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On Directing Film

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,928 ratings  ·  199 reviews
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 o ...more
Paperback, 107 pages
Published January 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1991)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  2,928 ratings  ·  199 reviews

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Oct 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
"People have tried for centuries to use drama to change people's lives, to influence, to comment, to express themselves. It doesn't work. It might be nice if it worked for those things, but it doesn't. The only thing the dramatic form is good for is telling a story." (p.65)

I don't know what planet this guy is living on, but it's definitely not Earth. I like Mamet, and I like his film House of Games but I disagree with almost everything he says in this book, especially his disdain for any film th
William Torgerson
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Coming from the perspective of writer first, I found a lot in here to think about when it comes to the craft of writing fiction.

The second chapter show you how you could just a small idea for a story you want to build (the student wants to impress the professor) and build the story via shots and beats just from that small idea. If you're without an idea for a short film, I think you could play along with Mamet in this chapter and end up with a solid idea.

Here's some of my fav lines I typed up:
Sherif Nagib
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: film
A "meh!" book at best. So redundant that he could've summed it up in a single article, and even then I would've hesitated to share it. ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: film
This book presents some interesting ideas on building scenes through shots. However, there are a lot of things to dislike about this book. First of all, two chapters are presented as classroom discussions. He basically shoots down most of the students ideas and forces them to accept his perspective on movies. The results are two very boring scenarios.

Second, he has a very negative opinion of actors and producers. If any of his students adopt his views, they will find it very difficult to work wi
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it
It is an apology for handicraft. The basic ideas are all sound, and Mamet's recommendation for telling the story in a sequence of moments that speak for themselves is quite correct. I also enjoyed the analyses he develops in discussion with students - very informative and useful. However, his foaming anger against artistic film seems partially motivated by envy. In a crucial footnote, he bemoans that the Great actors winning prizes are not of the type he favours himself. Might be the same with d ...more
Jun 28, 2010 rated it liked it
As short as it is, still seems padded and repetitive -- really the sweepings from a stint teaching at film school. Enough funny direct Mamet-isms to make it worthwhile, and a useful no-bullshit and absolutist summary of the Eisenstein/Bresson approach. The steadicam, and all it represents -- following the action around -- is mentioned a few times as a symbol of all that's wrong with American filmmaking today, because movies are made out of shots, and shots are of simple clear actions that don't ...more
DJ Yossarian
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: film
I didn't think it was possible to read a 107 page book and think, "This could have been much, much shorter," but there you have it. There are some good insights here, but they are overshadowed by Mamet's rants about Nearly Everyone Who Is Not David Mamet, and his interactions with the students in these dialogues shut down, rather than encourage, exploration and creativity. ...more
Jun 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Mamet's book on acting, True and False , was a rather audacious protest against typical trends of theater "acting" wherein Mamet verbally reamed the kind of performers who create "characters" and strive to make "interesting" choices. Stanslavski is worthless to Mamet, as are, likewise, method actors (I wonder how he feels about Daniel-Day Lewis!) Acting, argues Mamet, is about understanding what the objective of the play's text is and executing the obtainment of that objective, thereby commun ...more
Christopher McQuain
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
I knew it before I ever read the book, but David Mamet is MUCH more worthwhile in practice (I very much admire HOUSE OF GAMES and HEIST) than when he's theorizing, explaining art and the world to us and offering commentary.

If anyone was surprised by his big public coming out as a Glenn Beck-worshiping political conservative, they never read between the lines of the extreme, simplistic narrowness (very erudite and well-informed narrowness, but narrowness nonetheless) he offered up in essay-books
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: film-related
Mamet writes a short, to the point, book, not unlike the filmmaking approach he advocates. I wish I had read this prior to starting my Masters in film as it would have been quite beneficial. I learned more from this book than I have in film school thus far and will likely read it several more times. If you're interested in filmmaking as a craft, I cannot recommend this book enough. ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
Mamet has a limited understanding of cinematic language, modeled exclusively on Eisenstein. This coupled with his overconfident, authoritarian style makes this manual somewhat ridiculous.
Brianna Silva
Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
I actually despised this book.

Now, that's not to say that it's useless. The main thrust of what Mamet is saying is quite good; that is, know what the purpose is of a scene or shot, do that, and cut whatever is superfluous.

But many of the ways Mamet applies this basic principle I do not agree with. I think that the main difference between him and I is that he perceives film as "design", not "art"; that is, that one should approach film like one approaches making a chair or a house, not like one
Kasa Cotugno
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
While I cannot get enough of reading works by favorite performers and creators, I found this to be geared more for a serious student of the craft of directing. Mamet does inform that this rather slim volume is based on lectures and conversations to students in an advanced film studies course at Columbia, but for the lay person, there was rather too much technical content to make it fully engaging or even revealing about Mamet as a person.
Feb 08, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I haven’t hated a book like this since I was knee-deep in Rushdie, lmao. Three things:

1. Mamet hates “modern art.” He believes that he understands the only successful way to tell stories for the only reason there is, which is, simply, “because”. Of course, this very “basic” way to tell a story is the hero’s journey, Freytag’s phallic pyramid. There is no reason to include anything not pertinent to advancing the plot. This isn’t wisdom, it’s sophistry! Stripping away context from why we do someth
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I think if there is one word I would use to describe this it would be 'reductionist'. He abstracts and reduces everything into simple cynical package.
For example, people are reduced to 'What they want'- as if you can strip a person down to this.
Theres also an arrogant air to the writing, he speaks as if his opinions are facts. Furthermore I disagree with almost everything he says and some of it is self evidently false, For example he says "theres no such thing as character"..really? (This ridic
Sep 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
David Mamet has strong opinions about a lot of things. That's fine. I just don't need to read a book that is constantly telling me that I'm crazy and/or pretentious for enjoying the films of anyone who doesn't follow a strictly Aristotelian model.

