If by any mean, you happen to dig the “artistic” side of the of the movie-making business instead of possessing a keen interest and dwelling in the celebrities’ world of tabloids, I’m quite sure you appreciate the idea of what role a good quality script plays in making or breaking a movie. Blake Snyder’s best-seller, Save the Cat attempts to teach (especially the incumbent and) aspiring screenplay writers the basics of the good quality script. It also points out the basic common sense mistakes in the script that the movie makers commit that eventually sink the ship.
In fact, not just the basics but Blake has walked an extra mile as his book does not just discusses the basics of screenplay writing but also decodes the secret code of creating a highly commercial and “sellable” movie script which is going to be received well by the mainstream audience. Hence guaranteeing commercial success.
Save the Cat book is not your daily, run of the mill and bland screenplay writing manual. In fact, it’s a lively, full of real-life examples of popular movies (so that you can relate to them) which focuses on teaching you the tricks of the trade by walking the talk.
Quite recently, I had the fortune of reading this book and therefore, in this article, I will review Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and share with you why I admire this book but first, let’s talk about Blake Snyder himself.
About the Author
If you’re an avid fan of Hollywood movies then you must have definitely heard about Blake Snyder.
Though he was a consultant and an educator but he owes his fame to the screenwriting niche. Additionally, his books from the save the cat trilogy really put him in the front row of the contemporary movie screenplay writers.
Considered as “one of Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriters”, Blake went on to sell 12 original screenplays to the studios. His first ever screenplay (Stop or my mom will shoot!) sold for $500,000. Blake’s another original work, co-written by Colby Carr, Blank check, went on to sell for around a million dollars.
So that’s the stature of the person whose book we will be discussing today.
Unfortunately, Blake Snyder didn’t live long and passed away in 2009 at the age of 52.
About Save the Cat
Snyder’s book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need is a nonfiction, instructional and a part of the “Save the Cat” trilogy which focuses on imparting the valuable ins and outs of this the screenplay writing.
This book came highly recommended to me and despite no aspirations and plans for the foreseeable future to turn in my script in front of the board of the production crew in the near future, I decided to give this book a try.
Why the Title, Save the Cat?
If you’re thinking that why in the world Snyder came up with this awkward title, Save the Cat?
There must be some reason for it. Right?
Well, as a matter of fact, there is.
Let’s hear it out from the author’s own words.
“I call it “Save the cat” scene. They don’t put it into movies anymore. And it’s basic. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him”
Snyder would go bonkers upon noticing the fact that how many writers (and the whole production team as well) fail to incorporate this common sense “scene” within their script and as a result, succumb to this negligence.
So the title, Save the Cat signifies the motivation behind this book and how the author wants to get the readers across that basic common sense which governs the rules of good “storytelling”.
What makes Save the Cat Different from Other Books on Screenplay Writing
Now, there have been quite a few books written on this topic already but without a doubt, Snyder’s book stands out from them by far.
First, there’s no shooting in the dark. It’s a “been-there-done-that” story for the author. As mentioned in the brief author’s bio Snyder has managed to sell more than a dozen screenplays to the Hollywood studios. Few of them went on to be blockbusters. So when it’s coming from a person who has managed to pull this feat, I’d definitely recommend putting all your ears to it.
Second, let’s put the purpose of the book aside for a moment. It’s not that every time you pick up a book is to learn something new. Sometimes you’re just looking to relax and go for a mental stroll.
If that’s the case then Save the Cat, due to be written in a “lighter” tone, keeps you hooked up.
Normally, books with academic background are monotonous and bland which walk you through the intricacies in a very dull manner gives an eerie feeling of being in a classroom where an old boring lecture is more effective than your mom’s lullaby.
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat is a book at a whole different level. Though the book has maintained its “academic” attire by providing practice exercise after every chapter (just like the school textbooks) but at the same time, I’ve found the overall tone of the book quite jolly and amusing. Constant references to the famous silver screen flick keep the attention intact.
However, I’ve found Blake Snyder’s own “slangs” to be even more interesting than the references.
Save the Cat’s Slangs
The best part, in my opinion, is the creative slangs that have come into existence because of Blake’s creative mind and they’re spewed all over the book which are quite interesting and attention-grabbing.
