From David Mamet's MasterClass

Character

David teaches you what character really is—action. Learn how to create objectives for your characters and avoid the erroneous techniques commonly taught.

Topics include: Character as Action • Objectives • Backstory • Character Change

Play

David teaches you what character really is—action. Learn how to create objectives for your characters and avoid the erroneous techniques commonly taught.

Topics include: Character as Action • Objectives • Backstory • Character Change

David Mamet

Teaches Dramatic Writing

Learn More

Preview

Here's the thing, Stacy Schiff-- just a great historian-- she just wrote a book about the witches in Salem. Marvelous book. And if you look at it, Salem-- right over here-- was involved in a mass hysteria for about a year and a half. And you could say, no I'm not a witch, but what you couldn't say-- and you might be able to get off. You probably wouldn't. But you might be able to get off. By saying, I can prove to you that I'm not a witch. I don't know how you prove a negative proposition-- you can't-- logically, but you might be able to get off. The one thing that would get you killed is saying there are no witches. Right? So the one thing, the unpalatable truth, is there's no such thing as character. Just doesn't exist. Where is it? Where is it? Here, go through the thing-- I'm going to shake it out. All there is, is the things that people say. Why do they say them? In order to get something from each other. Guy A wants to get something from girl B. Girl B wants to get something from guy A. That's why they talk. The rhythm of their speech is a certain kind of poetry, which is structured so that if each one of them is pursuing a specific goal you might even call it a play. But there is no backstory because they don't-- We imagine them. And here's a perfect example. We listen to the radio. And sometimes-- many of us had the experience of thinking, oh my gosh-- when we meet a radio personality-- I didn't think she looked like that. That's not what I thought she looked like. Because it's never what we thought she or he looked like, because we didn't think they looked like anything. We thought they looked like something, but we never had a picture in our head. And here's another example. Anybody have voices inside their head? I certainly do, and I won't shut up. Most of us do. We have this voice that's not quite our voice, but it's a voice. What does that person look like? It's not us. It's something. We think we almost know what they look like, but they don't have a physical being. And if we saw the physical being we'd say, no no that's not him. Similarly, these lines on the page create the illusion that there is something behind them. And that we can grasp it. We can write it. We can understand it. He's the kind of a guy who-- but doesn't exist. What we're creating is an illusion. And there's another way that we can understand, as Bruno Bettelheim wrote a wonderful book called The Uses of Enchantment about fairy tales. And he said the fairy tales work because-- one of the reasons they work is because we don't characterize the hero or the heroine. You say, a beautiful, young woman rode into town on a horse. We don't say, a beautiful, young black woman, because if you're not black it ain't you. We don't say, a beautiful, young white woman, because if you're not whi...

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.

Reviews

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

David's class was awesome. His focus on core ideas and storytelling made for a great learning experience that was truly inspirational. Thank you, David!

THERE IS A DOOR THAT’S MARKED NO ADMITTANCE. I WANT YOU TO GO THRU THAT DOOR.

I learned too much to put into writing (36 pages of notes) - if I wrote it here, I'd be here all day!

I loved this class. I especially liked how he brought in a spiritual perspective to it. Very motivating.

Comments

Jaume M.

Not sure what Mr. Mamet means by don't manipulate the change in the character. If character has to change, it is needed somebody to make things happen. If I don't have to manipulate the character I don't have to write.

Ari

This is a tremendously significant lesson. Often if I hear something that I feel can improve me, when I summarize it for myself in my own words, it helps me to own the thought. So my interpretation of what Mamet said here: Writing fiction is a process through which the words and deeds that I ascribe to a fictional individual in my imagination will in turn stimulate the imagination of the person reading the work or watching the performance of the play.

Glenna A.

Love his, dare to just bottom line it. Not so much rules as facts. I take notes because I learn and remember both by hearing it and writing it down. If this guy is b s ing I know I'll figure it out because he has urged me to think about it. This is good stuff.

Zach E.

As an Actor I was taken aback by this lesson as some of you also have. I don't completely disagree because I have known many actors making up backstory that is pointless and really doesn't help them play their roles any deeper or connected, but if the script refers to their past or your backstory is motivated by the text then I say its all spot on. The text is to be studied and anything outside of it can be fun to think about but isn't really helping you out in the long run. Mamet's ideas seem much different than I've every heard from professor's before so this course is very refreshing and it's always interesting to see how different people approach things.

Anastacia S.

Mr. Mamet is so good at taking the pomposity away from pompous writers. And making it clear to those of us who just want to write good stories that it really is as simple as that.

Michael U.

I loved this lesson a lot. I have been in those type of writing and acting classes where they make you create a full background and details for your characters. I know this works for many writers but I never got the reasoning behind it. I know not everyone can write like David Mamet but his straight up honesty that characters are what you see them do nothing else is refreshing and an idea I can get behind.

GERALD D.

I would like to have David reinforce his tips/rules/suggestions with an insert of a page of his script and/or a clip from his film or play to illustrate his point.

Matthew M.

Characters are defined by the actions they themselves do. I really value David's advice in that sense because as a playwright no one in the audience wants or prefers to see a bunch of aimless talking heads for 90 mins.

Jennifer

I think that having shockingly different perspectives than what I have been informed by in the past regarding character can be an important way to challenge our methods and philosophies. Mamet's philosophy is in direct contrast with my favorite professor in grad school as well as a "bible" of dramatic writing Egri's "The Art of Dramatic Writing," but that is a good thing. Just like a summer seminar that my mentor had to opt out of at the last minute, leaving us with another professor who completely shook things up and exposed me to a whole new perspective on my work. In the end, we learn, we consider, we're inspired. Some of the lessons have reaffirmed what I thought, the Character/Backstory lesson here pushed the envelope for me and that was good.

A fellow student

While I'm enjoying the lessons, I'm mostly shaking my head in disbelief and shouting at the screen. David's philosophy clearly works for him, but I can't say a lot of it is translatable. And I do love his films. But I believe there is character. Who we (try and) present to the world, how we act under pressure or when we need to choose between two options of equal value, says much of what an audience needs to know. What we are most likely to do deterministically and how that might change at times signifying growth or change of values is the core of character. It's not enough to say someone is a "salesman." Is he an honest salesman, or a shady one? Does he bend the truth just a little? Does he or his kid need braces and only we know why he's desperate to close the sale. Does he suddenly do what's best for the customer? These are all very different characters, even though they are all "salesman." We set up a paradigm that the audience thinks it knows who this person is and how they'll behave. Hopefully we'll surprise them with a character's new behavior or possibly an even worse choice that amplifies their flaws or makes the situation worse for them while we cringe. And that is manipulating character AND the audience. We want to control what the audience knows and when, if they are behind a character or in front of them in knowledge. Often, we the audience know something the other characters on screen don't. It becomes fantastic subtext when we see a character clearly lying to someone or manipulating them. A character may take an action that confuses us only to reveal later they had more insight than us at that moment or a plan to restore balance in the world that we didn't know about. As far as backstory and research, I can't agree either. In the feature I'm going to shoot, the only thing that allowed me to write a rich story was spending time in the world my film takes place in. I could definitely see some of my actors volunteering to participate in the place I'm writing about, or as least visiting there to meet some of the people involved. While it may be overkill to completely immerse oneself in a role, imagine someone playing a waitress if they've never done it before. Working in a restaurant the actor might develop a gate or posture after standing all night and carrying plates. Maybe they'll pick up behaviors to manipulate customers for tips, or how the wait staff might flirt with each other. Someone playing a soldier in combat needs to know about the 1000 yard stare. How would they bring these nuances to the role if they haven't researched it, or at least sat around talking about it with the director and cast. Film is such a collaborative medium that I hope my creative cohorts bring their own imagined backstories and wonderful perspectives to my projects.