I have found interesting nuggets in many of Mr. Mamet's books, plays and films. In fact, I use "Three Uses of the Knife" in one of my script analysis classes. But this one only frustrated me. He's just such a damn jerk about everything.
Patrick Grizzard
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: filmmaking
As with most of Mamet's pedagogical writing, this is two-thirds important theoretical insight and actionable methodology plus a third histrionic whinging at the aesthetic excesses of modernity and Hollywood's heretical philistinism. But even when he's a pompous douchebag, Mamet is, admittedly, an eloquent and entertaining douchebag. ...more
Bahareh Mahooti
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cinema
I like the way he shows us how a plot grows and turns into a cinematic images. He’s good.
Chun Ying
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: film
While David Mamet is not necessarily the greatest filmmaker out there nor the best human being alive, and while the contents of this book are seemingly basic and redundant for anyone who's been to a film school, to be extremely honest, I'm glad I picked it up while roaming about in Eslite. It couldn't have been timelier that this book came to me at this hour, when I am struggling to understand the difference between being a writer and a director and how to, after having understood the difference ...more
Jake Guy
Nov 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The problem with this book is not that it is wrong, about 75% of it is correct about the craft of directing, but that it implies (I think it even says) that there is nothing else to learn. That the content of this book is the essential technique on directing. And frankly, it's really talking about the craft of writing and how that translates to directing rather than directing itself.

If you were in a pottery class and the teacher taught you how to make a bowl and said, "And that's it." would the
Tim Heath
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting look into what goes into movie making, if not a little above my initial visualization or understanding. Let's see what happens! ...more
Marc Hampson
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"If a person's objective is truly - and you don't have to do it humbly, because you'll get humble soon enough - to understand the nature of the medium, that objective will be communicated to the audience."

This book is a brilliant study in taking the role of the director and bringing an idea to life through communicating a series of images - the shot list. It's a book on Directing, but I would just as much recommend it to any screenwriter as well.

Mamet works hard to stay away from discussing angl
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
P. 35
One part at a time. The boat has to look like a boat; the sail doesn't have to look like a boat. Make each part do its job, and the original purpose of the totality will be achieved—as if by magic. Make the beats serve the scene, and the scene will be done; make the scenes, in the same way, the building blocks of the film, and the film will be done. Don’t make the beat do the service of the whole, don’t try to reiterate the play in the scene.

P. 38
In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim
Chao Wang
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
The title is a misnomer. He should've called it On How David Mamet Directs Film, because that's what it really is. He makes the claim that the bulk of a movie is made before a director even steps on set, and then his or her job is simply to stay awake while the actors do their thing. He takes a very reductive, mechanistic approach to film directing which is ideal for his dense and highly literary screenplays, but most directors don't apply that way of thinking to their own work, and thank God fo ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Thought-provoking but also a little annoying. Mamet's metaphors don't really work for me - I'm not buying the comparisons of crafting a film to crafting shoes, homes, or chairs. He makes some really great points about simplicity, planning, and montage, but his tangential rants, while entertaining (he REALLY hates performance art) weaken his points. Also, this is very Western philosophy / dude-centric / arrogant professor-style and that bugged me. I know that's vague, but the lack of even theoret ...more
Michalle Gould
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Even though I disagree with Mamet's almost monomaniacal focus on the hero's journey, this book is definitely a great resource and introduction to some foundational ideas about directing film. If everyone directed just like Mamet, it would probably be a boring world, but it's good to think about why and how you disagree in order to shape your own vision. Also, it's short and sometimes funny. ...more
Alan Castree
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Took me a month to read a 100 page book...

It was okay. Probably would have had more of an influence on me if I actually finished it while at school, however I may revisit some of the ideas in my mind when writing my comics.
Nicholas Luckett
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
"Get on with it, for the love of Mike. Get into the scene late, get out of the scene early, tell the story in the cut." ...more
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Toby Buchan
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: quotes
Chapter 1: Storytelling

"It's uninportant that the audience should guess why it's important to the story. It's important simply to tell the story. Let the audience be surprised."

"The movie, finally, is much closer than the play to simple story telling. If you listen to the way people tell stories, you will hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by a juxtaposition of images -- which is to say, by the cut."

"If you find that a point
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David Alan Mamet is an American author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and film director. His works are known for their clever, terse, sometimes vulgar dialogue and arcane stylized phrasing, as well as for his exploration of masculinity.

As a playwright, he received Tony nominations for Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed-the-Plow (1988). As a screenwriter, he received Oscar nominations for Th

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