A Newly Discovered Interview with Blake
Today’s Guest Blogger is Alexander Volkov, a 35 year-old Russian screenwriter and the creator of the “Pogonya za Angelom (Runaway Angel)” TV series, which ran on one of the Russian major TV channels, NTV, and got the highest rating among all the projects of NTV channel in May-June 2007. Alexander now lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but his dream is to break into Hollywood. One of his “Hollywood screenplays” became a semifinalist of the 15th Annual Writers Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition.
I have a blog in the Russian language where I share my knowlege about screenwriting. Some time ago I came up with an idea to interview some of the successful American screenwriters, so in June 2009 I contacted Blake, and it was very kind of him to answer my questions.
Alexander Volkov: Blake, in your opinion, what is the main goal of a screenwriter?
Blake Snyder: The main goal of any storyteller is to communicate. From a clear story concept to the one idea every story is about, we must stand in the shoes of those who aren’t in our imaginations. Screenwriting is different from novel writing in that the finished product — a script — is only a blueprint for further action. So much of our job is to so excite a reader that they are called to action to go and make the film!
Alexander: You think the main goal of any storyteller is to communicate, but do you see any difference between the mentality of a novice screenwriter and an established, produced author?
Blake: Sometimes it’s just the matter of a sale! Sometimes, though, it’s attitude. Many novice screenwriters think “I’ll do it my way” will work for them, then realize this is a group activity. Movies do not get made without cooperation with many. This is not novel writing. This is not theater. A script is only a proposal for further action.
Alexander: And what about the difference in mentality or state of mind between an ordinary established (good but not great) author and a top, A-list Hollywood screenwriter?
Blake: Development of a voice. And a service. In book 3 I talk about the key thing once you make a sale is to start thinking of what sets you apart — what can you deliver that no one else can? Those writers who specialize in action, horror, comedy, drama, etc. start to carve out a place for themselves, that they further refine and perfect over time. But first things first: get on the boards with a sale. Then worry about the fine points of a career. Your sale “takes the curse off” you and shows producers and executives that “somebody else went first” by trusting in your talent. It’s a big first step.
Alexander: I agree with you. The first sale is a crucial point or as they say “a point of no return.” Then again… What does it take to jump from a novice screenwriter level to a produced one, and then to a great, A-list Hollywood screenwriter?
Blake: Re-writing. The real A-list writers are those that can be brought into a stalled project and “write it into production.” The true A-list screenwriter, the ones I work with, are those that can be called to find the missing piece or fix a wrong tone, story arc, or character deficiency.
Alexander: Anyway, Blake, you are one of the most famous and prosperous spec screenwriters. Suppose someone wants to follow your steps. What does it take to become a successful author: Talent? Skills? Or Good luck?
Blake: In the third in the Save the Cat! series, Save the Cat! Strikes Back, I describe the time in my career when I almost quit. I was seven years into my career, my father who was my first mentor had just died, and my girlfriend was suggesting I pursue something more stable. I took a hard look at myself and admitted flaws in how I was pursuing my career and made a decision to give it one last try. My new motto became: “Discipline. Focus. And Positive Energy.” Things began to change immediately and within four years I had sold a million-dollar script to Steven Spielberg, and had a two-picture deal and an office on the lot at Disney. Those may not be your goals, but the decided change I experienced to give my all to achieving these goals changed me. It’s my favorite chapter in all three of my Cat! books!
Alexander: Glad you made your way up. But if you were as rich as Bill Gates, would you quit the screenwriting business?
Blake: Writers must write. If I were as rich as Bill Gates, I would not only write but make films even though this goes against the first rule of producing: never use your own money to finance a film! But yes, I love being a writer!
Alexander: Okay, no one of us is Bill Gates, but you are still rich and famous. What made you the person you are today?
Blake: My dad was a big influence. He was an Emmy Award-winning tv producer who made kids’ shows like “Roger Ramjet” and “Big Blue Marble,” but all my writing partners have had a huge influence on me too. I think writers learn most from other writers, and I’m striving to bring writers together and away from the idea of “the lone author, poor and struggling in his garret,” which is just a recipe for frustration! But I believe the jail door is secretly unlocked. All we have to do is push it and it will open!
Alexander: Blake, one more question: What would you recommend to the Russian screenwriters who want to break into Hollywood?
Blake: Hollywood is always looking for new talent and has a long history of bringing Europeon filmmakers into its ranks. Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, and many British directors sometimes know more about American film and become the masters of it than native born writers and directors. Key word for me in my books is: primal! If your stories translate to a global marketplace, you will win. What wins? Stories that a caveman can understand, that you don’t have to explain. Forget intellectual ideas, think emotional. Think primal and you will get the attention of the world. Slumdog Millionaire is a perfect example.
Alexander: Blake, thanks so much for your time. Your answers were thoughful and inspiring.
Please note, the original interview can be found here.
Next week’s blog: The King’s Speech Beat Sheet