Blake Snyder And The Real Reason Hollywood Makes Bad Movies

Blake Snyder (1957-2009) was a screenwriter and a screenwriting teacher who wrote some of the most popular books about screenwriting. And some people think those books are the reason Hollywood makes bad movies.

Blake Snyder – Background

Blake Snyder’s produced credits include Blank Check and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, but he is best known for his Save The Cat! screenwriting book series.

Blake Snyder author of Save The Cat screenwriting book series

What you need to know about the Save the Cat! books is that they rely on a genre and story structure system largely invented by Blake Snyder. This structure has made it easier for many new writers to understand how to write a screenplay. It has also has helped many executives learn how to speak a dialect of “writer.”

Now, let’s talk about why Hollywood makes bad movies – and if it is Blake Snyder’s fault.

Blake Snyder – To Blame For Bad Movies?

In a recent article in Slate, Peter Suderman complains about Hollywood movies and how they’ve become more formulaic and, as a result, worse. His argument is that Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat structure is part of the problem. Suderman’s article is well-written, and his perspective is shared by many. But, in my opinion, he’s putting the blame in the wrong place.

As a former studio executive with MGM who has worked on lots of movies, some which turned out better than expected and some which turned out worse, I understand where Suderman is coming from.

My favorite criticism of the studio system can be found in Writing Movies For Fun And Profit, by screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (Night at the Museum). Chapter 10 is entitled: “Why Does Almost Every Studio Movie Suck Donkey Balls?”

Why DO so many studio movies suck donkey balls?

It turns out to be the same reason so many independent movies suck donkey balls. It’s the reason most TV and most novels suck donkey balls. And it’s why Slate, and Suderman, gets it wrong with their criticism of Blake Snyder.

The Argument Against Blake Snyder

For those of you who haven’t read the Slate article, let me catch you up.

Suderman characterizes Snyder’s work as “essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula.” And he admits that “Snyder would almost certainly dispute this characterization, [saying] that [the Save The Cat] beat sheet is a structure, not a formula, one based in time-tested screen-story principles. It’s a way of making a product that’s likely to work—not a fill-in-the-blanks method of screenwriting.”

Then Suderman goes on to state his own theme, namely:

Maybe that’s what Snyder intended. But that’s not how it turned out. In practice, Snyder’s beat sheet has taken over Hollywood screenwriting. Movies big and small stick closely to his beats and page counts. Intentionally or not, it’s become a formula—a formula that threatens the world of original screenwriting as we know it…. Is overreliance on Snyder’s story formula killing movies?

I’m fine with calling Snyder’s structure a formula. I’ll grant Suderman that right away.

But let’s acknowledge that nothing is going to kill the world of original screenwriting.

Nothing Will Kill The Need To Tell Stories Well

Story didn’t die when silent movies displaced novels, when “talkies” were invented, or when TV took market share from movies. Story didn’t die when cave paintings were replaced by cuneiform, though Suderman’s argument would remain largely the same:

Is overreliance on the new text-based cuneiform killing our ability to tell stories in pictures? A buffalo used to be painted by hand and every buffalo was subtly different. Now “buffalo” is just something anyone can stamp into clay. Is this new “cuneiform formula” killing stories?

Snyder’s work, his Save the Cat structure, his formula, isn’t that different from the three-act structure touted by story-gurus like Robert McKee and Syd Field. For that matter, it isn’t that different from the hero’s journey as described by the comparative mythology expert Joseph Campbell.

What’s different isn’t what he says—it’s the way he says it.

Snyder is much more direct, simple, and accessible when he says that you have to hit the “Break Into 2” on page 25. This clarity takes some of the mystique of storytelling away. It makes it easier for more people to understand. And this is what renders Snyder’s approach vulnerable to Suderman’s argument.

On the surface, Suderman’s argument goes something like this:

  1. Movies are bad.
  2. Movies are being written using the Save The Cat formula.
  3. Therefore, the formula is partly to blame for bad movies.

This is simply not true. The truth is:

Movies are bad because they are incredibly hard to make.

A Movie Is Like A Small Business

You may have heard that most small businesses fail. This is because it’s not easy to run a successful business. Movies are no different. A movie is a small business, just with an enormous budget, complex staffing requirements, and a short time-frame.

Let’s take a typical studio movie as an example. The average cost to make and market a studio film is more than $106M, which gets spent over approximately two years, and pays for literally thousands of people to plan the production, shoot the film, edit the results, and market the movie around the world.

This is hard to do. This why so many movies are bad.

Although… the “bad movies” are different for everyone.

Everyone Dislikes (Certain) Movies

Right now, all over the world, groups of people are talking about how bad the movies are these days. They’re just complaining about different movies.

  • Intellectuals decry the latest cartoon superhero blockbuster sequel.
  • Frat guys can’t believe how many “chick flicks” there are.
  • Grandmothers wish there was less violence and swearing.
  • My father-in-law will only watch Masterpiece Theater.

I’m not saying that all the movies you think are bad are actually great and you just don’t get it. My point is that preferences vary, and Hollywood makes products for an extremely wide variety of preferences.

Save The Cat is only the blueprint for a SCRIPT. And, say it with me:

The SCRIPT is not the MOVIE.

The Script Is Not The Movie

Blaming Save The Cat for bad movies is like blaming the guy who wrote “How To Write A Business Plan” for the failure of most small businesses. I can hear the version of Suderman’s argument now:

Is overreliance on the new “business plan formula” killing our ability to start small businesses? People used to just push a cart down the street and sell their wares. Now a plan has to go on paper before anyone can do anything. Is this new “business plan formula” killing business?

Save the Cat is just another way of looking at the same underlying story structure that the psychologist Carl Jung would say is in everyone’s unconscious, that Campbell would say is in every culture’s stories, that Field and McKee described in a less formulaic, more intellectual way.

In my opinion, that issue of Snyder’s less intellectual, straightforward style is the argument within Suderman’s argument, and why a lot of smart people—screenwriters included—agree with Suderman.

Because Suderman’s argument could also be viewed like this:

  1. Save the Cat has a straightforward approach to writing.
  2. This makes it easier for average people to write movies.
  3. Movies are bad.
  4. Therefore, the problem is allowing average people to write.

Of course, the problem is that no one knows how to make a hit movie or even a good movie. If people in Hollywood knew how to make excellent movies, that’s all anyone would make.

Writers with tremendous intellects—geniuses, even—have written scripts that turned into “bad” movies. Just ask two-time Oscar-winner William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, The Princess Bride). I’m choosing him because few writers are as accomplished or respected, and he’d be the first to admit that he’s written some scripts that, for one reason or another, were disappointing movies (e.g., Memoirs of an Invisible Man).

I suspect that this issue of intelligence is what’s really going on for Suderman and the writers I know who agree with him. Movies made for a wide audience often don’t meet the standards of smarter people like Suderman.

And it can feel frustrating to care about movies and to see that, for example, Taken 2 made $376M and Haywire only made $33M. But this has nothing to do with Blake Snyder.

So the next time you see a “bad” movie, don’t blame Blake Snyder.

Remember that the script is not the movie, and that movies are incredibly hard to make.

Relevant Resources

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Discussion About Blake Snyder And The Real Reason Hollywood Makes Bad Movies

  1. Colin Holmes

    The other side of the coin would then be that since some movies are terrific, all the credit should go to Blake Snyder as well, right?

    STC is just a template, not a formula. If it was a formula and it worked, then every movie would be using it and every movie would be great.

    Theres a case to be made that if The Lone Ranger had been made on that Save the Cat template, the film would have been 45 minutes shorter and gotten to the point a whole lot sooner. But nowhere in the book does Snyder say that Tonto needs a bird on his head.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Great comment, Colin!

      • Nancy Bates

        Grew up watching The Lone Ranger and was so bummed to see Tonto made look like a scary clown (crow and black and white stripes on his face). So sad, Tonto’s such a smart and important character too. I have not and will mostly likely not see the film and I’m a fan of Depp’s. Hammer looks like he did well as The Ranger too.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks, Nancy.

  2. Jack Slaymaker

    I agree. It’s also important to note as well, that most writers starting out have great ideas but may not be able to articulate themselves correctly. With a structure, you can at least get something on paper that a producer can pick up and visualize.

    Another point is that if you approach a producer with a script that is not the normal structure or even too smart for its own good, a producer may be reluctant to make it, due to a perception that not enough people will “get it”.

    I feel STC and other “formulas” are useful for starting out and getting traction, then you can write your opus.

  3. John

    Thanks for writing this. This is one of the more well-reasoned defenses of Snyder’s ideas, because it gives credit to his predecessors without fawning and being sycophantic.

    My problem with Snyder’s book(s) is simple. He’s not concerned with storytelling. He’s concerned with storySELLING. If it sells, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. He’s not the first, and he’s probably not the most transparent, but he’s certainly one of the most bitter I’ve ever read. The Lennon/Grant comparison is apt, but at least they’re funny about it. Honesty is great, but bitterness ain’t.

    Snyder’s tirade about Christopher Nolan’s Memento really sticks out. In Save the Cat, Snyder gave out his own e-mail address and dared readers to e-mail him to argue about the merits of Memento. There’s no reason to pick on indies or people who want to make them or people who simply prefer them to tentpoles. There’s also no reason to taunt readers whose tastes differ. Plus, given Christopher Nolan’s career trajectory since Save the Cat was published, Snyder’s tirade looks really foolish now. Since 2005, Nolan’s films have made more than a billion dollars. Clearly, Nolan figured out how to make money AND tell effective stories that audiences want.

    Of course, one could argue that Bill Goldman was just as audacious and arrogant in his two “Screen Trade” books, but compare Goldman’s resume to Snyder’s and there’s a world of difference. Goldman might be a blowhard at times, but the proof’s in the pudding.

    Not everyone who wants to write screenplays wants to sell screenplays in Hollywood. That’s where the money is, for sure, but the odds of success are akin to getting struck by lightning during a shark attack. Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Robert Rodriguez, and many other respected filmmakers started on their own, with no budget, and they made shorts that got them noticed. There are other paths, but Snyder’s book(s) spend all their time bitterly looking the other way. It’s a real turn-off. I’d rather read the same ideas elsewhere and avoid the negativity.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I really appreciate your comment, John.

    • Michael M

      Story selling. Bingo

    • Tom Alexander

      Wow, I’m either naive or overly positive but I’ve read both authors, Snyder and Goldman and I didn’t find either of them to be bitter or a blow hard. But I did go back and look at what Snyder said about Memento and he did seem rather hostile over what I thought was an excellent and clever film. However, I do believe he said that there are exceptions to just about any rule out there; like Pulp Fiction and Blair Witch, to name a few films that successfully introduced a different way of presenting a film.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks, Tom.

  4. Chris

    I think the analogy of a script to a business plan is kinda genius. I’ve used the architectural blueprint analogy, but that always falls apart because those get more rigid as you get closer to building, not less.

    But a business plan? Once you’re funded you put that thing in a drawer and let reality in. As you do on a film set.


    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Chris.

    • Miranda Q Plumb

      No, it’s a total false equivalency. Small businesses are not by nature an art, nor creative, while storytelling and filmmaking are. Stories are meant to move us, make us laugh, surprise us, allow us to fall in love with the characters, show us life in a new light, or just make our pulse race. When the same structural template is being used over and over, those experiences are dulled and corroded, unoriginal. As an audience we feel cheated and manipulated. This is nothing like our reactions to a small business’s product like, for example, toner cartridges or laundry detergent. This comparison (by an industry executive no less) misses the entire point.

      • Jason

        Ditto, Miranda. You can copy a business plan no problem. Word for word. But you cannot do that with a movie script. I don’t think Suderman was saying ANY of those movies were bad, in themselves:

        “Yet once you know the formula, the seams begin to show. Movies all start to seem the same, and many scenes start to feel forced and arbitrary, like screenplay Mad Libs.”

        This isn’t saying those are bad movies. It’s saying they stick too closely to a formula. And once you know the formula, the suspense and surprise is gone. Consider this recent news article:

        “Hollywood facing summer crisis with multiple big budget flops”

        That would seem to indicate that Suderman was right.

      • Colin Holmes

        I disagree – Unless they are completely the Director’s expression, movies are commercial art. There are many commercial artistic small businesses – from advertising, cooking, writing, music… Anywhere art is sold for commerce there is a balance between the value of the expression and the desires of the paying public.

        You cannot copy a business plan word for word because every product is different, every market is different, as is every budget. It’s a very apt analogy.

      • Mark Martino

        The essential difference between a movie production and other small businesses is that most businesses provide a product or service to fulfill a known need. However, a movie, like other works of art, must create its own need.

        It’s an important difference. Still, there are many things about producing a movie that are similar to small businesses, particularly business plans. While a script by itself is not a business plan, it’s an important part of the business plan used to get the movie produced.

        Most books and articles I’ve read about business plans start by warning the reader that business plans need to fit the business exactly and should not be copied. The only people who don’t post such a warning are people selling business plan templates.

        The essence of business is detail. Any change in a detail changes the nature of the business, sometimes radically. The guy who started Netflix got it right after about two hundred other companies tried by getting just the right details in place.

      • Tim Arview

        She isn’t comparing screenplays to business plans. She’s comparing STC to the concept of a business plan. Each business plan is different in the same way that each screenplay is different. There is an art to creating a good business plan. There may not be an art to running a business (though that could be argued), but that’s not the point. The point is that business plans have an art and a science to them, as do screenplays.

        And yes, Snyder is teaching how to make movies that sell. If that’s not what you’re interested in, then feel free to write whatever you want and film it yourself. No one’s going to tell you that you can’t. Just don’t expect to SELL that screenplay unless it meets certain criteria.

        The main purpose of a business plan is to get funding or other benefits (e.g. to become incorporated). But anyone is free to start a business without one. Just don’t expect to get any investors.

        So the analogy is spot on.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Appreciate your comment, Tim. Well said!

      • Michael M

        Mark martino –

        Interestingly, businesses don’t always come about to fulfill a need. There’s a great deal of literature out there that challenges – successfully IMO – the old adage that necessity precedes invention. Case in point – do we really need Bud Light and Miller Light? Does one actually taste that much better or even different? No, it’s because ad naseum advertising tells us so.

        In the context of filmmaking, I think its a similar phenomenon; the exception is probably only true for film aficionados and students like the ones commenting here. We actively seek new ideas and creative storytelling. The masses of people see a commercial with a good catchphrase and hopefully compelling montage and say “that’s the one i want to see.” The story is always ancillary to the advertising.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks, Michael.

