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Tribeca: Clara Mamet on her directing debut and enraging her father

Actress-filmmaker Clara Mamet talks about learning to think visually for her directorial debut, "Two-Bit Waltz," and how she'd never seen her dad's films.

Actress Clara Mamet adds filmmaker to her credit with "Two-Bit Waltz," which she directed, wrote and stars in. Credit: Bridgitte Lacombe Actress Clara Mamet adds filmmaker to her credit with "Two-Bit Waltz," which she directed, wrote and stars in.
Credit: Bridgitte Lacombe

Clara Mamet isn’t the first daughter of playwright and filmmaker David Mamet and the actress Rebecca Pidgeon to make her own name. But she is the family's first fellow director. Clara’s half-sister Zosia is on “Girls.” Clara, meanwhile, is a regular on the sitcom “The Neighbors.” But more than that, Clara has, at 19, written, directed and stars in “Two-Bit Waltz,” a deadpan, absurdist comedy in which she plays a high schooler contending with not wanting to go to college and her best friend moving away — two things, among many, that are actually true to life. The film had a private screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Was becoming a filmmaker something you always wanted to do?

No, actually. I always just wanted to be an actress. But the opportunity presented itself. Now I think I like it better.


What was the opportunity?

I was introduced to this producer, who is a whippersnapper, like me. He had done one other movie before. He just got out of USC — he’d just been released. And we met and that’s kind of it. I had been kicking around this other script, which wasn’t very good. So I wrote something else.

What was it?

The other thing? It was some sort of weird, boring, Tennessee Williamsy, s—y whatever thing. I think I had written it in a day. I was like, “What can I make for no money? This!” He said, “But it will be a piece of s—.”

I don’t want to assume it was autobiographical…

Oh, no, it’s pretty much all my life. I probably made it a little cuter than my life actually is. I played me, my mom played my mom. It’s pretty accurate, I’d say.

Clara Mamet (center) is seen on set directing her first movie, "Two-Bit Waltz." Credit: Clara Mamet (center) is seen on set directing her first movie, "Two-Bit Waltz."
Credit: Willa Mamet

In terms of the actual gruntwork of filmmaking, did you draw from your own acting experiences?

I worked on a sitcom, and that helped a lot. All you do is wait around and wait for shots to be set up, so there’s a lot of time to observe. You can’t really know until you do it, and that way I was pretty green.

You’ve acted for your dad, in bit parts, and even did some crew work for him. What lessons did you take from him?

[Laughs] He freaked out a few years ago when he found out I hadn’t seen any of his movies or read any of his books. “Are you kidding me?! My own flesh!!” I have been privy to a lot of David Mamet work these past several years. And “On Directing Film” is a great book. Still, you have to learn it by yourself. The hardest part for me was thinking visually — to tell the story in pictures. That’s the beautiful thing about making things and putting them on film — you can literally see your progression, because it’s all recorded.

Did he take you aside before production and give you a lot of advice?

He definitely told me about coverage. I didn’t know what it was before. I was like “What does that even MEAN?” But you can’t know until you’re there. You can understand intellectually what it means, but until you’re in the cutting room, screaming, “Get me out of here, this is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen," you don’t really know.

The film does have a very confident visual style. You’re not wasting frames.

I knew I didn’t want to have a lot of coverage. Just from working on a sitcom, I know how many takes are put into getting a medium shot and an extra close-up. You do takes too many times. So in order to keep it fresh, I veered away from coverage. I wanted the camera to be moving when it had to move or I wanted it to be stationary and play as an entire master. I wanted it to be visually interesting.

You’ve been saying you want to direct many more movies. What kind of work do you think you’ll do?

I just want to make good ones. I want to work on more. But there isn’t a particular subject. I just write about stuff that’s interesting to me at the time, I suppose. What else can you do?

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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