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Arts & Entertainment

Lies & Truth

David Mamet

Lesson time 9:56 min

Your responsibility as a writer: don't lie. David discusses how the audience comes to the theatre to hear the truth and how drama helps us search for the truth. He gives examples of conveying the truth from two of his most revered plays.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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A guy comes to the rabbi and says if I'm only going to obey one rule in my life, what would that rule be? Rabbi says don't lie. Pretty good rule-- hard, but pretty good rule. Because A-- if you don't lie, B-- you're not going to do anything you have to lie about. So I always thought that my responsibility as a writer and a director is don't lie-- that there is something called the truth, which exists somewhere in an ideal form outside of myself. And if I really pay attention, I might have access to some of it. And sometimes, I don't know the truth, but if I try to find out the truth, I'm doing my job. And so if I'm writing a play, it might take me 10 minutes to find out the truth. Or it might take me 20 years. But if I say no, no, no, this is not quite true, I can get by with it. I can cheat with it. The audience might even buy. It might even be successful. I don't know. But if it's not quite true, then I'm not doing my job. So it's important to me to tell the truth. So in order to tell the truth, you got to figure out what the truth is. And sometimes, that's a very unpleasant process. Curiously, the theater is the place we go to hear the truth. And the theater in this is like the religious setting. And I'll prove it to you. How many people come late to a movie? Nobody comes late to a movie. Everybody gets to the movie early. How many people come late to church and synagogue-- everyone. Everyone in the world has the same experience of for God's sake, we're late with blah, blah, blah. Don't change your shoes. Did you lose your keys? Get the car, I'll get the kids. We're going to church. We're going to school. We're late. Don't you understand? We're late. Everybody comes late. Everybody also comes late to the theater. My God, we got tickets to the theater. We're late, blah, blah, blah. We're not going to get there. But nobody comes late to the movies. Why-- because the movies don't challenge them. The church, the synagogue, and the theater challenges them so deeply, because there is a human need to hear the truth-- challenges them so deeply, they have to retain some measure of autonomy. I'm not going to say I'm anxious about the word of God, or I'm anxious about the play. They say no, I'm anxious about the time. Freud said psychoanalysis is the art of the obvious. It's hard to face the truth, isn't it? I've been fortunate to be very friendly with and studied with a great rabbi and named Mordecai Finley And he was telling a story one day about counseling. And he said this woman comes and says Rabbi, my mother has forgotten my birthday for the fourth time in a row. She calls me one day, two days later. She said it was so busy. She says she never sends a present. She says she'll write a letter a month later saying I thought I'd send you a present, because I missed the birthday and blah, bl...

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.

David Mamet is very honest and straightforward here about what's important in writing plays. This is invaluable, and just enough to keep with you.

Thank you for making me think. Thank you for your inspiring words, for sharing your wisdom.

Mr. Mamet unselfishly shares so much information, inspiration, and truth. This course has changed my life from depression and resignation to artistic hopefulness...when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Thank you Mr. Mamet for sharing the truth.

Hard to say. It was a very moving and inspiring set of lectures. I need to go back and review everything because it is so much to absorb on the first round.



Everyone in the world is always late for church? There's a lie for you, right there!


I keep returning to this class. So much to learn from it...and not just about writing.

Rory N.

would genuinely watch a Masterclass of 'Things Rabbis told David Mamet' - I find all of this fascinating, more than writing, these are notes for life.

Mon M.

you ought to live in key west....nobody ever comes on time to the movies ...LOL


Figuring out the truth is a very painful process. There is a human need to be challenged.

Pato C.

"Its a dreadful place to live (Hollywood), unless you're dead or something" -David Mamet

Robert Lewis H.

People don't come late to the movies because there are a zillion trailers plus you don't want to spill popcorn as you squeeze past patrons. As a patron I trip up late comers. So what is a lie and what is truth? Truth is what you want it to be, ditto lies. Take religion for example....bibbly babbly boo!

Mia S.

"The lie in Hollywood - Hollywood functions like Las Vegas, 'You're just this far from getting vastly wealthy.' 'My god, you could walk into the supermarket and see Blah Blah, and they'd say, Oh what a nice pair of glasses, you'd start talking, then you would be the producer on the new movie. Just like Las Vegas: the reason people who go to Las Vegas and get broke is - It's almost true. If nobody ever won in Las Vegas, nobody would go to Las Vegas. The fact that somebody might win in Las Vegas means everybody goes to Las Vegas. The fact that somebody might get lucky in Los Angeles means everybody goes to Los Angeles, and they waste their lives. It's hard to get rid of that addiction, because if you like being inert, you can live with that addiction forever. That's the lie, right? There's just enough truth in it that you can fool yourself into saying, 'Well then, that makes sense.' The old joke is, 'What, and leave show business?' In American Buffalo, the lie is introduced by the character of the antagonist. Everything that happens in a dream - of course, they're all aspects of our own consciousness, what else would they be? They're all aspects of our own consciousness, symbolized, and we're free to interpret the symbols however we want. Everybody in the drama is aspects of one character - the character is split. It used to be that the drama was just one person on stage in a chorus, and this guy introduced the deuteragonist, the second player - the antagonist, the guy who acts against the protagonist."

Mia S.

"What are kids best at in the world? Lying, right? No kid has ever told the truth to their parents about anything. We remember that - remember, we were kids. You can take a superior position and say, No no no, you did not do two hours of homework - wagging your finger a the kid, saying it's not true. Or you could suspend your disbelief and say, 'I get it, the kid didn't want to do homework, he's trying to protect his individuality. He doesn't want to be criticized, so he says he did two hours of homework. I'll parent the kid's soul.' What's a lie? Imagine you went to the doctors, and you had a procedure done and somebody said to you, 'Where were you yesterday? I didn't see you at the club,' and you said, 'You know I just decided to take a walk.' He said that's not a lie. There are untruths which are not lies. What's a lie? A lie is an untruth that's told to injure someone. We have a right to privacy, we have a right to embellish. As long as we're not injuring someone. In a gossip situation, we know that we aren't injuring someone. We're just gossiping. Similarly, in the theatrical situation, we can say things that - if they're internally consistent might be pleasing, but they aren't a lie, although in one sense they aren't 'true'."

Mia S.

"Freud said psychoanalysis is the art of the obvious. It's hard to face the truth, isn't it? 'Rabbi, my mother has forgotten my birthday for the fourth time in a row... she calls me one day or two days later, she never sends a present.' Rabbi says, 'Your mother doesn't like you.' It may be comfortable or not, but that's the truth. That's the difference from the psychoanalytic paradigm, where you could sit down and say, 'Well, when you were young, blah blah blah.' Now the question is, 'Now you got the truth; can you take the truth? What do you want to do with it? It's up to you.' All drama is about something which is hidden. Like in the story about the Rabbi, which is hidden is the woman is spending all of her time repressing the fact that her mother doesn't like her. The idea is, you search for the truth. The truth will set you free. It may be pretty or it may be ugly, but it's the truth. How do we know that? Because we have the capacity to commune with the pre-verbal, with the ethereal - love, justice, truth and beauty. They are out there, we can feel them, right? But we have to devote ourselves to feeling them and train ourselves to overcome the dictates of our reason. 'Wait a second, are you telling me that you're going to spend every Sunday morning going to church and singing these songs about some guy who died 2000 years ago and may not have even lived - does that make sense?' Yeah, it makes sense, it's called religion - it just makes a different kind of sense."