  5. Wendy Anderson

    We frequently get into these sorts of discussions at our Screenwriters Roundtable. Some people swear by it, others find it stifles creativity. But the fact is a lot of people are coming to this rank neophytes, and screenwriting software is a way to, in a sense, “practice” writing. Any craft requires a phase of mimicry and learning the fundamentals. Learn the rules so that later you can through the out the window, but knowing WHY and always being able to defend unorthodox choices. Of course you must get to that point to become a singular writer. But even Mozart had to learn his scales.

  6. Super8rocks

    Haywire was better then Taken 2 but it was still a bad movie. Only thing that made it watchable was the great fight scenes. If everything else could be edited out, it would be way better.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m open to other examples. What’s a movie that you love that tanked at the box office?

      • Mark Martino

        My wife and I both loved THE LONE RANGER. I believe it will make money over time as JOHN CARTER is doing. Though neither movie is perfect, both movies suffered from poor marketing more than poor concept, writing, or execution.

        I am old enough to have watched every Lone Ranger episode on a black and white TV. The movie captured the spirit of the Lone Ranger’s dedication to justice. I loved that he was a district attorney on a mission of reason and justice. I loved the extreme yet graceful tone transitions and thought they added a lot of depth to the movie. The homages to silent film sets and gags were fun.

        THE LONE RANGER is an example of a studio betting big on something a little different. If you didn’t like the way in which it was different, at least give the studio credit for trying.

    • sherlockjr

      Super8rocks, you just beautifully illustrated Stephanie’s earlier point! For you, Haywire and Taken 2 both sucked. I’ve seen neither, but I’m sure there other people that loved both. As Stephanie pointed out, everyone dislikes certain movies, making the whole debate about the state of movies always a slippery affair.

  7. Fernando

    If a movie was a building, Save the Cat is the framework, the foundation upon which all great architects design architectural marvels (and the bad ones that crumble too). You get to break the rules if you want, but do so at your own peril and on the right places.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point of view. I feel that Blake Snyder’s framework gives writers (and directors, and editors, and everybody else) enough of a roadmap to get the basics right and the freedom to be creative, original, and to make art on top of it.

    Peter Suderman should go ahead and make or produce a movie of his own, with our without Blake’s framework. Then I could take his comments more seriously.

  8. Naomi

    This was a welcome article; last night I actually ruminated on the Slate article while lying in bed instead of sleeping for a whole lot longer than I should have. First time ever for staying awake to weigh someone’s take on someone else’s work. I skimmed “Save the Cat” as well as several other books on screenwriting and came overloaded with other folks’ way of writing. Then I went back to my own; sit down and write, beginning with that word, phrase, or idea for a scene that got the juices flowing in the first place. I appreciate all the work writers put into their guides; sometimes I apply what I read, often I don’t and usually there was something that I could apply to a specific issue with a specific scene or script. However, just yesterday I sent a link/copy of the Slate article to a newbie who’d asked for help with his script, because he really would benefit, IMHO, from reading “Save the Cat” to help organize his somewhat fractured ideas, meaning so many ideas but not wrangled into any workable framework.

  9. Seth

    This is a great article, but I don’t agree with the comments that you’ve got to know the rules before you can break them – not in this context, anyway.

    Blake wasn’t creating a formula (or framework or plan or whatever you want to call it) – he was defining what’s intrinsic to all of us humans when we hear a story. Believe that or don’t, but it’s the reason why when Joseph Campbell looked at stories all over the world, from all times, and compiled the monomyth, there were so many similarities.

    I see a lot of neophytes trying to gain what they think is a superior position to Blake and other writing teachers by calling his book a formula and pointing out what they think are flaws.

    I’d recommend giving him and his work a little more credit. What rules do you think you’re going to break – the idea of a sympathetic main character? That we need an inciting incident to propel the main character into the meat of the story? That there’s a very dark moment toward the end, where they character feels more desperate and resolved than at any other point in the story?

    Go ahead and break those rules, and see how satisfying your story is for others. I’ve read hundreds of bad scripts in my life and I’ve seen hundreds of bad movies, and I’d say most of them could have been helped by at least considering the points Blake and other screenwriting teachers have made about what a viewer needs to experience in order to get satisfaction from a story.

    For a group of artists, screenwriters may be the most stubborn.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Seth.

    • Michael M

      Good point. I would add that screenwriting is inherently more formulaic than literary fiction storytelling. A film is invariably a 90-120 minute product that requires a very structured format. “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” may have been inspired by the actual novel; only a novel, however, can digress into a full chapter about the monster’s thoughts on love and romance while maintaining a compelling narrative.

  10. Frank Famularo

    There is a lot that I can say in support of your side of this issue, but the only thing that I need to say is: “Thank You Stephanie.” -ff

  11. William Collins


    Your work is always awesome and you have my upmost respect, so assume a friendly tone to this e-mail.

    Yes… but when I stood up on a mic at AFM on the panel you spoke at (not when you where speaking btw), and pointed out the egregious expert problem that is endemic in Hollywood the panel of experts and to my surprise most of the audience where not receptive. I could feel the anger and dislike to me pointing this out. I was dismissed with a… Do you have an actual question?

    It’s looking for patterns that is the error. You said it yourself here, but I think you cannot see past this smoke screen. A movie truly originally will break convention and be something with no precedent. To the studios that means something to avoid.

    Investors need to get their head out of the sand, and realize that risk is there regardless of the track record somebody claims. This is the reason why Snider (RIP) and others awaiting to publish after their 15 minutes of fame, will continue to claim to know the code. But the only code they know is the combination to their product at that time, under those finite circumstances etc. They cannot morally claim to know anything else. Unless of course the goal is to write books (rather than scripts), and sell your snake oil to unsuspecting victims.

    You told me (in person) that if Hollywood studios felt movies such as my original script was something that should be made, movies like it would be being made already. There was not much more for me to say after that… I walked away stunned really.


    William Collins

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi William. I apologize if I didn’t make this clear when we met. I think the issue is that we disagree about whether (to paraphrase) “there is anything new under the sun.” In my opinion, no script is totally original. Every movie, TV show, novel, is built on the same story structure, the same hero’s journey. So even an original idea has precedents of one kind or another. If you like, you can see my post about “The Wire” to learn more about how to pitch an original idea.

    • Sarah

      Ugh, one thing I can’t stand about panels with Q&As are the audience blowhards who ask non-question questions. The audience is there to hear the pros we paid to hear! We don’t want to hear fellow audience members vent or pontificate or antagonize the panelists in an effort to make themselves sound smart. I just came back from Comic-Con and I can’t tell you how many socially-impared know-it-alls would ask these long rambling “questions” which were really just about THEMSELVES and their own opinions, not sincere questions for the panelists. I’m sure people would get farther in this business if they left the bitterness, pomposity, and “nobody appreciates my genius” attitude at home.

      • Tom Alexander

        Couldn’t agree with you more, Sarah.

  12. Mr. Sifuentes

    I was never a raving fan of Save The Cat. It’s great for structure and breaking down your script into segments/events.

    The subtext of the article still acknowledges the core foundation of any film/business, is the script or the business plan for the company.

    From tent-poles to micro budget first time filmmakers…the majority of them do suck.

    From my experience in the micro to low budget film world, the majority of my colleagues are horrible at taking criticism, not taking the time to have actors do a reading months prior to production and not sending the screenplay to a script service for proper objective notes.

    Everybody thinks they are brilliant but nobody wants to take the risk of having their script scrutinized.

    On the flip side at least from my observation into the studio world I just think there are way to many hands in the cookie jar. I can make an assumption that everybody and their mother can go in and start “tweaking” the screenplay. From actors, directors, executives, marketing dept, the dozen or so writers who are hired for revisions etc.

    It’s frustrating to watch what was once considered the most fundamental aspect of any film, the “script” turned into a nov·el·ty

    3. A small mass-produced article, such as a toy or trinket.

    Great conversation, Stephanie.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Mr. Sifuentes. Yes, one of the factors for why many studio films don’t live up to their potential is “too many hands in the cookie jar.”

  13. Michael Rodriguez

    “The script is not a movie ” that’s an excellent quote about the difficulty about the making any film. The script is primary a blueprint, a foundation, to build a movie. As a writer, I think the problem is that audiences assume that films are already made and pre-packaged for viewing. It’s not that simple. Films like any artistic endeavor requires a lot of planning and work to even be made. Films and film making are like small business that takes years to release a finish product. Yet, audiences seems to only care for the finish product like a car rolling off the assembly line. The audiences do not realize all the steps involve to complete the making of a car or of a film.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      So true, Michael.

    • Beeg

      Mr. Rodriguez, you have a good point spoke from someone who is passionate about the industry and wishes others to hold themselves to the same standard. But please dont forget the perspective of the audience. They do not care about all the steps which go into producing a movie. The audience buys their tickets because they simply want to escape their own reality and be entertained for 90 minutes. Its a low risk, low commitment purchase. They place their trust in you, the passionate industry professional, to deliver a quality product.

  14. Sarah Beach

    I had much the same reaction to the Slate article. I felt he was focusing on the wrong thing to “blame.” STC! is just the latest thing that screenwriters have latched onto to use as a boilerplate for their writing. The previous one was Chris Volger’s hero’s journey outline. I once heard a writer (who should have known better) complain “I can’t get my story to fit Vogler’s outline!” This for a script that I thought was shaping up very well.

    The real problem of reliance on a set formula or template or method or whatever one wants to call it is actually the insecurity of the writers. Too rigid an attachment to forms and expectations is what stifles creativity, not the formula or template or method.

    Heck, that’s like saying all sonnets are bad because everyone uses the Shakespearean form of the sonnet and not some other one. It’s silly.

    Blake was always looking for new forms of storytelling. He was enthusiastic about it. On his trip to China, some months before he died, he mentioned to me that he’d seen a Chinese play where the setting was the protagonist, not any of the characters. It intrigued him, and he wanted to explore that idea further. He never got the chance, that I know of.

    Frankly, my suspicion as to why some dislike STC! and try to downplay Blake’s work is that he had an amazing knack for the pungent label. “The save the cat moment” — everyone gets it immediately. Is there a shorter, quicker way to describe it? It’s a talent to be envied, and I think that’s what’s being given voice.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Sarah. I agree. It’s often the things that are the simplest, that make you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” that are the sign of a big idea. Blake’s contribution to the world of screenwriting is significant and I was grateful to know him.

  15. Genevieve Castelino

    So glad you set the record straight Stephanie. Agree wholeheartedly. This summer particularly, it feels like everyone and their donkey has a beef to pick with Hollywood (some of it well-deserved).

    Here’s my own experience with ‘Save The Cat.’ I wrote umpteen drafts of a screenplay without an outline, index cards or corkboards. Finally having wrapped myself around a pole I had no choice but to go with the index-cards-take-over-the-walls route. Weeks of arranging and re-arranging later, the patterns emerged. During this time a friend gifted me ‘Save The Cat.’ When the patterns finally emerged on my walls, they fit Snyder’s approach almost precisely to the page number.

    Suderman has a lot of solid credits to his name. Last I looked, filmmaker wasn’t one of them. So till then I’ll stick to loving movies – Hollywood, Indie, Foreign – wherever they come from, and in all their good, bad AND ugly glory.

  16. CJG53

    Ms. Palmer, you wrote: “Why DO so many studio movies suck donkey balls? It turns out to be the same reason so many independent movies suck donkey balls. It’s the reason most TV and most novels suck donkey balls. And it’s why Slate, and Suderman, gets it wrong with their criticism of Blake Snyder.”

    There’s a name for this; it’s called STURGEON’S LAW. The late Science Fiction novelist and screenwriter, Theodore Sturgeon, was once asked back in the early ’50s why 90% of Science Fiction was ‘crud.’ His response: 90% of EVERYTHING is crud. Sturgeon wrote: “Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

    This is the underlining truth of all creative endeavors: architecture, novels, songwriting, glass-blowing, flower-arranging, etc., etc.

    And this goes hand-in-hand with people who bemoan the state of present day film and look back to earlier eras. But for every BRINGING UP BABY or SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS or CITIZEN KANE there were 200 pieces of crud that have been forgotten. Not saying this isn’t a sad time for Hollywood but, taken as a whole, nothing’s changed — Sturgeon’s Law still holds…

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You’re so right! I had forgotten about Sturgeon’s Law. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Mr. Sifuentes

      It just seems nowadays that 90% of all the crub is actually getting all the P&A.

  17. Justin

    In defense of Blake Snyder, as others have said, it’s a structure not a script. Also, it’s a structure on how to sell scripts, which is more an indictment of the process than what will actually make a great movie. Also, I one hundred percent support Blake Snyder and think he was right on and totally disagree with Suderman.

    For me personally, Snyder’s rules are more like guidelines than actual rules 🙂

    What Suderman is really asking is why don’t studios make great films anymore? This is beyond subjective. Like all things it’s how you look at it.

    For me, what makes a great movie is really simple. Great writing, this includes structure and dialogue, and casting it right (most of the time when we cast our films we get only 90% of who we want and we’re lucky to get that). The rest, whether we want to admit it or not, is a sheer amount of good luck. Our movie is opening at the right time, we don’t have too much or no competition, our concept is original or if it isn’t we’re first (think Olympus Has Fallen and what happened to White House Down), people have actually heard about our film, etc.

    I always liked what William Goldman said about films. I’m paraphrasing here: “That people can agree when a film comes out that it works or doesn’t work. Whether or not it’s good or great really only comes with time.”

    The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Princess Bride more than prove his point. They weren’t seen in their day, but thanks to time and circumstance they’ve now become beloved movies and part of our lexicon.

    On the whole we might agree on whether a movie is good or bad, but the details are where people get hung up on.

    For example, I was no fan of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (title alone should have been a giveaway), I think most people will agree with me there, but where the movie left me is very different from where it left most people. Most people got lost at the “Nuking the Fridge” moment. But, for me, there were those moments in the other Raiders movies and it didn’t ruin the movies, so what changed? Oh and by the way, the moment Crystal Skull left me is when Shia LaBeouf swings on the vines with the monkeys. What changed is simple, the audience is savvier than it has ever been before. We can’t get away with stuff like this.

    Also, look at the movie industry as a whole. Right now, the industry is about to go through a flux like it did when sound was invented (I’m of course talking about the internet as distribution; Netflix anyone?). Even though the movie industry is raking in amazing profit it’s audience is not even close to what it once was. Also, the studios have fragmented the market so severely that we are serving niche of niche audiences. We’re trying to make everyone happy and we said we can and clearly we’re not.

