Reading Time 9 minutes.
And so it was revealed in my last post, the ah-ha moment that turned my copywriting course into my copywriting in action course. To recap, it was about seven varieties of olives and how one copywriter, Richard Foster, chose the right words, in the right tone, for the right target audience (in this case, olive lovers).
But there was also an oh-wow moment that completes this origin story of Copywriting in Action (which then became a book of the same title).
This pivotal moment happened in the Spring of 2002. I was reading On Directing Film: a book version of a masterclass delivered by writer/director, David Mamet, to Columbia University’s film school students. How he brought film-making to life in the classroom was a real game changer.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Every great teacher knows this pithy Benjamin Franklin adage.
Rather than tell about directing film, Mamet showed directing film. He demonstrated the act of directing in every moment of interaction with participants. His every word and action involved all those in the classroom with him. Even as a reader, I was with Mamet every step of the way as he drew from participants the solving of a directorial problem, the creating of a directorial idea, the exploration of various directorial possibilities. Throughout this process, the scariest bit was that if he failed, everybody failed, including the University of Columbia Film School.
David Mamet clearly had tremendous faith in himself to work participants into getting the job done, and done well. His faith clearly motivated all participants to prove him right. The end result was a mission accomplished well. The beauty of it was that everybody in the room could claim some credit.
For a qualified Teacher, all this is nothing new. But in the professional development space, where teaching becomes facilitating and is usually done by industry experts who know their stuff but not necessarily the Benjamin Franklin mode of teaching it, showing and involving and potentially failing in the process is a mine field very few dare to tread.
In fact you could say, “it’s a Mamet task”.
It takes a lot of guts and some kamikaze-like selflessness to go there. Great directors, like great teachers, have both. That’s because they practise the true act of educating. Etymologically, the word “education” is derived from the Latin word ēducātiō (“A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing”) from ēducō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”). In other words, to educate is to bring out the knowledge, the ideas, the solutions, the possibilities in others.
Like great Teachers, Directors know this well.
And so, David Mamet’s style of doing this seeped into my teaching style. At first I was channeling Mamet’s made-tough-in-the-Bronx approach; it went with my (at the time) hard-bitten-adman persona. My aim was to simulate the hothouse world of adland inside the classroom — the time pressure, speed of thought, uncompromising drive toward a great idea and the resultant neurosis that energises the whole process. I recast myself into the role of activating a group of passive recipients into ideation and expression of it in words by end of session. It required a lot of energy and Mamet’s style of dialogue was my script — fast, clever, edgy, tough-talking and streetwise.
In fact, Mamet’s much-imitated dialogue style has a name — Mamet Speak (I didn’t know that back then).
But this kind of speak got me into a spot of difficulty with some people who found it daunting.
Soon enough, I rounded off the tonal edges, remixed the tough with more tender, identified the one key desire that drives every participant to do a copywriting course (a secret only revealed in my course) and nuanced my delivery for most members of the human race.
With a little help from film-maker, Nick Larovere, I have unpacked the parts that make for the kind of delivery just described. While the following attributes are written specific to great film directors like David Mamet, you can easily sub-text “great teacher”.
Also, with each attribute listed below, I have included a quote from David Mamet to give you his trademark spin on it.
A great Director is stress tolerant. They don’t crumble under stress. They can roll with the punches, be cool in a tough situation, and still make the decisions needed while under pressure.
A great Director is flexible. They are open to all ideas, especially new ones so they can make the best film possible. They know they don’t have all the right answers and welcomes input from their collaborators.
“People may or may not say what they mean, but they always say something designed to get what they want.”
A great Director is positive. They lead by example (even on the baddest of hair days) and set the standard for constructive behaviour (even in the most hopeless of situations).
“We all hope. It’s what keeps us alive.”
A great Director is time efficient. They do not waste precious time. As they say in showbiz, time is money! Great directors understand the value of time and use it properly.
“Time, we were told, is a river flowing endlessly through the universe and one cannot step into the same river twice. Not only can we not undo actions taken in haste and in fear (the Japanese Internment), but those taken from the best reasons, but that have proved destructive (affirmative action); the essential mechanism of societal preservation is not inspiration, but restraint.”
