How Save the Cat!® Saved My Anti-Shaming Short Film
(Apologies in advance for the bad grammar. And slang. And metaphors. And some of the jokes.)
Last summer, an article was published about the 10th anniversary of Save the Cat! and how it changed Hollywood. I was about to ignore both the article and the book and return to my interesting life when my eye caught the words: “Every writer in Hollywood has this book on his workstation.”
Every writer in Hollywood?
Well, I want to be a writer in Hollywood.
And if every writer in Hollywood uses this book, who am I to argue?
So, for the first time in the five years since I graduated, I read a how-to-screenwrite book, and oh my god, just like a Buzzfeed clickbait – my mind was blown!
I finished reading the book in less than a day and then I saw Blake had published two more books, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies and Save the Cat! Strikes Back.
Two more books? Great, two more excuses not to write!
So I read those two in less than two days, and oh my god, just like a mockingjay – I was catching fire! (Please note above apology.) All these methods, tricks, and tips. I saw it wasn’t only about the 15 beats, it was on every aspect of a story: What questions you should be asking, how to construct a great logline, the significance of each beat, how to break them into 40 key sequences, what to do if you get stuck, and so much more.
I returned to some of my oldest scripts, including “The Expedition.” Call it Alien meets Gravity. I took Alien’s structure and wrote a script based on its foundation. I love this script. I really do. One day it will be a great movie starring Idris Elba. I promise you that. But after I read Save the Cat! I realized I didn’t have a B Story! And Bad Guys Close In was way too short! And worst of all, my protagonist doesn’t go through any transformation!
Since then I’ve written six features, and I’m getting better and better with each one.
Recently, I had an idea for a short movie for teenagers. When I was in high school, I heard that a group of boys drew 0-10 numbers on pieces of paper and sat down to rank every girl that passed by. I have never found this idea funny. When I was younger I did some terrible things to other kids (pretty much like every other kid), but this game was especially insulting and malicious. There are so many things that are just plain wrong with this game – Chauvinism, Female Objectification, Shaming, Emotional Bullying – you name it.
The funny thing is, that when I was in elementary school, the popular girls played a similar game against the unpopular boys. (Guess what? I was in that unpopular group.) They wrote the names of the unpopular boys, mixed them in a hat, and every girl randomly picked one as her nightmarish date. Some lucky girls randomly picked me. The next day they were all blubbering about how hilarious it was.
The lesson here is quite clear – it doesn’t matter who plays this kind of game – boys on girls, girls on boys, boys on boys, etc. – eventually, everyone gets hurt.
So I had the answer to Blake’s “What is it?” question for this film. Next I started following the steps of the route I’ve generated from the STC! books. I answered the five questions, came up with a great logline, and wrote down the 15 key beats. I love this process to death because it forces me, the writer, to think really hard to come up with the perfect beat. The cool thing is that many times you go back and fix an earlier beat so it will payoff in a later one.
The process for writing the beats for this film was astonishing: “Okay, I have this protagonist, he wants to be cool so he invents this ranking game. What’s the Opening Image? How do I portray him so at the end we will see the opposite? Okay, so at the end he is a synthesis of the act 1 + act 2, so we see him surrounded with friends, so at the beginning we must see him all by himself, socially unacceptable. Cool, how would I show that? Think… Think… Think… I’ve got it! He wants to play basketball but nobody picks him! Then he watches the boys play and having fun while he sits all by himself! Moving on…”
Then, I got into the B Story, maybe the most important tool for your protagonist’s spiritual journey. I love finding a good B Story. As Save the Cat! describes it, most of the time it’s the love story. Great! Let’s get him a love story! So then I came up with a new character that I never even thought about having in this film. But then I had to find a way to make her the one who helps him with his transformation. How can I do that? Think… Think… Think… I’ve got it!
Suddenly, a small moralistic idea for a short movie about shaming has transformed into a deep, strong, solid story.
Hope you enjoy it (and thanks, Blake!):
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