David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize winning Playwright, Screenwriter and Director, known for works such as ‘American Buffalo’, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Phil Spector’, talked about his favorite movie moments at the Rome Film Festival’s, Movie Talks.
Wearing a Borsellino hat as a tribute to Al Capone, he said:
“In Chicago, we like our gangsters, they are like legends.”
It was a treat for Rome to welcome David, because he doesn’t do that many public appearances.
“I’m not stand offish. I’m inaccessible.”
A man of many words, this is what he had to say:
On the movie business
“I’ve directed 8 -10 movies, written 25-30 scripts, as well as 25-30 scripts for directors that have never been used, but that’s making movies, unbearable trauma and a lot of fun. I’m fortunate that i’m of that era when you would cut the film reel and edit it, and stick it together to get the final cut, while drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. But times change.”
The Dramatist by Aristotle.
“There’s only one good book written about dramatists.”
On writing dialogue and directing
You can tell a story more with pictures than dialogue, so directing is a different challenge. But, I enjoy both.
Do you leave room for improvisations on set?
“Italian cuisine is the best in the world, chefs dedicate their whole life to the beauty of food. Do they prepare a dish then hand it to the waiter and say ‘oh by the way if you want to tweak the dish on the way to the table’. No. Because you made a masterpiece. It must stay that way. So, i’m the same with my writing. I don’t like improvisation.”
On Gene Hackman
“I respect him because he’s extremely difficult to get on with and so am I, if I don’t get my own way on set.”
On Sean Connery
“Sean Connery is one of the nicest men you will ever meet. I was on the phone with him one day and i’d said how much of a fan my sister was of his. And the next thing you know, he said to me ‘Whats your sister’s number?’ With that, he rang her and they talked for 30 minutes. What a great man.”
“Drama is all about lying, with the truth being revealed at the end. I am told that the guilty audience members are the ones who are the most moved. As Shakespeare said, ‘suspicion always haunts the guilty mind’, and ‘the truth will come to light. At the end, the truth will out.’ When I was directing on Broadway, I would watch the faces of the audience, and it turns out to be true.”
“When I was writing The Verdict in 1982, I didn’t want to write a verdict. Because I thought that would be too easy. Everyone would be expecting the verdict. But then Hitchcock when he met me, said ‘David, if ever you make a film about Paris, put the Eiffel Tower in it’. He made a good point.”
Working at a temping agency, 14 hours a day, he wrote a masterpiece.
Talk about art imitating life when it came to Glengarry Glen Ross.
After college, Mamet held a number of unglamorous jobs: he drove a taxi, cleaned offices, and worked at a truck factory. In 1969 he got a job as an office manager at a real estate sales office. The position was the inspiration for Williamson’s job in Glengarry Glen Ross, and the other salesmen Mamet observed in the office, would later serve as the basis for the play’s other characters.
“I was an out of work actor temping at a real estate agency 14 hours a day, and saw the sales floor first hand. I find it a compliment when people come up to me who work in sales and thank me for making such a realistic scene of the telephones and sales floor in what they call ‘the boiler room”.
Mamet returned to Vermont to teach acting at Marlboro College, this direction led him to one of his students, actor William H. Macy, who went on to become Mamet’s frequent collaborator.
Around this time Mamet started writing plays and putting them on with his students, before starting his own theatre company in 1972.
Not having much direction early on in life, he reflects, “I was a no good kid. I didn’t have any talents. I thought i’d end up homeless, dead or in jail.”
But, thankfully his talent for writing was stronger than that thought.
“The way to write a play, is to write a lot of plays. You gotta write a lot if you want to be good. The secret is to never stop.”
And, boy are we glad that he didn’t!
Photos ©Rome Film Fest