Thursday, October 30, 2008


I have a 46% chance of taking out a velociraptor with a crowbar.

My fear, however, isn't velociraptors. It's aliens. Lots of people have irrational fear of zombies. I'm not one of those silly people. Zombies = easy to kill. Aliens with acid blood = a royal pain in the ass.


Cats and lynxes, however, are just fine. I think this pair live in the St. Petersburg zoo. A lynx, while it looks cool (and perhaps like the alien ambassador from Andromeda Prime) probably makes a lousy pet.


You realize that typically the pictures I post are in no way related to the subject or the title of my post. However in my previous post about the book "Save the Cat" I titled the post "Cats and Dogs". The second picture is a Swedish Fish advertisement which has a cat in it. The first picture is of the band Bow Wow Wow and is their parody of Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe which, you see, it's because a dog... well... makes a "bow wow" sound... um... Well my sister didn't understand why I'd posted that picture and now I haven't explained it very well either. Maybe I should have more of this Apple Schnapps -- Berentzen ApfelKorn

OK, so let me continue on with my thoughts on Saving the Cat.

Blake Snyder is almost comically formulaic -- "Theme goes on page 5" -- however structure is the problem which most screenwriters have (unless you're Josh James who seems to have the preternatual ability to perfectly plot out a story while he's brushing his teeth.*) 

If what you need is a structure to hang your screenplay from (meaning: you're the kind of writer who needs help with structure, or you're... me) you could do a lot worse than simply following Blake's "beat sheet" and even his page count. Obviously, if you have a really darn good reason to put your theme two pages earlier or whatever, go ahead and do it. But uh, why don't you try putting it on page 5 and see what happens? Yeah, I know. Page breaks are a biotch.

If the formula works, there's no reason to do anything different. That's why I like the Trajan font too, but that's a whole 'nuther story...


So I have to go along and say that yup, Save the Cat is pretty much dead-on. And actually, I only have two minor differences of opinion with Blake. They're pretty minor, but it's my blog and I'll procrastinate by writing about them if I want to. If you're bored I'm sure I'll link to a silly video or a picture of a naked woman or a LOL cat just to keep your interest.

1. The first is his description of a typical screenplay problem - what he calls Double Mumbo Jumbo. I think he's right about the effect, but somewhat off about the affect

"...Audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie... You cannot see aliens land in a UFO and be bitten by Vampire..."

I think that the audience will accept almost everything you want to give them as long as it's established at the beginning of the movie. The two examples he cites are the Spiderman picture with the Green Lantern (was that just called "Spiderman"?), and Signs. We'll stipulate the following (that Blake Snyder and I agree):

OK, so we'll buy that a guy gets bit by a radioactive spider and becomes superhuman. But then later some other dude does some whacky laboratory stuff and gets weird superpowers too? That's wack. And annoying. 

And in Signs we have a guy having a crisis of faith and then at the very end of the movie a stupid alien shows up. That's wack too. And, shockingly, vastly more annoying.

But I say what both these examples have in common is that the second thing came in loooooooong after the first reel.** If Spiderman was established, say, in the world of the X-Men and we were to show that superpowers are things that just happen in this world (whether because of some sort of radiation or alien spiritual plague or whatever) then it would be just fine if an evil silver surfing dude showed up later on because we would have established that those kinds of things happen in the world of the movie. But because Spiderman establishes that this spider thing is a special one-time-kinda event it's very hard to deal with someone else getting some weird superpower via another method (but if someone else were to also be bit by a radioactive spider, I think, it would totally work in the Spiderman world.)

Signs is... unfixable. I got nuthing. That movie is just stupid. 

In any case, I think the problem isn't so much with too much mumbo-jumbo, but rather with "Have you established that we do this kind of mumbo jumbo in this picture?" early on. If you don't establish your mumbo-jumbo up front then any additional mumbo jumbo will be suckitty poo.

2. The second thing is that he seems really irritated with Memento. I suspect that's because a lot of students have tried to use it as a counter-example to Blake's structural ideas. I have to say, I liked Memento. I thought it was pretty brilliant actually. And I'm not so sure it violates any of his immutable rules -- even though the movie is backwards. But I think we can safely say that the picture was a one-trick pony. It ain't gonna happen again. So unless you're doing a remake of Memento, don't try to cop its structure or use it as a counter-example to anything.


I only have one last thought regarding Saving the Cat, the Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. I wonder if it just makes so much sense because I've read so many other books and websites on screenwriting. So maybe it's the last book because you've probably already read Alex Epstein's Crafty Screenwriting and suchly. I dunno.

I'll leave you with The Asylum's Transmorphers.

*Which makes other writers angry when they find that out. Maybe the rest of us could feel better if we just say to ourselves that Josh only makes it look easy. 

**Ooh look at what a director-centric snob I am: rather than talking about page-counts I'm talking in reels, like I've ever prepped a picture of mine for theatrical. Meh!


Chance Shirley said...

I break my movies into reels!

Makes it easier to manage in Final Cut Pro.

Joshua James said...

The thing about something happening on a certain page is a bit far out, it really depends upon the genre and story . . . but for those who are interested, there is this beat calculator:

You put in how many pages your script is and it tells you what page a certain beat should happen.

Myself, I don't have a problem with this per se (because in television writing it's really structured out like that, with a teaser, first act out, second act out, etc, and there's some good writing in there) because for certain types of films, it can be very helpful. It's one way of structuring a film that many people are familiar with and can understand.

