Struggling with desire

I have been struggling all morning with Adam’s desire. Desire is what Adam wants in the story. His specific goal. As Mamet might say; what does he want? The hypothesis I have been working with to date has been; Adam wants to save his sister. But this raises the question; how do we know when he has saved her? Does he get a prize? To simply “save” Christine is not concrete enough of a desire to carry the audience through the various twists and turns of the story to the end. I have thought of linking it to a location. If he gets her to a specific location has he saved her? Perhaps. But it still seems a little nebulous. His desire simply isn’t primal enough. It’s not a matter of life and death. This prompts the question; what is he saving her from? He is saving her from prohibition. Actually he is saving her from the physical manifestation of prohibition; drug eating insects. The logical conclusion to this line of thinking is that we will know Adam has saved Christine if she is alive or dead at the end of the story. So Adam’s desire is to save Christine from becoming carrion.

David Mamet’s memo

I like the writing of David Mamet. I’m not one for heroes but if I was, Mamet would be one of mine. Here is a memo he sent to the writers of “The Unit”.

TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT. GREETINGS. AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR. THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW. EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME. OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US. BUT NOTE: THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA. QUESTION: WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL. SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS. 1) WHO WANTS WHAT? 2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT? 3) WHY NOW? THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT. IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED. THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC. THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED. IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE. SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB. EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE. THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE, TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE. ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT. ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN. YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?” AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”. WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB. THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO *SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”. WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE. AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT. HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS. FIGURE IT OUT. START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS. LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE. PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT. THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT. HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU. REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING. IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA. IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING) THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START. I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT? ANSWER TRUTHFULLY. IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP. LOVE, DAVE MAMET. SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05. (IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)

I would really like to make some insightful comment. But what’s the point. He’s said it all. “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT? ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.”

Drugs as a tool

I’ve been reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the intricacies of giving meaning to their story. For those who haven’t read the book. Mr. Truby approaches story as if it were a body. And dissects it as if her were doing an autopsy. He has a chapter on technology (tools). In it he observes that within a story “tools are an extension of the human form, taking a simple capability and magnifying its power.” Why do I mention this? Because while reading Truby’s book. I have also been working through some ideas for major redraft of Carrion. One of the ideas at the centre of Carrion is that insects have been genetically engineered to eat drugs. Within my story they are physical manifestation of prohibition. A tool that takes the ruthless unrelenting enforcement of prohibition to its merciless conclusion. The physical destruction of anyone who takes drugs. With that in mind. I started to think about drugs as a tool. And asked the question. What kind of tool are drugs? This quickly becomes more complicated that one might think. It is all to easy to view drugs simply a tool to alter one’s mood. I have written before about the link I see between drugs and prohibition. In a previous post Why they won’t stop the war on drugs I outlined a paradigm that uses drug prohibition as a tool for social control. Certainly that is one function drugs play within society. But it is not the only one. I read a paper recently by Tammy L Anderson that points to A Cultural-Identity Theory Of Drug Abuse. While the paper differentiates between drug use and abuse. “The theory proposes that drug abuse is an outcome of a drug-related identity change process featuring three micro-level (personal marginalization, ego identity discomfort, and lost control in defining an identity), two mesolevel (social marginalization and identification with a drug subcultural group), and three macro-level (economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and popular culture) concepts.” Without getting into the intricacies of a theory that describes twelve hypothetical relationships that lead to drug abuse. It does point to another way drugs are used. As a tool of cultural identity. From my own experiences I can say there is certainly an identification between those have used drugs. And those who have not. You only have to look at the way those who drink alcohol. View those who do not. To see a shared identity works. Conversely in this instance. Because alcohol is a socially acceptable drug. Those who do not us the drug are the ones viewed with hostility. But this binary polarization of us and them points to the dynamic at work when looking at the way illicit drugs are viewed. Cultural-identity theory argues that drug abuse is a consequence of a multitude of marginalizing experiences. “The greater the number of marginalizing experiences… the greater the risk for drug abuse.” If that is the case. And drug abuse is a consequence of an accumulation of negative experiences both personal and social. Drugs becomes a consequence of negative forces that define those who eventually abuse drugs. And not the other way round. Which perhaps accounts for the vicious way in which the sober world treats drug users. There is a sense of guilt felt by the sober world. A guilt that recognises drug use is not simply people being somehow weak willed. A guilt that can not be solved. And ultimately elicits hostility. There is a scene in David Mamet’s film The Spanish Prisoner that explains the psychological origins of human cruelty. The key line comes at the end of Steve Martin’s speech. When Campbell Scott asks him why his employers will start to act cruelly toward him. Martin replies. “To suppress their guilt.” But this notion of guilt does not take into account the cultural identity felt by drug users. But that is the subject for another post. For me. And certainly within the context of Carrion. I am starting to see drugs as a tool of guilt. A motivating forces for both protagonist and his antagonist.

State And Main

stateandmainSTATE AND MAIN is David Mamet’s satirical swipe at the movie business. If you’ve read his book Bambi vs. Godzilla you’ll know he doesn’t pull his punches. Overall it plays like a speeded up Preston Sturges comedy. A troubled Hollywood production descends on the sleepy “small town American” hamlet of Waterford, Vermont. The production has everything you’d expect from a Hollywood movie. There is the egocentric actor, the infantilised actress, a duplicitous director, the soulless producer and last but not least, the neurotic writer. All of them striving to get their movie made. Now throw in a corrupt politician. Some sycophantic residents. Mix it with some underage sex. A pinch of vandalism. A swirl of Bourbon and milk. And you get the idea. It’s funny. And has the acerbic dialogue that is Mamet’s trademark. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.

Director: David Mamet
Writer: David Mamet
Rating: 15 Running
Time: 100 minutes