Three important screenwriters died recently. Which writer’s work will have the greatest impact on the future of movie-making?
A) Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront)
B) John Hughes (Ferris Beuller’s Day Off)
C) Blake Snyder (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot)
The answer, in the pattern of how these things always go, is C) Blake Snyder.
Yes, Budd Shulberg embodied the sweaty, liberal spirit of of key-pounding, truth-telling and name-naming. And yes, John Hughes filmed the emotional slideshow of your oh-so-special adolescent memories. But Blake Snyder cracked the double helix of how movies are, and WILL BE. And, more importantly, he told the world.
Blake Snyder wrote an amazingly digestible – no, pre-digested – screenwriting manual called Save The Cat. The book breaks down the codes of conventional movie studio storytelling into its most basic, simple clichés. And it sells better than organic baby food at the Santa Monica Whole Foods. Does it teach you to be a better writer? Not really. Does it spell out in no uncertain terms the formulas for making every movie just like every other movie? Yes.
And not just writers read it. Save the Cat is on the desk of producers, executives, marketers, CEOs – the people who really decide which films are made. Not that Blake was wrong in how he broke modern movie storytelling down to its base elements. He indeed seems to have cracked the filmic Da Vinci Code with his “10 Genres of Movies” (The Da Vinci Code – “Dude with a Problem.”) But the book is just a bummer in its full-on embrace of marketing as screenwriting’s driving force.
I know, it’s uncool to blame the messenger. (Especially, now that he’s dead.) Movies have been and will be formulaic forever. But here’s the thing: now that everyone in Hollywood has Blake Snyder’s infant formula in their hands and minds, it’ll be even worse. So if you’re wondering why all movies seem even more super same than ever, blame the cat.