Yesterday’s was certainly one of those. A number of people defended SAVE THE CAT and others maintained that it’s unfair to blame a bad movie on the script. So much more goes into a finished motion picture. Instead of commenting on your comments six times yesterday I thought I’d do it all at once today. As always, feel free to weigh in, rebut, or buy my book (Sorry. Had to slip that in there.)
If you read yesterday’s article carefully you’ll see I don’t disagree with the CAT defenders as much as you think. I never said you should avoid the book. You should read books on structure and learn from them. My problem is that when people slavishly follow the steps their movies can become very formulaic. Author Snyder gives the disclaimer that his fifteen steps are merely to be taken as suggestion, but let’s face it – that’s not how most readers see it. There’s a magic formula. Follow it to riches and an invite to Spielberg’s Oscar party.
linked to her rebuttal and made some excellent points. The script is merely one part of the process. So many other things can go wrong. And Ms. Palmer was a studio executive so she knows of what she speaks.
But I would add this, with all due respect, the process has become harder because screenwriters have to address studio notes. And many of those notes are counterproductive. Why? Several reasons. Often the executive giving the notes is not qualified to do so. They’ve never written anything, they lack experience, and their knowledge stems from the books they’ve read, the movies they’ve seen, and the courses they’ve attended.
Trust me, writers know in two seconds whether you’re one of these executives. You’ll use catch-phrases and refer to tropes and we know instantly you just got back from a Robert McKee seminar or a cat is still alive because of you.
Another reason: since no one knows why certain movies click while others don’t studios naturally try to duplicate success. Why do you think every comic book character except Little Lulu has their own blockbuster? Why is there another DIE HARD with AARP member, Bruce Willis? Writers are often steered away from originality and more towards what is deemed commercially successful. Hollywood spends a lot of money to make these movies. It only stands to reason they want to hedge their bets.
And third: Writers are given notes that have nothing to do with strengthening the dramatic narrative. They’re told to do at least five block comedy scenes. They’re told to provide more trailer moments. They’re told to put a scene in a certain location because a product placement deal has been made. They're told to rewrite the character to accommodate Rebel Wilson because she's a hot property and they want her in the movie.
Yes, good movies are hard to make – but these elements just make it harder.
So I’m going to end today pretty much just rephrasing what I said yesterday. Story structure is vitally important. Read these books. Use them as a tool. Use their guidelines as a starting point. But don’t let them clip your wings. If there was a computer program that could spit out a salable screenplay Hollywood would never call you again. But there isn’t. Screenplay writing is art. It’s a celebration of imagination.
And if you’re going to read books, don’t just concentrate on structure. Read books about character development. For my money, THAT’S your real starting point. Good, fresh, original, compelling characters.
Actors get movies made and no actor ever signed on to a project because the story beats were in the correct order. CATS are fine. CHARACTERS are better.