    We’re charging essentially anywhere from $13 dollars to $50 dollars just to see a movie. This has restricted the studios, a conservative system already, into becoming even more conservative. Also, they are under even more pressure to make event movies to make up these dividends. But if every movie is an event movie it’s not really an event now is it?

    So the studios are really only looking at franchises. It’s why Disney made John Carter. It’s why Disney made The Lone Ranger. You think it did that out of nostalgia? We could argue if the gambles were worth it and hindsight is easier to mock them for it, but studios need franchises to justify their very few attempts at making a movie of “worth”. Disney has Star Wars now. Not sure how you feel about it since Disney now owns my childhood, but I would be very surprised if it took another gamble like John Carter again anytime soon.

    Also a Disney executive quipped once about “Alice in Wonderland” that audiences aren’t interested in story, but spectacle and used Alice in Wonderland as his proof. There’s something to be said for Spectacle, The Greatest Show On Earth illustrates this point since it’s not really a good film but it won the Best Oscar, but for me it is that the studios learn the wrong lessons from their hit films.

    Also, when Disney made the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, a lot of the behind the scene stuff went down and they even shut down production and Gore Verbinski had to tell people to keep working while he dealt with the executives at Disney. Most Disney executives thought it was going to bomb. It was through word of mouth that people said you had to see this film and to bring it back to Blake Snyder, if you watch the film it follows his structure perfectly and it’s an immensely enjoyable film. Whether it’s great or not that’s up to others to decide, but I think it is. Mind you, after Pirates became a hit, when it came time for the sequels, Disney shut down production on Pirates 2 and 3 and Gore had to do the same thing again. Those movie had the other problems (when films become successful and have a sequel green-lit those films have incredibly different problems namely the bar is raised on them and they usually don’t have a story in place to begin to equal the original).

    Which I guess leads me to the last point, which is that a lot happens on films. Making a great movie is like lightning in a bottle. Everything has to go right. And when a movie fails it’s like watching a plane crash with the explanation being a series of events happened to equal this dud. Now for my two cents on why there’s a lot of bad movies it’s because most people don’t know what a good script is. But it’s again not as simple as that because you can still make a bad movie out of a good script, but you’ll never make a good movie out of a bad script.

  18. Bill Lae

    Peter Suderman might do well to study up on logical fallacies before making his next arguments and conclusions. For the most part, the progress if not foundation of all of civilization is that it builds upon itself. From recipes, blueprints, diagrams, and formulas to essays, compositions, chemistry, physics, orchestrations, yadda. We strive to not re-invent the wheel. “If it works, don’t fix it.” It’s a perfect solution. Most breads/cakes use the exact same core ingredients (otherwise they would not be cakes.) Is that why bad cakes are bad? Huh? Hilariously and ironically, I could ignore reasoning and, using Suderman’s logical fallacies, argue why his essay sucks: “The reason op-eds, reviews, critiques, and essays these days stink is because they all follow the exact same formula: Introduction/premise ending with thesis statement, body of arguments, and a conclusion. Voila. Crap! Forget the content, he followed a proven outline. It’s so formulaic; I was bored. “SAVE THE EDITORIAL!”

  19. Bradford Richardson


    You’re my hero. This piece is so thoughtfully and expertly written!
    Thank you!

  20. chris

    Absolute brilliant response. And added points for use of “suck donkey balls” not just once, but four times. HA!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m confident that family members just shook their heads at my “sinful language” if they happened to read this.

  21. R B Ripley

    Great article Stephanie and I agree wholeheartedly.

    But I would also add another factor to the growth of the donkey-ball-suckage-factor, and that is the (perceived) risk mitigation needed to drive shareholder value.

    All of the major studios are now a subsidiary of a larger corporation, with Disney being the “exception” (but not truly because the studio itself is an internal company, owned and operated by the larger organization). And since corporations are beholden to that single raison d’être – to increase stock value – all decision making moves along the path leading to where we are now: The Franchise aka “known content.”

    I do sense that audiences are being exhausted and bored here in the U.S. But, honestly, I can’t envision a scenario in which this will change until controlling corporations divest themselves of the studios.

    Unless perhaps this has opened he gates for a new breed of smaller, independent studios to produce all of the original, $10M- 40M movies that offer the variety a broad, moviegoing audience needs to be sustained? Because as you said, not everyone likes every movie.

    As always, thanks for the great thoughts!

  22. Rick

    Thoughtful comments but all too many Hollywood producers and others are woefully ignorant, uncurious and unworldly. And, they continually underestimate the intelligence of tens of millions of movie viewers. If you don’t know your history and the impact certain people and events have had on it, you will miss a great biopic, or period drama based on an historical event, for example, when it comes along, even if it’s well written and consistent with the approach adopted by Snyder, or Goldman or McKee, etc. Who knew the story of a stuttering British monarch from the 1930’s made into a film with a $15mm budget would be that appealing to audiences it would end up grossing over $450mm in sales. Great writing, acting, and directing helped but you would have had to appreciate the subject matter in order not to pass on project in the first place. If you didn’t know or care to find out about King George VI, and how he substantially overcame his stutter, and his place in history, you would have passed on it, even with most brilliantly written script. It’s the story that really counts –structure is important but is secondary.

  23. John Hawkins

    I’m not sure Suderman was blaming Save the Cat for movies sucking so much as he was blaming it for movies feeling too much the same. His main argument was that StC is being followed too tightly, making movies about wildly different subject feel similar by forcing them into the same rhythm.

  24. Neal Reynolds

    I agree completely that the Slate article is completely wrong, but (other than on that point) so is this article.

    The reason most movies are so bad is because the screenplays that are chosen to be produced (by the money people and by the celebrities by agreeing to be in them) are bad screenplays! Because they are chosen because they think they will make money or because they think the role will make the celebrity look good. Whether the screenplay is good is a teritiary concern (at best).

    A particularly vivid example: “Monster” is arguably a horrible bastardization of a real-life tragedy. (More empathy for the killer instead of the many victims, giving audiences the impression that hte real victims sort of “deserved” killing; portraying the killer’s sidekick as physically attractive, etc.)

    But the lead actress got incredible kudos for playing against type. Whereas if she had played a more typical character in an extremely well-written movie she wouldn’t have gotten nearly the positive press.

    (Worse, from the point of view of Hollywood, the writer might have.)

    Now obviously this is strong medicine that any Hollywood insider doesn’t want to take… so before I’ll ease the pain a bit by pointing out that the public at large is also largely to blame.

    For the vast majority of people choose to go to a movie based NOT on the quality of the story (screenplay), but on what celebrities are in it, what celebrity directed it, what famous characters are in it (Lincoln, Howard Hughes, etc.), how much sex is in it, how much violence is in it, and how much action is in it.

    The bottom line is there are plenty of good screenplays out there (as you may have guessed by now I have written a few myself), but until audiences really start caring about the quality of the underlying screenplay (instead of how many celebrities are in it and other aforementioned attributes), few of those screenplays will be made.

    And, alas, twits like the “Slate” article author will continue to blame the writer (as he also anxiously awaits the next movie starring one of his favorite celebrities or directed by one of his favorite celebrities).

    • Stephanie Palmer

      You are right that casting stars has a major impact on which films are made (and often the star may not be as talented as another actor or actress but they bring an audience and can get financing).

  25. Dava

    Peter Suderman sucks donkey balls. “Writing Movies For Fun And Profit,” by screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant AND “Save The Cat sit on my desk. Whenever I am stuck I refer to the both.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      As is obvious from this article, both books are in my library too. Thanks so much, Dava.

  26. Richard Oshen

    Everything has structure.
    Haiku has structure.
    A sonnet has structure.
    Iambic pentameter has a structure.
    Nursery Rhyme has structure.
    Limmerick has structure
    3 act play has structure
    Day has structure
    Heartbeat has structure
    Life has structure

    The art of a great story combined with the technology of great structure makes the film

  27. Michael Wilk

    Movies are trending worse these days, but it has nothing to do with following Snyder’s or Field’s screenwriting advice. It has to do with Hollywood making an endless parade of sequels, prequels, reboots, and over-milked gimmicks like 3D to the point where audiences get bored and search for good entertainment elsewhere. Hollywood does need better writers, but more than that it needs to take risks on well-written stories. Why did the Hollywood Renaissance take the nation by storm in the 60s and 70s? They did it because the writers, directors, and producers took risks making the films they wanted to make, films that had messages and morals moviegoers wanted to see but weren’t getting from the musicals and standard studio fare.

    The over-reliance on sequels, prequels, reboots, and gimmicks is the biggest threat to Hollywood’s bottom line right now. Try releasing a relatively low budget film that is highly critical of the NSA or the wars America has been waging over the last decade + and see how audiences react. Try releasing films that take a critical look at how we have little problem with excess violence but go apespit at the sight of genitalia or sex (real or simulated). Try making a film that sharply criticizes Wall Street and the politicians (including most Democrats and virtually all Republicans) who enable it. Release the sort of films made in the 60s and 70s and you might find Hollywood boom again for years to come.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I know there are lots of people (myself included) who wish we could go back to the glory days…

  28. Guy

    It’s worth noting that in one of Blake’s follow up books, “Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies,” where he puts 50 movies into his beat sheet, some of the beats are in a slightly different order in certain movies, especially during the first act. Others clearly don’t follow the page count he prescribes in the original book.
    What I took from his books wasn’t hitting precise page counts, but hitting these emotional beats that takes the reader and the audience on the journey. The audience isn’t paying attention to where the beats are at to the minute, but they’ll sense when something is missing.

  29. Julie

    After reading hundreds of scripts as a reader and working in development and distribution, I think one reason so many movies suck is because everyone is trying to copy each other. It’s a smart financial move to piggyback off of the marketing of one successful zombie movie with 3 more. (we did this all the time with our own) But they still sucked. I won’t even list the titles here because they’re embarrassing. As a distributor we did well, but as a reader I burned out reading the same scripts over and over again. The truly unique ones didn’t always get made.

    Always love reading your blog, Stephanie!

  30. Ross Houske

    Blake would be most proud! Very well put.

  31. sherlockjr

    Stephanie, this is simply one of the greatest analyses I’ve ever read on the age-old question of “why Hollywood makes bad movies.” Just beautifully articulated and written. And when I say “age-old”, I mean it… because I’ve been around for awhile, and I’ve been hearing the same complaints for as long as I remember, long before “Save the Cat” was written. People are always complaining about the state of the arts, and it’s only in hindsight that they annoint those same years the “golden age” of this and that. I’ll bet even in 1939 there were people making similar complaints about the rotten state of movies. I think movies are as vibrant and relevant today as they have ever been. Anyway, great essay, and great website. I found it through a link on Studio System News, and I’m glad to have discovered it.

  32. KT Parker

    Good article, Stephanie. John Yorke’s book, “Into The Woods”, is great for putting all these screenwriting models into perspective. Basically it all boils down to the way we humans process information, as summarised by the Hegelian Dialectic – thesis, antithesis, synthesis. We NEED the three-act structure!

  33. Jim Valko

    Good article. I’m going to put forth another reason that many movies today are not good, It’s called the elevator pitch. Everyone is looking for that high concept catchy, witty, clever pitch. And if they don’t hear it, they never read the script. This has resulted in, in my opinion, a whole lot of movies with a great “marketing line” (that’s what an elevator pitch is) without any substance. In marketing terms the elevator pitch is the 30 second commercial. It’s the cover of the book. And as the saying goes, you can’t judge the book by the cover, just as you can’t judge the product by the commercial. Yet Hollywood execs are apparently obsessed with “great” log lines. They do judge the book by the cover. They think if book cover isn’t good, or the 30 second commercial isn’t good than no one will buy the product. The Pacifier, is just one example. A rough and tough Navy Seal has to babysit five kids and protect them. Witty, Clever, high concept. Stupid movie. There are tons of examples. Now if you look at some great movies, that have stood the test of time, the log lines aren’t that great. Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction… many others. I’m not saying the elevator pitch is the total reason for bad movies, but I think the obsession for great pitches has something to do with shallow, “sit-com-like” movies. Great pitches do not create great characters and movie plots that affect us deeply. In fact, by its very nature a great pitch can be destined to be a bad movie. Instantly gratifying things often have little substance. A naked stripper or porn queen will get the immediate attention of most men, but is there any substance beyond the first glance? The log line or elevator pitch is the same thing. Where can you go with the premises of a Navy Seal babysitting five kids? You go into “sit-com-like” scenes, cheap laughs, etc. To use yet another metaphor: Beauty is only skin deep, and so can be a great pitch.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I take your point, Jim. But think about it like this: decision-makers are inundated with material. Each studio receives several hundred submissions each month. The WGA registers more than 65,000 screenplays each year. No one could read them all.

      Decision-makers who have to process a substantial amount of material have to decide how best to spend their time. Reading a script takes an hour or more. Hearing or reading a short pitch takes 15 seconds. Buyers can hear or read many more short pitches than scripts.

      Therefore, the key way buyers decide what to read and who gets their attention is based on the strength of the short pitch.

      Now, as you say, if a short pitch is great, it doesn’t guarantee that the project is great. But if your short pitch isn’t good, that almost certainly means that the project isn’t as good as it needs to be to merit the decision-maker’s attention.

      In other words, your material doesn’t sell itself. Your pitch is what sells the material.

      • Anonymous

        The importance of the pitch is difficult to overemphasize. I think of it this way.

        3 minutes without air
        3 days without water
        3 weeks without food
        And you’re dead

        As a busy executive I can say that making buy decisions happens the same way. When I look at proposals to do any given thing, there are too many to study, so the only effective strategy is triage. Like this:

        3 minutes – does this thing seem to have any air in it? If not, pass or suffocate
        3 hours – does this thing seem to have any water in it? If not, pass or die of dehydration
        3 days – will this thing nourish? If not, pass or starve

        Certainly we pass on things that someone else will make money at, maybe even good money, maybe even real good money. That is ok. Business is about batting average. You can’t swing at every pitch, nobody can hit 1.000, and damn few can hit as well as .367. A player hitting .150 can still be considered a solid player, even great in some industries. Entertainment or story telling are no exception, if you want to get paid.

