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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Feline: In Repose by Jason A. Samfield from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
"Save the Cat" is a guide on how to be a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. As you might have guessed, I have no such ambition myself, but it's always interesting to get some basic idea what it's like in different parts of the creative world.

The book is extremely focused on practical matters. It gives you minute-by-minute breakdown of what is supposed to happen in a movie when, exactly what plot devices are necessary in what kinds of movies, how to structure each scene with mandatory emotional change and conflict, how to entwine primary and secondary story, how to write, how to pitch your screenplay and so on.

Normally you'd expect similar books to be really vague and full of banal generalities, with maybe a small sprinkling of practical advice. Save the Cat is nothing remotely like that - it's extremely content-dense and provides a framework that seems to be ridiculously specific. In a way, it reminds me of Getting Things Done - another short book with extremely specific framework, that stands completely apart from the ocean of feel-good vagueness which is productivity books.

Anyway, the book is supposedly all the rage in he Hollywood, and I can totally believe that. The problem with it is that  it looks like a really good guide to making totally mediocre movies.

The author - Blake Snyder - is supposedly a huge screenwriter star, but what is his actual filmography? Here's the complete list:
And that's it! So basically he's a talentless hack as far as screenwriting goes, and all his life's achievements seem to be two godawful movies, and yet somehow making millions selling ton of screenplays (none of them ever getting made into movies), and convincing the entire Hollywood that his way is the one true way to make movies. No wonder I like so few movies these days.

Now the book is really nicely written, and its advice might be extremely helpful to new screenwriters for all I know. At least some of the advice rings true, but then vast majority of examples he gives are from either old mediocre movies everybody already forgot about (and I've never seen) or more recent mediocre movies, some of which I've seen but can recall only vaguely. The only success criteria for the author seem to be box office sales (and both of his awful movies made about $30m each in States). If you put together all sentences about movies which were actually good, that's going to be less than a page, probably.

Anyway, it's a great book for an aspiring scriptwriter, or for an aspiring self-help book writer. For someone who loves movies, it's just too depressing.

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