Today we have the final installment of the See Me Sell A Screenplay (SMS) interview with screenwriter Blake Snyder (BS). If you missed the previous parts, first go read: An interview with screenwriter and author Blake Snyder – part one and An interview with screenwriter and author Blake Snyder – part two and An interview with screenwriter and author Blake Snyder – part three.
Interview, part four:
SMS: How important do you think it is for a screenwriter to go somewhere like UCLA and actually get a degree in screenwriting?
BS: I’ll just say I didn’t do that. I’m pretty much self-taught. I think any education you can get is great and I know lots of programs like UCLA’s which is excellent.
SMS: Do you think people in Hollywood give preference to screenwriters with a screenwriting degree?
SMS: Of the working writers that you know, what percentage of then have a screenwriting degree?
BS: You know, I’m trying to think…. I always go back to Billy Wilder. Billy Wilder was a gigolo. That was his training for being a screenwriter. When he came to America he has life experience that he put into movies. I don’t think he ever went to school for screenwriting. What he had was a vivid imagination and a desire to succeed. I think that holds true today.
SMS: Do you think that there is any other necessary training a screenwriter should have?
BS: Well, I’ll tell you, being an English major helped me because I understood story and story structure. I think any kind of writing you do; any time you exercise your writing muscle it’s valuable. I feel like I am being an advocate for commercial only, but I really do feel there is something about, well, I had a job where I wrote ads for a real estate magazine. They would send me the specs on a house and I would turn it into “Nestled, high above the hills in Alta Loma” and they paid me $50 per for that. The bad ones they kicked back to me and I had to fix. There is something about being paid to write and meeting a standard of what is determined to be success that is very valuable. And I think that is the best training that you can get no matter what that is. A lot of writers come to me and say things like “I’m just a technical writer” and I’m saying “Don’t say that! You’re a paid writer. Whatever standard you are meeting they are paying you for it. It’s words on a page and you’re meeting a standard.” That’s a good thing and that’s the kind of training that I think is important.
SMS: If a writer feels like the must have some sort of training and has the options of getting a degree in screenwriting or spending less money and time and going to a few workshops like yours, which do you think is more beneficial?
BS: It really depends on where they are in their career. If you really want to get a ground in screenwriting and there is an opportunity for you to go to a UCLA or a USC or even an online school or a writing boot camp or any type of training then I would take it. I wouldn’t go into debt to do it but an type of experience you can get is valuable. My particular workshop is unique. We have all kinds of people coming into that workshop – pros and people who have never written a word. They are all on an equal footing at the beginning of the class. We talk about concept and why concept is important. We talk about structure of the story and by the time they leave in two days they have a grounding in the Save the Cat! method, which I think is simple. The success of it is that it is easy to understand. I’ll get criticism for it being too easy but it is really to the point of tryin gto make it accessible to the most people.
SMS: Some say that the methods that you teach are very formulaic and nothing more than ‘paint by number screenwriting’ – how do you respond to that?
BS: It’s like the furthest thing from the truth. They think what I telling you to do is “on page 55 this has to happen” when what I am doing is trying to tell you the essence of why stories work. The way in is to discover how stories function. I think what is really great about Save The Cat! is that it makes it crystal clear about how stories functions. I don’t that a person that hadn’t been writing for over 20 years would have deciphered that. It’s only after I have personally written 78 scripts alone or with partners, been through the sales process and the development process and seen how it all works. But this is the farthest thing from a formula. It is not a straitjacket. It is in fact a key to unlock your handcuffs, in my opinion. The people who fear it as being formula fear that their creativity is being stifled and that is scares them and that is not true. That is why I wrote the second book. These beats appear in Legally Blonde; they also appear in Maria Full of Grace and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Fargo – they appear in any story. Understanding how that works is key to a writer.
SMS: With your books and workshops do you think that you are teaching people more how to write a good script or a script that will sell to Hollywood?
BS: Both. I think the essence of storytelling is found in Save the Cat! I also think that the essence of writing a successful story that can be sold is in Save the Cat! I am not embarrassed to say that I think writers think that being obtuse is creative. And it’s not. Communicating clearly is being creative. And that is the challenge that we all face.
SMS: That’s all the questions that I have today. Is there anything else that you would like to add for my readers?
BS: Buy Save the Cat! (link below if interested) I would like to add that I am extremely grateful for having the success that I have had with these books. It has changed my life. I was really mostly interested in myself and my screenwriting career when I wrote the first book. And I just wrote it for fun. What this has opened up for me is a whole brand new world of being able to help other people. To me it is an eye-opening experience of being able to offer something, a service, to others. I think no matter what level you are at in writing that is an important increment. Looking back, this way my breakthrough in screenwriting even early on. I really asked myself the question, “What service am I offering?” And I think service is an important thing. You should ask “what are you offering?” And “why should they come to you for what you do?” It’s not just you and I think is also something that I had to get over early on which was one of the early scripts that I wrote pleased me like crazy but no one else…. Another things writers should do more of is help each other. It’s a myth [that someone will steal your ideas]. The truth is that we need to be better at helping each other. It’s actually a problem of screenwriting. I think it is because it is so competitive. I used to call other screenwriters the day that their movie would premiere and I would go “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you! This is such a huge success for you” and they would kind of go “Why are you calling? What do you want from me?” And I genuinely thought “this is a victory for everybody.” Yet there was this defensive quality about ‘why are you calling me?’ and I just thought that was too bad.
That concludes our interview with Blake Snyder. If you are ready to get your script ready for Hollywood, click on the link below for Blake’s Save the Cat! book.
***Get Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need today! This book has helped tons of screenwriters and just might be what you have been looking for! It was recently the #1 seller on Amazon in the screenwriting category!