        Decision makers are human too. We make mistakes. We get in bad moods. Some times that first three minutes may only last 30 seconds, or 3 seconds, or even less. I have bailed out halfway through the first sentence, and it doesn’t matter for what. Think you’ve got the greatest [widget, idea, story, screenplay, pick any noun] ever? Unless you’ve found a way to restore me to my 19 year old body and let me live and learn in that body forever, and do the same for my family and friends, you don’t. If you want my money, don’t waste my precious time with crappy pitches.

        A person can rail against this reality, or, recognizing the fact of it, do the best they can to improve their odds: like, not throwing a bad pitch when they were capable of throwing a great one. And preferably, a pitch I can hit for a home run.

        I recognize that, like anything, there must be crappy pitches in order for there to be great ones. And I’ve been on both sides, and both are equally challenging. Question is, which set do you want your precious work to be in? The set I’m going to pick from, or the set I’m not?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        I really appreciate your perspective and comment. We are all buyers and sellers in our lives.

  34. Jane

    Hi Stephanie,

    Hope all is well with you. Your argument is extremely well made.

    I want to chime in a say a couple thoughts on it as well. This is actually a discussion I’ve had with many writers and directors alike over the years — whether the Save the Cat approach to story development in film has been exhausted. I too believe that pointing to Save the Cat as the reason to why there are so many predictable or even just plain terrible studio blockbuster movies being produced right now is placing unfair blame on Mr. Snyder and missing the real problem of why we have a deluge of poor scripts in Hollywood. But rather than continuing the conversation of the benefits or deficits of the Save the Cat method, I think it’s more important to understand some basic facts about script development in Hollywood.

    As many of us know who have worked in film development for any length of time, studio scripts are never developed in a vacuum. A script may begin with a single screenwriter and the computer screen, but it certainly almost NEVER ends there. Drafts of scripts are scrutinized by numerous studio executives as well as producers who note the screenwriter’s work over and over again to the point where a script may no longer has the same continuity the original draft once might have held. Then the difficulty of creating a cohesive script is even further complicated by the fact that studio executives are rarely happy with one screenwriter’s work on a script — as many as three or four various different writers will take their turn on rewriting the script and, each time, will have to incorporate the studio executives’ additional notes.

    My point is, that within the studio structure, a script is no longer a screenwriter’s art form. It’s now a team of studio executive and producers’ that have the oversight and the strongest input over the result of the final construct of a script. And, as in many forms of art and business ventures alike, too many cooks in the kitchen can make a terrible stew.

    That all being said, the author of the Slate article states “Snyder’s beat sheet has taken over Hollywood screenwriting”. I would agree with this statement only in that it’s my experience that the Save the Cat method is a very easy a quick way for studio execs (who are not screenwriters) to comprehend and digest the cinematic story format. Too often the development department’s criteria of what makes a well constructed story is boiled down to one simple question:
    “Does the script meet Save the Cat checklist? If so… then it’s a movie!”

    But that’s really an overly simplistic and misleading conclusion. The fact is that a movie is MORE than just a series of events. At its core, it’s a psychological and emotional journey — at least if you want your audience to care about your main character, there needs to be a relatable problem and an emotional through-line that grounds the story in every scene. But, unfortunately, quite often in Hollywood scripts today, rather than really exploring the character’s personal struggle, a stock personal problem is established for the protagonist — which has something related to the journey he’s about to go on — but rarely is that personal problem intrinsically tied to the course of events that ensue through the rest of the film. In other words, a psychological/emotional problem is established for the protagonist, but ultimately it gets lost through the course of the story…. until the third act where suddenly the psychological/emotional problem (or something like it) rears its ugly head and the protagonist finds an inventive (or ridiculous) way of solving it. But the protagonist’s struggle to overcome this psychological/emotional problem isn’t consequential (i.e. consistent or even important) throughout the journey.

    That’s where a good writer comes in — someone who knows how to create the structure of what a cinematic story is, but more importantly knows the emotional complexity of the character must be the motivation FOR EVERY SCENE. Otherwise we’re watching a bunch of VFX — which certainly is an amazing art form of course!!!!! VFX also makes for terrific trailer/marketing moments. But a good story is what I go to the theater to see.

    So, what I’m getting at is that it’s simple ignorance that causes someone to blame Save the Cat for the failure of good theatrical storytelling. I believe Save the Cat is one of the many methods to identify the rise and fall or fall and rise of a character in a three act structure. Rambling stories that don’t follow a fall/rise continuum aren’t ones that anyone cares about even one year later. But also movies that lack a relatable and believable emotional journey are just as bad as those who fail to utilize a strong rise/fall continuum.

    Thanks for providing a platform for so many of us to respond to the Slate article. I truly hope people will read and consider your rebuttal and understand that Blake Snyder’s work had value and continues to have value. The lack of quality studio scripts being produced shouldn’t be blamed on the Save the Cat method, but rather the common misconception that if a script only follows the Save the Cat method, then it’s a solid script. Utilizing Snyder’s 15 step method certainly is a step in the right direction to assembling a good story – when you have only 120 pages or two hours to tell a story, Snyder’s method is incredibly useful! — but there’s also more than meets the eye to screenwriting than following a simple 15 step criteria.

    Best Always,

    Jane Moore

  35. Steve

    Most failures are due to story problems so what about the issue of spending more time on scripts?

  36. Randall Roffe

    So seldom do I find this type of self-examination of interest that I almost overlooked it. But I’m glad I read it. The general idea that formulaic writing has degraded film, I agree with. And I agree at the same time that use of a structural guide, with SOME flexibility, can be useful. I’ve developed my own structural time-beat system that I suppose I should write a book about after I sell or make my first big one. My system is based on psychological studies of time perception in addition to analysis of great films. It’s not the formulaic nature of time structure that is the problem so much as formulaic characters and plots, and the avalanche of absolutely implausible plots and SFX. The classic era of film, black and white and early color, had a MUCH higher percentage rate of great films. The essential problem is that producers today underestimate the intelligence of the audience. It’s that, not the money or the cat.

  37. Guadalupe

    Great article Stephanie. If having structure in a story is what makes bad movies, then let’s blame Greek Tragedy for conspiring against Hollywood centuries ago…

  38. D A Morris

    Stephanie, thanks for your excellent article. You have hit the bullseye regarding how HARD it is to make movies, period. Any form of collaboration as complex as moviemaking, from TV commercials to 3-D blockbusters, is fraught with things that can, and usually do, go wrong.

    Extraordinarily smart and talented people, sometimes with enormous financial means at their disposal, do their best to make things work because, well, why wouldn’t they when so much is at stake?.

    Bottom line, there are so many unpredictable elements in the process, from idea to product to the marketplace, of making a motion picture, that success is surely accompanied by a sigh of relief from all those involved.

    As you say, ‘bad’ movies have nothing to do with ‘Save The Cat’ or any other how-to book. Movies are a tricky, even treacherous business, with well-deserved rewards for those who survive.

    Perhaps the next how-to Hollywood screenwriting book should be called ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, and instead of a “Save The Cat” scene, there will be a “Beware of the Dog” scene wherein the antagonists powers are exemplified.

  39. RB Ripley

    I LOVE this discussion. Love. It.

  40. Tauhir Jones

    Great article Stephanie. I think STC! is a great, plain English explanation of the emotional beats that people respond to in well crafted stories. It’s certainly not the reason why so many Hollywood movies suck donkey balls.
    From what I can tell, the Hollywood machine is a business and as such it is focused primarily on making movies that are financially successful. So if a movie sucks (which is a totally subjective statement anyway)but makes a huge profit, I would venture to say that’s a win for Hollywood.
    My thought is that the studio system doesn’t define it’s success by whether films are considered “good” or “substantive”. The Hollywood studio system is focused on perpetuating itself and making movies that people will pay to see. If a profitable movie happens to actually be good that’s just a bonus.
    My thought is that Hollywood movies suck for all of the reasons that you and others have already discussed. I would offer that they also suck because you don’t always need to make a “good” movie to make a profitable movie. Hollywood films are staggeringly expensive and difficult to make, true creative originality is elusive and people will still pay to go see crap that is marketed well. If the viewing public stops going to see the donkey balls – sucking movies then Hollywood will make movies that people will pay to see(or find people who like the sucky movies they’re already making).
    STC! has nothing to do with unoriginal and sucky Hollywood films. In fact, I would offer that maybe they would suck even worse if STC had never been written.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      “You don’t always need to make a ‘good’ movie to make a profitable movie.” You speak the truth, Tauhir, and maybe I should start keeping a list to make this point. Thanks!

  41. M. Jarrett Christensen

    Dear Reader: Instead of listing the variables of why so many movies ‘suck’ let us remind ourselves that film-making is a collaborative process. The STC method is a template, a source, that’s all. Blake emphasized that in his lectures. He would be appalled at the controversy that it has become. He believed in the power of story and offered one of many views to harness it.
    My take is that the system does not trust the story and either hides behind CGI or overcompensates some weakness of the script by CGI.
    Perhaps the powers-at-be forgot that the audiences primal need: to laugh, to cry, to cheer and to get lost in a new world for approximately two hours. If that is allowed, then the dollars will follow.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Blake and I talked frequently when he was writing the Save The Cat series. I think he would be surprised, but also thrilled by how successful his books have become and he has helped many writers break-through. He has the #1 Screenwriting book on Amazon and to do this posthumously is quite a testament to his work. My memory is that he knew what he was saying was going to ruffle feathers within the Hollywood ranks and he was okay with taking that risk as long as he was helping writers.

  42. David Roden

    I would argue that it’s not the fault of Save the Cat or any ‘structure of a good screenplay’ book but the way you use it.

    In Into the Woods, BBC TV drama supremo John Yorke explains that structure is a natural phenomenon that we need to recognise.

  43. Antony D

    You can shoe-horn pretty much every movie ever made into the Save the Cat “formula.” Whether literally or figuratively they all do, whether you are watching Transformers 8 or Being John Malkovich. Even Nolan’s Memento (told in reverse) hits the STC beats… and no, not in reverse. As it is presented. All is lost? Yeah, three quarters of the way through, when we feel Guy Pierce’s character is royally screwed during a spoilery reveal.

    All STC does (or attempt to do) is keep the writer upping the stakes so the audience does not get bored. It keeps the story moving forward, but for green writers or for studio execs who have never written a screenplay (by have read Snyder’s book) they don’t really understand this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great device to use as training wheels for the novice and newbie writer trying to find closure on the demons of their heart-wrenching childhood by writing their Oscar-winning debut script, but that’s all it is. Or should be, IMO. Not the ONLY book on screenwriting you need, but the FIRST book on screenwriting you read. Then move on.

    The Save the Cat “formula” is the end product. It should not be the process.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I agree that STC is a great first book on screenwriting and I have seen lots of writers jumpstart their writing process with STC when they were really struggling.

      • W. Keith Sewell

        Stephanie, Save the Cat would have been the perfect book for me when I first started writing scripts. Back then, I believe I bought Syd Feld 1st ed. and went on blindly from there.

        What came first? The story or the structure?

  44. Richard S

    It’s not STC’s fault. I believe that as a small business owner, it’s very difficult to run a small business esp. starting one from scratch. After reading hundreds of scripts, IMHO I believe that most writers don’t get into the Act 2 soon enough. They also don’t know how to have goals and escalate and torment their hero. This is a very difficult skill I’ve found. People can setup and close, but that Act 2 is a bear.

  45. Ed Matsuoka

    For a Hollywood outsider like me, this is informative on many levels. I had no clue this book/software was so prevalent in the business. So on this alone I can understand why some would think it is responsible for bad movies. But common sense says this can’t be true. After all, no matter how many bad screenplays (assuming you can blame STC for these) are written, execs still have to green light it. So wouldn’t it be these exec’s fault (or the fault of the script readers being consulted) for these? My guess as to why many bad movies are made is that 1) like others have said, concepts that have made money are being chosen and not new and risky concepts. And 2) The rebirth of the auteur leaves execs to feel they can approve bad scripts because the “artist” will turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse filled with money!

  46. B. Rosson Davis

    The real crisis is that Studios and Financing companies shy away from risk, and, the making of highly imaginative original films (screenplays). Nothing is risk-free in this business. Studios and big-budget producers underestimate the intelligence of the audience. Also, they make fewer & fewer movies for people over 50, who are tired of explosions, dumb plots, flat characters, dialogue “fuck” every 2 minutes, and characters we really don’t care about. I wonder how Producers convinced investors to plunk down money for making a film about a stuttering British King? It was a brilliant film because it captured our imagination, relished “the real” in a misfit story done with sensitivity, aplomb, wit, and great actors! The Budget: only $15 million USD, and it made over $386 million globally. That’s the best kind of ROI; plus, it won a slew of awards! The script was NOT formula, nor Save the Cat structure. Also, I think “decision by committee” about what pictures/ projects gets made has killed many a “great” “little” project– The fact that Hollywood doesn’t usually want to pay the price tag for “spec” screenplays– which, in the long run, could actually save them money, rather than hiring/ firing a string of “professionals”, “brand-name” writers, re-writers, who have the skills, power agents, but perhaps lack the passion for writing that particular genre or film. Formula or not, a great script/ movie offers characters we care about, it’s not the budget or the household names– its about connecting with people, lots of people, a broader audience, regardless of age, religion, nationality, education. STC is a short lesson in screenwriting. Stream line the craft. The talented writer however, has to be bold, think out of the cliche box, make the “magic” work, make the story indelible– first on paper, then on the screen. My mantra: make smarter movies. Make ’em reach. Make ’em dream.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I like your mantra. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

    • Lee

      Sorry, I disagree about saying King’s Speech wasn’t formula. Granted it may not be Snyder’s exact formula, but I could still pick out a number of beats that are in a number of Hollywood films.

      Catalyst, Reluctance, Conflict, Turning Points and so on.

      The reason that movie worked was it’s strong characters etc but the story telling elements used by a number of movies were pretty much all there.

  47. Mark Martino

    Stephanie, I think you identified the real problem by pointing out that when we refer to bad movies, we each have a different set of movies in mind.
    Certain movies may seem universally despised, but even they have their audience. This is not to say that any and all screenplays deserve to be made into movies and distributed.

    I think it is a matter of identifying the audience for a movie concept and determining if the audience is large enough to justify the effort and money required to write the script and make the movie. Then it becomes a matter of matching the screenplay to people who believe enough in the movie to fund it, make it, and distribute it. To me, this is the art of making movies.

  48. Stephanie

    Love the blog post and I totally agree with you. I spoke with Blake a handful of times over the course of writing two different scripts of mine. And he always took his own advice lightly, even telling me that reaching certain beats at certain page numbers was not the point (though emphasized in his book), but the important factor is that, give or take a few pages, the story beat is there.

