David Mamet’s guidelines for screenwriting: In a memo to the writers of The Unit, Mamet (the show’s executive producer) provides a short but master class in writing for television.
THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.
HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
Is there a moment in one of your plays that you really didn’t know was there?
Yes. I wrote this play called Bobby Gould in Hell. Greg Mosher did it on a double bill with a play by Shel Silverstein over at Lincoln Center. Bobby Gould is consigned to Hell, and he has to be interviewed to find out how long he’s going to spend there. The Devil is called back from a fishing trip to interview Bobby Gould. And so the Devil is there, the Assistant Devil is there and Bobby Gould. And the Devil finally says to Bobby Gould, “You’re a very bad man.” And Bobby Gould says, “Nothing’s black and white.” And the Devil says, “Nothing’s black and white, nothing’s black and white—what about a panda? What about a panda, you dumb fuck! What about a fucking panda!” And when Greg directed it, he had the assistant hold up a picture of a panda, kind of pan it a hundred and eighty degrees to the audience at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. That was the best moment I’ve ever seen in any of my plays”. —David Mamet
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