Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill Hollywood

ISBN-10: 1932907009
ISBN-13: 9781932907001
Published: 05/25/2005
Pages: 195
Ingram Discount Code: REG
The relationship between literature and film has always been a complicated one, but in a recent Slate piece Peter Suderman makes a compelling case that a single book published in 2005 is at least partly responsible for the formulaic blockbusters that dominate American cinema today. That book is Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, an extremely popular guide to writing and selling your screenplay. Suderman argues that, while previous screenwriting gurus Syd Field and Robert McKee were primarily interested in theory and promoted a fairly flexible three-act structure, Snyder's book is much more quantitative and practical. 

In fact, Snyder's book provides potential screenwriters with 15 story beats to hit, along with approximate page ranges to correspond with those beats. It reads more like, well, a formula than a theoretical framework. That formula is obviously effective when executed well, or the book wouldn't have met with such success, but Suderman also points out that "once you know the formula, the seams begin to show. Movies all start to seem the same, and many scenes start to feel forced and arbitrary, like screenplay Mad Libs." As anyone who has ever dealt with academia or taken a creative writing class can tell you, excessive instruction can scrape away the idiosyncrasies or personality of a particular work and leave it feeling stale and samey. 

I'm still not entirely convinced that Save the Cat! is a cause rather than a result of Hollywood's long-standing formulaic drift--after all, the beginning of the blockbuster era is usually traced to Jaws' release all the way back in 1975-- but the book's considerable influence is undeniable. Suderman even chose to write his piece using Snyder's 15-beat structure, a clever touch proving the soundness of Snyder's technique while demonstrating how it straitjackets the creative process. I find it strangely heartening that the written word still has the power to manipulate entire industries, even if I'm not entirely happy with the results.

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