    I always recommend Blake’s book and overall method to screenwriters who already grasp what it is to tell a story in a three or four act structure (i.e. have read Syd Field, Robert McKee, or taken any screenwriting seminar or class prior to discovering STC). Blake makes what is already engrained in the seasoned screenwriter’s brain (however many years/scripts one might think it takes to become “seasoned”) quite clear, and I personally find that using his beat sheet helps immensely when I get stuck on story and it is a wonderful tool to have on hand. BUT, that having been said, per Blake’s advice to me – I never take his “formula” too seriously when using it. Even as I’m writing my current spec, I find that his structure certainly doesn’t work for every story told for the big screen – especially a biopic like this where the events that unfold are so natural and fascinating, there is little need to jam them into a particular order, and especially if it has the opposite effect and mars the story instead of helps it. Like Suderman admits, I too have been slave to the beat sheet before, altering the natural flow of my story to fit within Blake’s method because it’s EASY to structure a screenplay in this manner. But in approaching this story differently and without this useful tool at hand, I am having to re-learn what I knew before Save the Cat entered my library – which is that, per Suderman’s argument, not every film can be squeezed into this predictable format.

    The question is, do buyers also realize that this is the case?

    If there is a finger to point, it might be at today’s young and/or inexperienced studio execs or even independent producers who are not all familiar with story and act structure, and who have taken Blake’s suggested structure as “the rule” of screenwriting as opposed to a tool that should help all of us get a clearer picture of what the audience expects. But again, Blake modeled his method after patterns and rhythms that already exist within popular films – he didn’t invent the way we, as an audience, expect to see a story unfold on screen. Perhaps Suderman’s mistake is blaming the wrong party… the screenwriter as opposed to the filmmakers. In Blake’s defense, he wrote the book to tell a screenwriter exactly what, in his opinion, a studio/buyer wants to see in a spec and what will get a spec sold, hence the emphasis on male heroes and appealing to the young male demographic (although, thankfully, this tip seems to be on the way out: So, is it a book that tells a writer how to write a great story? No. It’s a book that tells a writer how to sell a spec. If screenwriters are to blame for using the method, then studios are to blame for dictating the method.

    Truly, I doubt that one “formula” or book or guru or group (screenwriters or execs) is to blame for the sad state of most films these days. In my opinion, it is a combination of things, starting with a studio’s fear of taking chances on the unfamiliar – and that includes new writers, new actors, new stories, new structures and methods – anything that doesn’t have a proven track record of success. And like Spielberg said in his recent speech at USC, it will take an industry implosion for any sort of change to occur. Until then, most screenwriters and execs are going to be less concerned with making brilliant, out-of-the-oridnary films for moviegoers and film critics like Suderman, and more concerned with putting food on the table for our families and paying our mortgages; we are going to keep feeding the machine until that machine requires a different currency. And right now, if that currency is STC specs, so be it. But I still believe that a good story can break through no matter what formula the screenwriter uses. After all, if every film stood out as an original, having ten Best Picture nominees at the Oscars would actually make sense… 😉

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, good stories and good scripts, even if they are different than the Blake Snyder beat sheet, do break through.

  49. LA Screenwriter

    It’s true that movies are hard to make. But most of us can remember a time when mainstream movies were better. When Steven Soderbergh says the industry’s changed in the last 15 years, and then Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (hardly pointy-headed intellectuals, those) more or less say the same thing, I think we should be paying attention. The problem goes far beyond Save The Cat, but as someone who has always thought its paradigm was extremely limited, I believe the industry’s over reliance on Snyder’s formula is indeed a problem. Just my thoughts on the matter…

  50. Lew Osteen

    Well written points. Thanks for the info.

    I always remember what John Houston said: “Hollywood and Detroit are both factory towns. One makes movies the other makes cars.”

    We love the “art” so much we forget it is a business.

  51. Jim Terry

    Blake’s book is a great place to start, demystifies the process and finds the fun in writing screenplays; all essential. But an assumption in your argument and defense is that his paradigm reflects a universal underlying structure to stories as much as Field’s 3-acts or Campbell’s hero cycle. Blake’s book is a template that he’s found useful, and I think you make this point as well, as he would. But the very opening premise of the book is inaccurate in assuming that audience empathy is created by having a character do something ‘good’ like saving a cat, for example. Simplistic and useful for beginners but a misunderstanding of drama, which is driven by conflict, where it is the character under pressure that drives audience empathy and identification. Maybe a subtle point for beginners, and especially for the development executives who note many projects to death. But like the pea under the princess, the inaccuracies become magnified by misunderstanding and codification into formula. The problem is that too-popular books, one-stop gurus and structure guides are used as cheat sheets by non-writers to drive development. The minimal understanding and slavery to formula is a problem magnified by perpetuating the idea that this is how stories are written, as opposed to how stories are analyzed after the fact by people, especially the McKees of the world, who offer ideas that are further removed from the actual act of writing than they pretend. Most of these people are more critic than the coach they pretend to be. There is a problem when the neophytes who man the studio system force misunderstood, lazy, and inaccurate formula on to writers whose job it is to know how to tell a story. So we have big summer movies without surprise or earned emotion, and studio execs looking for common denominators that aren’t real because they can’t tell the difference between a film that works (like Avengers for example) and one that doesn’t. Because all they know about storytelling they got in a book or a weekend McKee course.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Jim!

    • George

      I’m pretty sure he meant “save the cat”. and I’m pretty sure, if I do recall, that he does mention that the protagonist doesn’t HAVE to do something good, that he could be a bad guy. Also, movies have been made similar to the “beat sheet” for years. All stories in all mediums. The book is simply a high concept guide. You can make movies whatever way you want. facts are facts though. Memento and Mulholland drive barely made any money.

    • Jela Oba Okpara

      Dammit I must be getting old.
      The obligatory “Save the cat” scene I’m sure used to be called petting the dog, no?

  52. Napoleon

    Thanks, Stephanie. That was a great article and riposte to Peter Suderman’s argument.

    I met Blake twice before he died, was taught by him on his London course in 2007 and have all three books he wrote.

    The third one defines screen storytelling structure into thirty beats. I think he has really helped demystify structure for any form of storytelling in a brilliant way.

    If there is a problem, I think it’s a reflection of big studios looking for a repeatable formula to make films primarily for teenage boys (rather than just using Blake’s ideas to establish a structure they can subvert).

    I hear that cinema chains get very little profit if any from ticket sales. They make their money from selling popcorn and sodas at over-inflated prices. A standard cinema popcorn serving costs three cents to produce. If they charge $3 for popcorn (and that’s probably a very conservative estimate since I never buy popcorn), they make almost 10,000% profit! Cinema owners want customers who will buy the concessions they offer. The demographic most likely to buy all this sugary, unhealthy food is overwhelmingly going to be young and male. As a result, cinema chains compete to secure releases of the films that will bring in the teenage boy demographic. Films appealing to a discerning mature audience (especially an elderly one, that knows how unhealthy the concession snacks are and consequently avoids them) are undesirable to a cinema owner. Obviously family films appealing to children will boost a cinema’s popcorn and soda sales. However, children watching these films are accompanied by adults usually and the adults will (hopefully) limit and exercise a certain amount of restraint over what the children eat and purchase or have purchased for them. Also, little children can only eat so many snacks. Bigger teenage boys can ingest more and attend the cinema with their peers rather than their parents. As a result they have no one scrutinising or disputing either the quantity or the quality of the snacks they buy with their high level of disposable income. Teen girls tend to be more health, beauty and diet orientated than boys and are less likely to binge on hot dogs, popcorn and the like. Also, until they are old enough to drink or go to nightclubs, there aren’t that many places that teenage boys can go and hang out with their peers and enjoy themselves. The cinema offers a parent-approved escape from family life and is perhaps the most attractive option for a boy who’s not old enough to do the things he might want to do if he were an adult.

    Cinema owners need the adolescent male demographic to come in their doors as once they’re there they are fairly guaranteed to make money off of them. So they want to exhibit films that will appeal to this sector of the audience more than any other age or gender group. Hence the huge predominance of certain genre and story types in theatrical motion picture distribution.

    My old business of acting guru talked about the idea of show business being about bringing lots of people together (with a ‘show’) and then showing them other stuff they might want to buy and selling to them. He thought Buffalo Bill invented the modern form of show business in the nineteenth century. He’d do these big Wild West spectaculars with an audience of a hundred thousand and Bill soon realised you could sell them an awful lot of peanuts! You still get this principle in TV advertising where the audience tunes in for the show and are sold to in the commercial breaks or at theater shows on Broadway, where the producers make money selling cost-inflated drinks at the bar and production merchandise in the lobby.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      It’s true that Hollywood has had to adapt to changes in demographics and in the media landscape.

    • Jela Oba Okpara

      You must be a fan of Jay Epstein’s “The Big Picture”.
      Thumbs up!

  53. George

    Movies have been structured similar to the “beat sheet” long before Save the Cat came out.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Very true.

      • Jela Oba Okpara

        Jeez! I was thinking the same thing. I’ve been reading all of those guy’s breakdowns on that Snyder site and it’s like goodness, people have been teaching structure for years!

        It didn’t start with this guy.

        On top of that, in the little help section of the old final draft there used to be this cool little Syd Field diagram with beat and plot points and page numbers (don’t know if it’s still there in the new versions).

        And when are people going to start talking about Lajos and Lew Hunter?
        Those guys made some interesting writing points too, you know? lol

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Absolutely right.

  54. Rod Taylor

    Interesting introduction to the idea that Snyder’s rules have killed the creative cat. Many creative activities work within rules. Sonnets have rules. Sonnets are all of 14 lines written in iambic pentameters and have a defined rhyme scheme:

    Petrarchan – abba abba cde cde (cdd ccd) – octet and sestet
    Shakespearean – abab cdcd efef gg – 3 quatrains then couplet

    Here are two sonnets, both obeying the rules (almost):

    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
    I grant I never saw a goddess go,
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.

    By WS

    And then:
    To rhyme is dull, it smacks of rigid rules (a)
    To be obeyed. Like recipes announce (b)
    Ingredients, even small, weights to the ounce (b)
    And cooking times precise. Is there no room (a)
    For creativity to soar and burst (c)
    With spontaneity, to make sublime (d)
    Such schemes that bring surprise and make you thirst (c)
    For more delights? A poem’s not a rhyme (d)
    Or rhythm or beats or metronomes, but fun (e)
    Analogies and dreams that flood the brain, (f)
    Make spirits soar and hearts beat fast and run (e)
    That swim so we forget how late the train, (f)
    Or will it rain, or am I alcoholic? (g)
    Fewer plain iambics, more passionate shambolics. (g)

    By RT

    Both obey the rules, fairly rigorously, but one is brilliant, and the other… well… just don’t tell anyone.
    So don’t blame the rules, blame the writer, he wasn’t hampered by the rules, he just can’t write that well.

    And when modern poets will not abide any rules, and write with no rhythm, no rhyme, no stress, no meter, because they say it frees their creativity, that’s just an excuse for lazyness. Snyder’s beat is not a block, it is a potential springboard.

  55. outinthestreetfilms

    One things stands out for, that it’s all a matter of interpretation. This idea that you gauge a production based the page count doesn’t work. I have a 19 page script. I think I can shoot it in one 14 hour day. People tell me no way.

    Jason Reitman claims something like 65 setups per day in ‘Up in the Air’. Yes he had resources and a tight DP-director relationship. But my 19 page script has 10 setups. Two locations. You can’t go by these so called rules of thumb. There are so many factors in making a movie.

    In theory you can turn on a camera for two hours and shoot a two hour movie. So somewhere between that and 65 setups is reality. But there’s no gauge.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      That’s true.

    • Paul

      Hi Stephanie,
      Movies have always been hard to make, which plays into why Suderman’s argument is relevant. When you consider the fact Hollywood is making less films than ever before, then we can agree they are putting their precious eggs in fewer baskets than ever before. The age of studio mavericks like Robert Evans is long gone, his ilk replaced by bankers/lawyers/analysts who have reduced the green-light process to one of best-possible-ROI-mathematics. Risks are being minimized more than ever before and this is precisely why the formula (perhaps inaccurately) credited to “Save the Cat” is prevalent.

      Movies are not bad because they are hard to make. Movies today are bad because those financing films are trying to minimize the level of difficulty in order to maximize profitability. The movies of the 70s exist as prime examples of brilliant and challenging films that were also some of the most difficult films ever made (ie. Apocalypse Now). These films were ambitious, challenging and risky — components integral to them becoming masterpieces. One only needs to look at the art world to see that it’s the work that pushes boundaries and challenges conventions that leave a mark on not only the art world, but on society as a whole.

      Until today’s dollars-and-sense approach to making movies implodes, things are only going to get worse. Guys like Michael Bay would have been condemned to B-movies backlots in the 70s, yet today he’s rewarded with obscene budgets that take up the lion’s share of a studios purse. Why? Not because his films will be remembered, but because they don’t offend, challenge, or speak to audiences on a complex level. These films are amusement park rides with one goal in mind: get as many bodies on this ride as possible.

      You’re absolutely right when you write “the script is not the movie”, but what you forgot to mention is that the script IS the backbone of every movie. Perhaps the “Save the Cat” effect isn’t what’s solely responsible for movies “sucking donkey balls,” but it is certainly part of the problem. Give Hollywood Execs a hack that will minimize risk and maximize their potential ROI and they’re going to exploit that hack. “Save the Cat” is one of these hacks and as a result we’re suffering through a cinematic drought not unlike the one Easy Rider came along and shook the foundations of in the late 60s.

      As a filmmaker, student and fan of movies I can only hope there’s another Easy Rider on the horizon. It’s already been months since I’ve last visited a multiplex and the whiff of another year of formulaic remakes, sequels, action heros, and Michael Bay, is enough to keep me away even longer.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks so much for your comment, Paul.

      • W. Keith Sewell

        Good reply Paul, I totally agree with a lot of what was said. I believe simplifying the writing process into ‘laymen’ terms and making it possible for anyone to write a script by following a “winning formula”. Leaves out a very important element of what makes a person a dramatic writer-

        Creativity, story-telling ability, originality, daring, willingness to go out on a limb.

        Traits many newcomers have not practiced/ experienced/or have the courage/drive or ambition to see through to the end. By putting in the work,long and hard, into perfecting their craft. A passion to create something as close to perfection as you can possibly make it.

