|Save the Cat's Jose Silerio|
We admit it - We're huge fans of Save the Cat! Of late, saying this has become kind of stupidly impolitic amongst some screenwriters. You know the score -- some folks seem to think that the late, great Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat!" books, and more specifically, the well-known screenwriting paradigm within known as the Save the Cat! beat sheet (or BS2) represents everything wrong with movies today.
Snyder's template took key elements of Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey (myth), mixed it up with Syd Field and a dash of McKee, plus his own movie biz savvy, of course, and came up with a basically foolproof screenwriting formula. "Save the Cat!" became required reading at most major production companies and studios -- for a reason. Because it works. "How to Train Your Dragon" was dedicated to Snyder. Every single Disney and Pixar movie follows the STC! formula to a tee, as do most major studio and indie films.
But the problem, and we acknowledge it as such, is that formula is indeed that. When you follow a certain paradigm, eventually everyone can anticipate what's going to happen next, and creativity stifles. This is certainly true, and we're seeing the results of this sameness in many movies of late.
However, what is also true is that some writers foolishly reject formula out of hand, for fear that it will "harsh their buzz." In other words, being forced to make certain things happen at certain times in their screenplays, even if it's in the best interest of the story (not to mention marketability,) is not something many writers are comfy with. So they reject such confining structural templates as the BS2. We understand.
Our position: you gotta learn the rudiments before you can solo. It's fine to deviate from a solid structural template, when it is in the best interest of the story to do so. But newsflash: the industry is expecting your scripts to follow Save the Cat! structure. if you don't have your inciting incident by page 15, for example, many agents and managers will stop reading. That's just reality. Remember, this is the movie BUSINESS. If you want to follow your muse, screenwriting is not the medium -- try novels, plays, blogging and so forth.
Don't ever be afraid of a little knowledge. Absorb it all, and then choose what works or doesn't work for your material. But remember, if you're looking to actually break in and be a successful screenwriter: Save the Cat! works.