A great Director is diplomatic. They know one size does not fit all. What works for Jack does not always work for Jill. Each one of us has their own personality and eccentricities. So the director’s toolkit includes everything ranging from a sledgehammer to a feather.
“We’re all put to the test … but it never comes in the form or at the point we would prefer, does it?”
A great Director knows when to speak up and when to shut up. Sometimes that thing you really want to say, you don’t say. A great director knows this and exercises restraint.
“It’s only words … unless they’re true.”
A great Director thinks and feels outside the box. The great director doesn’t feel constrained or threatened by another’s creative ideas/input. Instead he or she uses them to advantage to get great results instead of okay results.
“Writers are asked, ‘How could you know so much about [fill in the profession]?’ The answer, if the writing satisfies, is that one makes it up. And the job, my job, as a dramatist, was not to write accurately, but to write persuasively. If and when I do my job well, subsequent cowboys, as it were, will talk like me.”
A great Director solves problems instead of creating them. The great director identifies problems before they occur and never walks away from immediate problems. The great director always works on moving the team forward.
“I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame. Yeah, see, they die of shame. ‘What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?’ And so they sit there and they … die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives. Thinking.”
A great Director takes responsibility under any circumstance. Such a director understands the distinction between fault and responsibility. The team’s failure is the director’s failure. And every success is attributed to the team for their good work.
“It’s called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine.”
A great Director communicates effectively. They know that communication is absolutely essential to efficient and pleasant working conditions. He or she has spent a lot of time learning these skills and making sure he or she communicates as clearly as possible at all times.
“I pray you indulge me for a space, for I am going to set out on a speech which may have some duration, but whose theme may be gleaned from its opening phrase: how dare you.”
A great Director motivates and inspires. Their passion is contagious and inspires people to give of their best, even when they aren’t feeling energetic or particularly invested.
“Today, as in ancient Rome, when all avenues of success have been traveled and all prizes won, the final prize is the delusion of godhead.”
A great Director creates and shares a common vision. “We’re all making the same movie” said somebody but I can’t remember who. A great Director knows Vision to be the single most important spark to fire up people’s commitment and best efforts.
“The power of the dramatist, and of the political flack therefore, resides in the ability to state the problem.”
A great Director leads by example. They know that leading a team to make something remarkable requires minimum ego and maximum work from everyone, and so the director does what it takes to set the example.
A great Director knows what makes humans tick. Such a director can anticipate how someone might react in a real-world situation and use that knowledge and insight to advance the spirit of collaboration.
“We all hope. It’s what keeps us alive.”
A Great Director Can Walk in Other People’s Shoes. Because they can see from different point-of-views, they have the empathy to see what makes any one person tick.
“Every fear hides a wish.”
A great Director understands how humans learn.They can see that story arcs mimic the learning curve — deep personal flaw > inciting incident > ensuing struggle > a realization > change, shift or growth.
“The leaf of the camomile, parboiled in water, conduces to calm. And yet I do not worship it.”
And so … Noun became verb and Introduction to Copywriting became Copywriting in Action.
The blurb from the BookDepository.com:
A masterclass on the art of directing from the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and Oscar and Tony-nominated) writer of Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed the Plow, The Verdict, and Wag the Dog. Calling on his unique perspective as playwright, screenwriter, and director of his own critically acclaimed movies like House of Games, State and Main, and Things Change, David Mamet illuminates how a film comes to be. He looks at every aspect of directing — from script to cutting room — to show the many tasks directors undertake in reaching their prime objective: presenting a story that will be understood by the audience and has the power to be both surprising and inevitable at the same time. Based on a series of classes Mamet taught at Columbia University’s film school, On Directing Film will be indispensible not only to students but to anyone interested in an overview of the craft of filmmaking.
Passion, clarity, commitment, intelligence — just what one would expect from Mamet.
Ditto the Copywriting In Action course.
The latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your enrolment now.