What I’m talking about?
Here’s an example.
Let’s imagine how’d a typical book discuss about the categories of the different types of the movies?
I’m sure you must be thinking of the categories like comedy, romantic, horror, action, romcom and a couple of more genres or categories. However, Snyder discusses the same with his own unique touch.
For e.g. in the book’s second chapter, Give me the same thing… only different, he discusses 10 different types of categories and also gives example what category do different movies fall in. Such as:
Monster in the house – Jaws, Tremors, Aliens, The Exorcist, Fatal Attraction etc…
Golden Fleece – Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future etc…
Out of the Bottle – Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Flubber, Freaky Friday
Buddy Love – Dumb and Dumber, Rain Man etc…
And so on.
The whole book is stuffed up with such slangs which prove to be quiet a comic relief within themselves. Let me give you one more example.
How’d a normal (or typical) book about tell you about not using boring dialogues in your screenplay?
Well, Snyder has dedicated a whole section about it with the title, “Hi, how are you? I’m fine”
Quite interesting and vivid.
In fact, the title of the book, Save the Cat is itself a terminology created by Blake Snyder that we have already discussed above. So I’m sure you’ve started to get an idea what you can expect from the whole book.
Also Read: Zero to One by Peter Theil – Review
While the book is quite fascinating but instead of going gaga all over it, I have my own set of criticisms about its downsides.
You see the book tells you about writing a killer title, having a great title and all necessary stuff that the screenplay needs to have in order to make a commercial success but you can deduce what comes with such formulaic approach?
Once you have all the recipe laid out in front of you, it may be suitable for a commercial film but I’d hardly think using this book as an inspiration for writing an art movie.
The book lays down some tight rules that may work perfectly to woo the normal mainstream movie-goers. But when it comes to the audience who have a knack for art, then in my very humble opinion, Save the Cat won’t prove to be such an effective yardstick.
However, don’t get me wrong, if you create a movie truly abiding by all the rules laid out by Snyder, I’m sure the big studios are going to love you for it. After all, they need money to keep the ball rolling.
Secondly, the books filled with examples of success stories. How, the film followed Snyder’s formula and voila, we have a blockbuster in our hands.
The problem with the books is that it hardly discusses any movie which either failed despite applying all the rules that Save the Cat lays down, similarly, I’d appreciated examples of the movies which did not obey the rules and yet, made it big.
Lastly, I also longed for the example of the movie which implemented the bits and pieces of Save the Cat beat sheet (see below) and yet, success was miles apart from them.
After all, scientific mindset requires to test the theory under all circumstances.
What is Save the Cat Beat Sheet?
Save the Cat beat sheet is a story-board template designed (or suggested) by Blake Snyder.
In movies, the term, “beat” refers to a point or event which transforms the character or the story.
Snyder’s beat sheet comprises of 15 such beats where each beat has been assigned specific page numbers of pages.
According to Snyder, all famous movies follow this beat sheet one way or the other.
From the “Opening Image (beat 1)” to “Midpoint (beat 9)”, from “All-is-Lost (beat 11)” to “Final Image (beat 15)” the layout is well-defined giving the clear-cut plan to the writer how to lay out his characters and the story as a whole.
So another upside of this book is that if as a screenwriter, you follow the instructions closely, you can apply the modular approach to your story instead of the waterfall approach.
So it’s quite possible to craft the ending or any other part way before the beginning and then integrate it with the rest of the story.
With Save the Cat’s beat sheet, you can play around with your story with ease and flexibility.
Also Read: Animal Farm by George Orwell – Review
By now, you must have realized who the target audience of Save the Cat is. So needless to say that if you want to break into the commercial film-making as a screenplay writer while making sure that your script leaves a significant impact on the producers’ minds, applying the techniques in this book and following the instructions in it can prove to be quite useful.
However, as a general tip, it’d be much better to start practicing and honing your writing skills from today. It’s not like your very first script is going to sell like a hot cake.
By the way, if you’re really interested in Screenwriting, I’ve got a great website for you. The website is named after Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, The Last website on Screenwriting you’ll ever need. You’ll definitely find some great help here.