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Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need Paperback – May 25, 2005
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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.
This book is best for those who want to learn more about film storytelling, method, and industry stuff. It DOES NOT explain formatting or anything close to how to LITERALLY write a screen play. This is not a how-to book in that sense. It more or less is just a book on different things to keep in mind when making a screenplay. Also, a lot of it is, I feel, outdated in the modern hollywood landscape. This book came out in the early 2000's when big budget hollywood was less crap than it is now in 2016. He gives kudos to Legally Blonde and poops on Memento. A lot of his praise and taste is in favor of the big hollywood mindset and money rather than for good filmmaking. He's more about getting paid than making the next oscar winner.
So anyway, the book is worth the read if you know what you're getting into. It's outdated and made by a man who died without getting a rotten tomatoes score above 13%.
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.