Sunday, March 22, 2009
Spotlight Interview: Blake Snyder/Part 1
Blake Snyder, Screenwriter/Author
Blake Snyder began his writing career in 1988 working for the Disney TV series Kids Incorporated, penning thirteen episodes before turning to writing spec screenplays full time. He’s the author of the screenwriting book, Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, which was published in May 2005 and quickly became the No. 1 best-selling “how-to” on Amazon.com, and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, a dissection of 50 top Hollywood and independent films.
The son of Emmy award winning children’s TV producer Ken Snyder (Roger Ramjet, Big Blue Marble) and once described as “one of Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriters,” Snyder has written, among others, the screenplays Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Nuclear Family, and Blank Check, as well as sold many original scripts and pitches to such major Hollywood players as Steven Spielberg.
Blake also conducts screenwriting seminars, lectures, and has taught at Chapman, UCLA, Vanderbilt, and the Beijing Film Academy.
Please visit his Web site at:
Here is my exclusive newsletter interview with Mr. Snyder:
Mike: What got you started in writing?
Snyder: I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. But when I was 14, I saw this movie called Paris When It Sizzles, starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Holden, of all things, plays a screenwriter in it. And Hepburn is a typist that helps him. I’ve been hooked on screenwriting ever since.
Mike: What most influenced you during your early years learning the art of screenwriting?
Snyder: Believe it or not, I never took a screenwriting course or a read a book on screenwriting until after I had sold my first screenplay. I was an English major in college, and when I was starting out in screenwriting there weren’t that many books on screenwriting to begin with. Maybe that’s why it took me a little longer than most. I wrote nearly 20 scripts before I hit with one. But I was very interested in what the form looked like, what was required creatively, so I simply learned by reading a lot of scripts.
Mike: You’re self-taught then?
Snyder: Yes, almost entirely. I learned from trial and error. Maybe that’s why it took me longer to make it than most screenwriters. If I had a shortcut, I guess I would’ve been selling much faster. You have to find your way.
Mike: What was your introduction to screenwriting books?
Snyder: I was already a working screenwriter, doing re-writes, when I finally read Syd Field’s classic “Screenplay: The Foundation of Writing.” In fact, I remember that the producer kept referring to the “act break,” and I had no idea what he was talking about. That’s how clueless I was back then.
Mike: What were the early years like, before you made it?
Snyder: I was like a lot of beginning screenwriters. I had my heroes, like Lena Wertmüller, and I wrote with those certain heroes, who weren’t necessarily, in mind, writing movies about subjects I liked, things that I thought were kinda cool—and not selling a thing.
I was flat broke and still trying to find out what the industry wanted when I just sort of discovered high concept. I just sort of stumbled into it and eventually figured it out. Before, I was like a lot of writers; I wanted to write character pieces, or pieces that were true events that happened in my life, or adaptations of Greek plays. I tried all the things that I personally loved and wanted to do. Then I realized that I’m providing a service, that I’m providing a creative product, and I’m just like everyone else in this business; I’m trying to sell it to the next person. If you are a studio, you are trying to sell it to the public. When you figure that out, you will be able to fit into the business a bit better and really provide a service.
I mean, people would tell me that I’m talented, they were responding to me, but they weren’t buying anything.
I needed money, so I worked as a production assistant on a couple of TV sit-coms and was an NBC page, one of those guys in a suit who gave tours—which was actually a fun thing to do.
But I eventually realized that these jobs were interfering with my main goal, which was writing. So I took a day job, worked in the mornings as a sales guy in an insurance office, for six hours five days a week, which paid all the bills, and in the afternoons of every day I would write.
Mike: Did you ever get so discouraged that you wanted to quit?
Snyder: (He chuckles.). How many days are there in a year? There were a lot of times early in my career I thought about doing something else. I wrote 10-20 scripts, thought I had tried everything, and hadn’t had a big sale. Every time I thought I was starting to get it, a door would slam in my face. The only thing that kept me going was that people encouraged me, told me I had talent.
Mike: What’s the lesson to be learned from the way you went about things?
Snyder: To not do what I did. Don’t write a lot of screenplays and burn yourself out with a lot of false hope. It’s a bad thing to waste a lot of soul energy on things that are never going to work.
I’ve since discovered several shortcuts and lots of tricks of the trade that would’ve definitely made things easier for me. I guess I should’ve read those books and took those courses when I was young.
Mike: So, if you had to do it all over again?
Snyder: I probably would’ve taken any job that would’ve gotten me in the door, anything where you can gain experience of the development process. And I’d read even more scripts. I’m talking about hundreds of them. All kinds. I’d study the market. And I’d concentrate on the type of movie I really like. I think to know what your specialty is, what kind of service you offer, where you fit, and where you don’t fit, are important to know. If you have a passion for family movies, then become an expert and write nothing else. I don't see any benefit to being a jack-of-all-trades just to have samples in all genres.
The only good thing about my writing all those dead scripts early on was that I got in a lot of great practice. I developed my writing muscle. I built up skills, learned how to move people in and out of rooms on the page, and how to put description and dialogue on the page. I also established a strong voice, one that was obviously attractive enough to get me hired somewhere and get me an agent fairly quickly.
Mike: What made you write Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need?
Snyder: After being online with a lot of screenwriters wanting advice, I thought there was a need for a simple, slim, fun, easy-to-digest, easy-to-read book that covered everything on how to be a successful screenwriter. I viewed it like a screenwriter’s version of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
I sat down and wrote it in a very short period of time—just months. I guess it was something I had to get off my chest.
It was a lot of fun to write and I’m really proud of it.
And what makes me different from other people who write screenwriting books is, I’m a working screenwriter. I just sold a script last year. I’m going on pitch-meeting weeks all the time. I’m doing the job.