David Mamet Masterclass Review: Is It Worth It?

David Mamet MasterClass

Scores for the David Mamet MasterClass:

  • Lessons- 9/10
  • Workbook- 8/10
  • Community- 7/10
  • Value- 8/10

Overall Verdict– Thumbs Up!

Who is David Mamet?

Pulitzer Prize winner, David Mamet, is a playwright, screenwriter and director, most notably famous for his screenplays for The Untouchables, House of Games and Glengarry Glen Ross.

Now with his first ever online class, Mamet introduces us to everything he has learned, and continues to learn, through his 26 lessons on Dramatic Writing.

With the addition of a class workbook, community hub and office hours for Mamet’s personal responses, this MasterClass focuses on the following:

  • Our need for writing drama to discharge our leftover energy and explore our consciousness.
  • What inspires us to write.
  • Structuring the plot and learning to let go of scenes that don’t advance the story.
  • How a character’s desire influences dialogue.
  • There is no perfect place to start writing, you simply just have to dive right in.

What is MasterClass?

MasterClass offers a wide range of online courses from a wealth of famous faces, including the likes of Parris Goebel, Alicia Keys and Serena Williams.

Most classes include 12-20 lessons, all of which can be accessed from a range of different devices. In addition, workbooks and member discussions are available to enhance your masterclass experience.

Today we’re taking a close look at David Mamet’s MasterClass on Dramatic Writing. How much is there to learn? Is it worth your time and money?

Pros

  • Lessons are incredibly manageable, ranging from 6-21 minutes, so can be viewed at a time to suit you.
  • The workbook provides additional guidance and encourages you to participate in exercises and share your responses on the community page.
  • The lessons feel very conversational. There isn’t a strong divide between Mamet and his students. He teaches to continue learning for himself, which is engaging and acknowledges you don’t always know everything.
  • David Mamet is realistic in his approach to the industry- ‘you have to stand being bad if you want to be a writer’.
  • Bigger topics are split into two or three lessons, making them more accessible and much easier to take in.
  • The inclusion of David Mamet’s own work and examples provide proof that his theories work in practice.
  • Mamet’s own experiences are encouraging. He’s felt every frustration a writer feels and this is clear from the onset.

Cons

  • Some of Mamet’s anecdotes distract from the point he is making and may add confusion.
  • Examples can sometimes become a little disorientating if you aren’t familiar with the story.
  • While a lot of the assignments are relevant and engaging, a few are vague and only achievable if you have a larger chunk of time available to complete them. For example, Mamet suggests watching a film without sound to focus on the major plot choices visible. While in theory, this may be effective to focus on plot, students may not have a free two hours to watch a film without sound.
  • With the majority of the lessons consisting of Mamet simply talking to the camera, it may be harder to engage and retain full focus.

David Mamet MasterClass – The Lessons

This MasterClass consists of 26 lessons, all ranging in length from 6-21 minutes.

  • With David Mamet sat directly in front of the camera, his delivery feels personal and provides a one-to-one experience.
  • Through his witty, and often dry humour, we experience the world of writing through his eyes.
  • Whether you’re a playwright, screenwriter or novelist, Mamet’s approach still applies. Drama is at the heart of everything written and produced.

Lesson 2&3- The Purpose of Drama

Following a brief introduction, Mamet focuses on how the drama in our lives relieves the burdens we have on our consciousness:

  • Mamet explains that the sole purpose of drama is to entertain. It does not exist to teach or reform.
  • One of our primal instincts is dramatising our stories for effect. We alter real events to increase their effect. Something as simple as waiting for a bus can be exaggerated to waiting for an eternity.

“The people who come to the theatre don’t come to be taught, they come to be entertained. If you’re not entertaining them, you’re not doing your job.”

While the concept David Mamet applies here is accurate- we have been telling stories for as long as we have lived, that isn’t to say these stories don’t teach us anything. In fact, many writers would argue the opposite.

Mamet also contradicts himself slightly. He holds that…

“How do we examine our sole? One way is drama – being relieved of the burden of our consciousness.”

The suggestion that drama has the ability to relieve questions in our consciousness is fair, though this creates a little confusion. Surely if drama does this, and examines our sole, it is teaching us something?

Lesson 4&5 – Dramatic Rules

Within these two lessons in the David Mamet MasterClass, Mamet explores how Aristotle’s Poetics can be used as a guide to keeping your story simple. If you aren’t familiar with Aristotle’s work, this can be a little confusing.

Mamet also references Hemingway’s ideal that…

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

In response, Mamet states…

“When you’re writing, there’s two things you’ll be going through. One of them is this will kill them, and the other is this will kill me too.”

The acknowledgement from David Mamet that writing is hard is encouraging, especially for new writers. He maintains that it is meant to be a struggle.

Mamet also provides guidance on how to cut your script:

  • Take out anything that isn’t plot.
  • If you think you might cut it at some point, cut it now.
  • Even if it’s your favourite scene, if it stops the progression of the story, cut it!

The clear positive here is that while some may consider this a harsh view, it’s an incredibly realistic one. Mamet is honest about the industry and the need to keep the audience engaged.

