Blake Snyder. Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City, Ca.: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
This book is presented as an explanation as to what works for screenwriters. It recommends having a main character the audience likes and wishes to go with on a theatrical journey. The main character has to be a hear, someone who the audience sees early on doing something heroic, like save a cat.
A movies needs to show audiences “what it is” or else they won’t buy tickets to see it. Hollywood thus likes the pre-sold franchise, which is a sequel or a remake of a story they know audiences have bought before. People what “Shrek”, “The Hulk”, and “Ocean’s Eleven” are.
A screenwriter should be able to state what a script is in one line. This is known as a logline or a one-line.
A good logline contains irony and a hook that stirs interest in the story, It must present the entire movie.
Four quadrant pictures seek to appeal to the largest possible audience, form the young to the old, male and female.
A block comedy can be filmed on one block. It does not require moving cast to different locations and can be filmed cheaply.
A logline should indicate if a film is a four quadrant picture that can be filmed inexpensively.
A script should have a killer title that let one know the concept of the movie without doing so on the nose. The title should pass the “say what it is“ test.
Many in Hollywood despise the term “high concept”. It was a term popularized at Disney by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner. The author suggests the one sheet, or film poster, can tell what a movie is. High concept movies that could draw audiences on the logline and the theater poster have been around for decades, including the Preston Sturges 1940s movies and the Alfred Hitchock movies.
A screenwriters needs to know how to make twists to stories.
A screenwriter must know how to categorize a script, i.e. know what genre it is. The author sees movies as falling into one of the following categories: Monster in House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, The Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized, and Superhero.
The Golden Fleece has a hero discovering himself on an episodic journey.
Out of the Bottle is a fantasy fulfillment movie. It is a Cinderella or oppressed hero that the audience cheers for who learns a good moral lesson.
Dude With a Problem is about an ordinary guy facing an extraordinary situation.
Rites of Passage are about life transitions. A hero fights uncontrollable or incomprehensible forces of nature and emerges happy and better for it.
Buddy Love stories are primarily a movie creation, as in a movie needs the interactions of a hero with another character. Laurel and Hardy were among the first of the notable buddy movie stars. The usual formula is two people who hate each other are brought together to try to overcome a conflict, decide they are better off without each other, and, in the end, events create a catalyst where they realize they do need each other.
Whydunit movies explore the “why” something happened. The innermost motivations of the human character are exposed. A surrogate for the audience helps the audience play detective as the audience seeks to learn the why something happened. Often the why reveals something dark about us as people and forces the audience to explore the won lives.
The Fool Triumphant places an underdog besting a more powerful bad person. The bad person usually represents an establishment the public enjoys ridiculing, such as business people or government leaders. The Fool initially appears unable to achieve success. Usually, there is an insider who marvels at the unexpected chain of events.
Institutionalized involve common goals among several characters. The stories are told in a group setting. The story is often presented through the viewpoint of a newcomer to the group. This allows for a presentation and evaluation of how the group operates. Often the conclusion is a shock when one person makes an insane sacrifice for the good of the group.
Superhero films are the opposite of Dude With a Problem films. A hero, different from all others, has to cope with others who are jealous of the hero’s superiority. The audience builds sympathy with the emotionally misunderstood tortured hero. This type movie caters to the audiences’ fantasies of greatness and their realization of realities.
Blake Snyder explains these are the laws of screenwriting physics that show what works. One has to know these rules before one can truly feel originality in moving away from the rules.
A logline must include an adjective describing the hero, and adjective describing the antagonist, and a compelling goal with which audiences can identify.
The author states he usually comes up with an idea for a movie first. Still, the person that the movie is about, the main character, is critical, and the who has to serve the what.
A logline should be amp, or have it effect maximized. The logline should maximize conflict, maximize emotions, and be the most demographically pleasing (which often means including character in his or her 20s).
The hero has to have a basic primal need for the motivation driving the hero in the movie. The stakes have to be real and simple ones that an audience identifies with.
The author suggests never writing a script with a particular actor in mind. A script should be left for open casting. A screenwriter can never presume an actor will fulfill even a pervious commitment to appear in a movie.
When writing a biographical screenplay, the screenwriter needs to make the lead character someone the audience roots for.
When writing animated screenplays, the screenwriter needs to have a lead character who an audience identifies with, learns something from, has a story worth following, deserves rooting for to win, and has primal and realistic stakes.
After knowing the logline, pick a hero and antagonist, amp the goal and the conflict. A screenwriter then needs to consider the screenplay’s structure.
