I want to create an ethos by which to work by when I am editing, something to reference back to, read and consider at all points of editing to keep me on the right track and not lose sight of what I want to convey.
That is when I found David Mamet’s memo he wrote to the writers of The Unit and although it is intended to be about writing, the majority of the points he makes can easily be adapted to a range of production roles and works as a good ethos to keep in mind through all stages of production.
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice:
“YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT.”
“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
“LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?”
“IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED”
“ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD,THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.”
Mamet’s key guideline is that every scene needs to count and be dramatic- get rid of any unnecessary dialogue/scenes and only include what will drive the story forward in a way which is compelling for the audience. Always remember that drama equals the quest of the hero to overcome the things which prevent her from a specific goal.