Lesson 6&7- Story Ideas and Characters

When exploring the concept of story ideas and how to formulate them, Mamet expresses how relevant our own life experiences are to our writing.

In response to…

“Should I write about my own experiences? Well. What choice do you have?”

Mamet holds that…

“I’m not trying to make a point. I’m just trying to get the voices in my head to shut up.”

This is an incredibly interesting point. Whether a writer intends to or not, their own life experiences will always influence what they write and create. Mamet also provides some key examples of times in his life that have fascinated him and inspired him to write.

Within the character lesson, Mamet focuses on the following things:

  • Character is action.
  • There is no such thing as character. They are simply just what they do.
  • Give all of your characters an objective.
  • Creating backstory is just an excuse to keep you from actually writing.

While some of these views contradict many views within the industry, it’s a refreshing and justified take. A writer could in fact spend three months creating a detailed backstory for their character, only for a small fraction of it to influence the story.

It is fair to argue that a backstory enables a writer to understand their character and their motives more effectively. That three months is still three months that a writer could explore their character through the story itself by actually writing.

Lesson 6-12 – Plot, Structuring Plot and Case Studies

In the next section of the David Mamet MasterClass, Mamet defines what he believes plot is:

  • Plot is all that there is.
  • The perfect example of plot is the joke. Within a joke, there is nothing that doesn’t work toward the punchline.
  • The same should go for a plot, if it doesn’t work toward the punchline, take it out.

To explain his approach to strutting the plot and how to connect plot points, David Mamet states…

“To craft a plot. It feels dreadful.”

Again, it is encouraging to see such a successful writer struggle with writing itself. His acknowledgement that writing is hard is engaging and relatable.

Mamet also explores two works of his own as case studies for structuring the plot:

One key positive here is proof that Mamet’s theory works. By using both a play and a screenplay as an example, it is clear that his process is applicable for both.

The use of diagrams also provides a visual to highlight his key points and makes them incredibly clear. It’s always about getting to that punchline!

Lesson 13&18 – Dialogue, Narration, Exposition, Scenes & Writing Process

David Mamet teaches the following on dialogue:

  • Focus on the rhythm of dialogue. He uses the example of Shakespeare, who wrote in the rhythm of everyday speech.
  • Dialogue comes from what a character wants. If the dialogue isn’t being used to get the character something, then it’s bad dialogue.
  • You don’t need dialogue to hold an audience’s attention, which is clear from the success of translated and dubbed work.

Mamet encourages listening to those around you to influence dialogue, especially those of different cultures, though it may have been beneficial to hear some specific examples of how this can translate into his own work.

In terms of Narration and Exposition, Mamet emphasis further that a dramatists job is to entertain, and not bore an audience. Hence:

  • Mamet advises against using narration and montages. If you have to use them, it suggests something may be wrong with your script.
  • If you narrate, an audience will understand, but they won’t necessarily be interested.

The positive here is that Mamet acknowledges many writers provide the audience with too much. He himself provides examples of times he has written something he believed was great, only to see it in a rehearsal room and realise it was completely over-written.

“When the lights go down, you got their attention. Can you keep it?”

Lesson 19-23 – Audience, Lies & Truth

Mamet’s attitude to an audience is practical and accurate- they’re the ones paying to be entertained, so they should be entertained. His concept that you cannot learn how to write drama without writing plays, performing them and being mortified is encouraging. Writers have to fail to know how to succeed.

“The audiences journey, the hero’s journey, and the writer’s journey are all the same.”

When exploring lies and truth in relation to an audience, Mamet states that…

“My responsibility as a writer is don’t lie.”

Mamet also uses two examples within this lesson to illustrate the difference between lies, untruths and truths. These ideas can get a little complex, though the anecdotes Mamet provides add more clarity.

Lesson 24-26 – Life of a Dramatist & Closing

In this section of the David Mamet MasterClass, when asked what the best thing to say to someone wanting to go into show business was, David Mamet suggests…

“Don’t do it. You know why? Because if they listen, they don’t belong in show business.”

To conclude what is most important when entering the business, Mamet believes:

  • You will get everything wrong- but you’ll figure it out for yourself.
  • You need to dedicate yourself to discipline. If you do, you will be rewarded.
  • You need to be writing all the time. You can’t afford to be inactive.
  • There will always be self-doubt but in the end, it is worth it.

“I’m not giving you any advice that I don’t give myself.”

The Lessons & Their Ratings

  1. Purpose of Drama – 7/10
  2. Dramatic Rules – 7/10
  3. Story Ideas – 8/10
  4. Character – 7/10
  5. Plot – 8/10
  6. Structuring the Plot – 9/10
  7. Dialogue – 7/10
  8. Narration & Exposition – 9/10
  9. Scenes – 8/10
  10. Writing Process – 8/10
  11. The Audience – 8/10
  12. Lies & Truth – 7/10
  13. Actors – 8/10
  14. Life of a Dramatist – 9/10

David Mamet MasterClass – The Workbooks

The David Mamet MasterClass also comes with a downloadable workbook that accompanies each lesson with:

  • Chapter Reviews
  • Take It Further opportunities, with recommendations for further reading, viewing or exercises.
  • Assignments
  • Note pages

With a focus on his theories and philosophies, often in line with those presented by Aristotle, this workbook provides a guide for writers to constantly refer back to. Summarising Mamet’s sometimes complex ideas, this workbook structures his ideas in a cohesive and accessible way.

For example, following David Mamet’s lesson on plot, the following assignment is proposed:

  • Choose one of your own rough ideas or concepts and turn it into an outline that is fifteen or so lines long.
  • From here, consider what was most difficult about condensing your plot? Did the exercise highlight parts of your plot that weren’t necessary? Did it ignite any new ideas?
  • Describe how you felt following this exercise and share it on ‘The Hub’ (the community page).
Examples of Take It Further tasks include:
  • Start to observe drama inherent to life eg. waiting for a bus. In what ways can you hyperbolise or exaggerate the story?
  • Take advantage of a free download of Sidney Kingley’s plays.
  • Read the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, Jon Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Edit one of your screenplays by cutting all exposition and narration. What effect does this have? How does it alter the story?
  • Listen to people gossip. Notice their speech patterns, the way they dramatise and how their stories are received. Apply what you observe to your own dialogue.

With Mamet holding a great focus on actually getting your head down and writing, the exercises within this workbook enforce exactly that. The note pages with each lesson also allow all of your ideas to stay in one place.

While many of the exercises suggested are excellent for sitting down and actually writing something, some exercises are arguably vaguer than others and require additional spending for further reading and viewing.

David Mamet MasterClass – The Community

Throughout the workbook, readers are encouraged to engage in conversations with each other on ‘The Hub’.

‘The Hub’ provides a community space for users to raise any questions they may have, share their work and provide feedback to others. A few lucky users receive replies from Mamet himself, though this is found to be quite rare!

The space provides a discussion space for all users during and after the course. Many of the tasks set up within the workbook are directed to ‘The Hub’ for sharing.

  • The community is incredibly active and has been since the course came out. Comments from as late back as 2017 are still being engaged with.
  • Lots of users post in-depth responses to tasks set, a few of which have lengthy replies from other users. These conversations are very valuable for feedback. However, many of the comments posted have no interaction or replies at all.
  • Those that do engage in conversations have the potential to feel like part of an online, interactive class.
  • It is also incredibly encouraging to see other writers at similar learning stages to each other.

While ‘The Hub’ certainly does encourage discussion among its users, many of the comments posted provoke little reaction. It’s fair to say doing the exercises alone may help a writer develop, but feedback and discussion can enhance this further. Perhaps the community would be more effective if there was more engagement between each other’s work.

David Mamet MasterClass – The Value

The David Mamet MasterClass is worth the money because:

  • There are a lot more lessons than the average class on MasterClass, allowing Mamet to cover more knowledge and examples.
  • He provides a realistic view of writing. It’s always going to be hard to put pen to paper. Some of your best scenes may have to be cut if they don’t further the story. Everything goes back to gossip, and our ability to dramatise everyday situations for effect.
  • It forces you to focus on why you want to write. Even if that involves your subconscious mind.
  • An emphasis is placed on all aspects of your project. Everything should have a purpose and correlate to the overall ‘punchline’.
  • His ideas can be applied to a range of formats, from playwriting to screenwriting.
  • His delivery feels personal, and acknowledges we all have to start somewhere.

While the lessons themselves are informative, the exercises set out within the workbook may provide the most rewarding outcome of the class. Mamet places a strong emphasis on ‘just diving in’. Users will get the most out of the class if they follow this direction. Dive into the Take It Further tasks, dive into the assignments and dive into ‘The Hub’!

While the £170 annual subscription to the site is a big sum, it may be a more sensible option than a one-time payment for the David Mamet MasterClass if you plan on doing multiple courses.

An annual subscription provides access to every Masterclass on the site, which is updated regularly. If you ensure that you make the most of everything the MasterClass provides, from the lessons to the workbook and community, it can be worth the price.

David Mamet Masterclass

David Mamet MasterClass- Overview

“You have to stand being bad if you want to be a writer. If you don’t, you’ll never write anything good.”

The reinforcement from Mamet throughout that writing is not easy, and always requires learning no matter how successful you are, is what is most clear from the MasterClass. It’s an honest truth, and a realistic view to get across.

It provides encouragement for those writers that haven’t ‘made it’ yet, or are currently battling writer’s block. The masterclass itself is inspiring and Mamet is relatable. He’s experienced every struggle writers feel, which is endearing.

The MasterClass seems informal, with Mamet’s anecdotal style, though this can sometimes cause a little confusion and stray from the point. Though overall, this MasterClass is certainly worthwhile.

The focus on simply sitting down and writing may seem like a simple one, though Mamet is realistic in his ideal that someone can spend a lifetime plotting out a perfect screenplay, only for it never be written.

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This article was written by Georgia Bishop and edited by IS Staff.

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