How to save cats and survive in Hollywood

Blake Snyder 1957-2009

One of the most enthusiastic and entertaining users of Twitter is Graham Linehan, the award-winning author of Father Ted, Black Books and the IT Crowd (http://whythatsdelightful.wordpress.com/). He recently posted an item pointing interested parties in the direction of Script Collector (http://scriptcollector.blogspot.com/), a fascinating website where writers and wannabees can learn from the masters.

One recent script uploaded on the site was the Spielberg classic ‘Dune’ which prompted somebody to ask how we could read a screenplay that was largely free of dialogue.  They were missing the point that images often make a point in a far more memorable manner than speech. Yes, we’ve come a long way since the talkies were invented, but we don’t go to the Cineplex to listen to a Radio 4 drama.

This is an argument that would have been seized on with glee by the late Blake Snyder, who possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of movie history and was an indefatigable teacher of screenwriting technique (http://www.blakesnyder.com). Snyder’s best-known book, “Save the Cat”, strikes some British readers as gauche. His sunny Californian optimism jars our chillier sensibilities.

But Snyder was the real deal. In “Save the Cat”, he asked readers to contact him and promised to reply. So I pinged off an idea and waited in cynicism for the automated response. What I received was a witty note that prompted a fruitful and friendly exchange. When he died in August, I was surprised by how personal the loss felt.

His latest book “Save the Cat Strikes Back”, published posthumously, was kindly sent to me by Snyder’s childhood friend and sometime collaborator, Tracey Jackson – who is an established screenwriter in her own right (http://www.traceyjacksononline.com/). The book is no mere retread of old ideas. It takes the reader deeper into Hollywood territory and unflinchingly presents some plain truths: your screenplay is a work-in-progress not the pinnacle of Western civilisation; writers need the folks in suits more than the folks in suits need writers; and without focus all the talent in the world will get you nowhere.

Snyder knew what he was talking about – he was a successful Hollywood player.  But he was also one of those rare souls whose instinct, when they see somebody trying to clamber aboard the life raft, is to reach out and help rather than stamping on their fingers. That is why he deserves to be remembered with respect and affection.

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