In Book, Mamet Is Bambi to Hollywood's Godzilla Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Hollywood screenwriter David Mamet talks about his new book, Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, and offers a glimpse inside the sound stage.
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In Book, Mamet Is Bambi to Hollywood's Godzilla

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In Book, Mamet Is Bambi to Hollywood's Godzilla

In Book, Mamet Is Bambi to Hollywood's Godzilla

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Open David Mamet's new book to almost any page and you'll find gems and grenades about the movie business. Page one. Films, which began as carnival entertainments, merchandising novelty, seem to have come full circle. The day of the dramatic script is ending. In its place we find a premise upon which various gags may be hung.

Page 89. Storytelling is like sex. We all do it naturally. Some of us are better at it than others.

Page 191. The observed rule in Hollywood is feel free to treat everyone like scum, for if they desire something from you, they'll just have to put up with it, and should they rise to wealth and power, any past civility shown toward them will either be forgotten or remembered as some aberrant and contemptible display of weakness.

The author knows his subject. Though best known as a playwright, David Mamet has written and directed movies for 30 years and distilled what he's learned in "Bambi Meets Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business."

Later in the hour, the contest to select the world's worst sound. The nominees include soup-slurping, nail-clipping, and yes, chalk on a blackboard.

But first, David Mamet joins us. If you want to know how to write screenplay, if there is such a good thing as a good producer, or why his list of perfect movies includes "Galaxy Quest," give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is David Mamet joins us from our bureau in New York. His many movies includes "House of Games" and the Oscar-nominated films "The Verdict" and "Wag the Dog." Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. DAVID MAMET (Writer-Director): It's great to be here, thank you.

CONAN: And in your chapter "Wisdom of the Ancients" you go through a list of first principles that all moviemakers ought to adhere to, and I'd like to go over a couple of them, if you would, and ask you about them. First, stay with the money. What does that mean?

Mr. MAMET: That means that we - when we say - or your wife says, oh, let's go see this movie, you don't go say, what's the theme? There are only two things anyone ever asks, is what's it about, and who's in it? That's all you care about, what's it about and who's in it. And the first one you ask is, oh, who's in it. The money is the person upon whose back the movie has been financed; that is to say the star. So when you're making a movie, you're going to stay with the star. You know, that's why we come to the movies, you and I and everyone else.

When we become theoreticians rather than audience members, sometimes we moviemakers forget that. But that's all we want to see, is what is the star going to do next.

CONAN: OK, next. Burn the first reel.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, all movies start 10 minutes too early, and here's how you know. When you come home and you go and you get a beer or something out of the icebox and you sit down in front of the TV, the movie's been on for 10 minutes. And in 10 seconds, you figure out what's going on. So what you want to do in a movie is throw the audience into the midst of an ongoing situation rather than narrate them to death to the point where they understand but they no longer care.

CONAN: If you laughed at the dailies, you aren't going to laugh at the picture.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, that's right, and here's why. It's because the timing of the gag is the most important thing in the world. The most important thing in a gag is the timing, just as we know when we tell a joke.

But the timing of a joke in the movie is based upon the cut. When you cut from the banana to the look on the guy's face, right; when you cut from the girl cowering in terror to the gun which is revealed to be a squirt gun. So the joke in the movie is all based upon the timing. So if you're laughing at what happened on the set or you're laughing at what happened at the dailies, which is the film before it's been cut, you're not seeing the finished gag.

CONAN: This is one of my favorites. Nothing with a quill pen in it ever made a nickel.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, I love that, too, because I've been trying to find an exception and I can't find one. I mean we don't want to go out on Wednesday night to hear some son of a gun say privy, you know what I mean?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: OK. Here's - get out on your biggest laugh.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, you don't want to go past the biggest laugh. The rule in show business is always leave them laughing. You don't want to get on the, you know, you don't want to say, Oscar, I'm a man, nobody's perfect, and one more thing.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. I guess that's right. And this one you cite - this is a quote I guess from Billy Wilder. What keeps them apart?

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, Billy Wilder was a genius, a moviemaker, a director and a screenwriter and a great theoretician, you know, kind of a wonderful autodidact figuring it out as he went along. And he said that the thing in a love story is not what attracts them. We know what attracts them. They're young and they're pretty.

