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What “Dramatic Writing” Actually Is…

This week I have some exciting news/updates, plus some thoughts on David Mamet and his rules for dramatic writing.

Here’s the news:

🍾 Friday Film Notes hits 10k subscribers!

When I first committed to writing these weekly newsletters at the beginning of the year, this only went out to about 6,500 of you, and many promptly unsubscribed. 😂

At first I was unsure if anyone would even care to read these, but the response has been so warm, and getting to watch it slowly grow feels like the early days of my YouTube channel.

More importantly, FFN has been so helpful for developing ideas to explore further on the channel, and getting to better understand all you filmmakers and your needs. So here’s a big thanks to all 10,000 of you Email Crew veterans and newcomers 🙏


✍️ The Instant Short Film Blueprint is getting closer…

Big thanks to everyone who pre-ordered my no-budget short film writing mini-course. I got all the lessons filmed and it’s in the edit right now. Super happy with how it’s coming together, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

To those who pre-ordered: I’m aiming for a June 24th release date, but you’ll definitely have it no later than the end of the month.

I’ll also be reaching out to you a little later in the month with an opportunity to be a part of the course, so keep your eyes peeled!

For those who didn’t pre-order: I plan on releasing this course to everyone else in late summer (probably late July/early August). If you’re reading this email, you’ll be the first to know when it’s available.


👀 I broke down your short films.

As promised, here’s a YouTube video breaking down the short films you all submitted a couple weeks ago. I will be making a couple more videos like this based on that first batch of entries, so your work may still get featured.

Please, no more entries for now! I’ll do another call for short films in the future though.

The response from this video was warm enough that I’ll be making this a regular series on the channel, so I can’t wait to dig into some more of your work.


That’s all the news. Now here’s some brain food:

What David Mamet means when he says “Dramatic Writing”

David Mamet is probably best known for writing the excellent play & film Glengarry Glen Ross. He also wrote a book on directing films, which I enjoyed, but I find most of his takes are way too black and white. There are plenty of examples of good directing and writing that defy his rules.

But for a glimpse into his ideas, here’s a memo he sent to the writing staff of his TV show The Unit.

It’s 3 pages of tough love for screenwriters, and I think in this case, he’s right on the money.

Here’s my TLDR summary:

Our job as screenwriters is not to communicate information and make things “clear” to the audience.

Our job is to write drama. People will tune in to watch drama, not information (aka exposition).

All drama is the quest of the hero to overcome the obstacles preventing them from achieving their specific, acute goal.

In every scene, this must be happening. And every scene must end in the hero’s failure or their realization that another way exists. Either way it propels us into the next scene.

For every scene, ask yourself:

  • Who wants what?
  • What happens if they don’t get it?
  • Why now?

The answers to these questions will tell you if the scene is dramatic or not. No non-dramatic scenes allowed.

What about all the information the audience needs? The writer’s job is to figure that out, deliver or withhold it elegantly, and still keep the scene dramatic.

Never have a scene that’s just 2 characters talking about a 3rd character.

Never have a character saying an “as you know…” message to another character. The audience sees right through that exposition dump.

Let the camera do your storytelling work by leaning into the visual medium. Show us things. If you can write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama. Narration, exposition, and even speech are crutches.


So what do you think? Too black and white? I think he makes a lot of indisputable points, but then again, I could think of many ways to write a dramatic scene of 2 characters talking about a 3rd.

Take it with a grain of salt and examine some of your favorite films through the lens of these rules. Does this memo hold up? If so, you’d better apply it to your own writing.


Favorites this week:

📱 App: (beat) for iOS and Mac

Beat is a free screenwriting program for the Mac that looks lovely. And you can get it on iOS too for only $13 for lifetime access.

The creator gave me a heads up about it, but I’m not an affiliate or anything. Here’s some more info in his words:

“Beat aims to be distraction-free and minimalistic on the UI-side while offering a ton of features for power users (especially on macOS).

The macOS version is completely free, now and always. To finance the development, iOS app costs just $12.99 for lifetime, with reduced prices for countries with emerging film markets. The philosophy behind Beat is to provide access to a professional tool for everyone, and not to make tons of money.”


💬 Quote: Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back and smooth things out. – Paul Thomas Anderson



That’s it for this week.

Let’s make some movies.


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