music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Mamet on Hard Work, Part 1

For any person not familiar with David Mamet and his work, one need only to watch several of his brilliant movies to see the milieu he creates and works in. Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, Heist and The Winslow Boy are just a few of my favorites. He treats the audience as intelligent beings, itself a rarity these days, and takes them on a journey of drama unmatched in contemporary cinema, often with plot twists that make your head spin.

In David Mamet’s latest book, Bambi vs. Godzilla - On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright offers a close, hilarious, but true insider’s view of the movie business as it exists today. In other words, he rips it a new one.

In the chapter, Hard Work, Mamet writes about the incredible job done by everyday workers on a movie set. A tight group of craft and arts professionals, they bring a passion for perfection to everything they do. Although they’re usually well paid, they would work longer hours ars gratia artis in pursuit of their larger goal, which he views in direct opposition to their higher-up brethren on the set.

While the star is late coming out of the trailer, while the producer is screaming obscenities on the cell phone at this assistant regarding, most likely, a botched lunch reservation, the folks on the set are doing their utmost to make a perfect movie.

I do not believe I overstate the case.

Musicians, at least the ones I’m fortunate enough to work with, are much the same way. No matter what’s going on around them, an unprepared star singer wanting to rehearse the same song over and over again ad nauseum for hours, a producer who can’t explain what he wants, conductors who’d be better off on a train than a podium or some minion of the corporate mind who insists on keeping all the players in the studio for a full three hours after they’d captured the perfect take during the first hour, musicians put their heads down and get the job done. Period.

Sure, musicians as a group love to grouse. Grousing helps keep sanity in the workplace. But in the studio, on the set and on stage, musicians always bring it home. You see, they’re not only working for their employer, but they’re working for themselves and the other players around them, indeed they are working for art itself, proving over and over that they’re good enough to be in the rarefied air of the company they keep, constantly challenging each other to exceed the high quality of work demanded from them. It’s name is pride.

And for the most part, the work is anonymous.

I recall the homily of old, that thousands worked over years to build the cathedrals, and no one put his name on a single one of them.

September 14, 2007 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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