Why Save the Cat didn’t destroy screenwriting: it’s all been done before

Okay, okay, this is our last word about Save the Cat. Honest. We promise. Rilly…

save-the-cat1by The Bitter Script Reader

This is a replay post from a couple of years ago, but recent events have convinced me that it merits spotlighting again.  My buddy J.J. Patrow did an excellent comparison that placed the screenwriting philosophies of several leading “gurus” side-by-side.  One of these gurus was Blake Snyder, whose bookSave the Cat was recently eviscerated in a Slate article that targeted it as the reason that Hollywood movies suck.

I detest linking to the article, but I need to pull out at least one excerpt.

When Snyder published his book in 2005, it was as if an explosion ripped through Hollywood. The book offered something previous screenplay guru tomes didn’t. Instead of a broad overview of how a screen story fits together, his book broke down the three-act structure into a detailed “beat sheet”: 15 key story “beats”—pivotal events that have to happen—and then gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Given that each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, this makes Snyder’s guide essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula.

The problem I have with blaming Save the Cat for all of this is that there really isn’t anything new in that book.  It might be presented differently, but Synder’s overall philosophy isn’t too dissimilar from storytelling tenants that have been around long before film itself.  So without further ado, I’ll turn the floor over to J.J. Patrow:

By J.J. Patrow

Although good screenwriting isn’t easy, it can be learned through study and practice. That’s what we’re taught to believe. And we must believe it because thousands of people have been inspired to learn the craft, generating a huge market for screenwriting lectures, classes, workshops, instructional videos, and how-to books. It has also generated just as many reader opinions about which screenwriting guru offers the best advice.

Some authors champion a paint-by-the-numbers approach. The “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” in Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Needby Blake Snyder comes to mind. Other authors counter that step-by-step guides are misguided. In the introduction to The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay, by David Howard and Edward Mabley, Frank Daniel states that ”…the worst thing a book on screenwriting can do is to instill in the mind of the beginner writer a set of rules, regulations, formulas, prescriptions, and recipes.” (xix) And yet others choose the middle of the road. Andrew Horton writes in his book, Writing the Character Centers Screenplay, that writers should blaze new paths, but still “…pay attention to story and structure and other elements.” (2)

Read it all