Movie structure consists of 15 beats. These are the Opening Image (page 1), Theme Stated (page 5), Set-up (pages 1 to 10), Catalyst (page 12), Debate (pages 12 to 25), Break into Two (page 25), B story (page 30), Fun and Games (pages 30 to 55), All is Lost (page 75), Dark Night of the Soul (pages 75 to 85), Break into Three (page 85), Finale (pages 85 to 110), and Final Image (page 110).
The Opening Image (page 1) provides the first impression of the movie. It should show what things are like before the beginning of the movie. The Final Image should show how things have changed.
The Theme Stated (page 5) presents, in a carefully written script in an offhand comment, the movie’s thematic premise.
The Set-Up (pages 1 to 10) is where the move needs to grab the audience’s attention. The major characters are introduced during the set up, and the audience learns something important about them. The audience needs to be able to understand why characters are called back into the story. Running gags could be created. This is the thesis before the action starts.
The Catalyst (page 12) is what starts the action.
The Debate (pages 12 to 25) requires the asking of a question and then presenting its debate.
Break into Two (no later than page 25) is where the audience learns something should happen. The hero must being a journey.
B Story (page 30) is the booster rocket story that carries the movie’s theme. Often it is a love story. It allows breathers from the main story. Often it involves new characters not seen in the first 10 pages. The author says every script must have a B story to allow discussions of the theme and to cutaway form the main story.
Fun and Games (pages 30 to 55) presents the promise of the premise. This is what is shown on the movie posters and presents the audience wants to to see the film. This is the heart of the movie.
The Midpoint (page 55) is usually a peak or a false peak from which the hero collapse or a down from which all collapses around the hero, even if it is a false collapse. This is where the stakes are raised.
All is Lost (age 75) is the whiff of death, or a “false death”. Sometimes the mentor dies. In a screenplay, this would be a symbolic death.
Dark Night of the Soul (pages 75 to 85) is the darkness before the dawn for the hero.
Break into Three (page 85) is where the hero comes up with a solution.
The Finale (page 85 to 110) is where both the A and the B stories wrap-up.
The Final Image (page 110) shows that things have changed.
The author suggests creating a board and examining all these beats. He suggests first examining the major turns. Look at where parts are missing or are overloaded. Make certain there are no black holes where the story doesn’t connect from one section to another. Be certain the hero has a showdown in the eternal light of act three. It is recommended to color code the board according to story and characters.
If there is an anti-hero, make the enemy worse. When there is an unlikeable hero, have the hero do something good.
The exposition or backstory can be told by doing something humorous or entertaining, what the author calls the Pope in the Pool.
Dumbo, Mumbo, Jumo should not be used. This means an audience will believe one piece of magic per movie.
Do not lay too much pipe, which is providing too much background information about about the story. The audience prefers getting to the story.
Avoid the Black Vet and don’t use Too Much Marzipan, which means to avoid getting stuck on a good idea and overusing it such that the repetition destroys its effectiveness.
Watch Out For That Glazier means not to use slow approaching danger. This bores audiences. Danger should be shown as an immediate threat.
The Covenant of the Arc requires every character, except the bad people, must have an arc, or be changed by the experience of the story.
Keep the Pres Out is a rule that the press should not be a part of the story. Keep the action contained among the characters and the audience. Breaking the fourth wall separates the story from the audience.
Avoid an inactive hero. The hero has to proactively lead the story.
Don’t talk the plot. Dialogue has to be natural. Show the plot rather than tell it.
Sometimes the bad guy has to be made badder.
Turn, Turn, Turn states the plot has to move quickly and with increasing complexity towards its resolution.
The Emotional Color Wheel means a move should use all the emotions of an audience. Good movies have scenes showing lust, frustration, and something scary.
“Hi, How Are You I’m Fine” means to avoid dull dialogue.
Dialogue should reveal character.
Take a Step Back states a screenwriter should check that the story and characters are complete.
Every character should have a Limp and an Eye Patch, or a unique manger of speech and some visual clue that makes remembering the character easier.
Is It Primal? reminds the screenwriter to keep motives basic. The hero wants love or not to be eater, etc. and the audiences empathizes with that.
A screenwriter should think of a screenplay as a business plan with a noticeable logline and great title. Getting an agent is luck but it’ll happen when it happens. Meet people, call them, and be prepared to hear people aren’t interested. A lot emerges from networking. Go to film festivals, classes, producer’s seminars, screenwriting groups, review movies for papers or online, and set up a web page. Screenplay contests are a waste of time. Don’t do something stupid to get attention.