Sunday, May 15, 2011

Save The Cat!

I am not a writer. I wish I were. Sadly, like most of humanity, I lack the talent needed to become a decent writer. Still, I try.

The latest book that I picked up on writing is Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! .The subtitle is: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. Wow! that says a lot.

I am not a screenwriter either But I like cats, I know people with cats, and I have saved a cat at least once in my lifetime. So, how can you not pick up and read a book like that?

The book is thin. It has that going for it. Too often a book makes a better door stop than a good read. And like Blake says, when screenwriting you have got to know, "What is it?

Actually, by training, I am a trial lawyer and I have been saying a version of "What is it about?" for most of my life. Lawyers, by training, seem to be obtuse. The old joke is there is nothing brief about a lawyer's brief.

I was not quite so blunt in my assessment of a case. Rather, I said, "Say it in 20 words or less." I called it the "Golden Nugget" - the thing we have all been searching for. Hidden among all the refuse, dirt, and waste is something of value. We just need to pick it up and give it a little polish.

Imagine  you are a jury sitting there listening to two lawyers drone on with highfalutin' words.  Most likely, you are going to agree with the one who can put it in plain words without boring you to death.

Blake, of course, is speaking of movies and not lawsuits. And by this question, "What is it about?, he means that if you can't figure out what the move is about pretty quickly, you'll know. You  will know and move on, for as Blake notes, there are hundreds of cable channels with which to click. It is not like the old days, where you actually had to get up off the couch or bed and turn the TV dial.If you know what I mean then you are probably a Baby Boomer. Today's generation has a remote in its hand and if the channel doesn't entertain, then it is history.

The "logline" is Blake Snyder's synonym for my "Golden Nugget". The logline or one-line is how the screenwriter says what the movie is about in one quick sentence. It is the cut to the chase moment, the aha moment, when the movie goer gets in on the action. Lately, I find my self saying to my children or others who go on and on and on, "I hope this story has a point." Really, everyone has been there when a rambling and confusing array of words streams out of someone's mouth without any real purpose or direction. Abraham Lincoln said it best, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Whoops, I find my self digressing. A fault my children often point out.

Blake gives some great examples of good loglines. Try this one on for example:

NY Cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and finds the building under attack by terrorists - Die Hard

Can it get any better? My daughter who used to debate in high school would observe that the terrorists make it topical. NY cop LA says it it is about cross cultures. Estranged wife says that all the executive women in the audience are going to love one-upping it over the blue collar husband on the outs.

This compelling mental image means that the audience has already formed an image of what the movie is about without even seeing the first scene. Who can't relate to one of those three genres. The audience is keyed in. And what is up with the title, Save the Cat! Well, that is nothing more than Blake Snyder's mental image of the hero of the movie swooping in and saving the cat for the heroine.

Blake Snyder also observes that we all love irony. So, a good title should have a touch of irony. If you think about it, the King of Irony was William Shakespeare. Not so much with the titles to his plays, but in the words his actors spoke. All's Well that Ends Well might be the one nod to an ironic title in Shakespeare's portfolio. The point being is that irony gets us to think.The screenwriter means this, but he might also mean that. Die Hard, for example is a battery that has a thousand lives like the Bruce Willis character of the movie.

The ancient Greeks theorized that we remember by associating images with ideas. And Die Hard makes it easy by associating Bruce Willis' character with the battery with the same attributes.

There is more to Save The Cat! Read it and enjoy.


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