What’s Wrong With SAVE THE CAT?

What’s Wrong With SAVE THE CAT?

By Jacob Krueger

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! just might be the most dangerous book out there for writers. And you should read it. But first, you need to recognize how to harness what’s valuable in Save The Cat!, while understanding the principles that make it so potentially destructive. Blake Snyder isn’t dangerous because he is wrong. He’s not. He’s not dangerous because his ideas about how to build a script around a great premise aren’t brilliant. They are. Blake Snyder is dangerous because he doesn’t teach you how to be a writer. He teaches you how to be a salesperson.

What’s Right About Save the Cat!?

You’re going to need a lot of money to turn your script into a movie. That’s true whether you are writing a tiny independent film that you are going to shoot in your backyard. Or the next incarnation of Avatar. Unless you are ridiculously wealthy, or have a generous uncle waiting with a check in his hand, making your movie is probably going to take more money than you have. And that means you’re going to need to convince people that they should put their own hard earned money behind your production. We call these people producers. They tend to make writers pretty darn angry. That’s because they couldn’t care less about your artistic vision, the integrity of your writing, or how your script is going to change the world.

When a producer invests in your movie, he or she is investing in one thing: the chance that your movie is going to put butts in seats. Without butts in seats, your movie is going to lose money. And no matter how brilliant your artistic vision, it’s not going to change the world, make anybody laugh, cry or buy an overpriced barrel of popcorn. Because no one is ever going to see it. And that’s where Blake Snyder is right. No one is going to go see your movie unless the producer knows how to sell it. That means you need a great premise, that grabs the audience’s attention and makes them want to see your movie. And once they’re in the theater, you’ve got to out-do the promise you’ve made to your audience, so that they can go and talk to their friends about how cool your movie was and drive even more butts to the theatre.

The Save The Cat! approach is to basically turn your script into a giant sales pitch. A living, breathing advertising device that looks so irresistible that audiences can’t help but see it, and producers can’t help but buy it, whether it’s any good or not. Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? Except that it’s not going to work for you. That’s because, unless you happen to be born into a Hollywood family (Snyder’s father was producer Kenneth Snyder) or already have a multi-million dollar hit in your back pocket, nobody who is anybody is going to take a chance on your crappy script. No matter how good the premise is.

Selling Out Is For Professionals

It’s true. Hollywood is filled with writers who sell bad screenplays with great premises, and make a lot of money doing it. And you can too. That is, if you already happen to be a big time writer. The problem is, if you’re like most writers, it probably means that you don’t have a multi-million dollar hit in your back pocket. And in that case nobody who is anybody is going to take a chance on your bad script.

This may seem like an unfair double standard. But it’s not. And if you don’t believe me, just answer this question: Whose next script is more likely to make you money on your investment: Quentin Tarantino’s or Joe Smith’s? You don’t even know what the script is about, but you already know the answer. Tarantino has a whole track record to point to. Joe just has his script. If Joe is going to convince anyone to take a chance on him, that script had better be good. Real good. It had better make them believe in it so strongly that they’d put their own reputation, and their own hard earned money, on the line to make it.

The truth is, “great ideas” in Hollywood are a dime a dozen. And so are writers with impressive track records. But genuinely good scripts are incredibly rare. A good script is gold in Hollywood. And you can write one.

Blake Snyder Can Show You How To Sell It. But He Can’t Show You How To Write It.

There’s a reason Blake Snyder’s magnum opus was Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. Whether the movie you’re writing is a deeply moving drama, a popcorn munching action flick, or a teen sex comedy, there’s no short cut around the writing process. At least not if you want to write a good movie.

The Four Phases of Writing

In my classes, I break down the writing process into four phases. I’ll be detailing them further in future newsletters, but for now, here’s a brief overview:

1. The ME Draft
2. The AUDIENCE Draft
3. The PRODUCER Draft
4. The READER Draft

What Blake Snyder is describing in Save The Cat! is actually simply the PRODUCER phase of this process: the stage of adaptation and revision that focuses on amplifying the most marketable elements in your screenplay to turn it into candy for producers. It’s a great place to end up. But it’s a lousy place to start.

Don’t Spend Your Writing Life Feeling Like A Used Car Salesman

No offense to any used-car dealers out there, but you’re not going to break into an industry as competitive as the film industry by peddling a broken down jalopy with a fancy paint job. You may fool your Aunt Ida. But a real producer can tell when an engine isn’t running.

Open Yourself To The Process

If you let yourself be seduced into thinking about the pitch before you even have anything worth selling, you’re not going to get where you want to go. Just like the kid who talks the most smack on the basketball court is probably not going to the NBA. At least not until he learns to shoot. Learning to shoot in the world of screenwriting begins with discovering your character, and taking him or her on a profound journey. It means getting in touch with your subconscious creative mind, which could care less about marketability, and sales-pitches, and creating a story that exceeds your own plans and expectations.