It's not, however, the only way to really write a top notch commercial script, in my opinion . . . if you recall Aliens, we don't see an Alien until right before the end of the first act (not counting the dream sequence) . . . and the inciting incident is never seen (the people on the planet gone missing, prompting the company to call on Ripley, etc) . . .

I also would note that THE INCREDIBLES, a film I like a lot, is put together in sequences and there are seven acts to you ( I think Alex broke that down some time ago on his blog) ... In my opinion, one thing Blake's STC has done is explain structure and motivation (more scripts lack in the latter than they do in the former, in my opinion) in a simple, bite-sized user friendly bits that helps folks who don't write to understand what he's doing and thus, helps him to sell more scripts . . . that's not meant as a negative, it's actually a brilliant marketing move . . . but for me, genre and story and structure are more like music than anything else, and there are vast complex operas and simple bubble gum ditties, all of which have differing requirements of structure, tone, character . . . In other words, there is more than one way to save a cat. And sometimes cats save us.

I like MEMENTO a lot too, and it's very well structured (and Oscar nom'd). As is BATMAN BEGINS and DARK KNIGHT, both co-written (along with Goyer) by the Nolan Brothers, both the latter being epic dark operas of character . . . regardless of whether liked them or not, they certainly resonated with audiences world-wide (not gonna debate with anyone slagging on DK, it works, that's my professional opinion) . . .

I don't know if there's a best screenwriting book . . . there are tons people need to be familiar with just because the people you're often selling to know those books, so you have to read them as well . . . but in my opinion, the absolute best book on writing is ON WRITING by Stephen King.

Okay. You got me on a rant. I'll go back to lurking.

Andrew Bellware said...

Josh -- I think you're right on with what you're saying here. The music analogy is very interesting -- that's a place where I feel more comfortable moving away from established form. But I certainly STARTED composing by slavishly modeling after very specific forms.

Ultimately, whatever works... well, works.

What I think is interesting about Save the Cat is that he solves the problems that I'd suppose a majority of writers have. Specifically, he solves a lot of problems that I have.

That doesn't mean to say I won't one day make a picture which defies everything he says and that it'll be freakin' fantastic.

In fact, I may already have. ;-)

Andrew Bellware said...

You know what's interesting about Aliens? When it was written you did in fact see the aliens in the first act and the takeover of the facility.

They even shot all that. But IMHO they made the movie VASTLY better after having taken it out.

jengordonthomas said...

apple schnapps seems to make you a bit more bloggular (?)

Andrew Bellware said...

I think it's called "blogarrhea."

Joshua James said...

Yeah, I heard that about Aliens . . . ultimately they figured it was better to wait and it was the right choice.

Just wonder if that would happen today, heh-heh.

Yeah, I tell folks all the time that story is closer to music than then think when it comes to construction . . . all music has a structure, and certain types have definitive structures (like pop music, hook, chorus, hook, chorus, etc) that you have to be aware of and, in fact, can take advantage of when learning - but to say that ALL music that is popular follows one-two-three is a bit ingenius . . . structure is more complex than folks think it is (especially when you get into time, space, telegraphs, call-backs, the dangle, etc) and it's always related to intent . . . the problem is when you're trying to put a common structure on a story that's intended for something else - it's a bit like trying to make Yao Ming a horse jockey . . . he's just not built for it . . . but with folks like Blake, rather than figure out the intent and structure it accordingly, they start with the structure and go from there until they have an intent (I don't think that's how he views it, of course) that fits their structural needs. And you can write some good flicks that way.

You can also write some bad ones . . . My Super Ex-Girlfriend, for example . . .

I'm not slagging on Blake, of course, he's smart and sold a lot of scripts . . . I'm just pointing out that it shouldn't be the LAST book one reads . . . and the simplification can get annoying once you get to a certain point. Because then people think they know everything there is to know based on his tidy outline, when in reality, there's so much more. . .

And because they know that, they feel free to lecture and or change and because the threshold moment is in the same place, say, "but the structure is still there" when in reality it may not be as a result of some . . . it may look like it, but now you got a seven foot six inch Chinese man on a horse instead of a basketball court.

Again, this is all just my opinion.

Joshua James said...

I forgot to add . . . a great example of the Yao Ming structure story I shared is THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (which is, interestingly enough, often cited for it's HERO'S JOURNEY structure) . . . when they originally were in pre-production (at Miramax, originally, I believe), they tried to make the whole thing as ONE movie, one long movie . . . it just didn't work as one film, you couldn't fit it in that bag . . . then they tried to fit it into two films . . . that didn't work and they let it go . . . New Line (I believe) picked it up and okayed THREE movies . . . they got a green light for three films (unlikely to happen had it not been for the long-lasting popularity of the books). . . because TLOTR is a big Yao-sized monster of a story, and to put it on a horse and expect it to cross the finish line first just doesn't work . . . it's a vast story and needs a different structure (now of course, each individual film has their own structure, one that follows Campbell's hero's journey explicitly) than a film like BABY-MAMA or THE ROAD . . . because the intent is different, the structure must reflect that.

Just my opinion, of course.

Damn it, see what you started?

Andrew Bellware said...

See what I started? Heck, that's why I MADE this post. ;-)

BTW: the velociraptor link doesn't work anymore. Sniff...