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.
Wonderful!! Jake taught me everything I know!
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):
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.
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!
How sad. You found some grammar mistakes in his “comment”, so you justified being a total asshat and attacked his writing, which, by the way, is fantastic. I read with such interest in what he had to say. It flowed so well. Used great words. I shook my head reading your crap. Note: you make it seem that this comment section is an actual screenplay, and if there are mistakes in grammar, you trash it. Hahaha how sad..
It’s been 8 years since you posted your B.S loving post (see what I did there), so perhaps you have grown as a human being.
You’re just wrong. Anyone who read your comment cringed. Guaranteed.
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.”
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!!!
I think it’s bizarre that his work should be rubbished here and then on top of that another course is offered based on his failure, even though the article doesn’t blatantly say this. It does come across as though by rubbishing Blake you sell a course.
There is really no set format for movies, there are skills to be gained of course, but if something works not based on any format but the content gains interest, then what?
To all those who have contributed to the business and have written books that can assist other writers genuinely, my hat goes out to you because this business is really for everyone with a good satisfying story to be told.
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!
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.
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.
I found the article on LinkedIn where I am Anotheropus.
Beautiful, I love that we are still able to celebrate the guidance offered by others rather than try to convert someone supposed failure to your own business venture, ultimately.
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.
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”.
I’ve just started to read ‘Save the Cat’ and although I’m only half way thru the first chapter I already have the gist of it – we live in a world where there are upteen million scripts trying to get made and upteen hundred movies that are competing to get watched and I guess his point is to raise the odds by having a great log line and a great hook etc. However, he tries to suggest this is the place to start from which I have problems with.
The more I listen to the many various theories out there the more confused I get, every one has their idea on whats importatn and what’s not. One guy says revise revise revise – but what about the law of diminishing returns, if you don’t have something to start with – are upteen more revissions gunna cure all. Then someone else says – don’t waste your time too much on one script – move on and write something different.
I suppose there are some undeniable truths in screenwriting and that is write what you’re passionate about , write what you wanna write and make your characters likeable and real. I guess Krueger professes this and avoid writing to a fixed structure.
I’m still keen to finish Save the Cat and I now realize everytime I listen to a podcast or read one of these books it won’t be some magic pill that will make me a super writer. Krueger’s common sense approach to screen writing is like a buoy in a sea of misinformation on the subject of screenwriting.
The term is “uMpteenTH” not “upteen” for future reference 😉
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I personally found the book interesting and I don’t have anything published yet. Even though my story didn’t fall into the exact pages – the book was able to identify a process for closing in on your idea. If writers don’t do the nitty gritty and try to skip steps and stages, like anything else in life, the cracks will show.
I think that once you are able to identify why you are writing the work and how it will benefit your audience , there are many books good books that will help; and the best books and courses always create a buzz based on usefulness to the reader.
I am truly grateful for everything that has helped me enjoy what I do more.
Thank you so much for all these. Since I read save the cat, and tried so hard to reanalyse it. It turned out to a great support for anyone trying to break into screenwriting field, but there was and still one question striking me the most is : Why Blake senyder’ s Save the cat is so good but his scripts are not ? I’m not quite sure if this even a fair question to think of but still it’s a question – why he could not follow his own golden rule and make – the blank check so great , or this is just a matter of don’t do what I do, but do what I say .
[…] 20:39 – Here’s what I’m talking about when I mention “Save the Cat.” […]
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