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Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need Paperback – May 25, 2005
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From this start, he covers what you need to do in each part of the book to hold the readers attention. This is a pretty small book (less than 200 pages), but one that if you are interested in writing you need to read a couple of times, and then see how your story fits with his guidelines. So you'll need to read it again. It is written with a light and friendly style that informs without lecturing.
Save the Cat is basically a book full of little gimmicks for improving a screenplay, as well as pitfalls to avoid. The title comes from the idea of having the hero of the story save a cat early on in the movie to establish his/her likability. It sounds silly, but the examples Snyder gives (it’s not always literally a cat) demonstrate how effective it is. You have to take some of his opinions with a cup or so of salt; he is more concerned with making a script salable than writing something original, which is understandable, except then he proceeds to denigrate Memento, calling it a “low-performing art house film,” and praises the writer of the forgettable Skeet Ulrich movie Chill Factor as a “genius.” (For the record, Memento made $25 million on a $9 million budget; Chill Factor made $11 million on a budget of $70 million. Also, Memento is a cult classic that launched the career of Christopher Nolan of Inception and The Dark Knight fame. Chill Factor is currently chilling at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Still, Save the Cat is worth reading for the very concrete advice it gives in structuring a screenplay. I think his tips apply to screenwriting sort of the way the rules of grammar apply to dialog: you need to internalize them and then forget them. If you doggedly apply the rules to dialog, you end up with stilted dialog. If you insist on following the advice in Save the Cat to the letter, you may end up with a movie like Chill Factor.
A script writer is a cog in the wheel of the movie making process -- an important cog, but a cog nevertheless. For a movie to be made nowadays MILLIONS of dollars have to be raked from investor's wallets and dozens and hundreds of actors and crew need to be hired. If you've ever invested in anything you know that you want to be somewhat sure of your return on investment.
To me movie making is closer to constructing a building then creating more traditional art (per above.). The building's investors want to see a blueprint that they think is somewhat, to some degree, proven to work before they put down their money and break ground.
"Save The Cat" lays out a blueprint (formula) for script writing that has proven to work time and again. Snyder does an excellent job of identifying and codifying the key elements that make up a great script. And for those reviewers who criticize Snyder's own scripts as a reason his formula isn't good, well, in my opinion that's a bit of a cheap shot. Snyder uses many examples of block buster movies that follow his formula... not just his scripts.
Snyder's techniques aren't the only techniques, but they are very clear and concise and offer a very workable blueprint to follow.
However, if you're serious about screen writing you will want to read other books. Just as there are many ways to save a cat, there's many ways to skin a cat. Snyder's book isn't the only one you should have in your library, and I believe he would be the first one to tell you that.
My main issue with the book is that Snyder does lay it all out like it is Gospel, especially when he gets into structure where he lays out what MUST happen on specific pages. The novice screenwriter shouldn't get so hung up on this. This is where he should look to other books and read screenplays to see how they do it.