What the question is always, what keeps them apart? So any narrative energy that you devote to why they like each other - you know, because she likes Thorston Deblin and he's just read Hobb's "Leviathan." Who cares? You know, we know. The question is what keeps them apart.

CONAN: This is David Mamet telling us some first principles about moviemaking. He describes them in his new book, "Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business." And let's see if we can get some listeners involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: And why don't we begin with Jeff, and Jeff's calling us from Dayton, Ohio.

JEFF (Caller): Hey, Neal, how you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

JEFF: And David, I must say, it's an honor to speak to you. I'm a big fan of your work, both on the stage and on the screen, so thanks for doing what you do. But I just wanted to respond to your throw out the first reel comment. It seems to me that some movies just aren't the same without that first 10 minutes of narration that really draw you in. "Shawshank Redemption" I think is a great example of this. And I'm wondering if that throw out the first reel rule applies universally or if it's limited to a genre or if you could elaborate more on that.

Mr. MAMET: Sure thing.

JEFF: And I'll take my comment off the air.

CONAN: OK, thanks for the call, Jeff.

Mr. MAMET: Thank you, Jeff. What they say in the movie business - and I've found it to be true - is how do you learn how to make a movie? You learn how to make a movie in a cutting room, because you work - everybody works very, very hard in the movie business because it's a very competitive business and because we all love it. And - but you don't really learn how to make the movie - even if you fight your way to the position of a director, you're going to make the best movie you can, and then you're going to take that movie that you worked so hard to make and you're going to go into the cutting room and you're going find that everything you thought was true does not work. It just don't work.

And the main thing is, everything is going to be too long because we're constantly humbled when we make a movie. We're humbled when we try to write it, we're humble when we try to shoot it, and we're humbled when we try to cut it, which is the three times you absolutely get to write a movie, because our good ideas don't work. The movie, like any great piece of art - just like a stone, just like when you're carving wood - it's going to tell you about how to make it. And what the main thing that you're saying when you're in the cutting room is get me out of here. Please, God, please, find me a way to lose one minute, one second, a tenth of a second, a half hour out of this film, because I'm bored, bored, bored. So what you learn in the cutting room is you start with a - with a chainsaw. So that's why you want to throw it -

CONAN: Start with a scalpel, end with a chainsaw.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, because once you've lost the audience's attention, they're gone. They've given you the most precious thing they have. They say, OK, tell me a story. As long as you're interesting me, I will listen to you. In fact, I will suspend my judgment and I will forget that elephants can't fly, right? As long as you're interesting me and telling me an interesting story, I'll go along with you. Once you bore them, once you lose their concentration, you're not going to get it back. You - in effect, you - I hope this is not overstating the case - you've violated their trust.

So that what the great moviemakers all did, what the good moviemakers and those who aspire to them - and I include myself - try to do is get the audience's attention, grab them by the neck - as Billy Wilder said - and never, ever, ever let them go. Because there may be a story which is theoretically good enough that I can spend the first 10 minutes explaining to the audience why they want to see the story, but I have yet to see such a thing.

CONAN: And here we have some quibbles for your quill pen rule. April in St. Louis, Missouri says there are four movies with quill pens that have been successful. All the Harry Potter movies.

And this from Aaron...

Mr. MAMET: Wait a second. April, that's very, very good. But I'm going to say that that's a little bit Sophist of you, because what - the meaning of - and I honor you for it - the meaning of nothing with a quill pen ever made a nickel is anything prior to, you know, anything prior to the Industrial Revolution is going to bore the bloomers off of them. So of course in Harry Potter, what they're doing is they're putting quill pens in an imaginary mythical world that may or may not be the present. But very good.

CONAN: And this from Aaron. Says Aaron says exceptions to the quilt pen rule -"Pride and Prejudice" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. Could you give him April's number?

CONAN: I'll give him April's number. Maybe they can -

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. Let them work it out.

CONAN: All right.

Mr. MAMET: We'll eliminate the middle man.

CONAN: We're speaking with David Mamet. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Donald. Donald's calling us from Burney, Texas.

DONALD (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. Mr. Mamet, I'm a huge fan. I'm really curious. You seem to be trying to hit every genre of movies, and particularly your use of language that is specific to "Spartan" and also to "Heist."

Mr. MAMET: Uh-huh.

DONALD: It would be the language of spycraft or of crooks. I'll take my answer off the air. And again, I'm a huge fan. Thanks.