        And though it’s just a screenplay, a blueprint for a finished product, proper planning and diligence in the beginning, will give a movie its best chance at being great.

        And still half the people won’t like it. 😉

  56. Donivan Sphar

    Spot on Stephanie. Save the Cat was individually responsible for making me feel I could write a screenplay. The simple way Snyder analyzes the process is inspiring, and nobody said Hollywood had to buy bad scripts. Even if my screenplays never sell, I doubt any other book could have motivated me in that way.

    It’s easy for another industry professional to criticize other professionals out of some feeling of supreme understanding, but it sounds like it’s a scapegoat, or maybe just an angry response to him having a bad day not being able to sell his recent indie flick. Maybe trying to generate sales for another book? I definitely don’t believe it was purely motivated by the reasons listed.

    I’ve heard of Blake Snyder, who is Peter Suderman? Exactly…

  57. Mike Edmister

    I’ve got to [respectfully,] disagree, Stephanie.

    You haven’t addressed the underlying point of Suderman’s article, which is that homogeneity is bad in fiction. Homogeneity might make things more digestible, and make the process easier, and help you make “better” movies in all the ways that people know how to objectively measure a movies quality, but it does a disservice to human ingenuity for everyone to work from the same formula. It works our brains less, it bores us, and it diminishes the potential for truly groundbreaking filmmaking to see the light of day.

    Making good movies SHOULD be hard. If there are lots of bad, but original movies, well that is a good thing in the same way that mutation is a good thing for evolution, because once in a while, that perfect combination of chance and hard work makes something that moves us forward.


    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your respectful comment, Mike. I attempted to address the issue of homogeneity by saying that all stories are based on an underlying structure (as described by Aristotle, Jung, Joseph Campbell) and that Snyder’s version of this story structure is just another take on this idea. Even groundbreaking, original films are based on this structure. This is why all stories are homogeneous (in a sense), and why Snyder isn’t to blame for Hollywood making bad movies–his formula is the same formula we’ve always had, just presented in a style that’s less mysterious.

  58. Cassius

    Stephanie: I’m coming in late to this discussion, but by the time “Save the Cat” had come onto the scene I’d realized that my few cherised ‘how to’ screenwriting books; STORY, by Robert McKee, THE SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE, by David Trottier and POWER SCREENWRITING, by Michael Chase Walker were essentially all the same program of instruction. And each one in one way or another shaped from, stolen, borrowed or inspired by Campbell, Goldman, Field, Aristotle and everybody else.

    The same thing said in varying and different ways with the same objective in mind. Hollywood makes bad movies, in my opinion, because of fear and due to an over reliance on market information; bean counters, accountants, focus groups and marketing types. But hold on, these people have their place and function in the industry, but their importance and value are misplaced.

    I don’t know how many people on this fourum saw “MAN OF STEEL”. There were a lot of people who enjoyed it and a lot of people, most notably those of us from the geek-nerd-comic book crowd. I can see how and why both sides either loved it or hated it. For us on the comic book side it came down to a lack of heart and character in the character of Superman.

    Initially in the trailers and then finally in the finished product Jonathan Kent is talking to Clark about the school bus full of children he saved. When young Clark asks his father if he should’ve not done anything and let them die Jonathan responds – hesitantly, mind you – “…Maybe.”

    From here you can edit out the majority of my next comments as they’re akin to spoilers for those who have yet to see the film on DVD or whatever…

    This was one of the sole polarizing moments in the movie that had we fanboys decrying this film. Why? Because anyone familiar enough with the character of Superman knows in his heart and soul it is ingrained in him neer to needlessly take a life and to cherish all life. BUT…

    Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder and the producing heads completely MISSED THIS POINT. Later in the film, which was packed with action, which is one of the reason I think so many people did like the film, Superman is in a dynamic Matrix-style battle with Gen. Zod. They’re knocking each other from one end of the city to the other, there’s destruction and mayhem everywhere.
    This I think was intended to mirror or homage the 1908 “Superman II” film where Superman fought the same character; Gen. Zod and two other phantom zone escapees. In MOS Superman only stops ONE TIME to save ONE PERSON during the melee – an army soldier who’d fallen out of a helicopter struck during the battle. Superman catches him, sets him down on the ground and asks “Are you all right?” then flies off.

    Then by the end, which was kind of dumb and stupid, Superman and Zod are locked in combat, Superman subdues him from behind, but his head is free and he’s threatens to use heat vision to kill a group of bystanders. The filmmaker, I guess, wanted this to be a slow burning (no pun intenede) tension builder to the climax of the battle and the film.

    Zod ignites his eye beams and Superman is trying to either keep his head from turning towards them or keep him from firing the beams at all, I don’t know which. He’s unable to, the people are almost fried so the only way to stop Zod’s beams is to stop Zod by — you guessed it – – by killing him.

    So what does Superman do? He kills him and the filmmakers would have us believe that he had no other choice (B.S.). Of course Superman is distraught over this dilemma and weeps in the arms of the freshly arrived Lois Lane.

    Okay people who didn’t want the movie spoiled can BEGIN READING HERE AGAIN:

    This movie was horrible for so many reasons. But the aformentioned Jonathan kent moment and the ending with Zod are the two that stand out as ruining it for we comic fans. Okay, first the scene with Jonathan kent was appropriate. Jonathan was expressing his fear and lack of experience in dealing with an alien humanoid kid he’d found in a field. He was afraid that if things like Clark’s saving people continued it would attract the wrong kinds of attention and the wrong kinds of people would come snooping around and probaly try and take his son away from him. UNFORTUNATELY none of that was conveyed in the film.

    Also During his battle with General Zod Superman is just fighting away and going at it with this guy and only once does he stop and save the army man.
    Meanwhile the entire city is decimated by this battle. Huh? Why doesn’t Superman try and lure Zod away from the city and the potential death and destruction that comes along with a protacted super powered battle.

    Plus, if the filmmakers really thought about it, Superman in the Man of Steel reality, would’ve lost this fight before the first punch was thrown. Why? HE WAS OUT NUMBERED. They only had Faeora second General Zod’s “army” but he had a ship full of exile Kryptonian criminals just hanging out waiting to raze the earth. Bad movie, indeed.

    So Superman dives headlong into this fight with this guy that shouldn’t really be taking place at all because Superman who was shown earlier in the film as a kid asking if he should let people die is not, as an adult actually LETTING PEOPLE DIE. I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers intended, because in one of the final scenes he’s doing his best to keep Zod from kiling the innocents in the bus station or whereever they were. And then is anguished over having to kill Zod to stop him from killing.

    Basically Man of Steel was a bad movie because the filmmakers missed important beats and elements of the overall mythos. There were some cretively intelligent elements and beats that were missing that clouded their objective.

    The connection and relationship with his earth father was not fully established.

    There should’ve been book end scenes to set up and pay off Jonathan kents “mabye” line. Something that clarified that the Kents never instilled in Clark a disregard for lives, humnan or otherwise.

    The fight with Zod – should’ve been more of a stipulation of a trial by combat for the fate of the earth; Superman vs. General Zod, winner take all.
    That at least would’ve allowed for the inanity of no other Kryptonians beign involved in the battle. Because even with just Faeora being involved, Superman with no other super powered allies of his own would just be chasing tail trying to stop either one of them – – he couldn’t. They’re just as fast and as powerful as he is. Which certainly would raise the desperation factor and strongly tempt Superman into killing for the greater good of the earth.

    So basically even the ending is ridiculous because even at that time Superman should’ve already have found a way to lure Zod, Faeora or whoever else away from populated areas or off the face of the planet all together.

    So basically Man of Steel is a bad movie because they missed beats of character development and basically lost all sense of a logical story because the seemed not to have really done a nuts n’ bolts evaluation and research into their source material.

    I think other movies that can be labeled as bad fall into the same category no matter what genere they originate from. Story, structure, pacing, character development, logical and creative storytelling.

    We need our save the cats and our Story and screenwriter’s bible’s but we also need to employ these tools with imagination and logical creativity. Not just wham, pow, bam – action and eye candy special effects.

    A once great filmmaker once said “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Then he went on to lose his mind and make three prequels that ultimately turned out to be some pretty boring things.

    Sorry if this was too long. Edit as neccessary if you feel the need.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your terrific comment, Cassius!

    • W. Keith Sewell

      As usual, with a lot of writers/critics you’re over-thinking and over-analyzing the “beats” in the story.

      I can agree with you on the holes in the logic and the story. But you’re wrong, when it comes to the big picture, which a lot of us seem to always miss or gloss over.

      The way MOS was created and produced, is first and foremost, a business decision. And as I’m sure you are aware, movies are moreso a business, rather than an artform, especially in this day and age.

      So the movie makes a ton of money, both domestically and worldwide. Is directed and focused on it’s target audience, 13 – 25, males. And turns out to be one of the most entertaining superhero movies I’ve seen of late. They even tried to give it and Kal – El, some real human emotions and frailities.

      And thus, what was most important for all involved in the making of this movie, I feel, was it’s overall, collaborative success on all levels.

      Except for those few, die-hard followers of the Man of Steel’ since his creation back in the (what 30’s?. Who felt it didn’t stay true to its origins.

      Tell me, what does stay true to its origins these days?

      IMO this is what holds so many talented story-tellers from movig to the next level. The unwilligness to compromise.

      “pick your fights carefully…”

  59. Eddie

    Clear thinking, it’s like that breath of fresh air in a smog filled city.

  60. Andrea

    Stephanie, I love your work but I disagree by and large. I believe that so many movies are bad because it is so difficult to get a great script to the right hands, and have the minds of those hands respect the script. If you have a great script, you aren’t going to have a bad movie. And there is no shortage of story telling talent in this world. The bookstores are teeming with the products of very talented storytellers. It is the movie making hierarchy that 1)stops the cream from rising to the top and 2)has such a disregard for the writer and writing process, and scripts become communal byproducts, shaped by people who do not have good judgment as to what is good writing. Imagine if an actor typically had 10 directors for one movie. The acting in movies would then be a bad as scripts currently are. right now, the acting is of much higher quality than scripts because the acting process is respected above all else.

  61. Vinay Kolhatkar

    Suderman is totally barking up the wrong tree. In fact, as McKee & Snyder said, if we have active protagonists, multiplying stakes, a truth to be told, and proper closure, then we would have a great story. As a writer I can say that it is very, very, very hard to write a great story. On top of that, while a great story is a must for a great film, it is not enough. Now you need great direction, great acting, cinematography, dialogue, the works. So whilst only 1 in 10 would be great stories, only 1 in 30 would be great movies. That’s okay, because excellence in craft is not meant to be easy. The only gripe I have is that producers so often choose bad stories, stories that do not close (Animal Kingdom, The Crash, No Country for Old Men, Burn after Reading, The Reader, Revolutionary Road…the list just goes on & on), have inactive protagonists, a vague sense of morality, no real stakes etc., i.e. no archplot. At least if only archplots are made into movies, the rate of excellence would be higher.



  62. Abbey

    Even if you disagree with Peter Suderman (which I don’t), you still fail to explain the record breaking tsunami of piss poor movie making in Hollywood over the past 15 years or so. Movies HAVE gotten worse! Everytime Hollywood releases some bloated big budget CGI bonanza – be it superheroes or sci fi or whatever – soon after the internet is full of lists and youtube videos pointing out the vast amount of inconsistencies, contradictions and plain old lose ends, unexplained plot devices and so on in the story. These things can easily be picked out by your average movie nerd, but apparently not by the army of people involved in making a major Hollywood production. What gives? Is everyone working in Hollywood missing some piece of their brain? Or is story just not important to them?

  63. Ian

    Completely agree. I would add that the reason most Hollywood movies are bad is because everyone thinks they’re a producer, so people who don’t know anything about writing and directing begin to meddle with the movie-making process, and by doing so take everything out of whack. The producers don’t let the filmmakers do their jobs, they don’t trust anyone’s judgement but themselves’ – And like the amateur ‘artists’ which they are, they are in love with each and every one of their ideas. Oh, and the incessant advocacy of CGI and gore. That’s why films are bad in Hollywood.

  64. Hilariously Wrong

    Or, because people will go see it regardless if it is dogshit. They make money on almost every movie but the worst 1%, so of course they’ll throw whatever shit against a wall to see if it sticks, especially if they have a formula that will return them x% of profit each time.

    I would love to invest my money for 2 years and get a MINIMUM PROMISED return of 25%. At best, I can 400%.

    Talk about a no-brainer. Here’s an idea, want them to stop producing so much shit? Stop going to the theater. Stop seeing every movie that doesn’t score a 95% or above on Rotten Tomatoes via critics.

    I promise you, five years of this, most studios will go bankrupt and only the few surviving ones will produce only a few movies a year — but they will be damn good ones.

    There you go. It’s your fault, america, why movies are bad. I view less than 2 a year and will continue to view even less. Something tells me that movie studios are going to find it very sparse in the next twenty years when the independent media generated by internet personalities becomes more high quality production as technology improves.

    Good riddance. I can make a goddamn movie that anyone would love, written AND directed. It’s not hard. Not when you have multi-million dollars studios with intense CGI effects and the best actors.

    I mean ffs, the screen writing process gets so mangled by studio executives anyways it’s not like you’d have to do much work in order to get one for the next Avengers or whatever out there.

    So yeah, it’s the same with drilling for oil. Any idiot can do it, all you need is the property rights and the money to jump start it, the talent will come. Same here, licensing and studio and viola, anyone can make a film, even a shitty one, and make bank.

    So, try again. Thanks!

  65. hsheng

    You guys talk about inside stories of Hollywood movies, which I must say I know little about. What I want say is that some of Hollywood movies went so far as paying no respect for audience or even making a fool of audience. One typical example of such Hollywood shits is Hang Over, where a bunch of adult guys screaming like some school girls, pretending they are doing some funny thing, especially the leading adult guy, one that not funny at all and totally not fit for a comic role! He tries so hard to scream, only deliver a disgusting effect. Luckily it’s a relieve to see some great work coming outside of Hollywood, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, played by so many new faces.

  66. Why do Movies Really Suck So Badly These Days? | J. Nelson Leith

    […] awfulness in film-making on Snyder’s beat sheet, but  former MGM Studio Executive Stephanie Palmer vehemently disagreed, pegging as the real culprit the fact that movies are “incredibly hard to make.” […]

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  68. Pertinax

    Wow…gotta love the fire and passion in this post.

