I’ve wanted to make a movie almost as long as I’ve wanted to write a novel. Lately I’ve been thinking more about how to make that happen, and I even started adapting one of my novels (Schrodinger’s Gat, which hasn’t been published yet) into a screenplay. To that end I recently picked up three books on the subject.
The first, Save the Cat, was recommended to me by my friend Wayne Franklin, who has a book of his own coming out that you should totally check out. Save the Cat, subtitled The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, is written by Blake Snyder, who is supposedly “Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriter.” I don’t know how that works exactly, since he has exactly two IMDB credits (for Blank Check and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot), but whatever. Also, he’s dead, so I’m guessing he’s not that successful these days.
Save the Cat is basically a book full of little gimmicks for improving a screenplay, as well as pitfalls to avoid. The title comes from the idea of having the hero of the story save a cat early on in the movie to establish his/her likability. It sounds silly, but the examples Snyder gives (it’s not always literally a cat) demonstrate how effective it is. You have to take some of his opinions with a cup or so of salt; he is more concerned with making a script salable than writing something original, which is understandable, except then he proceeds to denigrate Memento, calling it a “low-performing art house film,” and praises the writer of the forgettable Skeet Ulrich movie Chill Factor as a “genius.” (For the record, Memento made $25 million on a $9 million budget; Chill Factor made $11 million on a budget of $70 million. Also, Memento is a cult classic that launched the career of Christopher Nolan of Inception and The Dark Knight fame. Chill Factor is currently chilling at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Still, Save the Cat is worth reading for the very concrete advice it gives in structuring a screenplay. I think his tips apply to screenwriting sort of the way the rules of grammar apply to dialog: you need to internalize them and then forget them. If you doggedly apply the rules to dialog, you end up with stilted dialog. If you insist on following the advice in Save the Cat to the letter, you may end up with a movie like Chill Factor.
I bought How to Make a No Budget Movie by Joel Miller because it was $.99 on Amazon. It’s worth at least twice that much.
Joel Miller is best known for producing the independent film The Still Life, which I haven’t seen but is apparently about a trouble alcoholic artist who lkj;l;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
Whoa, sorry, fell asleep for a minute there. Anyway, he wrote and produced some movie, which is impressive because he didn’t know jack shit about writing or making moves and decided to make one anyway. (And if you doubt that he doesn’t know anything about writing, you’ll be convinced by the time you get through this book.) There’s some good advice in here sandwiched between really unprofessional asides (there’s a whole section on how to lie to the cops if they show up and you don’t have a permit) and anecdotes about his life with [insert famous band name] here. Granted, it’s impressive that he’s toured with Guns ‘n’ Roses and Poison, but do his roadie days have anything to do with making movies? No. Well, other than the fact that the main reason he was able to get his movie made was his ability to deliver original music by members of Guns ‘n’ Roses, No Doubt, etc. So there should really be a chapter in the book about how to go about becoming a roadie for famous rock bands for ten years so that when you finally make your movie, you’ll have some connections. Worth reading for $.99, but not a great book.
11 Simple Steps to Turn a Screenplay into a Movie was also $.99, and it has the distinction of having literally the worst book cover I have ever seen in my life. The book itself though is actually quite good. It’s written by Vincent Rocca, who is best known for his movie Kisses and Caroms, which I haven’t seen but looks way more entertaining than The Still Life. Rocca is very forthright about a marketable low-budget movie (some hints: guns, explosions, drugs, hot cars, profanity, nudity, cats and dogs). He breaks down the storyboarding process, goes step-by-step through preproduction, filming and post-production, and talks about how to budget, and get a distributor. Rocca is an entertaining writer, and he peppers his book with anecdotes that (take note, Joel Miller) actually pertain to movie-making! I highly recommend this book, and at $.99, it’s a steal.