Then, when you decide to “Save The Cat”, you’ll be doing it for the right reasons: to amplify and focus what already makes your screenplay great, and to shape it into a form that the producer can salivate over. Don’t worry, you’re going to have plenty of time to sell out later. But you have to become a writer first.

Learn To Understand The Four Phases of Writing

Curious about learning a more effective way to “Save the Cat” in your own writing? Come check out my upcoming screenwriting workshops. Rather than imposing a cheesy sales pitch from the outside, you’ll learn to identify the underlying hook that already exists in your work, and focus your writing to bring it to the surface, intensify your character’s journey, and shape a story that grabs your audience and won’t let them go.

15 Comments

  1. Joshua Dysart 4 years ago

    Wonderful!! Jake taught me everything I know!

  2. Morgan Peline 2 years ago

    I’m not sure I agree with this and find it all together fair. Any inexperienced writer would find Blake’s Beat Sheet a great place to start in terms of writing a screenplay from scratch. What’s the problem with giving inexperienced writers a place to start from? Essentially he was giving people advice on how to write screenplays like you do with your classes and seminars. I’m not a die hard ‘Save The Cat’ fan but I think it’s very simple and comprehensible in a sea of over complicated screenwriting books. Especially ‘Story’!

    1. Opening Image (1):

    2. Theme Stated (5):

    3. Set-Up (1-10):

    4. Catalyst (12):

    5. Debate (12-25):

    6. Break into Two (25)

    7. B Story (30):

    8. Fun and Games (30-55):

    9. Midpoint (55):

    10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75):

    11. All Is Lost (75):

    12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85):

    13. Break into Three (85):

    14. Finale (85-110):

    15. Final Image (110):

    • Jacob Krueger 2 years ago

      Hi Morgan,
      Thanks so much for your response. I actually a big fan of Blake Snyder, and think Blake Snyder’s beat sheet might be a great place to start for a highly experienced writer looking to make his script more commercial. The problem with a beginning writer starting with a pre-determined beat sheet like this is that most beginners do not yet have the craft necessary to control the shape of their character’s journey along a pre-determined path. Instead the writers end up manipulating their characters like marionettes, and losing touch with their own instincts and the inner voices of their characters: the things that ultimately lead you to finding your voice as a writer. Scenes start ringing false. Choices feel inorganic. Writing gets tight and boring. And you don’t know why, because you feel like you’re doing everything “right”. I know this because I went through it myself early in my career, trying to work according to pre-determined structures like Syd Field’s 3 Act Structure or Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It wasn’t until I let go of that and started following my main character in a more organic way that I really started finding out who I was as a writer, and that’s what I’m trying to impart to my students. Pick 10 of your favorite movies, and you’ll probably see that many of them don’t conform to Blake Snyder’s beat sheet at all. That doesn’t mean they won’t hit some, or even all of these notes, but that the writers are finding them, rather than planning them, by listening to the heartbeat of their characters. That doesn’t make Blake Snyder any less valuable– I do think everyone should read this book. But I strongly believe that it is most valuable as a way for experienced writers to amplify what they’ve discovered, than it is a “good way to start out” for a young writer looking for their voice.

      Hope that helps!

      Jake

  3. Howl 2 years ago

    I must agree with the author of this article, though I feel she is being a little fair on Blake Snyder, whose initials are B.S. just sayin…

    I believe that man has done more damage to the fields of would-be writers than any other wannabe ‘script guru’, and I will explain why.

    One of the key reasons for Snyder’s ‘success’ (in terms of selling scripts, not seeing them produced), other than his family connections as the author above has detailed, was that combined with the decade he was most active in: The 90s! Ahhh to be a screenwriter in the 90s… one can only dream now. The days of gimmick pitches and relying on utterly inept, coked up execs to fall for the most basic sales tricks, as detailed by Snyder, are long gone. The 90s was the silly season of script purchases, and, if like Snyder, you were born with a foot in the door, quite happy to sell out completely, and aware of the markers that gave execs wood; and possibly willing to drop some money on a ridiculous gimmick pitch- you would most likely of sold a script back then.

    Snyder, no longer able to sell scripts after the heady days of the 90s, and frankly not a good writer in the first place, had to re-think his career. Fast forward a couple of years and he’s re-modelled himself as the ultimate script wizard. I might be able to let that slide if it wasn’t for the fact his one and only big studio film was nominated for four razzies, including WORST SCREENPLAY! A monkey on acid could of written that movie. Probably did.

