SAVE THE CAT’S FINAL MEOW
Yesterday many people from many different worlds lost a vital, ebullient, enhancing part of their lives. For his screenwriting followers, fans, students, and I would even go so far as to say his acolytes, they lost a mentor, teacher, cheerleader and friend.
For the people he helped get sober, and those who spent time in AA with him, they lost an irreplaceable sponsor, role model, relentless twelve-stepper and great friend.
For me, I lost my oldest friend on the planet, the person outside of my husband and children I have been closer to longer than anyone. I lost a collaborator, a buddy, a brother in spirit and my biggest cheerleader. I can barely type this as I’m in such shock.
Last night at eight o’clock as I was scrolling though my Blackberry I found out via Twitter that Blake Snyder, author of the fiendishly popular SAVE THE CAT screenwriting books, had passed away hours before. I truly thought it was a sick joke.
I think Blake would find it deeply amusing as I was in the middle of conversation about the new film JULIE AND JULIA. He would have said, “The poster, the poster does not tell me what the movie is about.”
After I screamed, yelled, cursed the heavens (terrifying my youngest child I am sure) I sat in a stupor – all the wind sucked out of me, such emotion no emotion can actually contain it all. I kept asking myself, what could I do? What could I do? Because like Blake I’m a doer, when the going gets tough I get doing and I heard Blake, not in that nutty Demi Moore GHOST way or the Osment kid SIXTH SENSE way– movies which Blake could break down over lunch before the waitress arrived with the menus– I heard him in the I know what my best friend would have wanted way.
I knew Blake would want me to write. “Write Tracers. Write.” He called me Tracers, I called him Blink, names left over from 1961 when our speech wasn’t fully developed but our sense of humor was taking form and we found in each other kindred spirits. We got the joke back then, though it would be decades before we started writing them.
I knew he would want me to say certain things he didn’t get the chance to say. He would tell me to not be sappy off the bat or I would lose the male part of my audience. Stick with my original theme and keep the structure tight, and most importantly he would want it to be funny.
At the moment Blink I’m going to let you down as there is nothing funny at all in you leaving so abruptly, so young, with so much work ahead of you and so many jokes we never got to share.
You had just started your own Act Three.
We had so many more lunches, so many more pitches to fail, ’cause we are funny, but fifty in Hollywood isn’t considered very funny anymore. We were going to get old together. We were going to sit at La Scala gumming our salads at eighty-five talking about how we had known each other for eighty-three years and Blake telling me it wasn’t too late to sell one more project. “SPACE BABIES, Tracers, I think I still have my notes.” “From 1993?”
But, this is not about me, it’s about Blake.
And what I keep thinking about is if Blake had been given warning…well, he wouldn’t have believed it as he was an eternal optimist. We would walk out of pitch meetings where they passed in the room and as we climbed in the car – he’d say,”They’ll change their mind, they only passed ’cause they had to say something.” I would say “Blake they PASSED.” “Today they passed but I’m telling you, Tracers, they will change their minds.”
But if he had had the time to give a last lecture a la Randy Pausch, what would he have said? What did his fifty-two years teach him, aside from the great sense of story structure he carried around and shared so generously with the world through his books, seminars and lectures?
Blake knew life through story and story through life. He believed in the hero and the redemption of the human spirit in Act Three. As I say above he was just starting his own Act Three when God decided he needed some private story structure tutoring of his own. If you asked Blake why God took him, I promise you he would have said, “He knows he made a mistake with Obama, he wants me to help him write him out of the story in Act Two without anything bad happening, have him move back to Hawaii and enter a surf competition or something.” We did not agree politically, but it never affected our love or respect for each other.
Blake believed in stories well told and with plenty of conflict. He believed in heroes facing demons and slaying them. He felt if the hero could not slay his demon he was not a hero and if your hero doesn’t have real demons then he isn’t a real hero and you’d better go back to your beat sheet and figure it out pronto.
He believed in problem solving. Screenwriting at the end of the day is problem solving. And Blake spent many years of his life solving problems, his own and other people’s – on the page and in life.
Blake cared about two things: teaching screenwriting and being sober. He was so proud of both and he knew one would not have happened without the other.
He was a flawed hero in his own Act One.
As he will tell you all heroes need to have a flaw. But if we cast say, Jim Carrey in a LIAR LIAR, BRUCE ALMIGHTY template – Blake was a hero with a heart of gold merely standing in his own way.
He was ridiculously funny and talented and held a spec script selling record in the nineties. But he had a demon and he knew it, he inherited it and he knew it, it could destroy his life and he knew it, if he was going to be the hero in his own story it had to be slayed and he did it.
Blake spent much of his late thirties and early forties slaying his demons, the first half of his Act Two.
He understood all is lost because at one time he was there, all was lost. But though his own strength of character and desire to succeed he got sober, and he was so proud of that. And he was so helpful to others in getting clean. I watched him do it from afar. He was patient, kind and always present. He would stop work to take calls from someone in need of a pep talk or some moral support.
With his sobriety, and the lessons he learned he understood he was meant to teach and show by example, not to just write stories for himself. So he wrote SAVE THE CAT. Though Blake himself was the first cat he actually saved he would go on to save many and in doing so he made other’s lives richer and more productive in countless ways.
Blake was never happier than facing a group of people and problem solving – be it on the road doing his seminars, helping with story structure at Disney Animation or an AA meeting. It all blended together for him; I truly believe that.
And I think in his eternal optimism he would have been grateful for the first as it led him to the second.
He was a big believer in not giving up. If your story isn’t working– be it your life or the one on the page– it’s your job to stand in front of that beat sheet and figure it out until it makes sense.
He did that, he stood in front of his own beat sheet, alone much of the time and he made his life story work. He made himself a huge force in the screenwriting world. From Bejiing to the commissaries of Hollywood people are reading his work and learning from his lessons. He made himself into a huge deal and was only going to get bigger. He problem solved his way to the life he was meant to live and he was truly happy.
He learned through his sobriety the power of gratitude and forgiveness. This bled into his work and the empathy he was able to impart to his protagonists. He had one of the most finally tuned forgiveness mechanisms I’ve ever seen and he worked on this and worked on this and never let it go. It used to amaze me, we’d be having lunch and he’d say “I saw so and so yesterday” “So and So, you mean from the third grade?” And he’d say “Yeah, I took her to lunch and apologized.” “For what?” “I pushed her on the playground.” “ That was forty years ago!” “Yeah, but still” he would say, “it wasn’t nice of me.”
He believed in taking responsibility for your behavior and in turn your work and if you did the first the second would somehow just follow.
He did not pass the buck, not by the time he got to page fifty-five in his own life’s script. If something wasn’t working out, he went back to the first ten pages, he looked for the error, the hole in the plot, the character without a noble goal, the relationship that wasn’t healed, and he would go in and and fix it.
If he were still here he would tell you: do not get out of that chair until your story works. People need good stories. Don’t walk away from the truth. If you have demons, slay them like a real hero; people don’t watch stories without heroes. Heroes sell tickets and save lives, often times even their own.
I just want to know why there wasn’t a hero there to save him yesterday?
Why hadn’t he figured out that part of the story yet?