The 2005 screenwriting book that’s taken over Hollywood—and made every movie feel the same.
If you’ve gone to the movies recently, you may have felt a strangely familiar feeling: You’ve seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, but some of these exact story beats: the hero dressed down by his mentor in the first 15 minutes (Star Trek Into Darkness. Battleship ); the villain who gets caught on purpose (The Dark Knight. The Avengers. Skyfall. Star Trek Into Darkness ); the moment of hopelessness and disarray a half-hour before the movie ends (Olympus Has Fallen. Oblivion. 21 Jump Street. Fast & Furious 6 ).
It’s not déjà vu. Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formula —one that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay. It’s as if a mad scientist has discovered a secret process for making a
perfect, or at least perfectly conventional, summer blockbuster.
The formula didn’t come from a mad scientist. Instead it came from a screenplay guidebook, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need . In the book, author Blake Snyder, a successful spec screenwriter who became an influential screenplay guru, preaches a variant on the basic three-act structure that has dominated blockbuster filmmaking since the late 1970s.
When Snyder published his book in 2005, it was as if an explosion ripped through Hollywood. The book offered something previous screenplay guru tomes didn’t. Instead of a broad overview of how a screen story fits together, his book broke down the three-act structure into a detailed “beat sheet”: 15 key story “beats”—pivotal events that have to happen—and then gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Given that each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, this makes Snyder’s guide essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula.