One of the biggest flaws I see in low-budget films today is that, too often, filmmakers either have no idea of proper script structure or they have the anarchist belief that everything should be thrown out in the new era of filmmaking. A good friend of mine put it succinctly, "Learn from the work of film's predecessors and build on it. Don't reinvent the wheel." The advice is good and sound.
Blake Snyder is here to teach you the basics of the Wheel of scriptwriting that's been honed in the Hollywood system. With that said, I will provide this caveat: this is not a book to teach you how to write outside the traditional story arc. However, that's not a bad thing because you need to know what the rules of traditional screenwriting are before you can effectively break them. Blake Snyder does a great job of breaking down the math of the traditional screenplay.
Blake's writing style is interesting and compelling. He gives lots of examples from profitable films so that you can easily understand what is valued by audiences AND Hollywood (if you wish to sell your screenplay to the studio system).
Blake really goes into a lot of detail to break down how to write your screenplay, using his decades of experience has a successful Hollywood writer to back up his ideas. He covers coming up with a successful logline, how to outline the film based on beats, how to write the script, how to repair it, and what are extremely important tips to remember. The information is relayed in a way that stresses the importance of your film being as accessible to as many people as possible so as to be as profitable (and therefore, sell-able) as possible.
Interestingly enough, it is not only low-budget filmmakers who need the information in this book, but also mainstream Hollywood films that desperately need this book. The recent Tom Cruise film, Knight and Day, was an excellent example of a film that was truly wretched because the scriptwriter didn't know how to set up the script and overall story arcs to make a compelling film. (In the book, Snyder talks about creating a special "Board" for your film before you write your script that allows you to put all of your favorite scenes on to cards on a physical bulletin board, and then fill in all the gaps between scenes so you have a story that flows. Unfortunately, it seemed as though screenwriter Patrick O'Neil put up his favorite scenes for Knight and Day and then, rather than filling in the blanks, just decided to have the main character pass out between these scenes. The result was a sloppy movie that became a monumental disaster.)
Despite all the great things in it, you will need to read this book with a shaker of salt as he shows extreme disdain for films that break this mold and were not as successful in the box office. For example, he reams the brilliant Christopher Nolan film, Memento, as being essentially a hack film due to its lackluster box office results. (Ironically, in another part of the book, he used Citizen Kane as an example of great filmmaking, despite the fact that it was a box office disaster that made Memento look like Titanic!)
Whether you agree with everything Snyder says or not, you will definitely find that the book holds your interest throughout. One of his tips which created the name for the book, "Save the Cat!" is especially interesting in light of one current box office film. The Save the Cat concept is that you need to find a way to get your audience to root for your protagonist very early in the film. The best way to do this is to let him do something kind or selfless, like giving food to a hungry urchin or, not surprisingly, saving a cat from a tree. In the recent box office success, Book of Eli, the protagonist kills a feral cat to eat for his dinner. However, his 'Save the Cat' moment came a few minutes later, when he was cooking the cat and chose to feed a piece of the roasted cat to a hungry mouse, a clear wink and a nod to Blake's well known theory! (Special thanks to MFM writer Eric Henninger for bringing this to my attention after we both saw this great film!)
All this to say, Snyder's helpful tips and humorous opinions will easily keep you reading to the last page!
With all the step by step elements to this book, you will definitely come back to it as you work on the different things Snyder talks about, such as creating your "Board" for mapping your story and using index cards to keep track of the Beats.
At just under $20, this book is a no-brainer. If every low-budget filmmaker would read this before they write their first screenplay, they would be far better off. Even if you choose to diverge from his suggested paths after reading this book, you will do so from a place of understanding rather than ignorance.
Despite some acerbic comments for writer/directors who differ from the norm of Hollywood scriptwriting, Blake Snyder packs his book full of seriously helpful advice. It's tragic that his death last year will prevent future editions of this book from being released, but it's wonderful that he was able to pass on so much of his knowledge beforehand.