On Directing Film


Book Review - David Mamet says, "You always want to tell a story in cuts. Which is to say, through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected." On Directing Film is a short and straightforward book, one that gives practical insight into the art of film directing. I really enjoyed this book, so much so that after I finished it I wanted to reread it immediately to make sure everything had sunk in. Most notable was the absence of blather about artistic expression and finding one's voice, subjects that fill chapters of lesser books on the subject. In its place, Mamet explains techniques and sets forth rules that every prospective director must master, and emphasizes doing rather than thinking about doing throughout. For example, "The purpose of technique is to free the unconscious. If you follow the rules ploddingly, they will allow your unconscious to be free. That's true creativity. If not, you will be fettered by your conscious mind. Because the conscious mind always wants to be liked and interesting. The conscious mind is going to suggest the obvious, the cliché, because these things offer the security of having succeeded in the past. Only the mind that has been taken off itself and put on a task is allowed true creativity."

Mamet says, "Screenwriting is a craft based on logic. It consists of the assiduous application of several very basic questions: What does the hero want? What hinders him from getting it? What happens if he does not get it?" It is a fascinating art form. But even if you're not particularly interested in film, this book is worth reading because underlying an exposition of the rules and principals of film making, Mamet is getting at more basic "lessons" valuable in any trade. He says, "If you're correct in the small things, the smallest of which in this case is the choice of a single uninflected shot, then you will be correct in the larger things. And then your film will be as correct and as ordered and as well-intentioned as you are. . . especially under conditions of great stress, you have to know your trade . . . the task of any artist is not to learn many, many techniques but to learn the most simple technique perfectly." Also, it's only 107 pages.