Let The Cat Die

Nobody knows anything. and A flop takes as long [to write] as a hit.

William Goldman, on The Industry

A question I often get asked is, What the hell do you do all day?  Now, that’s both an easy and hard question to answer.

The easy answer is, well, easy:  I write stories.  Ostensibly, screenplays, though lately good ol’ television has been creeping in.  I try to channel the ghosts of not-yet-dead people like Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin and the master, Mr. William Goldman, and figure out why the fuck the second act isn’t working.  (It’s all structure, people–  every last lousy word!)

The harder answer is more varied:  I go to ball games, I go to award dinners, I go on auditions, I watch flicks, I go out drinking and swapping stories.  I look for trouble and try to visit interesting places and seek a varied life, cause hey, to quote Ernest Hemingway (and who wouldn’t want to pretentiously quote Hemingway?), “The next 30 years are your life.”

But back to the first answer:  There’s a book that’s been floating around Hollywood these last few years.  There are millions of books on screenwriting, of course, because it’s a lot easier to type a tome on screenwriting than it is to type an interesting screenplay.  Some, by Messrs. Goldman and the late John Gregory Dunne, are well worth your time.  Most are pure drivel, and not the good kind of drivel, the Steve Martin-approved drivel; but rather the worst kind of drivel (the kind of drivel that would probably qualify as Jay Leno-approved).

But this particular book has taken hold of La-La-Land’s collective imagination for some time, and is now routinely referred to by writers, suits and, the worst wonderful of euphemisms, “creative types”.  The book we’re now discussing is Save the Cat, by one Mr. Blake Snyder.

It’s a cottage industry:  There’s Save the Cat Strikes Back and Save the Cat Goes to the Movies and even Save the Cat outlining software.  And I’m as guilty as the next fellow…  I’ve read the book, I’ve outlined movies with it, I’ve even written one completely using its structural guidelines.

For those who are too wise to spend their valuable time in what one friend termed ‘the word industry,’ the cat in question refers to a deed the protagonist (or, in more Hollywood terms, hero) must do way early in your screenplay to establish likeability– i.e., he / she must save the cat.

Now, on my desk is something I found in my bedroom, something my father saved:  An old promotional packet for the ’78 flick The Deer Hunter.  Brilliant flick, no?  And I was chatting with another friend of the blog the other day on how, if that movie got made today, you would never, ever be allowed to spend an hour at the wedding, the first set-up that gets you so invested in these people’s lives; you’d be asked to get the damn characters to Vietnam by the inciting incident, page 11 (ish).  And God knows The Deer Hunter has no save-the-cat-moment.

It’s generally agreed that the 1970’s were the high water mark for American film, and it’s all been downhill since there (save for the mid-90’s indie moment).  And what do those brilliant flicks of the 1970’s feature?  No predictable structural guidelines.  No save-the-cat-moments!

And who wrote this tome that so grips Hollywoodland right now?  The late Blake Snyder.  And may he rest in peace (I remember being on the Island last summer, hearing he died, and, shocked, calling some creative types), but…

almost all of the Industry is now running around taking the gospel truth from a man whose two produced films are  Blank Check and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

Maybe sometimes we need to let the cat die.

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One Response to “Let The Cat Die”

  1. Nick Says:

    Bet you a beer at new Shea in May that I can pinpoint a save the cat moment in the first ten minutes of The Deer Hunter.

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