Don’t let the title throw you, it’s not about cats, but refers to one of the key ideas Blake mentions in his book. It’s the scene, right near the beginning of a film where the hero does something – like saving a cat from a tree – that defines who he is and makes the audience like him. Once you are made aware of this beat you start to notice it in every film you see. It’s a good thing.
Blake talks about loglines, how to write one and that if you nail it before you start writing your script it can help you keep focused throughout the process. How using irony, creating a mental picture, and a sense of who the film is aimed at are invaluable things to convey in a logline.
He stresses that it’s important to know what kind of movie you are making so you don’t get lost in the middle. He has categorized 10 types of movies and believes pretty much every movie falls into one of them. They take a bit of explaining but a few of them are Rites of Passage, Dude with a Problem (Diehard), Buddy Love (Dumb and Dumber), The Fool Triumphant (Forrest Gump)and Whydunnit (The Insider).
The one paragraph that I go back to time and again is:
…this is all about your hero. Give him stakes. Real stakes. Primal stakes. Stakes that are basic, that we understand. Make the hero want something real and simple: survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, fear of death.
This reminds me that I’m not writing a soap, there has to be a big issue at stake for the script to fly.
And my all time favorite idea from this book is Blake Snyders Beat Sheet. I don’t know how I ever wrote a script without one. Basically, it’s a board where you tack up all your favorite scenes and ideas and see what goes where. It makes sure you hit all the important structural points, and shows you where you have huge gaping gaps in your script. The book is worth it for this information alone. I’ve had beat sheets spread over my walls, my closet doors and now I have portable ones made from two canvas panels joined with gaffer tape. I make a new one for each script. I’d feel lost without it.
I highly recommend this book to every feature film writer. Borrow it, buy it, steal it. Just not my copy 🙂
update: I just watched The Social Network and I hated it. I know, I know, most people apparently loved it, whatever. I hated the protagonist, for good reason, and it made me never want to use facebook again. Not that that’s actually going to happen, but you understand… I think they could have made a much better movie if they’d had him save the cat. In the first 5 minutes, if he’d done something, ANYTHING, that made you want to give him a big hug, instead of punch him in the face, but alas. No. They should have read this book.