David Mamet

Lesson time 8:57 min

Every scene must contain three things. Learn what those are and how to recognize and remove scenes that are unnecessary to your script.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
Get All-Access


The scene has to contain an attempt of the hero to achieve a goal. That's it. That goal has to be part of a rock hard structure of a journey from a to b, right? For example, we talked about getting to the airport, right? The scene could be, I need the elevator to get downstairs. But the elevator's broken. Oh my god, what am I going to do? I can't get to the elevator without getting downstairs. Right? So this is an essential scene. The beginning of the scene is the elevator don't work, right? I got to get downstairs. How am I going to do it? That's every scene. Well, I better take the stairs. Oh my god, there's a fire on the stairs. Maybe I've got to go to the roof and jump all over. Maybe I've got to get a helicopter. But I got to get out of the building. There's three questions. Who wants what from who? What happens if they don't get it? Why now? You've got to be able to answer those three simple questions about any scene, about any play. Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don't get it? And why now? For example, when going across country, if you don't get to Los Angeles you're going-- they're going to shoot your dog, you're going to exercise a certain amount of energy in getting to Los Angeles. If you don't get to Los Angeles they're going to shoot your wife, you're going to excite a different kind of energy. So what happens if they don't get it informs the urgency of-- is the urgency of the scene. Is the scene essential? Not, is it lovely? But it an essential. Because if it's not essential, throw it out. And if you look at movies, there's usually a part, and it's usually the woman's part. It's usually the woman's part, which at point, about 2/3 of the way through. She's speaking very impassionately about what x means to her, whatever x is. And you're looking at it, and it's always overacted. And you're thinking, that's the audition scene. Of course. That's the audition scene. They gave her the part because she did the audition scene in such a way that was so predictable, that we understood that it was the obligatory scene. It was the essence of the-- but you don't want one scene to be the essence of the movie. You want the movie to be the essence of the movie. The question is, if you took-- see, here's the thing. The question is, if you took it out, not would you miss, it but if you took it out, would the audience miss it? That's the only question. Because of course, you're going to miss it, because you wrote it. The question is the audience going to-- wait a second, wait a second, wait a second. I understand the train's on fire, right? Now I understand that we're being bombed by Soviet Russia. I mean, I understand that the child's dying of leukemia. And we have to get to the next station before bippity boppity boop. But is the scene where she talks about her kitten? I miss...

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's class was outstanding. His matter-of-fact teaching style is refreshing. I'm going on a hunger strike until I can get him on the phone for 5 minutes. :)

Absolutely amazing and inspiring class Can't recommend this highly enough!

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!

Great, please find more film writers, I will sign up.


laura J.

God, I love this lesson, cuts out the crap and nonsense out of the dialog, he is so right!


Good advice.He said he was not an academic. All he can do is share his process.

Glen L.

Straight forward, no BS instruction. Mamet is great! His variety in life experiences helps to flavor these lessons. Very entertaining and informative.

Kristoffer E.

Who wants what from whom? At the end of the prolific 12 Angry Men, the story comes to a climax. «Number Three» wants to sentence the accused to a death sentence, based on little evidence. He tries threaten the other jurors to agree with him, but failing to do so. What happens if he or she doesn’t get it? Well, he has to admit that he is in the wrong. That he can’t win without any arguments. And there is also his own personal defeat, considering his relationship to his son. And that will echo in relation. (At least in the movie.) Why now? Everyone else has been convinced, each on their own premise. Number Three has to come to reason.


David has mostly been repeating his points in very similar ways for most of the course. A lot of his points only apply to the type of films he writes and not all of the other types of films, other masterclass teachers are better at not being so narrow pipped.

J.J. A.

I'm resonating with these classes like crazy!! I've lost count of how many times I've had similar discussions with newer writers / filmmakers.

Genevieve S.

Q: Regarding cuts and edits in general. I was on e told by an English professor, “your first draft is your best.” She is but one person, but now I edit like a tightrope, delicately.

Mia S.

"They meet on the staircase, they have a talk. That is an obligatory scene - it's useless and it's not the story he said he was going to tell. It's a story, but it's not that story. If a scene bores you as you're writing it, it's going to bore the actors when they're acting it. It's going to bore the audience when they're looking at it. Everybody is going to try to take up the slack, the actors are going to try to do more, which is the last thing that you want them to do. The director is going to want to do more with the actors, which is the last thing you want them to do. Scene designers are doing to try to do something interesting - big deal. Stanislavsky said, 'Any director who does something interesting with the text doesn't understand the text.' It's like the old pilot's adage: 'If there's any doubt, there's no doubt.' If there's any doubt you can make it from Point A to Point B with gas in the plane, there's no doubt: Stay on the ground.' You think it's failing, it is failing,probably. Try is out on the audience. You're no different than they are. If you're bored, they're bored. If you say, 'I gotta get this thing in here,' they're gonna reject it, because the audience - no less than the kid at bedtime - doesn't like cautionary tales. They don't like being force-fed stuff that's good for them."

Mia S.

"There are all these buddy movies that one sees about how much people have learned from each other over the years - how they've finally come to realize that they need each other after all. Those movies are - all they are is the obligatory scene. Who cares? Nobody cares. The people who were making it don't care. One of the most horrifying things I've ever seen, magnificent documentary, 'One Day in September.' It's about the Munich massacre, where the PLO came into the Olympic village in 1972 and kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes. There's one shot from the news footage of the time where the screen is taken up by a barricade, and the building is barricaded, they can see the masked terrorists inside, and then the camera pans over to the right and you see just on the other side of this wall is the Olympic village, and they're playing ping pong. Rather than the Germans saying, 'Excuse me, the Olympics are now over' and going in and killing the kidnappers, they said, 'No no, it's more important for the Olympics to continue. PS, we aren't going to kill the kidnappers because we're afraid of reprisals.' "

Mia S.

"The problem is that the difficulty is, it's going to cost you something. You've got to pay the price of putting up with their verdict. The verdict is - there is no higher court. You can't say, 'Wait a second, audience, do you know how hard I worked?' They don't care. The scene that you worked for 12 years on, the scene that you dashed off on the way to the theater - they don't care, it's none of their business, nor should it be. They just say, 'OK, did you do what I expected? Did you do less? More? An obligatory scene is a scene that doesn't belong. Like Barbara Tolliver, my cutter for many years and colleague - always takes out the obligatory scene, which is always my favorite scene. It's the most heartfelt scene, the most moving scene. She says, 'It's ruining the movie.' I say, 'I thought you were my friend and you betrayed me by taking out my baby.' 'Let me explain to you why everything has happened so far' is the obligatory scene. Most movies have them, they have at least several of them, where people stop and they explain to each other why they have to save the world, or why it's necessary to get this dying child to the hospital. We get it."