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On Directing Film [Paperback]

David Mamet
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Jan 1992
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright comes invaluable insights and practical instructions on the art of film directing. Mamet looks at every aspect of directing--from script to cutting room--and draws from a wide variety of sources to make his points.

Product details

  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Reprint edition (30 Jan 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140127224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140127225
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 12.8 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important chapter in directing theory 13 April 2010
Maybe it's just because it came at the right time in my life and film experience, but this book changed my way of thinking about film. As an aspiring cinematographer, I think it's extremely important for any key member of a film crew to be well versed in all aspects of filmmaking and film theory, and this book, which I read just after DP'ing my first film, set me off on a journey of film theory which has brought me to Eisenstein, Mackendrick, Stanislavski, Aristotle and all of Mamet's non-fiction.

The bulk of the book is based on a series of lectures given at Columbia in 1991, when Mamet was new to the film industry and had ideas which he expressed a little radically. This book has to be read in conjunction with more Mamet, in particular True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor and Three Uses of the Knife (Diaries, Letters and Essays): On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, as well as with an understanding of the principles called into question (eg The Kuleshov Effect and Eisenstein's theory of montage) or it will seem radical and exaggerated.

Despite the above, this book hits one of the most important concepts in film theory and art right in the bullseye, raising the question "Where is the intersection of preparation and freedom, of planning and creativity?".

If read carefully and with an open mind, this book may just set you off on a journey.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read! 12 Nov 2007
For Mamet film is about the juxtaposition of uninflected images, and to anyone familiar with his terse writing style this will come as no surprise. Great film-making is nothing more than simple shots that tell the story in an unpretentious and "least interesting way". His ideas are direct, challenging, and genuinely useful.

A slim book that is very readable, and a must read for budding film-makers (and actors) that will liven up any debate on the subject.

p.s. My favorite Mamet quote (but not from this book): "All human relationships are either coercive or manipulative." Think about that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
That David Mamet has firm views on any subject he addresses in print is a given - this short tome being his views on filmaking is no exception, being a short series of lectures on filmmaking he gave at a US university, though at times they do not read much like any lecture you may have attended!

For Mamet as a script writer, the story is key with his love of older movies for this aspect showing continually. Getting the beats of the acting, visuals, editing of scenes and ensuring these do nothing but support the key motivations and storyline of any scene and script is the key discipline to be learnt under filmmaking by Mamet. While at times he overstates some of his points, and reconfirms his dislikes of Hollywood and its inability at many levels to understand what makes a great movie plus method acting with its over emphasis on "what is my motivation?", there is a major lesson that is pretty well thumped into you by the time you have finished this book. That is be endless in your focus of questioning what are you trying to show or get to in the story through any dialogue/camera shot/visual edit/sound addition. The end result will then become an automatic process of continually challenging your team and yourself with "Do I really need this?" and "If I do this, what does it really add?" on everything and paring down to the essence of the story.

Applying this to each scene in any film will in turn make the whole movie better simply because you will have discovered the overall story you want to tell and how. The loser will be all the superfluous concepts and motives that many filmmakers burden and overload their films with, which in the process simply confuse or are irrelavant. For that very hard to learn lesson alone, this short book is worthy of being read by all filmmakers.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars bought this for my studies 14 Nov 2013
By Dan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Arrived quick, second hand but condition was still pretty good. with all books it is about the content. This is great for first time directors looking to learn about the beat of a scene, juxaposition and how to shoot only what is necessary to tell your story in the most efficient way.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rigid, but important 4 April 2000
By Jonathan LeMond - Published on
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.
66 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "It's a good thing the people in Hollywood have no souls..." 19 Aug 2003
By J. Ott - Published on
" 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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book. It's worth it. 6 Jan 2000
By Grady Bretton - Published on
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.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short and Pleasing Account by Famed Screenwriter 22 Nov 2000
By rareoopdvds - Published on
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).
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hitchcock would have loved this book 22 Aug 2001
By GreatAjax - Published on
Those who think that modern orgies of self-indulgence by directors such as Tarantino and Guy Ritchie are masterpieces, might think again after reading this well written and concise primer on the craft of directing.
Mamet's argument is essentially that film is a visual montage of shots presented in logical order, that lead the viewer through the goal directed struggle of the protagonist. Every shot should further the immediate goal of the scene and the longer term goal of the movie. The director tells the story by juxtaposing uninflected shots one after the other.
His claim is that this juxtaposition of images is all but forgotten in today's cinema (Hitchcock would certainly agree). Modern directors instead rely on "making the shot interesting" regardless of its merit in the larger goal of the film. Or they rely on the actors to tell the story verbally. Or they follow the protagonist with the camera and ignore the benefits of montage to film plotting.
This book is a careful restatement of time-honored principles of filmmaking expounded by Eisenstein and adhered to by the greatest filmmakers, such as Lang and Hitchcock.
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