    I was gonna shy away from the formula book because of all of the less than warm enthusiasm I’ve seen for it. Now it’s another one for the wish list stack.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I’m a fan of reading everything you can, selecting what works for you, and ignoring the rest. Let me know what you think after you read it.

  69. Circling the drain: The waning imagination of the blockbuster | Screen Robot

    […] each film being, according to former MGM executive Stephanie Palmer, run like its own small business, albeit one with a hell of a lot more capital than your average […]

  70. tony

    great post. lots of discussion. I have to disagree with you on some of your points, for instance:

    “Blaming Save The Cat for bad movies is like blaming the guy who wrote “How To Write A Business Plan” for the failure of most small businesses.”

    I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. One of these two things used to be considered a creative art form. Treating something that should be art like a business is not helping the matter.

    Maybe Snyder’s books isn’t THE problem with bad movies but it is definitely part of the problem. Writers should have something to say, and STC pushes so many writers I’ve met to worry about how they say something, that they no longer can effectively deliver a message.

    As an interesting note, this week’s Hollywood Reporter came out with the best 100 movies as voted by Hollywood (studio execs, actors etc) basically the people who make movies today. There is not a single movie in the top 50 from the 2000s. It’s not until you get to #56 (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that we see a modern movie in the mix.

  71. David

    If this were true, then foreign films and independent films and low-budget films would most certainly have to be worse than Hollywood films. This is simply not true.
    The less money you have, the smaller your pool of talented actors is, the less experience you have with distribution and marketing = the harder it is to make a movie.
    If movies are bad because they are hard to make this really doesn’t explain why there are amazing movies that are even harder to make outside of Hollywood. And you know what, over the past decade I would have to say the overwhelming majority of excellent films I have seen have been just that – foreign / independent / low-budget. When forced to deal with limits filmmakers bring out the best in themselves. Hollywood has and knows no limits – they just throw explosions and Channing Tatum at viewers who are used to only seeing Hollywood cinema and audiences swallow it by the bucket load.
    Fact is, Hollywood has long forgotten that movies are about telling stories. Hollywood doesn’t need to tell stories. All they need is amazing special effects, famous actors and a whole lot of marketing. Avatar would be the prime example. A story ripped off of so many similar ones that preceded it and yet it is the most grossing film of all time. Is it the best then? Absolutely not. It’s not even above average. It just had cool 3D that Hollywood shoved down your throat that you must see and experience!
    Hollywood has become extremely formulaic. Take for example the 7 Fast and Furious films in just over a decade. And this is becoming extremely standard. If you hook the audience on one, they will go see 2, 3, 4, etc. It doesn’t even matter who the director and/or writer is, which ultimately still proves that it has nothing to do with how hard it is to make movies. If movies are so hard to make well, and you succeeded in making one, then wouldn’t it make sense to keep the same writers, director, editor, director of cinematography, etc. for the next films in the franchise? This rarely happens. What really happens is that the same formulaic plot is regurgitated over the franchise and the core of actors stays the same.
    I actually just watched 22 Jump Street and it was so self-aware that it was actually refreshing. At least it admits what Hollywood is actually doing. The entire movie was about how it needs to be EXACTLY THE SAME THING as the previous one.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, David.

    • Karen

      i couldn’t agree more I don’t think Snyder is entirely to blame I think these so called screenwriting “Gurus” are cashing in on the fear of the first time screen writer who lacks direction as to how to write a screen play yet has a wonderful story to tell. For me the big problem lies with…Studio Executives…yes I said it! Because they don’t read scripts they don’t tell stories and they don’t respect or apprecate the art of filmmaking. Its not their fault they’re this way many are former agents and agents are business men and women keen to make money. Its their job its what they’re trained to do and do it well. But that means they greenlight scripts that attach a big name and make money, something they can franchise, product place and live for years off the risidules and why big budget movies have gotten such a bad name. There are many independants that are bad too and foreign films. But until Hollywood Execs learn to love films and great stories then it won’t change. There are many many wonderful original stories out there not the Hollywood formula stuff but stories waiting to made into film. But agents want stories they can sell to make a profit and so do the studios so until these guys change….

  72. Doluglas Westfall

    Dear Stephanie: I disagree — bad films come not from formula nor solely because of production issues, it’s because of the economy and the success of a few films in which everyone else follows suit. During a bad economy it’s as Duston Hoffman once said: “They play to the demographic.”

    The demographic now are the Xgens — not a bad title really, it just means Generation X — the tenth generation since the declaration of independence. These are the people who are for 2014, ages 32-52.

    And Xgens love fantasy (and really dumb comedy). After all they were raised on Disney — and the past decades of blockbusters have all been fantasy — many with more adult themes.
    Proof? Look at the list of top grossing films:

    2014 $1,078,370,666 Transformers: Age of Extinction
    2013 $1,259,136,600 Frozen
    2013 $1,215,292,272 Iron Man 3
    2012 $1,515,679,547 The Avengers
    2012 $1,108,560,277 Skyfall
    2012 $1,082,130,642 The Dark Knight Rises
    2012 $1,017,001,229 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    2011 $1,327,655,619 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
    2011 $1,123,746,996 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
    2011 $1,041,963,875 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
    2010 $1,062,984,497 Toy Story 3
    2010 $1,023,285,206 Alice in Wonderland
    2009 $2,781,505,847 Avatar
    2008 $1,001,921,825 The Dark Knight
    2007 $ 958,404,152 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
    2006 $1,065,896,541 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
    2005 $ 892,194,397 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    All of which (save a Pirates and a Harry Potter) broke $1 billion (Avatar breaking $2). Only three other films in history broke $1B.

    So if Mr. Bad Filmmaker sees this, he believes if he put’s in $150M he’ll get $450M out — and many times he’s right.

    The good news is — as the economy comes back (and it is improving) demographic films will dwindle (OK Mr. Bad Filmmaker will still try but…)
    The other point is, the next generation of millennials (ages 12-32) love those personal stories we saw in the 30s and 40s — so there is hope.
    Oh, there will still be bad films (who knew Zohan would make $200M?) yet I believe in the magic of the cinema and ‘good stories make great films’.

    Best Always, Doug

    Douglas Westfall
    The Paragon Agency — Producers of “My American History”
    P.O. Box 1281 — Orange, CA 92856
    (714) 771-0652

  73. Jennifer Baca

    WOW….. this is what I LOVE to see “so much PASSION.’ I have enjoyed EVERYONES convictions. I WILL just state in my opinion, it ALL begins with a solid Wholesome Script. It’s called Teamwork…when there is MUCH Pre-production involved & the Director keeps to the script. And the Crew has the Experience to excel & if all the Actors & Actress expressed a portion of what I have been reading from everyone’s comments Above then “what a Hell of a GREAT Movie” would be made. Plus the help of Post Production…. I believe that the REAL factor is having the MARKETING EXPOSURE is the final key…. without any of these ingredients that I mentioned in my opinion – a Great Movie will never be seen. That is such a deep shame in itself…. if you can’t Talk Your Pitch – you are left in the Shadows. Since Stephanie was, has & continues to share her experience with all of us… we wouldn’t be having this incredibly, exciting moment as YOU have givin us. So ALL my GRATITUDE, Stephanie, Thank you for giving us a Topic we all attached ourselves too.

  74. Christopher Morley

    Okay, but the production execs are using Snyder’s formula to filter out the scripts that they are going to consider for production. The ideas in the script first have to conform to the structure, that would be test one, then they might be evaluated on their own merits. Screenwriters who religiously adhere their ideas to anyone’s formula (and you haven’t mentioned John Truby), are more likely (not always but more likely) to produce substandard work. That’s why Hollywood movies are often bad. Because the writer’s focus is not on mining their imaginations for inspiration and creativity and the promise of an amazing story but on taking their imagination and fitting it into a formula structure because that’s what they know the execs are going to use to judge their work from the get-go. And there is so much money at stake that no one wants to take any chances. That’s why you have to write fast, conform your script to saving a cat, and also know what to say to be good in a room. Because people in power have very little ability to pick up something and recongnize that it transcends the formula whether the writer is a “rookie” or not, becuase he’s not saying the right things or he/she has got their WGA reg number printed on the cover. “Oh, rookie, lose it.” I guess you can’t blame them, you have to use SOME criteria to weed the hopefulls out, apart from the quality of their writing. I try to focus on the creative part first, ruthlessly and massage it without compromise until it conforms to the structural/forumula considerations. And, I’ve decided to take my WG numbers off my cover pages! Rookie – not! 😛

    • Douglas Westfall

      So Stephanie: Aside all the chaff, what’s your take on removing the WG number from the cover page of a screenplay? Good idea, or bad?

  75. Frozen

    I just cant except the notion that a movie is not a script. You cant have a good movie without a good script. Good script is not enough but its essential. Reading the text I get it that its from an ex executive and it has that cynical approach which is fine, if we are measuring quality only in $ earned then there is no good or bad its irrelevant. But we are not talking about good scripts in newer Hollywood movies, the goal should be for a script to make sense, and most of the times it doesn’t.
    There is no problem in going with any formula no matter how repetitive or unimaginative it is.
    Main problem of scripts in today movies is that it seems they are written or rewritten by elementary illiterate people. I know that a movie script is butchered to no recognition in the process of making but even after all that you could and should have kept basic logic within a framework of your marketing goals.
    You can have all the tips and points from A to B to C but script has to work on elementary logical level-characters must have motivations and there has to be logical main conflict – WHY are they like that and WHY they do what they do in a film.
    I just watched Guardians of the Galaxy and it led me to think about why is Hollywood full of bad scripts these days. The movie tries its best to be a Farscape-like character driven SF space opera quirky comedy but the script is awol. Nothing has any sense, and I’m not talking here about nitpicking, the core of the plot is shameless. No matter what genre or age group is targeted a movie has to have a coherent narrative and motivations for characters.
    Almost every new movie I watch its similar story-no matter the genre its like they didn’t think it through on a really REALLY basic level, elementary logic level and they just went with it, just shoot no matter what. They know what setpieces they want to appeal to teenagers and they just mesh them through and tape them in some sort of floppy story.
    I don’t have a problem with putting things in to maximize capital investment but this is so unprofessional. Hollywood was always about the money and selling cheap emotional pornography for the masses but it was done in a professional way to some extent. Now its just embarrassing. Like 12-year olds writing fan fiction or school paper its that bad.
    I feel somewhat insulted that something like, 150 million blockbuster couldn’t hire someone with basic writing logic. Its not science setting up a story done right.
    My personal opinion is that all above has nothing to do with statements made in text on this site, its in several other factors. Nepotism, targeted demographics shift, cultural shift with technology improvement and all that leads to sad fact that scripts are bad because, from a marketing standpoint (which is most important part of an entertainment product) it doesn’t matter. Standards have changed within the industry.Most people don’t care if the script is bad (and by that if a movie is bad). They are entertained enough with flashy imaginary CGI and mentioned setpieces and that kind of a movie doubles or triples its budget which is the only goal of making movies in Hollywood.
    In writer of this text perspective, looking at making films like a small firm it would be equivalent of hiring incompetent worker for certain part of production process and it doesn’t matter because it does not effect sales even if it does make the end product incredibly bad.

    • hifijohn

      tell that to this is spinal tap, they had no script and came up with a brilliant movie!

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Spinal Tap is one of my favorites— funny even after many viewings.

      • Troy

        Yes! It is definitely an 11.

  76. Stephanie Spicer

    I feel more and more that the thing that separates good movies from bad is the level of thought put into them, the degree to which the writer (and director, actors, etc.) reached into their own experience and were willing to take the time and the effort to express that in a truthful way. You can take two movies that have the exact same structure and one can feel superficial, contrived, and cliche, while the other makes you feel, helps you understand something about yourself, teaches you something that goes far beyond the trite Sunday school lessons that are being peddled all over the place. Because there is dependence on structure and basic ingredients, I think there is a tendency to believe that if you just have all the elements in place, you’re safe, you’re on the right track–it’s worked before so it can work again and be successful and make money. But that’s not necessarily true. Allow me to say right here that I DON’T believe a movie always has to conform to the same structure. I do think that when you shake up the format you can introduce a terror–a good kind of terror, the terror we recognize from real life when we don’t know what’s going to happen, whether someone we love is going to die or get better, etc. But whether we stick to formulas or not, the fact remains that you cannot emulate greatness by simply copying a form. There may have been deep thought and many years of hard work built on failure that went into crafting a particular artifice, and it was that history, not the form of the artifice, that made it touch something deep within the psyche of the audience. I watched a terrible movie yesterday that followed “the structure” so voraciously that it made no sense at all. It was like, “Oh, we need some conflict here because this is a point where the story has to pivot,” so some conflict was invented which was absolutely artificial and made no sense in the context of the story. Then there were shots that basically copied the best shots of the prequel, but there were too many of them, and again they felt contrived, as if the producers were thinking, “The audience liked this in the first one–let’s give them a whole lot more of the same thing.” In place of the subtlety of exploring human reaction to current events and relational conflict found in the first film, they threw in some very big social issues which were just barely relevant to the time and place, and made the reactions of the characters so basic, and the bad guys’ behavior so predictably bad, and the good guys’ behavior so perfectly politically correct according to the time the film was made and NOT the time it was set. That is bad filmmaking. It felt like it was made in a rush to ride the wave of success of the first film, without any of the craftsmanship that went into making it. Even a child can tell how lame it is. Whether you follow a formula or not, you will not make great movies unless you’re willing to look deeper than the surface of yourself, your characters, the setting, the structure… or the prequel. 😉

  77. Lee

    For me Save the Cat is like the formula or structure of any product, but like any product once you become a pro a the basic structure you can manipulate and transform into other more intriguing designs.

    Take a Car’s formula: 4 Wheels, 5 Doors, Top Speed Limit of say 125kmh, 5 seats, and an external colour.

    Now as a new car maker you will use this rules to understand why they exist in the first place, why 4 wheels or 5 doors and so you make tweaks to the tried and tested formula and one that sits well with the public, and even sticking to this formula we have a huge amount of variety when it comes to a choice of car and they can even be catered for a specific buyer from family to boy racer.

    Now, you are an expert you understand the formula the structure so now you can play, you may add a wheel, faster engine, no roof, but you know how to manipulate the formula and create wild outcomes think the concept car, and how they break all the rules, but still wow the audience.

    That’s how I see it. Starting out you need to show execs that you understand story structure, the formula (Like it or not there is one and you must know it) then once established, once proven then you can try something new.

