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On Directing Film

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,464 ratings  ·  151 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 ...more
Paperback, 107 pages
Published January 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1991)
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 ·  2,464 ratings  ·  151 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
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.
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
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
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 ...more
Patrick Grizzard
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...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.
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!
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
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
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
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 ...more
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.
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.
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.
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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."
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.
Shitiz Srivastava
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was really apprehensive when I picked this book because it was a really tiny book and it was pretty costly. However, being a fan of Mamet and someone who works mostly in film line I had to buy it and read it.
I loved how Mamet has written this book. Yes, there is not much content on this book but every word in the book is golden and will help you in your film writing and direction career more than any other book with 100 pages.
Most the content is written in the form of dialogues between him
Andrew Bacon
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: filmmaking
David Mamet says a lot of things I disagree with, in fact I think some of them are plain stupid, yet he is so clearly founded in his beliefs about drama, and so well proven in his field, that one can hardly argue with him. Mamet makes clear his approach to cinematic drama: tell the story without words, in as few shots as possible, hinting at the subtext rather than spelling it out. The power of cinema, Mamet says, lies between two shots and not within them.

A girl in a yard.
A pig in a fence.

Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: filmmaking
I enjoyed reading this book. Mamet describes directing film as a skill, in a very practical way and I will certainly be taking what I learned from this book to help guide my directing in the future. However, there are some things I disagree with.

Mamet essentially views directing a film as emotionless, believing that we derive understanding of the story and enjoy it best through the juxtaposition of uninflected images of uninflected actiNG - i.e. very low in emotion. Though I prefer films that
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
The thing about guidebooks for creative endeavors is that they tend to be matters of opinion. More than anything, the books are less about "this is how to do the thing" and more about "this is how (author name here) does the thing." And, since no two people go about a creative endeavor in the same way, this means that different people will respond in different ways to guidebooks of that type.

This book is no exception. It is an explanation of how David Mamet directs a film. As such, there were
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 ...more
Rory Tregaskis
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Definitely the best of these kind of books I've ever read. If you've ever heard things like 'show don't tell' but not been sure how to put that into practice, this book demonstrates it. You'll come away with a better understanding of making stories true and honest, of telling the story between the cuts, and the idea that everything should be more than the sum of its parts. For example, two shots that mean two things next to each other should combine to give a third meaning. And the story should ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A tremendously easy read.

Mamet friends quite a bit of the book as a script between himself and student. The book is based on some lecture he gave, so he may be recreating real conversations or not. Either way, it makes for an enjoyable read. It provides a good deal of insight into his directing philosophy, whilst still feeling quite genuine and down to earth.

Mamet comes across, as many writers do when talking about their craft, as a no-nonsense sort of person. He tries to relay his thoughts in
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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
“The audience can endorse the triviality of modern art, but they can’t like it.” 1 likes
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