Save the Cat – 10 Years Later

Sitting at the boardroom table of my feature development screenwriting class at Chapman University I was filled with anticipation and anxiety. My leg shook nervously as I looked up at the legendary Blake Snyder. I was more excited to take this class than any other in my entire life. Just a semester before I had changed my major from cinematography to screenwriting.

Blake’s book was fresh off the press. None of us knew it was going to be the next big thing or that Blake would be hailed a screenwriting genius…not even Blake. I was excited to take his class because I considered him a family film guru, exactly the type of entertainment I planned on writing. Later that day Blake told me it was so refreshing to have someone love family entertainment as much as he did. He said most people only wanted to concentrate on the big action pictures, thrillers and buddy comedies. He said I was genius for going into family entertainment because it was timeless and that’s where the big money was; family entertainment was never a trend.

I bought a copy of Blake’s book that day from him. It was to be the “textbook” for our course. Blake sold it to myself and my fellow screenwriting students at a discount, a number he seemingly made up off the top of his head stating he wished he could give it away for free, but that his publisher would kill him. I instantly knew I would love him. Blake’s enthusiasm for storytelling was contagious. As I got to know him more over the years I realized it was teaching “the story” which made him happy. Constructing and deconstructing stories was his saving grace, probably the only thing which made his demons go away.

The semester came and went in a flash, and with it Blake. Thankfully we stayed in contact, in fact, Blake always answered his phone, returned my emails and helped solve every story problem I presented him. In fact, he even helped deal with personal problems. It was during one such meeting that I saw the depth of his sadness; in talking about my dad, he shared his own story of loss. The depth of Blake’s grief was deep, yet most of the time it was hidden by a smirk, sarcastic wit and brilliant ideas.

It has been 10 years since the first of Blake’s Save the Cat books was published. Ten years. God, it has gone by in a blink.

Save the Cat was and still is the book on screenwriting. Blake made story structure a simple equation. I read somewhere that his dear friend Tracey Jackson said Blake could break down a story to find the problem in three minutes and fix it in four. I couldn’t agree more.

Every day while I’m writing I ask myself, “What would Blake do?”

I still hear his voice in my head…

“Where’s the irony?”

“Add more ‘fun.'”

“What’s the story?”

“I figured it out!”

Blake, I miss you. Ten years later and I still have the notes I took that first class as well as the handouts he gave us and of course, that first copy of Save the Cat…and I’m never letting it go.