Mr. MAMET: You know, thanks a lot. I think - I know. I'm fascinated by the hidden. And I think most of us are, that we want, a lot of us, maybe all of us want to go back stage. We want to see the how-to of those worlds that we could never ever enter. For some it maybe the military, for some it maybe the medical profession, for some it maybe spycraft. And in fact, I guess most of the most successful dramas on television are exactly about how can I be part of that special camaraderie, that meritocracy, that special mini-tribe of cops, crooks, Mafiosi, doctors, etc.

CONAN: And you're in fact in the - right now the executive producer of one of those type shows, "The Unit."

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. That's right. I did the show with Shawn Ryan, who's another TV guy, and Eric Haney, who's an ex-gunfighter for Delta Force about life in Delta Force.

CONAN: And I wonder, you have a chapter in this book where you excoriate the audition process by which actors are picked to play parts on TV. As you were going through casting for "The Unit," did you do it differently?

Mr. MAMET: No, I didn't because there's a very, very strict - this is my first experience on television, basically. I guess I've done most anything else in show business. And the amount of - there's a lot, there's so much money bet on these shows, and there are so many different levels who have to sign off on these actors because legitimately concerned enterprises are betting a lot of money on this and that actors. So first the actor's got to come and audition for the casting director, then they audition for the director, then they audition for the studio that's making it, then they audition for the network. So I got to see a lot of the ongoing audition process while having very little control over it.

CONAN: And -

Mr. MAMET: It's fascinating.

CONAN: It is a fascinating process. One point of which - we just have a few seconds before we go to the break - but you're on a list - a short list of people for the part and they hand you all contracts to make sure you sign your contract before you're chosen.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. I thought it was kind of interesting.

CONAN: Very interesting, as to who's got the power over whom and when they've got it nevertheless.

We're going to take a short break, and when we come back, more of your questions for David Mamet. His new book is "Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business."

If you'd like to join us, our number 800-989-8255 that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music from "The Untouchables")

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking to David Mamet about his new book, "Bambi vs. Godzilla," a book of hard and funny truths about the movie business. You can read an excerpt from "Bambi vs. Godzilla" at our Web site. In it, Mamet writes about fighting fatigue, the two-tiered system in and movies, and boorish behavior on the set. That's at

And of course you're welcome to join the conversation. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK.

In the introduction, I quoted Mr. Mamet as describing on his list of perfect movies to film, "Galaxy Quest." This an e-mail, one of many I should say we've gotten, but this one from Margaret Middleton in Little Rock, Arkansas. I've got some hunches and I dearly love the movie but I'm eager to hear Mr. Mamet's reasons.

Mr. MAMET: Well, here's the idea. I mean, the premises is spectacular. Here we have these guys, and they're all down and out - why? They had a show, and the show was a big hit. The show went off the air, and they've never been able to live up to their early promise. So what they're doing is that each fall - when we discover each, they've fallen into the lowest slough of despond. And they are signing autographs at some dorky convention for people whom they despise. They despise the people because the people believe that there's some reality, either physical reality or mythic reality in this arguably stupid "Star Wars"-type show that these stars have done.

Some of the people who show up at this convention are actual aliens. And the actual aliens so believed in the show, which was beamed to the planet Zargon or whatever the heck it is -

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. MAMET: - that they have founded a civilization based upon the sacred documents of the show. And the civilization is now endangered, and they've run out of ideas, so they appeal to their heroes, these out of work actors. The out-of-work actors can't believe it and they say no, no, no, take somebody else Lord. Eventually they're shanghaied and they try to get out of the hold of these aliens and finally realize what the aliens are offering them as a second chance at life, a chance to be the heroes that they scorned and to embrace the mystery that they thought never existed. And through tests what happens is they come to - they save the aliens and in so doing save themselves. And it's perfectly done. There's no extra fat in it. It's daunting and quite beautiful.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. This is Tom, Tom's calling us from Oklahoma City.

TOM (Caller): How you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

TOM: Mr. Mamet, I'm an attorney, and I also come out of the special operations special intelligence background. I want to tell you, you are remarkable in the way that you are able to portray with great verisimilitude how things unfold in a trial or in an operation and so forth.

Mr. MAMET: Thank you so much, sir.

