“Blake Snyder passed away suddenly this morning, August 4, 2009, from cardiac arrest.
There was no one like him. You all know that. No one more enthusiastic, more giving, more truly interested in you.
He will live on in his films and his books, in the advice that will never grow old, with the spirit that will continue to thrive and inspire.
His story resonates with all who loved him, and your stories will resonate thanks to his love for you.”
I’m not really a big fan of the whole ‘teach people to write’ industry. Generally, I think it’s full of people who either regurgitate what others have said, state the fucking obvious or invent spurious new systems in order to make money. For example, it’s pretty much a given that anyone who tells you the three act structure is wrong, then goes on to describe the three act structure with extra bits that are already part of it:
“I’ve invented a five act structure!”
No you haven’t, you’ve just split the first two acts in half. Now fuck off, I’m not giving you any money.
Having said that, I actually quite like Blake’s ‘Save the Cat’. Primarily because it’s short, it’s easy to read and it generally makes sense. I wouldn’t treat it as an absolute rule book, because there’s no such thing; but it’s a good description of ‘the rules’ as the industry perceives them and the first step towards bending or breaking the rules is to understand why they’re there in the first place.
And let’s be very clear about this, ‘the rules’ came about because one man looked at some successful films and noticed they were similar. He pointed this out, with a vague idea that maybe if you did something similar then your film might be successful too … and all of a sudden there’s a huge fucking industry telling you it HAS to be done this way.
There are two bad consequences of this:
- A large part of the industry thinks all scripts should slavishly stick to these rules and won’t hire you if yours doesn’t.
- People who consider themselves artistic (autistic) refuse to follow anything as conformist as rules. Art doesn’t have rules, man – you’re trying to restrict my creativity. Who said films have to be interesting, dramatic or intelligible? I go my own way, I’m a visionary, a pioneer … and mostly unemployable.
Ignoring advice because it’s presented as rules is moronic. Refusing to consider anything which doesn’t exactly follow the same advice is equally moronic.
Life is about balance, find the middle way.
Read the books, learn the rules … after you’ve practised telling stories. Find out what people expect and then if you have to disappoint them at least you can intelligently explain why you’ve done it. That way, when people say stupid things like:
“This Ferris Bueller script, you can’t make it because the protagonist has no transformative arc.”
You can counter with:
“Actually, Cameron is the protagonist, but we’re telling this story from the comic relief’s point of view.”
“Oh right, that’s cool. Have some money.”
So starting from the point of view that ‘how to’ books are advisory, not dictative, then of all the ones I’ve read (and there aren’t that many) ‘Save the Cat’ is probably my favourite. It’s clear, it’s simple and it’s short. The beat sheet in there makes sense to me – I don’t slavishly stick to it, but I keep it vaguely in mind when I write. The board, I kind of do that – sort of, sometimes. Other times I don’t. Some scripts need more plotting out than others.
The idea with all these things is to regard them as tools, the more tools you have the easier the job becomes; but you don’t have to use every tool in the box every time you write a script.
By all accounts, Blake Snyder was a nice guy with an infectious enthusiasm for encouraging others. True, that was his job, but it’s nice to earn a living doing something you enjoy. In fact, I’d say that was one of the secrets of life – love what you do.
I’ve never met the bloke, but I am glad I read his book – if for nothing else, purely for this one occasion:
I was in a meeting regarding a script which, if produced, would earn me more money than I’ve earned in my entire life so far – including the paper round I didn’t do when I was 13 and all the pocket money I received from the age of 3 on.
It was a fairly important meeting.
The director was a really nice guy and did a great job of politely telling me my script sucked, primarily using terminology from ‘Save the Cat’. If I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t have understood a bastard word he was saying.
“Right, so … you want a Pope in a pool? Um … you do know this is set in space, don’t you? Surely the water would just float away?”
‘Save the Cat’ is a very popular and widely read book – if you haven’t read it, sooner or later you’re going to run into someone who has and you’re not going to understand them.
RIP Blake Snyder and my condolences to his family and friends.