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Author Topic: Scene structure
johnbrown
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Saw this today: http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/03/23/a-letter-from-david-mamet-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/

Thought there was a lot of good advice here. Question. He talks about 2 things a scene that's working can end with.

What's your experience with powerful scenes in the beginning or middle of a story? Does it match this?

I see "yes, but" and "no, furthermore" in a lot of stuff I read. Or it's a twist on this that resolves a story line but then opens another one. e.g. Mr. Incredible defeats the robot the first time, he seems to be okay, BUT we get the "we must invite him back" which reveals not all is what it seems. It's a yes,but by solving a threat but posing a new strong mystery connected to it.


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billawaboy
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Hoooo, man, he went off on them. thanks for the post. Just read the original - there's more stuff for actors role, director's role, and writer's role...

You know I understand why all his movies are the same - one man MC bent on a mission, overcoming obstacles, until he succeeds. Movies like UNTOUCHABLES, RONIN, SPARTAN, or more recently, REDBELT (which i liked but ended kind of abruptly) are suddenly seen clearly in that light. Do you agree with his statement - it ALL has to be dramatic? every scene? How about for a story? (I know i made that mistake in a recent writing challenge, hehe)

I don't understand your question fully (esp the "he seems to be okay, invite him back..." (who? huh?), but i'll attempt. I think all powerful scenes have what he is talking about, but it doesn't stop there. All the extra stuff like 'realization', or 'extra info' can enhance the scene that has his 3 points, but should not be used exclusively as a scene mainly because it's not dramatic.

I think mamet was going for something very very basic. For fun I'll try to apply his methods to the Mr. I vs. robot.


1) WHO WANTS WHAT? 2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HE DOESN’T GET IT? 3) WHY NOW? (all must involve a specific and acute goal)

Mr.I:
1. Mr. Incredible wants to save the world, more specifically prevent the robot to get the infinity box (which cannot be destroyed) - so he must defeat robot.
2. Rather than feel bad that the world is destroyed, Mr incredible can't stand losing, esp since he's called Mr. incredible.
3. Has to fight now otherwise robot will snatch the infinity box and become too powerful to defeat.

Robot: "...Nobody wants him; they just turn their heads. Nobody helps him; now he has his revenge..." ahem, moving on:
1. Robot wants infinity box to destroy the world: they did not help when he needed help, even after he helped them - so he wants vengeance; but first must defeat Mr. Incredible to get the chance.
2. If he fails, those who wronged him will not suffer as he did.
3. Because they're about to launch the infinity box into the depths of the sun to prevent him from getting it (his body cant withstand the heat.) His only chance is now.

I dunno...was that dramatic? I did feel that Mamet's method does force you to make very specific decision about your characters' motivations quickly.

You know every episode of Law and Order uses mamet's methods to great effect.

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited March 24, 2010).]


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BenM
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I quite liked this, but most of all this little pearl which speaks to my occasional desire to have too much "talking" in my drafts...

quote:
If you deprive yourself of the crutch of narration, exposition, indeed, of speech, you will be forced to work in a new medium - telling the story in pictures (also known as screenwriting)

(and at some level, I suggest, also known as showing)


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BenM
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And, er, billawaboy, I don't understand the infinity box. Is there a new Incredibles movie I don't know about, or are we talking about something else?

If John's talking about The Incredibles, I think he's referring to the scene where Mr Incredible is taken to the island to test/defeat the robot the first time. He defeats it - succeeds - only in then being invited back we find that all is not as it seems. This then (I think) becoming the "yes, but" and twist on the storyline that opens another one that John's talking about:

quote:
I see "yes, but" and "no, furthermore" in a lot of stuff I read. Or it's a twist on this that resolves a story line but then opens another one. e.g. Mr. Incredible defeats the robot the first time, he seems to be okay, BUT we get the "we must invite him back" which reveals not all is what it seems. It's a "yes, but" by solving a threat [then] posing a new strong mystery connected to it.

[This message has been edited by BenM (edited March 24, 2010).]


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billawaboy
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wow totally forgot about that movie. makes sense

infinity box is a macguffin.

EDIT:

funny... I found an obscure novel from 1975 called The Infinity Box by Kate Wilhelm

Also

Through The Infinity Box self published time travel series by Ed and Ashley Maher written in 2007. The one review on amazon called abysmal and unreadable.

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited March 25, 2010).]


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johnbrown
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The part I'm talking about in THE INCREDIBLES is right after Mr. Incredible defeats the robot. The very next scene, like 15 seconds, is someone looking at a monitor watching him. We don't know who it is. And he says something along the lines of "we must invite him back." So we have a Yes! Then boom, something's not quite right...

As for the full memo, the link wasn't the full memo?

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited March 24, 2010).]


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billawaboy
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http://diablocodyisnotevenherrealname.tumblr.com/post/467060422/to-t he-writers-of-the-unit-greetings-as-we

this one seems to have the full memo - can't find the original scanned copy though. This might be made up.

another link with out the annoying scrolling:
http://www.movieline.com/2010/03/david-mamets-memo-to-the-writers-of-the-unit.php

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited March 25, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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I think whoever wrote that note meant that if two characters are talking about what a third character has done, why not show that third character doing it. (I'm sure there are plenty of lapses in my own work.) Good advice...especially in movies or TV.
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dee_boncci
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Well, I really liked that. Fits with what I like as a reader (or viewer) and aspire to be as a writer. Very much dovetails with Jerry Cleaver's principles, for those who are familiar with them.

My favorite scene writer right now is GRR Martin. He has an advantage of spending part of his career in television, so he understands telling a story episodically. What I like about his better scenes/chapters in Fire and Ice is that they are told from a clear point of view (chapter titles are the names of the POV character). The character always has a pressing need/objective once the story gets underway. The character always has substantial obstacles he is busy working to overcome. You never know what is going to happen next, and generally a chapter ends with some resolution but opens to a bigger problem/question for the character. Not quite a cliff hanger per se, but definitely leaving one hungry for more. And a high percentage of his scenes are successful on all counts.

It seems GRR Martin is philosophically close to the guy ranting in the link.


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