David Mamet’s memo doesn’t get old – and Star Wars too!

I was looking through old files and came across David Mamet’s memo to THE UNIT writers.

I can only imagine that in his haste to educate the writers, fueled by his passion, he slipped and fell on the caps lock. Poor guy.

All foolishness aside, this memo is a master class.

I admit that I’ve written the “two characters talking about a third (2CTAA3)” scene and while I agree with Mamet 99% on this, I do think there are uses for this type of scene. There are times when creating the legend of a character is useful and desirable prior to meeting the character, and that it can  be accomplished in the 2CTAA3 scene.

In Star Wars IV, no one sits around talking about what a “Bad Mother” Darth Vader is before we meet him. We see him in action, we see how he handles the captured ship, how afraid people are, how ominous his music is. If there was a scene talking about him prior to seeing him, it would cheapen him. Mamet’s memo wins in this case.

Let’s consider Obi-Wan Kenobi. On Tatooine, the hologram to Obi-Wan introduces the mysterious hermit and apparently, he’s important; “you’re my only hope.” Luke and C3PO ponder the nature of Ben as “a strange old hermit.” In the next scene, at dinner, Luke brings up Ben and his uncle says, he’s a “crazy old man.” That’s two scenes of 2CTAA3 and the mystery of “old Ben” deepens. Then the Sand People attack and Ben scares them off – what a conundrum he is! The audience, and Luke, have an assumption of who Ben is and it isn’t the powerful Jedi Master we discover him to be. In this case, we are misdirected and then re-educated right along with Luke, and it’s very effective and it call comes from 2CTAA3.

Lucas wants Luke, and the audience, to have the wrong idea about Obi-Wan. Themes of the STAR WARS series include, “all is not as it seems” and “don’t judge”.

David Mamet is one of the great story-tellers of our time, but to all things there are exceptions.


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