Back in the early days at Writer Unboxed, Kathleen Bolton–my friend and co-founder here at WU–and I used to do weekly interviews with authors and industry gurus. These interviews not only brought us some fantastic traffic and were instrumental in raising WU’s profile, they were richly rewarding to everyone, including Kath and me. There were, of course, favorites. I think I can safely say one of Kath’s favorites was her interview with Diana Gabaldon (of Outlander fame). One of mine was with the brilliant and oh-so-charming Blake Snyder, author of a series of books for (screen)writers beginning with Save the Cat. Blake had just released his second book, Save the Cat Goes to the Movies, when we had our phone interview.
I’m going to share the first question from that interview with you here, because it’ll help to establish a grounding for the Save the Cat series and this interview as well.
TW: In the first Save the Cat, you introduce the idea that every story falls into one of ten new genre categories–Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized or Superhero. How does your latest book, Save the Cat Goes to the Movies, expand on this concept?
BS: In the first Save the Cat, I proposed that most well-structured stories fall into certain patterns. I pointed out fifteen points on the Blake Snyder beat sheet that I think are unique.
What I’m trying to get across is that there’s a function for every section of a story. As a writer myself, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it all out. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of success in selling scripts, and so breaking down the components of what makes any story work has always been my goal. That was the important thing in the first book.
The other important thing in the first book was the concept that there are ten story types. So what I wanted to do in the second book is basically prove my point, prove the case. In writing the second book, I wrote ten different chapters, each one about a different story type. I found five different examples of each story type and broke them out into the beats. It really is just proving the case.
“Just proving the case” makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it? But what Blake had done, I felt, was nothing short of astonishing, as he revealed the veritable DNA of story after story and type after type.
A brief aside: My son just finished his first year at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He wants to eventually direct films, though he could end up writing or editing, too. Point is, he loves story. We all love story. We put a movie on at my house, and after it’s finished we talk about that story for an hour, at least. What worked. What didn’t. Why. What we think could have made it better. My son’s had his hands on my well-worn copy of Save the Cat, and knew I’d had the honor of talking with and interviewing Blake. And so it was with some awe that he registered that Save the Cat is cited in his classes at USC — in what is arguably the #1 film program in the country (#mombrag).
Bottom line: Save the Cat has become a must-have book for screenwriters and accrued much industry respect. And even though Blake passed away at a far-too-young age back in 2009, his story analyses live on through film programs across the country via his own books and brand. So when I learned about a new book out from Blake’s former publisher, I was intrigued.
Save the Cat! Goes to the Indies: The Screenwriters Guide to 50 Films from the Masters was written by a former colleague of Blake’s, Salva Rubio–a graphic novelist and screenwriter who hails from Madrid, Spain. For a decade, Salva worked for Spain’s foremost independent production company, Alta Films, where he analyzed scripts by the Coen Brothers, Eric Rohmer, Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles, Jane Campion, and even Spain’s Ministry of Culture (ICAA), among others. As a graphic novelist, Salva works in the French-Belgian market (Le Lombard Editeur), having published such projects as Monet, Nomad of Light (2017), and the novel Zíngara: Searching for Jim Morrison. He also co-wrote the animated movie Deep (2017).
Interviewing Salva reminded me why Blake’s brand has withstood the test of time. And while the latest Save the Cat book may exist mainly to continue “just proving the case,” it is still fascinating.
How is it that so many different kinds of movies — at least those that are successful — roll out in such a similar fashion?
And — the big question here at WU — can novelists take anything away from what Blake recognized?
If you don’t know anything about Save the Cat, I hope this serves as a worthy introduction. If you already do know about the brand, I hope you enjoy this fresh perspective — and your introduction to Salva Rubio.
Q&A with Salva Rubio
TW: Can you tell us a little bit about how you became attached to the Save the Cat project? How did you know Blake, and what did you think of Save the Cat the first time you read it? Did you believe it would become the classic it has become?
SR: It all started about ten years ago, I was considering being a professional screenwriter and I used to read just about every book published in the market. So I got to read “Save the Cat” and it immediately blew my mind: it was so crystal-clear, easy, positive, straight to the point and the author (Blake Snyder) knew his craft, as he was a professional screenwriter. With it, I understood so many elusive concepts and I discovered that, no matter how easy it seems, it’s deep enough to use it for years.
After that, by sheer coincidence I noticed that Blake himself was about to teach his seminar in Barcelona, so I couldn’t miss it! We spent a week there, along with other 10 writers, beating a whole movie with its 40 scenes in just those days! After that I was incredibly confident in the STC method and in my abilities, and soon after I wrote a script that was a finalist in an important contest…
I remained in touch with Blake, exchanging emails and theories until his sad untimely passing. At that time I was working for a production company in Spain, in which I was handled scripts by top names in the European and indie industry, like Jane Campion, Gus van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Larry Clark, Christopher Hampton… and I discovered that, no matter how “auteur” or independent the resulting films were, the scripts were perfectly classic and thus fitted Blake’s theories.
So I decided to tell BJ Markel, editor of the books and the STC! Blog, and I wrote a chapter for him. He liked the idea, and we started work on “Save the Cat! Goes to the Indies”.
TW: Let’s talk about beat sheets. What sets them apart from other ‘tools of the trade’? Why do you think they work so well? [Read more…]