In this post, I’m going to review Martin Scorsese’s MasterClass, summarize the content, share the highlights, give you key tips to get even more out of the experience, and offer my (very few) criticisms.
Save the Cat! Goes to the Indies
How did Blake Snyder change the way you write?
SR: Save the Cat! blew my mind. It was exactly what I was looking for: a cohesive, logical, useful method which also was fun to read and so different from other, apparently more intellectual, but also more limiting methods.
Then I was so lucky as to find out that Blake himself was about to teach a seminar near Barcelona, so I decided to attend. There, among a small group of about 10 writers, we had time to work on our stories under his encouragement and guidance, and I structured an entire movie in just a few days!
When you realized that the Save the Cat formula was present in indies, did it change the way you thought about indies… or about big-budget blockbusters, for that matter?
SR: Both kinds of films have the same basic goal: to tell a good story. The means, techniques, rhythms, and pacing may be different! But in the end, some small indie films become as successful and lucrative as big-budget blockbusters. And nowadays it’s probably easier to start working and to build a career starting in the indie world, so I think that knowledge of independent films is paramount for any student or aspiring filmmaker.
What inspired you to write “Save The Cat! Goes To The Indies”?
SR: For many years I worked in an European production/distribution company which received numerous indie scripts to consider from well-known names like David Cronenberg, Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, etc.
I decided to write a beat sheet for Amour by Austrian auteur Michael Haneke and published it on the Save the Cat! Blog and it was very popular. That made me think that a full book could be written showcasing Blake’s genres and structural system in the world of indie screenwriting and filmmaking.
If someone could only read one beat sheet of the 50 films included in Save The Cat! Goes To The Indies, what beat sheet would you suggest they focus on?
If indie films follow the same formula as blockbuster hits, why do they feel so outside-the-box?
SR: I wouldn’t say that all indie films follow the same formula. The world of indie, auteur and experimental cinema is really vast and has many more approaches and influences. But I would definitely say that whenever an indie film becomes a worldwide success it’s because inside there is a perfectly classic script and thus it can be written from the STC! principles.
To show it, in the book we included worldwide hits as The Blair Witch Project, Little Miss Sunshine, 28 Days Later, The Full Monty, Reservoir Dogs, Amélie, Her, Fight Club, Birdman, Lost in Translation, Trainspotting, Before sunrise, Pi, The King’s Speech, Life is Beautiful, Match Point, The Artist, Dogville, Cinema Paradiso and many others!
What do you say to writers who are afraid that following the Save the Cat formula will prevent them from writing something groundbreaking and original?
SR: I would say that in all kinds of art there are what I like to call, in opposition to formulas, formats: a sonnet will always have a fixed format, just like a Japanese haiku, symphony, even a cathedral. They are supposed to be composed or written or built in a centuries-long tried and proved way… and I don’t think anyone is more original or groundbreaking just for adding more verses!
For me, real originality is, as the saying goes, “give us the same thing, only different.” That is, starting from the classic formats, themes, and structures, it is the writer’s duty to make it original and groundbreaking with choices of ideas, characters, concepts, and more.
With Save the Cat! Blake Snyder managed to explain this ages-long format in an useful, funny and easy way, making our learning easier – and that’s something to be thankful for.
What movie do you think writers will be most surprised to find in this book?
SR: I think there are some surprising choices! For example, in our “horror” film section, called Monster in the House there is a political drama as The Lives of Others, showing how you can play with genres and audiences’ expectations.
Also, seemingly unbeatable films as Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction are explained in depth, the first featuring two consecutive beat sheets and the second containing no less than three! There are also films with dual or parallel beat sheets, as Blue Valentine and Being John Malkovich. I think readers will come to see how flexible the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet can be, when it comes to atypical creative solutions!
What do writers have to gain from analyzing indie films at this level of detail?
SR: What would a composer gain from analyzing Beethoven’s sonatas? What would a painter gain from analyzing Michelangelo’s style? Every kind of artist benefits from analyzing and learning from the master’s work.
Studying “50 Films From the Masters” will give readers a chance of gaining more insight about their favorite films, writers and directors, enabling them to better learn from their work. I, as a film analyst, can attest to that, since I have reviewed more than 1000 scripts along my career, and learned as much from both the good and the bad ones. Of course, the book focuses exclusively on the good ones!
What do you hope writers will get from this book?
SR: I really hope they will get the insight that there is a technique to write indie films that will allow them to retain all their creativity and personality in filmmaking, while still using a strong structure and genre that more easily translates to box-office success.
Do you ever come across a successful movie – indie or otherwise – that does not follow Blake Snyder’s formula? If so, do you feel the film still “works” without that structure?
SR: Simply put, I haven’t! Inside every successful film there is a Blake Snyder Beat Sheet that fits within one or more of Blake’s genres.
You mention that Snyder’s formula doesn’t just apply to film, but to other mediums as well. Do you think writers like novelists or graphic novelists should read the Save The Cat series?
SR: Yes, absolutely. Blake’s work applies to story in any medium.
I think a lot of writers worry that following a formula like this will make their story feel too familiar and routine. As someone who has watched a lot of movies actively noticing the Save The Cat structure, can you speak to whether the consistent use of this formula makes these movies feel stale?
SR: There are many factors that can cure writers of those fears! First, if they look at the impressive 50 film analysis that the book consists of, they will see movies that defy traditional conceptions of writing— and we show how they are written.
Each of those films allows their authors to express their individuality and personality, be it Ken Loach, David Cronenberg, the Coen Brothers or Woody Allen. Would anyone dare say that their films, along with others as Tarantino or Lars von Trier are, familiar, stale, routine or formulaic?