    So Snyder is selling old world tricks to a much changed world. He’s offering floppy disk tutorials to the cloud computing generation.

    I do agree his book can help you with the pitch/sale aspect of the script business, but that is it, and frankly, there is better advice elsewhere, from real writers with oodles more talent and experience. Snyder to me is a conman, a confidence trickster. He’s the sort of chap who would of been selling pyramid schemes had he not of had a Hollywood daddy.

    However, you see B.S (ha, see what I did there?) everywhere in mainstream cinema, and it’s wholly depressing… just look at the end of the year ‘worst films of…’ and you can bet your spellchecker a good chunk of those movies followed the ‘Save The Cat’ methods word for word. Am I too harsh? I think not, but remember, it’s just my opinion. And I don’t pull my punches just because someone is dead.

    • Mic 1 year ago

      Howl, I was reading through your comments with an open mind, willing to agree with what you were saying when I came across expressions like ‘would of’ and ‘could of’ and then I thought this person isn’t a writer, because your command of grammar is quite frankly laughable. I’m not trying to attack your credibility here, but if you’re writing as someone whom other writers should take note of, then my advice to you would be to get the basics straight and avoid using incorrect grammar which instantly puts you in the category of those who are not very educated. Just saying!

  4. Chuck 2 years ago

    I’m in total agreement with HOWL. I really think much of Mr. Snyder’s accolades have come post-mortem and precisely because he passed away. We tend to bestow upon the dead many qualities they did not have in life. To paraphrase Rick Blaine in Casablanca, “He got a lucky break. Yesterday he was just a hack screenwriter. Today, he’s the honored dead.”

  5. Barry J. Johnsom 2 years ago

    Mr. Snyder is not even alive, and everyone here is talking about him as if he is alive and breathing. Also, just because a person’s claim to fame is a bad movie script that they sold, does not mean that the person is not a great teacher. At least he has sold screenplays to Hollywood… Connections or no connections. Nothing makes me want to puke more than someone who is teaching you how to sell a screenplay to Hollywood, and/or how to write a screenplay, and they haven’t even as much as had a movie produced!!!

  6. Daniel 1 year ago

    I just called it very good book on screenwriting, cause it point out all the basic stuff, that you have to be aware of to be screenwriter and plenty of shits, that is good to be aware to become a memorable one!

  7. Jon 1 year ago

    Great Article!

  8. Airheart22 1 year ago

    Thank you! I have felt the same way for some time now, so thank you. Producers are getting so sick of the same old “save the cat” crap.

  9. Chris Eller 1 year ago

    Hey my friends,

    The most important thing about this article worked–we read it :)

    The title got us here and the article delivered on the title’s promise of the premise.

    Blake’s amazing contributions to screenwriting, like Final Draft, Scrivener, Movie Magic Screenwriter and Notepad, are only as good as what you do with it.

    Blake teaches would be writers what some numbers are you can paint by. While you’re painting you’ll have discoveries every day. When you know where the lines are you can color outside of them artistically–if it ads value to the final product. Or if you just want to feel cool and you don’t care if you sell something; because, hey, you’re an artist.

    Blake’s biggest contribution is to the hopes and feelings of would be screenwriters who now see a way to their dreams. Dreams are powerful. Dreams fuel hope. And for a few that can get a screenplay to the screen so we can all enjoy something entertaining… and perhaps feel closer to our dreams.

    And roughly segueing back to the article’s topic, Snyder did something and made money from it. Then he wrote a book about how we could do it too. And the book pointed out what worked for other movies! Will any of us not do the same if we’re so lucky as Snyder to have fun in movies, make some money and then discover we want to make more money and at the same time help others?

    I’m glad Sndyer, Hauge, Field, Truby, McKee, Segar, Edson and a hundred others write these books for us to learn from. We don’t have the luxury to be Tarantino, the Cohen’s or Ridley Scott so that we can get things done on film.

    All these screenwriting teachers are giving us guides. Their not concrete. They’re guides. It’s up to us to take advice and do something real with it.

    Thank you for this article. And thank you to Blake.

    Warmest,

    Chris Eller

    I found the article on LinkedIn where I am Anotheropus.

  10. FireFilms 1 year ago

    I think this is one of the best dissections of SAVE THE CAT or any screenwriting book that I have ever read. Newbie writers are relying FAR TOO MUCH on formulas, when ANY pro screenwriter will tell you that Formulas don’t help. You have to have Talent and Craft and WORK YOUR ASS OFF, and have a little luck. Krueger has it right.

  11. mal2091 1 year ago

    Interesting article. As with most things getting information is never a bad thing its what people do with it. I will refrain from saying anything else until I actually finish reading “Save The Cat”.

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