Blake’s “Second Take” on Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”
If there’s a single section in Save the Cat! that riles up readers, it’s Blake’s comments on Memento. Boy, did he get emails about that! As time wore on, Blake solidified his opinions about the film and what he wanted to say about it in relation to the STC! principles.
With Inception opening today, we thought it was the perfect time to show you a typical email — and Blake’s response — from January, 2009:
I am currently reading Save the Cat, and I have reached the point where you unabashedly malign Memento. I am taking you up on your offer, and without debating modern societal merit, I want to address your closing comment to Chapter 4 of your book, which references the value of Memento in terms of revenue (or rather, the lack thereof).
Of course, your book is copyright 2005, so maybe you were unaware of what brewed on the horizon for Mr. Christopher Nolan. Regardless, I find it thoroughly amusing that you actually refer to “all of the hullabaloo surrounding Memento,” and in the same breath, you sarcastically jab at it with “guess how much it made.”
Well, “all of that hullabaloo” has helped to create quite a run for Mr. Nolan, a run that he is still legging out. Batman Begins, The Prestige, and now The Dark Knight. Taking a risk like Memento created a lot of “hullabaloo,” which translated into opportunities, and those opportunities have blossomed, and the opportunities are still coming. You’ve got to applaud his willingness to take a risk.
Quality and craft aside, if the measure of a writer’s success is revenue, then I’d say Mr. Nolan has made out pretty well over the past several films. As far as quality is concerned, The Dark Knight was disappointing (when compared to his other films, in my opinion) — but hey, look at those box office numbers.
If the ultimate goal is to write films that make money because audiences love them, then I’d say Mr. Nolan got on a decently fast track to El Dorado. He struck gold with Batman Begins, but let’s not forget that before Batman “Began,” the last swing of his pick-ax was made by a memory-impaired anti-hero named Leonard.
Maybe I’ve missed something, maybe something huge, and if so, please enlighten me. If I’m way off base, then correct me. Rest assured, I am not a “believer” daring you to change your mind — I’m just a believer in the potential power of “hullabaloo.”
I look forward to receiving your response.
Graden W. Dahlberg
P.S. — I am well aware that creating “hullabaloo” can be dangerous to one’s health (and career for that matter).
I immediately like anyone who uses the term “hullabaloo” so you’re in my friend circle already.
Thank you for your email and let’s start with the fact that I agree with much of what you point out.
Memento did a lot for Chris Nolan’s career all right. As a calling card, you betcha! And that is a really smart thing to point out — none of my Memento defenders have done so thus far, great argument!
But… I stand by my comment re: Memento for two reasons:
1. I state quite clearly in the introduction of STC! that this book is for those who are “interested in pursuing the mainstream film market” and my job is to tell the truth about that — even if it means occasionally pissing people off. As a teaching tool in that pursuit, I hate to say it, but we can learn more from Mall Cop than Memento.
2. My comment separates the men from the boys! Are you really serious about selling your script or are you just sitting in Starbucks pretending? My Memento comment is the splash of cold water for those who, in my mind, are stuck in film school, thinking it’s a film school world out there… and it’s not. And, again hate to say it, but 99% of those who bash me for that comment will never sell a script. And that in part is where the anger they display comes from in my opinion.
You’ll note when Nolan was recruited by Hollywood, they didn’t put him to work making more Memento’s. They gave him something they could do something with: Batman.
My book is about how to communicate any idea you have into something understandable — and even in the Indie world it’s the difference between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York. I desperately want my readers to beat a system in which 50,000 screenplays were registered with the WGA last year (estimate) and only 100 sold.
I want my guys to be the 100 and not the 50,000 and the splash of cold water accompanies those odds — and my little zing at your favorite movie — is something I am willing to risk to help you help yourself.
And on a personal note, I am a reverse snob when it comes to film. I think there is something beautiful about entertaining lots of people; it’s selfless, it’s giving, it’s thinking of an audience first and your “growth as an artist ” second.
I think there is something terrribly arrogant about many filmmakers who create movies to “make people think.” People can do their own thinking thanks. What they can’t do on their own is be entertained, taken away, lifted up, inspired, and delighted. That’s what “commercial” films do best, and I think it’s a pretty noble pursuit! Hollywood does it better than anyone in the world, and I am the defender of that philosphy — despite the fact that it often leads to overemphasis on box office.
To me, making money is not what being “commercial” is about. But if you want to know how people vote with their ticket buying, the only way to see what works and what doesn’t is box office — and that’s why I emphasize it.
But yes, sir, you are correct and very brilliant to point out all that you did. I agree with you 100% about Batman et al. And your argument is polite — which not every Memento fan (i.e., recent victim of being splashed awake by cold water and cranky) offers me in email form.
You had me at “hullabaloo.”
— Blake Snyder