfully disagree.

    The path to American Hustle, Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis comes as a result of the established brand of the director. Period.

    Movies like CAP2 and Planet of the Apes come about because they are established properties and thus imminently marketable. These are what we as “amateurs” are more competing with when we write a spec. These movies (or “blockbusters”) that fill in certain release dates. Can we write a “marketable” concept with all the trimmings: great character, great story, and trailer moments that pop.

    The Fredo kiss, out of context, is nothing. Apes pointing guns at humans, even without context, is everything.

    • Sebastian Cornet

      I never disputed those movies got made because of who the directors (or the stars, for that matter) were. I pointed out that those are character based movies and the audience responded to that.

      Obviously not to the extent of an Avengers flick, but there was a response. So to say this is a time when character work doesn’t matter a lot is exaggerated.

      There was never a time when apes pointing guns at humans would not have drawn attention, but that’s not guaranteed to make any movie a resounding success. John Carter had an awesome trailer and look at how that turned out.

      • Magga

        I’m not saying character doesn’t matter. I’m saying it matters less than at any previous point in film history

      • themovienerd

        Well what came first, the chicken or the egg? In this case there’s an answer – the director.

        The audience was only able to respond because the director had enough clout to get those made in the first place. One day you too may have enough clout to get your character driven spec financed and shot. But first, understand the market. Your market. Your market is not only the audience, your market is also the writers of the checks. And the writers of the checks want trailer moments that market a solid concept.

        That said. We’re starting to turn a corner, and more and more writers of the checks are realizing that “marketing” will only take your movie so far. “Word of mouth” is equally important, and this occurs when your marketing gets the A audience in front of the screen and they respond to the characters and story in a way that they tell the B audience that they are missing out if they don’t see it.

  • fragglewriter

    I totally agree. I hate watching movies where they trek along or wander in circles until the last 20 mins where they try to tie in everything.

    But I also thinks it depends on the plot. I don’t think UFOs is a topic that most people are willing to stick around. Look at the movie Signs as a prime example. I think with an interesting topic, you can time your time with not doing too much in the beginning, but pick a boring topic or one that alienates the audience, it would be hard for them to trust you and come back for seconds.

  • Brainiac138

    I think Mamet’s career has gone a little downhill as of late has more to do with his crazy book about his adoption of neo-conservatism than anything. He basically said in the book he hates working with liberals, and well, Hollywood is kinda full of those.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Heard him say he had a 5 year commitment to lecture at a university
      but after the 2nd or 3rd year, students protested about having him speak,
      so he refused to go back.
      Makes you wonder. What should intelligent students be afraid of?

  • witwoud

    Meh. I’ve often seen films like that.

  • Pugsley

    Yeah, Landis comes across as an asshole, and yeah, he was born on third base, but the guy is fucking inventive. I love p. 99 of American Ultra — yeah, so he’s taking a page outta Shane Black, so fucking what, it makes it fun to read, and you can just see that goddamned fight in your head clearer than if he had written it out, beat for beat. And by my count, American Ultra makes his third movie he’s had made. How many have you got, Red? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    Btw, yes, I’m Max in disguise.


  • cbatower

    Huge thanks!

  • Pugsley

    Congratulations. Seriously.