    This is maybe where there is a slight problem, that perhaps established writers are afraid of taking to risk to be the architect behind a crazy redesign of the story formula and stick to what works.

    Again, sad or not, non-formulaic movies are made and they are normally independents that never make the money or resonant with an wide audience and people may say that is unfair, but movies are a business and can’t afford to invest in products that don’t make a return.

  78. What's Your Origin Story? – reel life

    […] than $106M, which is spent over on average two years, and literally pays thousands of people to plan the production, shoot the film, edit the results, and market the movie around the world. That’s a LOT of money and a HUGE risk for any one […]

  79. christina ferguson

    Can you please take bad words off of movies i like watching movies but we do not need movies that have bad language in them

  80. Jeff

    This is the strangest article I ever read…we are supposed to feel sorry for film executives, who have to make back back 200mil on their 100mil movie? Stop making 100mil movies…go back to the movies that didnt need digital animation and big budgets. If the films were more character focused you wouldnt need films about dinosaurs and killer robots.

    Many films suck because:

    1) the camera doesnt stay on a character for more than 2 seconds in many films…is the editor on coke? This “lipstick TV commercial approach” prevents the viewer from thinking or understanding anything, much less empathizing w the characters, whom I dimly recall as being important to liking any story, namely do we care what happens to the people we are watching for the next 90-240 mins.

    2) the script takes no chances and complex characters are avoided, rather we have stock characters with stock problems, usually stemming from a drug bust gone wrong or a father who didn’t accept them…cheap Freudianism standing in for genuine character development,

    3) politics? social or environmental problems? run away! do not discuss for fear of offending business interests…

    4) digital animation – need I say more?

    5) films largely designed by and for 13 year old boys…and men who mentally, are still 13 years old boys.

    6) your stock protagonist in these pictures owns a giant house and new car…poor people, on the other hand, are usually criminal, stupid and/or speak with southern accents.

    7) problems in these films are usually solved by guns…and then we wonder why gun deaths are so common here? Really? Worse than bad, these films actually kill.

    I could go on…

  81. John

    The real problem o Save The Cat or McKee or any other of the screenwriting books that peddle formulas lies not in the writers (good writers know there’s no formula), it lies with the executives. they all use them as the bible and little by little erode any well written screenplay that may not follow the formula structure into these generic pieces of non-film. Executives don’t embrues new/different/unique, they embrace safety and reliability, that’s how they keep their jobs. They now ask about act breaks and ll is lost points…it’s totally bogus. There are no acts!! Just look up on how long it took to make Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction (two very non-formula fills). Both those screenplays were rejected by almost everyone in Hollywood. Each story needs a unique structure, and Save the Cat or any other formula are nothing more that a rear mirror view of what worked on some films.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      A lot of people agree with you, but in my experience, this is not the case. Forrest Gump and Pulp fiction do follow screenplay structure, it’s just that the structure is unconventionally applied (i.e., multiple storylines interweaving, but each does follow classic story structure in many ways). The thing to understand is that story structure is a timeless thing – yes, the ways of describing that structure can change, but whether you’re looking at Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces, McKee’s Story, or Snyder’s Save The Cat, they’re all describing the same thing.

  82. Joseph Chastain

    I know this is an old blog but I had to comment. The problem I have with Snyder isn’t that movies are bad because of him, there will always be movies that will be viewed as bad and art is subjective after all, it’s the way the business is done because of him (and Mckee, Field etc.) BTW Snyder did NOT invent that idea of structure. The fact is that there are producers that think ALL scripts should follow his formula, and that is ridiculous. There are no “rules” to how a person writes. Now if a producer really thinks that a script should follow a certain way of writing based on his or her own research, fine, but simply believing it because one writer who NEVER wrote a successful film put it in a book is a stupid excuse. Many successful films do not follow Snyder’s formula. The Dark Knight is one of the highest grossing films of all time and it followed a four act structure. Snyder in fact criticizes Nolan all over the place and Nolan has made blockbuster after blockbuster and award winning film after award winning film. Raging Bull does not have any “acts” to speak of and it won many awards and made and continues to make money to this day. Many of Hitchcock’s movies have five acts. The Godfather’s inciting incident doesn’t happen until an hour into the movie. I’m wondering how many potential blockbusters have not been made into films because of producer’s blindly following Snyder.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I appreciate your comment, Joseph. I haven’t experienced producers who blindly follow Snyder, but I believe you that they exist.

  83. Jesus Sifuentes

    I always like quoting Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is crap! It’s difficult to cultivate a compelling script but I feel it all comes down to having something really deep to say. A unique observation of the human condition whether it’s through comedy or drama.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Well said, Jesus.

  84. Tom Norton

    I’ve never actually made a movie so my knowledge in many areas of filmmaking is somewhat limited but I’ve been studying screenwriting for the last few years. My brother and his girlfriend both have knowledge about filmmaking due to their training in film school. The script may not be the movie itself, but it’s arguably the most important part of making it because without that blueprint, you can’t even get started. However, not all good movies are scripted in a traditional way. Look at Fantasia for example. That movie doesn’t have a coherent story but Doug Walker, a guy I have great respect for, has listed it as one of his favourite films partially BECAUSE it doesn’t follow a traditional structure. Heck, even William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of all time, liked to use a five act structure instead of three and his plays have been made into movies countless times. There’s no single or objectively right way to tell a story.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Tom.

  85. Michael Moan

    I’m sorry but I disagree with pretty much all of this article. In my opinion movies aren’t bad – they fulfill the demand of the audience. If you want to declare movies “bad” blame the taste of the audience. The cost of making a film ensures that risk-taking on a grand scale will probably not happen. If $300 million of audience movie tickets demands The Fast and the Furious 89, that’s what we’ll see. The writer, director, producer, and everyone else is to blame. Interestingly I think the actors are least to blame. After all, actors only follow directions unless we’re talking A-list ones.

    That movies are bad because they are tough and expensive to make is actually an indictment of writers. Writers know that the next Marvel superhero flick will make them rich. They may have an artistic masterpiece swirling around upstairs but it won’t get them a yacht.

    If you compare a script to a business plan then the script should be most responsible for a movie being “bad.” Failing businesses usually had a poor business plan.

    I’m a writer who appreciates the support but I don’t think good scripts often get lost in bad movies. The proliferation of “bad” movies is akin to a child asking its mother to read the same story it heard every night for a month. The first time it was great; after that it serves no other purpose than to fulfill the demand of someone with a sullied appetite. If the mother reads another story and the child complains and cries it’s a catastrophe.

  86. Patti Clark

    The reason is because today’s culture has slipped gradually into profanity and sex so far away from “Gone with the Wind” when the producers wanted to forbid Clark Gable from his what became famous line; ‘Frankly my Dear I don’t give a damn.’ The seed was sown and became fertilized with producers who wanted to add to the root and viewers who watered it with their attendance. I have written clean plays and books and they don’t get off the ground even though friends and family who bought them said they couldn’t lay them down. We have trained the minds to crave the flavor of steaming lust.

  87. Carolyn McDonald

    Writing screenplays is like being a musician. A lot of musicians (certainly not all) go to school, learn the scales, learn the basic premise of music, melodies, etc. BUT THEN, they still must find their own voice… Everyone needs to find their own voice. I was also an executive for many years, reading many scripts, and there were so few “voices” on the page… but when there was, it was there, and usually those movies got made. If not by the company I worked for, but by someone… but alas, that great script didn’t always turn out to be a great movie.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Great analogy and well said, Carolyn. Totally agree.

  88. samovar

    I really enjoyed your explanation. Good stuff. And you’re right; enabling average (or talentless) writers to write screenplays is naturally going to contibute negatively to the quality of movies being made.
    I’m an aspiring screenplay writer and I’m taking a good look at your website for tips and tricks. I’m a fan of movies, and a bigger fan of how they get made. Writing, directing, cinematography and casting are all areas of great interest for me and I’ve read a lot of books about the process. Thanks for sharing your professional knowledge and experience.
    It seems to me that writing the end of the story first (the point or goal) and then filling in the beginning and middle parts would be a good method to try. What do you think?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, good idea. That is a common practice and works for many writers.

  89. (Dr) Bernie Unrau (DDS)

    I look for, crave the original, ‘curiosity is lust of the mind’.
    Couple A and B and come up with a highly unique C. It’s worked
    In scientific discovery, great masterpieces, our best innovations.
    My medical dental studies almost drove the curiosity out of me.
    Thankfully I shifted gears, switched into the fast lane of
    continuous curiosity. Seeking novelty even bridging film
    franchises to create my own limitless interconnected quirky
    universe as Stephen King oft describes his. Formulas work
    in organic chemistry, baby food and physics and possibly films?
    One needs to understand, adopt advice, systems, ‘formulas’
    of successful peers.. But without the curiosity and passion it
    becomes simply another same old same old cookie cutter
    product. Making money is great, don’t get me wrong, not at the
    expense of sacrificing creativity. As Einstein said imagination
    is more important than knowledge. It’s what can be, everything
    we aspire to that’s good, yet to come, who knows? Dream big.
    I don’t think storytelling will ever disappear only evolve and
    reflect/mirror life as art oft does.



    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Bernie!

  90. Janine Meston

    Sometimes I wonder if the formula/templates are the things new writers’ works are predominately judged against. How many pages in is the inciting incident? How many pages in is the Act Two turning point? Etc…. Once a writer has had some success that goes before them as proof of skill. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I asked a writer friend of mine the very question, “why, if the formulas/templates for writing a good story are so established and/or full proof, how come bad movies get made by those who are supposed to be experts?” He said it was because writers focus on the templates because that is what is expected of them but a pile of other people then get involved and the structure gets undermined by all the other considerations that go into the production process – budgets; how many lines a character gets; is the story set up for a sequel. Perhaps there is something in this and it is the challenge presented by the commercial demands that exist in the movie business. Whatever the answer, it proves what a special thing it is when everything comes together and a real gem is created…. Michael Clayton, The King’s Speech to name just a couple.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I agree that it is such a special thing when all the elements come together and a gem of a film is created, Janine.

  91. Ruth Wire

    “Bad” movies to me are ones that cater to the taste of young boys, who, I was made to understand are the people who buy the most tickets. Money seems to be the motive to make these movies.

  92. Jeffrey van Davis

    I don’t know Suderman and never read any of the Save the Cat books by Snyder. Nor have I ever attended a seminar by Robert McKee. But I do think there is something to Suderman’s critique, at least partially. I live in Europe. I watch French, German, Scandinavian, Italian films as well as American films. I don’t think that one country’s films are better than another. But they are different and in different ways. I think there is a “European sensibility”. I have seen some wonderful French, German and Polish films that never would have been made in Hollywood. On the other hand American films are some of the best ever made. Film Noir is one of my favorite genres and as far as I’m concerned there are no better examples than The Long Goodbye, China Town, and Touch of Evil. Still, in spite of my prejudice regarding American Film Noir, I believe the best is The Third Man – not an American movie.

    I began writing when I was in college, but I never wrote a screenplay until I became an old man (does 75 qualify me as an old man?). I read a book about screenwriting once and thought it was terrible. Now there hundreds of them and although I’m sure there are some good ones, I simply don’t have the inclination to check them out. I’m set in my ways, I guess. I try to tell a good story well and I trust my own judgement about what is a good story and how to tell it.

    That, of course, may explain why none of my scripts have ever been produced – except unless I produce and direct them myself. One a prize winner at the Chicago Int. Film Festival, the other invited to be screened at Cannes. Recently Dustin Hoffman was criticized for his negative comments about Hollywood and why they make such bad films. So why does Hollywood make such horrible films? Damned if I know. But Ms. Palmer’s article is the best explanation I’ve read thus far.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Appreciate your comment, Jeffrey!

  93. TonyM


    Movies are like alcoholic beverages; at first, you’ll drink the cheapest drink on the shelf and have a great time. As you age, your palate becomes more sophisticated and you’re harder to please. But the business makes most of its money from ordinary drinkers, not connoisseurs.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Nice comment, Tony.

  94. P. S.

    I love Save the Cat, and have used it to structure my stories since I’ve found his books and am much happier with the results. Gone are the days where I’m trying to fill in the looming empty stretch of the middle, and it’s helped me get a much better idea and control over my word counts. As a side note, I have so far only used it for novels and novellas, not an actual screenplay yet. 🙂

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Very glad to hear Save The Cat! has been helpful with your novel and novella writing!

  95. Thierry Anu

    I would agree with Rick as he mentioned it the story that really counts the structure does count but it secondary. The historical setting of the story and the time is made determines how bad the movie or good the movie could be. Some times Hollywood thinks they can make a bad story into a good movie i would pass that.

  96. Vicki Bawcombe

    “Blaming Save The Cat for bad movies is like blaming the guy who wrote “How To Write A Business Plan” for the failure of most small businesses.”
    What a brilliant quote!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Appreciate it, Vicki.

  97. Stephen C Settle

    Your father-in-law and I have much in common.

  98. Mats Härd

    The main reason Hollywood make bad movies is that the industry is run by cowards. It’s like the publishing business, there is only a few, almost none, willing to take risks.
    The studios are copying each other, that’s why there is horror and supernatural stuff everywhere and comedy is reduced to terrible stuff like Hangover (guy’s drinking and trying to get laid) or young women trying to find Mr Right. It’s preserving old fashion gender roles which actually looks like the industry has a hidden agenda. I would say that the brave one will win, but if the studios don’t understand that some movies will not be an economical success but they have to be done, to find the hidden gems. But remember: a movie that doesn’t pay back is not always a bad movie.

  99. Elizabeth Linehan

    I agree that giving plain, straightforward directions to writing screenplays is not to blame for the crap flowing out of Hollywood. I have to blame the studio execs with more money than sense who wake up with the next “great idea for a movie” without a clue what makes a story worth watching. Or worse, try to clone the latest blockbuster to ride on its coattails. (*cough* HACK *cough*) Production-pushed movies designed to make money rather that tell a great story should never be given the light of day.

  100. Edward Asuquo

    I personally believe that screenwritings grades shouldn’t be debated on,for me I’m 16 yes of age and I’m ready for the fails and the wins that has to come with this field. So in essence my point is,whether you’re a veteran of armature in screenwriting, you would always have a writing which you think sucks,and a writing which you’ll be like “yea I’ve nailed it!”,but the truth is its not you who’s going to decide, but rather what’s going to decide is peferencial choice in the viwers.
    So in other not the create any confusion, I’ll say writing is a field based on luck not on years of practice or experience. And yeah I’m 16 and I’m a novice, Thanks.