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.