David Mamet – week two

I’m still in there and I’ve reached lesson 15 of 26. Mamet dismantles two of his most famous plays – “American Buffalo” (a tragedy) and “Glengarry Glen Ross” (a drama), showing how the plot structure works in each.

Then there’s advice about writing dialogue and how to leave out exposition and narration. The message here is “Take off the excess flesh!” A great example of this is the juggler Michael Moschen, who can juggle with 14 balls, but can still entrance us with just one ball:

 

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DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS (week one)

DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS REVIEW

WEEK ONE

I’ve made it through the first week and so far everything’s fine and dandy. First a kind of overview of how the whole thing is structured.

Once you sign up to one of these masterclasses you have lifetime access, which takes the pressure off having to complete the course in a specific time. That said, in the course workbook there’s a suggestion about how you can schedule the course over a period of six weeks. This seems to work for me. It’s not so tight that you feel stressed to the point where your one aim is to simply tick off the boxes as you complete each assignment. At the same time it’s not so laid back that you lose the thread or any sense of continuity.

VIDEOS

The course consists of 26 videos, each one about 10 minutes long. David Mamet has chosen to work with a kind of lecture format. He sits in his office and talks to the camera. It’s very high production and David Mamet is an enormously engaging, funny and charismatic teacher. 10 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time to discuss a subject like “The Purpose of Drama” but somehow he manages to do it, and at the same time he throws in anecdotes, jokes and metaphors which reinforce the points he’s making. Highly condensed with zero bullshit.

WORKBOOK

You get a downloadable workbook which has a text summary of each video lesson, some suggestions for further study and an assignment which you can then share on the Masterclass forum, which is called “The Hub”.

ASSIGNMENTS

The assignments are designed to get you to focus on specific parts of the writing process and are generally pitched at just the right level – straightforward but challenging at the same time. One in particular  I enjoyed was an exercise designed to demonstrate the futility of writing character bios/backstory. You had to choose a film and decide what the character’s objective was. You were then asked to list the actions (as opposed to the traits) that defined the character. What actions did the character take to reach the objective? An exercise in using verbs instead of adjectives.

There are also interactive assignments. The first one comes in lesson 8 “Plot”. You are asked to read three plot outlines posted anonymously by students and give ratings on a sliding scale. No comments or analysis necessary. Once you’ve done this then you have to submit your own plot outline which in turn will be critiqued in the same way. This actually felt far more scary than just posting something and reading the comments. The anonymity of it opens the door for a far more honest critical mindset. And this is in line with David Mamet’s attitude to writing – that you HAVE to do bad writing before you do good writing.

I’m still waiting for judgement of my plot outline, and I’m sort of half hoping that it’s slated, because it means I’ve got work to do. And this is another of David Mamet’s messages – it’s HARD WORK.

FORUM

There are two threads here. After every video lesson there’s room for discussion where you can post your initial responses. This I like very much and I notice that there’s very little feedback here from other students.

Then you have “The Hub”, where you post your assignments. A lot more discussion going on here, and a sense of community, but because this masterclass is running continuously you don’t feel you have any class mates in the same way as if it was a more timetabled course.

OFFICE HOURS

Yes, finally there’s “Office Hours”. Here you can write or video a question to David. The idea is that when the instructor of the masterclass (in this case David Mamet) has time in his or her busy schedule they’ll have answer the questions that have been sent in. Sounds exciting and I’m looking forward to the next one.

 

To sum up, I’m enjoying this masterclass immensely. David Mamet’s approach to dramatic writing is based on Aristotle’s Poetics so there’s a heavy emphasis on plot, which suits me but maybe wouldn’t be everyone. He also approaches the question of “Where do you get your ideas from?” in a simple way. You draw from your own experiences. To quote Stanislavski – “What choice do you have?”

 

 

DAVID MAMET MASTERCLASS

As an actor I’m a great admirer of David Mamet’s plays, films and TV series (just finished watching “The Unit” on Netflix). I’ve also appeared in one of his plays – Charles in “The Shawl”, maybe not one of his better known pieces, but it’s an intriguing bit of theatre.

When I saw that he was running  a masterclass in dramatic writing on http://www.masterclass.com I had to take a look. It looked really exciting and after about five seconds of hesitation I signed up. I’m really glad I did as it’s proving to be well worth the time and the relatively modest investment ($90 for 26 videos, a workbook, a forum and lifetime access ).

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing my journey through the masterclass in this blog. So if you’re interested, please join me.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the trailer: