From David Mamet's MasterClass

Case Study: Structuring the Plot - Glengarry Glen Ross

David shares the inspiration behind <span style="font-style:italic">Glengarry Glen Ross</span> and discusses the differences between drama and tragedy.

Topics include: Plotting <span style="font-style:italic">Glengarry Glen Ross</span>


David shares the inspiration behind <span style="font-style:italic">Glengarry Glen Ross</span> and discusses the differences between drama and tragedy.

Topics include: Plotting <span style="font-style:italic">Glengarry Glen Ross</span>

David Mamet

Teaches Dramatic Writing

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I was working in a real estate office in Chicago in what was called the boiler room. For those of you that have never had the experience, a boiler room, you're subject to it. But most of you haven't done it. If somebody calls up and says, hi, Mr. Sanchez, this is Oscar Levine. I'm with Rex Carpeting. We're having a special offer on carpeting today, and I got your name from duh-duh-duh. And you give this pitch in order to set up what's called a sit. You're trying to get-- I think that they're now automated, most of them. But in the old days, they were real live people. I was one of them. I tried to sell land over the telephone. I sold carpets over the telephone. What they call cold calling, which is they give you a phone book, and they say here. These are not leads. Nobody has qualified them. They're just people. See what you can do. And it's real hard work. And I found it very grueling, because, A, I'm lazy, and B, I have a conscience. So I'm working in this office, and I'm listening to these guys, and I'm out at a-- we all went to the Chinese restaurant every night. And I'm listening to guys in the next booth talking about something or other. And all these guys-- I mean, it was fraudulent land sales. I mean, it was 6 to 5 and pick 'em, whether it was actually a crime or not. But these guys were all genius salesmen, stroke crooks, stroke confidence men. And I'm listening into the next booth. And I'm thinking, wow, that's really cool that I can just over here a little bit of this conversation next booth. I don't quite know what they're talking about. But they're so intent. I'm going to listen harder. I think we've all have this experience, right? So this should teach you, if nothing else does, don't write exposition, don't write narration, because you want to start a story, as the Romans said, in the middle. So well, what the hell's going on now? Just as you do when you come to the bar, and there's a thing on the television, and you say, give me a glass of water, or a-- what do you call it-- a whistle pig of straight white whiskey, for choice. And you're watching, and you see two people talking in the show. And you understand what's going on. You don't need someone to-- you don't need the first reel. So the ancient theatrical wisdom, which is how do you make any movie better, burn the first reel. Take the first 10 minutes of any movie, throw it away. And you'll see this. Check it out. Try it. Watch a movie, and see 10 minutes in, 12 minutes in, say, well, hell, why don't you start here. I didn't need all this, well, back when we were young and the reason I'm telling you this, and Jim you know you are the head of this hospital. You don't need it. Start in the middle. How do we know you can start in the middle? Well, you know it because when you come to the bar. And you know it because when you sit at the Chine...

Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

EXCELLENT! His teaching style is warm and engaging. Lots of information.

He has a very unaffected down-to-earth style. Loved his philosophies and the way he put it forth. He'd be a fun guy to have dinner with!

I think with this class just as any other, there was little bits here and there that I found interesting and applicable to myself. And of course parts that I disagreed with for one reason or another. But as far as his timeline, and showing how controversy is important, I found Mr. Mamet's MasterClass to be very informative and helpful.

Very informative and inspiring. Sage advice from a modern, middle aged artist stumbling across the river holding his palette above his head... I am happy he is here.


Michael L.

Daughter sick - yeah, that's stakes and it's fine. You need a "why" and sick daughter is as good as any. Gives us enough sympathy to stay the course. Because he wants to retire with his sick wife to Genn Gerry reserve, but that turns out to be fake land (and he knows this) but he is desperate enough to delude himself into believing it's real - now that would be tragic! (he he)

Michael L.

The ACS lost NTP sync so now the RSA server isn't authenticating VPN. LOL. (And that is a real thing!)

A fellow student

"If you say, wait a minute, let's look at the guy, let's look at the woman's record, what does the politician say? 'That's cheating. Don't look at my record. Don't look at my marital infidelities. Don't look at the stuff that I have robbed. Don't look at the stuff that I have said. No, no, no. Listen to my narration because I'm telling you a story.' You can believe in their fairy tale. If you cut out the narration, it's easier to see what's going on."

Noah K.

But he didn't explain the ending, right? I mean what happened to all of them how each of them gained and lost. I mean I know Link was in jail but obviously that's not how it ended right? Like someone got the leads and some other stuff happened with Moss and Roma and stuff I guess she just did'nt bother explaining?

Penni L.

Really great stuff. I am learning so much. I think I have a gang drama inside a tragedy- only I am somehow writing about real life litigation to save the planet. Lots of characters yet coal still appears king for my lawyer hero of the tragedy. This is so useful to inspiring creativity and thinking about all of the story writing process. Every lesson has been eye-opening and poignant. Thank you.

Mia S.

"At the end of this long monologue, this guy over here says, 'Hi, my name's Ricky Roma.' All of a sudden we go, 'My god, this guy's been talking to a total stranger!' If you put, 'Hi, my name is Ricky Roma,' there's no reason it can't come at the beginning of the scene, except it's not interesting - where's the fun in that? The fun is, 'My god,he's talking about the most intimate things in life to a guy - he didn't even know what the hell the guy's name is.' Ricky Roma, we've been talking about in scene one and two - who is he? He's the chief salesman, observed of all observers, the greatest salesman in the world, the guy who gets the good leads. Now we see who Ricky Roma is: 'I understand why he's a great salesman, he had me listening to nothing.' He says, 'Listen, I want to show you something: This is a piece of land.' We say, 'We just saw this guy sell a piece of worthless property.' That's the end of Act One - we're introduced to all of the characters. Act Two, we bring them all together, and we start it off - the office has been wrecked. We see the result of all of this talk here is, somebody has robbed the office. The cops are here, and Act Two becomes: Who robbed the office? and the chaos that is brought about by the fact that we had started the sales contest, everyone had their job put on the line. As the act progresses, people start cross-connecting with each other. It comes out of course that the office was not robbed by Moss and Aaronow at all, it was Shelley Levene. He finds out that he's been completely duped, and ends up going to jail. The punchline of this gang drama is Aaronow says, 'God I hate this job.' Three scenes in a Chinese restaurant and a second act, which ties them al together. We end, we say, 'Life was just life that. What an interesting trip I just had into the world of real estate.' Just like we do in the cops shows. We get to go backstage - everybody loves to go backstage."

Mia S.

"Scene Two - the same booth, two more salesmen, they're bitching, kvetching about the leads - talking about how terrible it is they have this contest on that, if they don't get sales, they're going to get fired, but they can't get the leads. An edict has come down that the good leads only go to the great salesmen, because they can't waste the leads. At the end of the scene, Moss says to Aaronow, 'Know what? There's an easier way out of this: let's just steal the leads. Everybody wants the leads, we can't earn the leads, Levene's trying to bribe the leads - let's steal them. We'll break into the office, wreck the joint up.' 'No I'm not a thief.' 'I don't care whether you're a thief or not, I need the money, I'm going to rob the joint; if you don't do it I'm going to do it and tell them you helped me, tell me if you're in or out.' That's the end of Scene Two. Scene Three, there's a guy - we don't know who he is - in a Chinese restaurant, talking to a guy in the next booth. He's talking about train compartments and sex and life and philosophy - we don't know what the hell he's talking about, we don't know why he's talking to this guy, but we're willing to listen, because we're intrigued. Not because we've been informed, but because we've been intrigued. Narration is informing people; nobody cares. They'll accept it - 'Yeah, I get it.' Almost all politics is narration: 'Let me tell you a few things about myself, let me tell you what I'm going to do.' If you notice, politicians point their finger a lot, both sides. They're in effect saying, 'Those guys over there, they're the bad guys, we're the good guys; let me tell you.' If you say, 'Wait a second, let's look at the guy, the woman's record, what's the politician going to say? 'That's cheating! Don't look at my record, don't look at my marital infidelities, the stuff that I've robbed, stuff that I've said - no no! Listen to my narration, because I'm telling you a story. You can believe in this fairy tale.' If you cut out the narration, it's easier to see what's going on."

Mia S.

"Computers in a movie are the equivalent of cigarettes in the theater of the old days. You could block anything (blocking is getting people from one part of the stage to the other) - it's very important to move people around the stage, because if you guys are the audience, I may be talking to somebody whose back is to you but at some point, she's going to want to be talking to me, so at some point I've got to move so that she can be talking to you. We can't move a camera on a stage. You're set. In the old days, you could always block - you could move anybody by having them go get a cigarette. The computer is the - if you don't know how to move the thing forward in the movie, you can always go to the computer. 'Oh look, here's a piece of information we didn't know.' You just took the movie out of it. Chuck Jones - Daffy, Bugs Bunny - 'You can't have a character who can do everything. If the character can do everything, the audience loses interest.' Superman has to have kryptonite, or he doesn't exist. If Superman can do *anything* - who cares? We can't identify with somebody who can do anything. Narration: what can you do without narration? If you say, 'I'm going to have one piece of narration in this movie, this play, you can tax yourself to be sufficiently interesting so that the audience will play along with you, but you also have to be sufficiently honorable that you're not going to disappoint them by leaving them saying, 'What the hell's going on?' In the first scene, we understand that the leads are so important. What do we know? He wants the leads - that's all we know in Scene One. He's gotta get the leads. Why? His daughter's sick. OK, gimme a break."

Mia S.

"Glengarry Glen Ross is an exercise, to me, in character. One gets to know people from knowing their character, from watching what they do we determine what their character is: 'Are they good? Bad? Reliable?' We determine this also in listening to somebody tell a joke; if they tell a joke, the joke is good, they tell the next joke - however bizarre the joke is, we'll listen along because we know their character - we know they're going to get to a punchline. We'll play along, we're going to give them the benefit of the doubt. The same thing is true when the audience is watching a play. If they know that eventually you're going to get to a punchline, they'll play along. They'll say, 'Wait a second, I don't quite understand, but I know I'm in good hands, I know he's taking me somewhere, so I'll listen.' The first scene is these two guys in a booth talking about leads, who the hell knows what leads are? The audience doesn't know, but the guys know. The other guy doesn't want to give him the leads. Little by little, we begin to understand through their dialogue that leads are indications of who might be a good prospect to be sold this stuff - what is this stuff? It's land. We don't start off by narrating what's going to happen, we start in the middle of two guys talking about something we don't understand. But the one guy is so intent on getting these leads, that we'll go along with him, and at the end, we've found out what the deal is, not because we were told, not because somebody spoon-fed it to us with a shovel. If you notice, most dramas have (and all the action movies) have a big computer room scene, where people are always talking about, 'Oh my god, we got a bad reading of the ADS-SP2!' Who cares? 'I've got a bad reading on the machine,' get on with it; we don't need to give the machine a name and then explain what the name means, because for whom are we explaining it? The purpose of the audience. They don't care. They want to know what's happening. We'll assume that the machine can do anything, because that's what computers do in a movie."

Mia S.

"Drama does not result in the reversal of the situation and recognition. Things are changed somewhat, and we're given a s lice of life - certain things happen, and we leave not full of fear and pity, but saying, 'Isn't life just like that?' By this definition, 'Death of a Salesman' is not a tragedy, it's a drama. 'All My Sons' is a tragedy. Glengarry Glen Ross is a kind of 20th-century form called the gang drama. As we see in the tragedy, everything is an aspect of the hero: Donny is the protagonist, the antagonist, Teach, is his yetza hara, his dark side, or Thanatos, as Freud would say; and the other side he's taken care of is - it's been split off from the hero - is the son, the part which deserves compassion. In a gang drama, rather than having one protagonist, you have many. Gang dramas usually deal with professions. Almost all drama - in fact I think all drama on television - is gang drama: it's cops or it's lawyers or crooks, medical people. Those are all gang dramas. It started in the 20th century I believe, with Elmer Rice, a play called 'Street Scene,' and Sidney Kingsley (check out these plays, they're great, made great movies too), 'Men in White' - the quintessential doctor drama, and Detective Story, the quintessential detective drama. Clare Boothe Luce wrote 'The Women,' women stuck in a hotel in Reno awaiting their divorce."