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07/19/2005 - BOOK REVIEW: SAVE THE CAT! - THE LAST BOOK ON SCREENWRITING YOU'LL EVER NEED
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SAVE THE CAT! - THE LAST BOOK ON SCREENWRITING YOU'LL EVER NEED - BY BLAKE SNYDER
Published by: Michael Wiese Productions - www.mwp.com
Review by Matthew Terry

The question arises every class. I have yet to go through one quarter of teaching screenwriting where one student doesn't ask me about the "ART" of screenwriting and his/her role as an "Artist." When someone asks me that I realize they want validation. They want a hint that what their doing is rising above the masses. That what they are creating is a one and only work of art - never to be created again - by any one - in any time. It's at that point that I ask: "Is "White Chicks" art? Is "Dude, Where's My Car?" art? Is "Gigli" art?" By week eight, when I talk about Hollywood I remind them that what they are creating is a product told in story. They're story-tellers (and usually damn good ones) but are they artists? I think that's up to someone else to decide.

FINALLY a book that doesn't even mention the word "ART" or, even "ARTIST." I swear, I looked and I didn't find it. Finally a book that says what I've always wanted to say: "Darn it! I want to write a screenplay, I want it to entertain a million people and I want to make a boat load of money so I can write MORE screenplays that entertain millions of people so I can make even MORE boat-loads of money!" It's honest. It's real. It's "Save the Cat!"

This book is the best book on screenwriting since Linda Seeger's "How to Make A Good Script Great." Blake Snyder, who has actually SOLD screenplays that were produced, does an excellent job of cutting through the Hollywood BS and explaining screenwriting in a way that anyone can understand. He is clear, concise, to the point. He uses examples from current movies (he could always use more) to make his points and he does it in a way that makes it seem like you're chatting over a microbrew at a local pub. There's no "high-faluttin'" gloss that he puts on everything - it's just honest commentary on the craft of screenwriting.

One of the best things a teacher, or writer, can do is take a concept that on the surface seems complicated and boil it down to something that ISN'T complicated - something that everyone can understand. Blake Snyder does this. He expands on the genre field. Instead of genres like "romantic comedy" or "sci-fi" he has genres like: "Monster in the House" or "Rites of Passage" or "Buddy Love" and he gives you many examples of each. Instead of talking about "Subtext" - he simply asks: "What is it?" Instead of talking about the three act structure - he breaks it into four acts and emphasizes his points. Trust me, you'll learn quickly about what goes into a good script.

He also discusses, in great length, "High Concept", "Log-Lines" and the "Blake Snyder - Beat Sheet" - a tool to make sure your script is on the right path.

Besides explaining things clearly and concisely, he has summaries and exercises at the end of each chapter so after you read it - you can go back and reference these tools to better help your screenwriting.

Now, is this "The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need?" (rumor has it that Blake is writing a follow-up book entitled: "Pope In The Pool" - so maybe this is this SECOND to last book on Screenwriting you'll ever need). Saying this is the "Last Book" is a pretty bold statement and, as excellent as this book is, there are a couple things that Blake does that I question: 1. He forces a page number. Such as: "This needs to happen on page 25. And this needs to happen on page 55." When I have tried to force things to land on certain pages - I felt it tied my hands too much. In my opinion, you could be a page or two away from the ideal for it to work. For a beginning screenwriter this might prove extremely difficult - though he makes great cases explaining why these plot points need to happen on these pages. And 2. He is a strong believer in "carding" the script. Breaking down your scenes into 3 x 5 cards and splaying them on a table or board. I've tried this in the past and found it did not help me as much as a plain outline. Both of the above methods did not work for me (I've yet to sell a script though) but they may work wonderfully for you.

"Save the Cat!" is by far the best screenwriting book that I have read in a long time. It doesn't even crack 200 pages and that's with a 10 page glossary. When my class starts in the fall I will be recommending the book to my students - it's THAT good. It's great for beginning screenwriters and advanced screenwriters. It puts into your brain the main things you need to think about before you start writing and then gives you the tools to expand and explore your idea. Buy this book. You'll be glad you did.

One other note: Blake Snyder mentions Harold Lloyd in this book. It's nice to see Harold getting mentioned. If you don't know who Harold Lloyd is, e-mail me or take a class on film history. If you DO know who Harold Lloyd is, take yourself out for a beer and a large order of nachos.

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