There is a famous blooper that caught 1950s TV star, Bozo the Clown, on tape for the ages.
In an unguarded moment at the end of the show, when the famous kiddie host thought the microphones were off, he expressed frustration with his audience, exclaiming: “That oughta hold the little bastards!”
I think of this line occasionally when I consider the perception of Hollywood… and it gives me the willies.
It speaks to an “us” the creators vs. “them” the audience mentality, and an attitude that says: We’ve met the basic standard for today’s entertainment and that should be enough. We’ve done the job. Let’s call it a day.
And I want to go on record right now to say: This is not the mindset of the most successful in our business, and it should not be ours. But I believe there is a sneaky suspicion by some in our audience that it might be.
If I had one thing to do over again in the writing of Save the Cat! it would be to enhance the helpful advice a studio executive told me during a meeting. “Give me the same thing… only different” was his mantra. It meant the best pitch was something familiar enough to understand but with a new, fresh, and ironic twist.
And that’s still good insight into the business.
Storytelling through the ages has forever sought variations on an art which must deal with the well-known fact that there truly is “no new story under the sun.” But I prefer: Give me the same thing… only better!
Save the Cat! is a language of storytelling terms and tools — easy and instantly applicable — that “sets the table” for further discussion. That’s why I wrote it. Early on, I attended many screenwriting classes (a few well-known ones), read many books, and what I always wanted — but rarely got — was something that would actually HELP me in my career… today… right now. I wanted something I could DO immediately that would resonate not only with audiences, but with the gatekeepers who separated me from the audience.
We have succeeded in “setting the table” and establishing a language to better dissect, understand, and deliver on what makes for solid storytelling. But it does not mean we should stand for the status quo.
We stand for improving skill, focused effort, and hard work beyond the five o’clock whistle. We stand for going the extra mile to make our ideas not just different than what came before… but better. And we must.
Within “the rules” of what makes the film business tick — vital for us to understand –this is only a starting point. Knowing what we know about “poster,” structure, transformation, and “stories that resonate,” we must seek out in our work something we don’t always sense onscreen, with the cameras either off or on:
To succeed beyond our wildest dreams we must push ourselves to new levels of achievement — whether we are writing a silly rom-com, frothy musical, thriller, horror flick, Academy-considered Indie or any other of a thousand “same thing… only different” subjects out there. We must always make sure we wring out every last drop of story, and every bit of enlightment, excitement, freshness, and beauty we can from ourselves.
And because this is Save the Cat! and because we are all about concrete action for us to DO, as Part 2 of this discussion, I will list exactly what steps we must take to make sure our work meets a standard that goes beyond Bozo’s infamous blooper line, because being “commercial” does not mean being “common.”
Let’s make it our goal this year and every year to drive beyond what will “hold ’em” — no matter what our genre, goal, or familiarity with commercial success. Let’s make being “better” our guiding light every day.
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