TOM: Well, what - I don't know. This maybe so esoteric that there's no answer. How do you know what to take out and time compress so that you don't bore the hell out of people but leave in the essential things that allow one to know, I mean, a trial could be terribly boring if you have to see the whole thing.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah.

TOM: How do you - do you chart all of this out? How do you do it?

Mr. MAMET: Well, you know, I've been doing publicity for many, many, too many years, and that's one of the best questions I ever heard. How - the question is how do you know what to take out? And the answer is you got to have a plan. And what the plan is, it's called a plot. And all that a plot is, is it's the essential progress of the hero from point A, the inception of the story, to point B, the end of the story. "Joan of Arc," what's the inception? She needs to save France? What's the end? She doesn't quite save - but her story is done. So what you want to do, as Aristotle said in his wonderful book called "The Poetics" a few years ago, is follow the essential progress of the hero through what he calls a structure of incidence. Right? "Joan of Arc" wants to save France. What's she's trying to do is she's trying to save France.

First, she's got to find out where she left her slipper. She can't find out where - so she finds out the slipper's gone. Where's her slipper? Woofy the dog took it. So now that's one incident. The second incident, she's got to find Woofy the dog. Why does she going to find Woofy the dog? Because without Woofy the dog she can't put on her slipper. Without a slipper, she can't save France. So what you're trying to do when you write is to structure the incidents, sometimes called scenes, such that if you took one away, it wouldn't make any sense, the struggle of the hero would not make any sense.

And as you add another one, it would be superfluous. And I'm sure it's the same thing that you're going through, Tom, when you're trying to do a summation to a jury. Their time is so precious; you want to make sure that you leave them to a conclusion. You don't want to tell them too much, although it might seem like a good idea, and you don't want to leave anything out. So what's the conclusion you want to get them to?

TOM: Yeah, it's always - a trial is a drama that you're putting on. And what you're trying to do, one guy is trying to convince the audience, the jury, that his version of the drama is more, has greater verisimilitude than the other guy.

Mr. MAMET: Right.

TOM: So you do pretty much that, but you just - you always amaze me. Particularly with "The Unit." I have great familiarity with that world. And you really hit - you do a great job. I'll just leave at that.

CONAN: It's important to have the right words, but it's also nice to have Dennis Haisbert to say them.

Mr. MAMET: Indeed it is. Thank you very much, Tom.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Tom.

TOM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye bye. Let's see if we can get - this is Marleen. Marleen's with us from Overland Park in Kansas.

MARLEEN (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARLEEN: I think I probably miss a lot of good movies because the coming attractions totally turn me off. They're too long and they're too boring. Who decides what clips to take from the coming attraction? I mean, to use this coming attraction?

Mr. MAMET: Well, that's a very good question. And the studios all have marketing departments. And one aspect of each of the marketing departments is the department that's specifically dedicated to making the coming attractions, or the trailers, as they're also called.

MARLEEN: Uh-huh.

CONAN: So this is not the director of the film but this is a whole other group of people?


Mr. MAMET: That's right.

MARLEEN: I just - I'm sure they do demographics and things like that, but I'm really totally turned off by them. And for that reason, I don't see a lot of them.

CONAN: Well, there's so many that seems - after you've seen the trailer, you feel like you've seen the whole picture.

MARLEEN: Yeah. And then the few movies that I've seen, that I've seen the coming attractions, somehow these scenes do not even appear on the movie a lot of times. But thank you very much. I appreciate you're taking my call.

CONAN: Okay, Marleen. The one thing that you do object to, though, is not previous so much but the screening of films, the use of focus groups and selected audiences to try to make the films fail-safe so that the movie companies can put out hit after hit after hit.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. I object to it for many reasons. One is it doesn't seem quite supporting. But more importantly, it doesn't work. And how do we know it doesn't work? Because if it worked, there wouldn't be any failures. The - it's impossible to quantify the audiences' attention. The best that you can do is guess at it, because eventually that's what you're going to - really in focus groups, or you just have some guy or some woman sitting in an audience saying, you know, I like that, let's put darn thing on.

Eventually you're going to have to roll the dice. So that a lot of the attempt to take chance out of the equation takes life out of the equation, because if one guy in Somewhere, USA says, I'd rather - it would be funnier if the zebra was a mule, and then another woman in Someplace Else, USA said, Yeah, instead of Venice, could it be Mars? You know, and etc., etc., etc. If you start listening to them, what you're doing is - because there's an ineffable aspect to every piece of art and very piece of entertainment, which is somebody had a vision - the writer, the director, the producer - somebody had a vision and maybe the audience is going to - that vision is going to resonate with the audience. And you never know when that's going to happen. You just don't.

