Our guest blogger, Rick Drew, began as an assistant director, working on such films as Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, the original Superman, and Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Since attending The American Film Institute to pursue a career as a writer/producer, he has written over 100 hours of television for such series as MacGyver, Goosebumps, Mutant X, Twilight Zone, PSI Factor, Lonesome Dove, The Immortal, and Road to Avonlea, for which his episode, “Incident at Vernon River” won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program. He has developed television series for Universal Television, Global Television, Warner Brothers International, Ivan Reitman Productions, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He created the one-hour police drama Shattered for Global Television. His produced movies include Life in a Day for Paramount Television, Meltdown and Combustion for the Sci-Fi Channel, Tell Me No Lies for the Lifetime Network and Inhabited, starring Malcolm McDowell.
One of the many things I love about the principles of Save the Cat! is how the ideas created and shared by Blake Snyder continue to evolve and inspire creative people in so many ways.
This link will take you to a recent interview by Terry Gross on her NPR radio show, Fresh Air, regarding the new independent comedy, Sleepwalk with Me. Directed by Mike Birbiglia as a fictionalized incarnation of himself, the film is inspired by his genuine experience as a stand-up comic and monologist with a sleepwalking disorder that complicates his personal and professional life.
About 20 minutes into the interview, Birbiglia and his cowriter/producer Ira Glass (the host and creator of NPR’s This American Life) discuss how, during the test screening of the film they realized the audience was not connecting with the hero’s romantic dilemma.
The solution to the problem? STC to the rescue! Birbiglia called Glass’s attention to the importance of having a “save the cat” moment early on in the movie.
BIRBIGLIA: Like, there’s a whole book about it called Save the Cat!, which is essentially if you have a character that’s unrelatable in a script, have them do something nice early in the film, a la saving a cat. And from that point on, people will like the character.
And I kind of – truth be told, I kind of hate the book because I think it’s – it’s so simple, and I think it’s used kind of for evil in certain ways by studios. They’ll be like we need him to save the cat more. And then it’s like a whole movie about saving a cat. But I feel like it actually was an applicable lesson to our film.
GROSS: So what’s your save-the-cat moment, yeah?
GLASS: So we put in a scene, it’s like 40 seconds long, and it’s very – it’s like the third scene of the film. And basically Mike just picks up the girlfriend from work. Nothing happens. Like if you notice, nothing happens. He, like, he brings her some water and some nuts. They have like a little chat about where they’re going.
You don’t need the scene to make the story work because you could just skip it, and it works. All that happens is that you see that they get along. It’s literally the only message of the scene, and once we put it in, it was like a miracle cure. And I to say, like, I’ve been making stories on the radio my entire adult life. Like I feel like I knew every trick to make a story work on the radio: you move this thing to here, and you raise the stakes this way, and you raise a question this way. That was like something I had no idea. I had no idea this was a move.
Birbiglia may profess to “kind of hate the book,” but it saved his movie. It’s fun to hear this sense of revelation from smart guys like Glass and Birbiglia as they join the CAT! club. I had the honor and privilege getting to know Blake as a friend and a fellow writer; I know he would have been thrilled to hear this entirely unsolicited support of his ideas. I can see him smiling now. Of course, Blake was always smiling.
Sleepwalk with Me is finding its way into cinemas now, and getting rave reviews, which is no surprise given Birbiglia has already successfully explored his sleep malady in the form of a book and a one-man theatrical performance. I’m sure it’s be well worth seeing.
Check out the Sleepwalk with Me trailer
…as well as the faux feud between Birbiglia/Glass and… Joss Whedon!?!
There’s a reason why Blake’s ideas live on beyond him: because they are smart, practical, and comprehensive. Or as Blake might put it – a caveman could get it! Because they work. I still use them myself, both as a tool to see if an idea will work, and as a way to evaluate a story in the midst of writing.
As an instructor at the Vancouver Film School, I am constantly referring to his beats as a way to help student writers shape their scripts. In fact, I was pleased to learn that the first Save the Cat! book is included with the start-up package when students enroll in the VFS screen and television writing program.
For me it’s a welcome reminder of how the legacy of Blake’s ideas live on, and a testament to how lovingly his friends and colleagues at Blake Snyder Enterprises have continued to nurture his inspirational concepts.
Like all great ideas, the principles that Blake expressed in his three books, software, and workshops continue to thrive and grow long after his untimely passing.