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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's the Beat? - Go to the door, try the door, sit down.

“What’s the beat?” David Mamet (playwright, screenwriter and director) asks the film class at Columbia University. In this case the beat is earliness. The objective of the scene is respect. The beats will show this. Earlieness, in this case, is about winning respect. What shots will reflect the beat? Three shots: A man walks down a hall; Close up of door handle being jiggled; The man sits down. That’s the beat. Now onto the next beat that we can compare the first beat to help understand what is going on I.e. the objective of the scene: respect.

Simple isn’t it?

Mamet thinks so. It is all about juxtaposition of images. Uninflected images. Now that I love. Uninflected images. Mamet is the man.

Listen to the man. “Here’s why the images have to be uninflected. Two guys are walking down the street. One of them says to the other… Now you, reader, are you listening: you are listening because you want to know what happens next. The shot list and the work on the set, should be no more inflected than the cuts in the little story above. Two guys walking down the street…one guy starts to talk to the other…”

Later he says, “it is not our task to make the story interesting. The story can only be interesting because we find the progress of the protagonist interesting…”

It is that simple. Carver knew it and Hemmingway knew it. I am not saying it has to minimalist. But you’ve got to know your objective, and you’ve got to know the beats to get there.


“Based on this, you tell the actor to do those things, and only those things, he needs to do for you to shoot the beat, earliness. You tell him to go to the door, try the door, and sit down. That is literally what you tell him. Nothing more. Just as the shot doesn’t have to be inflected, the acting doesn’t have to be inflected, nor should it be. The acting should be a performance of the simple physical action. Period. Go to the door, try the door, sit down.”

Got it? Got the beat? So do it. Take your pen, go to the door, try the door, sit down.

(Mamet, David, On Directing Film, Penguin Books 1991)

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