Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review: Save the Cat!

Thinking about writing a screenplay?

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! may not be "The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need!" as he claims it to be. (Especially, since he's published Save the Cat Goes to the Movies).

However, this book is a fun place to start.

The author discusses all the basics of what you need to write--and publish--a screenplay in Hollywood.

In an easy, breezy style the author emphasizes the importance of the primal, yet formulaic pattern a screenwriter needs to create a truly memorable screeenplay. Before you even begin writing though, you must ask--and be able to answer--what your movie is about in one or two sentences, otherwise known as a "logline."

Once you answer "what's it about?" you have to fit your movie into one of 10 genres. These, however are not labelled in typical fashion, like Romantic Comedy, Action/Adventure, etc. Instead, they're identified as: "Monster in the House" (Alien), "Dude with a Problem" (Die Hard), "Golden Fleece" (The Wizard of Oz) and seven other glib, but accurate titles.

Mr Snyder then breaks down a 110-page script into 15 "beats." That is, plot points that must occur on a specific page or you run the risk of boring the audience. For example, the movie's theme should be stated by page 5, while the "all is lost," or low point for the hero occurs on page 75. By the way: "Save the cat" refers to a scene where just after meeting the hero, he "...does something--like saving a cat--that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him" (pg xv).

Throughout the book the author stresses the importance of "primal instincts" to motivate the hero. The most primal forces are: Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones and fear of death. You don't get any more primal than these! What's more is they're universally understood.

Mr. Snyder advocates the use of a storyboard limited to 40 index cards. This along with adhereing to the "Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics," such as including a "save the cat" scene as previously mentioned; while avoiding anything listed in "What's Wrong with this Picture?" will improve your odds of publishing success.

Even though I'm not in the midst of writing a screenplay, I feel Mr. Snyder's advice can be helpful in any genre. I give this book whole-hearted 5-star rating. It was both informative and entertaining, which is a rare combination, to read.

However not everyone agrees with Mr. Snyder's "last book on screenwriting you'll ever need." According to's Customer Review Section there are: 179 x 5-star ratings, 14 x 4-star ratings, 15 x 3 star ratings, 4 x 2-star ratings and 11 x 1-star ratings.

The readers who gave Save the Cat! less than 5-stars struck me as being the more artistic types. These folks are put-off by Mr. Snyder's adherence highly formulaic and rigid structures. Other complaints include: His derogatory comments about some of their favorite films (Momento in particular) and his haughty tone.

I've never seen Momento, and after attending a lecture on this very subject by the author, I found his tone to be funny.

Some of these folks, though are so upset with him, I wonder if they actually read the book. One reviewer claimed Mr. Snyder was pushing readers to make "cheesy family films." While the author does prefer writing family-friendly screenplays, he's not trying to steer the would-be screenwriter in that direction. His advice is to know all about the films in the genre you like, figure out what works and then write screenplays within that genre.

I do agree with the harsher critics regarding one of Mr. Snyder's successes. All of them panned the author's screenplay Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot!

I saw that film--once.

But then again, Steven Spielberg produced Howard the Duck...

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