And eventually someone's got to have to roll the dice. So the question is, which would you rather trust? In the old days, it was somebody who had his or her money on the line. And so they were saying, you know, I don't know if it's right or wrong, but here's what I like. And today it's focus groups.

CONAN: Yeah. And you make a point, I guess as an anecdote you tell yourself in the movie - making the movie "State and Main," about people wanting changes in the script.

Mr. MAMET: Oh yeah. Yeah. Everybody wants changes in the script, because they can - and I say in the book it's like you're talking to the architect. You say, could you put this staircase over there. The architect says, well, I suppose so. And then could you put the skylight over there? Eventually, if the architect listens to enough of your good ideas, you begin to doubt his capacity to understand the structure of a building, as well you should. So eventually, get enough people weighing in on how to change a movie and it all turns to mud.

CONAN: Let' see if we can get Leslie on the line. Leslie's calling us from Kansas City.

LESLIE (Caller): Yes. Hi. How are you all doing?

CONAN: Okay.

LESLIE: You know, I just had to comment on the fact, you're talking about plot, it's so important, and it seems like most movies don't have much of a plot anymore. Why is that? Are the writers just lazy? Is it too much of a push to just get the big money involved?

Mr. MAMET: That's an excellent question. And the focus group mentality wants to take the guesswork out of it. And so you say to the audience, what part did you like best? The part when the hero wins. What part did you like least? The part when the hero loses. So they say, well, let's take out the part when the hero loses.


Mr. MAMET: But all drama is about a failure of expectations, one of drama is about. I think, it is going to happen. Oh, no, it didn't happen. Oh, no, I think this B is going to happen. Oh, no, B didn't happen - in such a way that we want to know what's going to happen next. So you got to trust the audience. You got to take them on the ride.

LESLIE: Exactly. I think it's too bad, you know, there's - I think there's a lot of good writing out there. And I was just thinking when you said, you know, the stars and the story are very important. But you can have that and have nothing. I was just thinking a story that did not have a star per se was the French movie "Amelie." And that turned out to be quite a hit. It was quite - it was a neat story in my opinion, but it was not something you'd look at and say gosh, I'd like to go see that. You know, it's just, there's always twist and turns and at all, I think.

Mr. MAMET: You know, what also, I was wondering about this whole phenomenon today because most - a lot of big comedies these days, they don't have a plot. And some of them are funny, and some of them aren't. But if you look at animated features, I think they're much funnier than, as a rule, than live action, and they all have a plot. And I've been trying to figure out why.

And today, it occurred to me the drawings are not going to do anything on their own. You can't count on the drawings to be interesting. You can't count on the drawings to be funny. There's nobody there but a sheet of paper. You got to make it funny, and the way you do that is by having a plot. But the same - but people may forget that the same is true with the live action film.

LESLIE: Very much so. I appreciate your work and thanks very much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Lester. Let's see if we can go to - this is Matt, Matt with us from Binghamton, New York.

MATT (Caller): Hi, thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

MATT: I wanted to ask Mr. Mamet, how he made the transition from writing plays to going to movies. Was it something where - some sort of journey of self-actualization or was it something where you establish yourself as a playwright and then said, you know what, I'm comfortable enough to tackle movies? And also, second question if possible, did you base John Williamson on your own experience in the Chicago real estate office?

Mr. MAMET: Oh yeah, yeah. I got it through the movie business kind of by accident because I admire the work of Bob Rafaelson, particularly "Five Easy Pieces" and "King of Marvin Gardens," and he was doing a movie of "Postman Always Rings Twice." And I sent word to him, he was in New York, I said he was crazy if he didn't hire me to write the screenplay. And so he called up and said, you arrogant son of a gun, you think I'm crazy not to hire you write the screenplay? I said, well, sir, in a fact, yes. So he said, okay, you're hired. So that's how I got my start writing screenplays.

But I never considered anything in show business a process of self-actualization. It's just - it's trying to put the asses in the seats. You know, it's a cross between running away to the circus and playing dollhouse. And one reason that it's - you have to start young, is you have to start when you don't know any better. So you say, well, OK, flying trapeze, I guess I could learn that. Juggle clubs, I guess I could learn that. Because that's really what show business is. It's saying, well, what are the essential elements? What is the audience looking for, what are the skills involved to get it to them? How can I master those skills? And as far as the - your question about "Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross," I worked for over a year in a boiler room of a real estate office on north side of Chicago. And most of the stuff you see in the movie "Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross" was inspired by the stuff I actually saw.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Matt.

MATT: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with David Mamet. His new book is "Bambi vs. Godzilla." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's talk with Keith, Keith with us from Buffalo, New York.

KEITH (Caller): Yeah, hi.


KEITH: David, you're a brilliant man. I actually work in a real estate company that's sold Florida real estate, like " Glen Gary, Glen Ross." So when I saw that I - your work just blows me away. I just love your work. My question is, I'm a fledgling filmmaker in Buffalo. I just finished a $75,000 film. I have a Hollywood script. How would you go about, if you were me, with me in Buffalo, given that script noticed or even see and considered in Hollywood?

Mr. MAMET: First, I get a snow shovel.

KEITH: A snow shovel?

Mr. MAMET: Yeah.

CONAN: To get to the mailbox in Buffalo?

Mr. MAMET: Exactly.

KEITH: Because I heard - I have a friend there to help shoot my film. He said he was in a Paramount room where they had all the scripts they were considering. And he said there were like a 100 scripts on the desk and that was it was there for like one month. There is a (unintelligible) going through their places in a month. Is that possible?

Mr. MAMET: Oh yes, more than possible, it's unfortunately true. They made, I think 250 movies last year in Hollywood. And how many of those - if you take away the remakes, and you take, well, how many of them were projects that the star, a writer or director wanted to do. And you take away how many re-sequels - they are making that many movies.

So the chances of you breaking in to the Hollywood paradigm are - they're basically nil. So what you wanted to as a film - what you want - but that's the good news. What you want to do is a filmmaker, is if you made a movie, make another one. Because here…

KEITH: Yeah, we are, we are.

Mr. MAMET: Well though, yeah. You're on top of the world.

KEITH: Big budget. There's a big…

Mr. MAMET: Because - well, why don't you want to make a big-budget film?

KEITH: About a $10,000 lunch. I heard that you can get A-list movie actor to have lunch with you for $10,000 in a suitcase. Is that true?

Mr. MAMET: No. You can't get A-list movie to have lunch with you at all, because you can't get, you can't even get to the mailbox - you're snowed in. And also, the A-list actors don't eat lunch. So you don't want to do that.

KEITH: Right.

Mr. MAMET: Listen, here I want to recommend something that's going to change your life. Ready?

KEITH: Okay, yeah.

Mr. MAMET: Here's the best, the best book ever written about Hollywood, a how Hollywood works. It's called the "Gilded Age."

Keith: Okay.

Mr. MAMET: By Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. And it's about this guy who comes to Washington D.C. with this idea wants to get this dam done. In his first stay in Washington, the guys, you just have to talk to this one guy and your dam will be built. And he's spent 40 years in Washington D.C. because he's just got to talk to one guy.

And that's the fiction of Hollywood. It's good scenes - it's like, you know, the thought that you have stars in your eyes - we all have stars in our eyes. It seems like all I got to do is talk to this one guy and everything will be fine. You're much better off to make the movie.

KEITH: Well, I saw, I saw a Web site the other night that it would list all plots stories in the progress of the film, you know, who is directing and how much money you're having. And you can like list on there. And they claim that they have like 3,000 subscribers from the industry looking at these stories. And you think that's B.S. still?

Mr. MAMET: Yeah, no, no. It's a complete lie.

CONAN: Hmm. Keith.

KEITH: Wait, you're such an encouragement. (Unintelligible)

Mr. MAMET: No, no, no. Listen. As I told you, that's the good news. The good news, is that you know, you got the brains and the self-confidence to have made a movie. You know, you go on and make another movie and start selling them - you're way ahead of the game.

CONAN: Keith, thanks very much for the call and good luck, first, with that snow shovel.

KEITH: You're doing great, David. Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. MAMET: Thank you.

CONAN: David Mamet, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Mr. MAMET: It's real pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: David Mamet's new book is "Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business." He joined us today from our bureau in New York. We apologize for the technical glitches along the way.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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