Monday, June 14, 2010


Save the Cat! Press, 2009
200 pages
Book review by Ebony Jones

If you've packed what little crap you have to hightail it to Hollywood from the Midwest with stars in your eyes, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you. If you've found yourself praying you don't have to leave Hollywood because, four years later, you still haven't conquered the writers' world of Hollywood, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you. And if you find yourself making the Sunday phone calls home begging mom and dad for money in order to maintain the strength of “the force, Luke”, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you.

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! Strikes Back is not only going into the research book section of my library, but I might have to make room for it next to my Oprah-selected self-help stash. Not only did Blake take away my “why the hell did I become an artist” thoughts, he succeeded in helping me justify my 4-at-a-time Netflix subscription. I knew I was doing something right in the writing warm-up department. The past four years of my writing career has been one big warm-up. I could never bring myself to be serious and actually sit down to write. The critic in me was self-defeating and much stronger than the ones constantly asking “are you ever going to finish that script?”

How is this book different from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!? He does a great job of weaving in elements of the first book. The wonderful Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2) is back in case you didn't understand it the first time. He also discusses the “40 key scenes” and even diagrams “The Board”. It includes the same concepts from the first book, but from the perspective of Blake actually applying them to his seminars he's hosted around the world. He airs the frustrations from his most green writers to the professionals. In this book, Blake specifies how BS2 has solved their problems.

Another difference is where the “Strikes Back” of the title comes in. How do you strike back against the biggest critic in yourself? Blake helps deal with the pain of accepting all the notes you get once you finally release your pride and joy to the jaws of potential defeat. I say potential because Blake shows that there's hope in every script as long as it's carefully written with the tools he provides like the BS2, the Transformation Machine, and the “Storm the Castle”. The most important takeaway from this book is Blake never says never in any scenario.

Save the Cat! Strikes Back also discusses rewrite notes from producer Dan Goldberg's (The Hangover) perspective. Dan does his best to constantly reassure that it's not the producer's job to intentionally rip your heart out of your chest and stomp on it. But you also get the reality that sometimes the relationship between writers and studios just doesn't work out and there's always another chance as long as you don't make a fool out of yourself. Oh, and Blake shows you how to avoid doing that as well.

Save the Cat! Strikes Back discusses agents, managers, lawyers, and especially the big Catch-22 of not yet having any of those people on your team but being denied their services because you don't yet have those people on your team. Blake uses both himself and one of his fellow writers as an example of how you can overcome this.

One thing so important that this book addresses is something I've pondered over the last couple months: maybe I just need to pack up from Hollywood and go home. Blake Snyder has an answer for that, as well. Sometimes you might need to get away, but that doesn't mean it's the end of your career as a writer. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” He suggests other locales where you can succeed if “going home” isn't really an option.

You know how important it is to end your screenplay on a high note. Well, Save the Cat! Strikes Back doesn't disappoint with its ending. Blake wraps up his book by giving readers a glimpse into his own All Is Lost moment of his writing career. And it was this passage in the book that hit me like a ton of bricks, “And all of my best ideas were not connecting with holders of checkbooks. I was 31. In January, my father died.” I just turned 31 a month ago, and my homesickness was gigantic. I too felt all was lost, but those words and Blake's positive outlook through the end of the book was the “can do” that I needed to finish a hero's task. Never did Blake talk down to me or thumb his successful nose at the rest of us by giving the “my way or the highway” speech. The best advice he could give in Save the Cat! Strikes Back is “stop bitching and write.”

With Save the Cat!, Blake started out on a venture of giving writers a book that wasn’t like any other research book. And he knew that wasn’t enough, because it’s really not just about the writing. With Blake’s passing, we lost someone that really understood and cared about the underlying fears that writers go through. In his final gift to writers with Save the Cat! Strikes Back, Blake knew the psychological disappointment that Hollywood brings and he tapped deep into the heart and soul. Even though I didn't know Blake Snyder personally, he made me feel like an old friend that knew the pep talk I needed. From “snipping the ends” of this book, I am confident that Blake Snyder ended in the way he started--full of “I Can”.

Ebony Jones is a 2001 graduate of Cornell University's School of Hospitality with a degree in business communications. She has completed her first unpublished novel Swimming in Blue Drink as well as a teen-based short story, “When Ariel Lost Her Voice”. She is finally going to tackle restructuring the dramatic screenplay she's been working on titled “When Momma Dies”.

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