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Gifts from Blake – Five Years After His Death

By on August 8, 2014 in Today's Blog
Blake Snyder at his desk

Blake Snyder at his desk

Our gratitude for this brilliant blog to Sheila Hanahan Taylor, partner and producer at Practical Pictures, and the writer of the Forewards for all 3 of Blake’s books.

This month marks five years since Blake’s death.
Five years.
How can that be?
It makes no sense to me that it has been so long.
Five Augusts ago I was so heartbroken at the news, spent quite a while just… processing the loss.

But here I am feeling like I just got the call, still feeling like this news is fresh. Because wasn’t it yesterday we were giggling over steak tartar at The Grill? Certainly it was just a bit ago that he sent over the mock-up of a new poster for his seminars? And hasn’t it been only a moment since the galleys for Save the Cat! Strikes Back landed with a thump on my desk?  Five years is impossible. But then consider the mark Blake left and you realize that’s why it doesn’t feel as long, and why on some days it doesn’t quite seem like he’s gone.
He isn’t.
Not by a long shot.

Every single day, little phrases pop up in story meetings that tell me someone else has read Save the Cat!
A few times a month another film student drops a note saying they discovered Blake’s series and it cemented for them a new way of thinking about film.
And of course, you can’t pass Beverly Hills’ La Scala without thinking of him and the chopped salad.

We met up a few days before he passed away. He was starting to show signs of the illness that would ultimately catch up with him, yet he was as invigorating and positive as he’d ever been. As we sat down I remember thinking, “Blake is so modest, he has no real idea the kind of motivation he instills in people.”

Our lunch was designed to serve many functions – a delicious meal at one of our favorite haunts, a quick catch-up, a moment to brainstorm about the next phase of STC! It dawned on me that Blake always arrived at these lunches with an agenda but his presentation was so encouraging it never came off like a business meeting. Sigh. Another skill he didn’t know he’d mastered.

As we ran through ideas for “what next” in the Save the Cat! universe we talked about teaching and sharing and giving back. I commended Blake for his endless enthusiasm for the job, despite hotel living and days on the road with his workshops.

He paused, fork midway to his lips.

“But it’s easy. Sure, I get a little tired, but it is so fun.”

He was right. He was having a blast. You could hear it in his voice, see the sparkle in his eye when he shared a tidbit from a workshop taught in some far away place. Yet in that pleasure you could also tell he would never forget a time in his life when things weren’t so… fun. He was cherishing every moment of this new chapter.

“Plus, the only reason to teach is if I were certain I could make it fun for everyone involved,” he continued.

And there is no doubt, with every book, blog entry, email, and seminar, that Blake’s joy for life and teaching was infectious. He knew learning is always easier when you’re enjoying yourself in the moment. Blake was charming and made teaching fun for his students and fellow teachers alike.

There was more to the lunch. I had arrived with a massive secret I was trying to hide, certain the former actress in me could breeze through lunch with Blake none the wiser.

I was 12-weeks pregnant but pushing 40, and already facing some complications, so I was doing my best to lay low on all fronts, including not sharing the good news with anyone until baby and I were in the clear. I was dressed in something non-maternity but roomy; convinced my out-of-control appetite would be mistaken for foodie passion. But as lunch wore on, I was wearing out. I was dying to share the news with Blake. However, all the old-school protocol, the cautious doctors and girlfriends and stern mommy blogs out there had warned me: whatever you do, unless you are absolutely ready, do. not. tell. a. soul. So I kept my secret.

I’m not sure why I held off.  He, out of anyone I might have spilled to, could keep a good secret. We would have joked about absurd Catholic upbringing protocol and dished on raising a kid in Los Angeles. Plus, I had eaten an entire plate of Spaghetti Bolognese and mopped up with 3 huge pieces of bread so he probably knew anyway. Instead I changed topics. We talked a bit about his third book and the heartfelt, authentic side he revealed in the later chapters. I told him his forthcoming approach in such a public medium was a brave move and I wasn’t sure I could have done it. Certainly not with such candor. The irony of a pregnant me sitting there keeping mum, congratulating him on his openness, was not lost on me.

Blake considered this, smiled.

“Well, if there’s something positive we can do in life, it’s our responsibility to do it, don’t you think? We’re obligated to share what we’ve figured out. There’s no sense holding out.”

Now it was my turn to pause. This simple way of life was the key, wasn’t it? This stance made Blake a generous soul with an incredible gift. This stance resulted in genuine and vibrant work. I made a note to get my act together, follow through on things in the style of Blake. I couldn’t yet tell him about the baby but there was a lot I could tackle in the meantime.

Lunch passed. We split a dessert. Made some Big Picture plans for an upcoming workshop we would do together. Jotted down some things to swap over email. And then with a kiss and a hug, Blake was out the door, heading down Canon Drive with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. That was the last time I saw him.

We emailed after that. He was getting sicker. I thought a lot about what he said at lunch and how blessed he was that he had put it into practice.

Be thankful.
Be encouraging.
Cherish every moment.
It is never too late to regroup and change course.
Have fun.
If we have the ability to do something, to help someone, it is our responsibility to do so.

What a way to live a life.

What a way to raise my son.

See Blake, you’re still right here.
You made your mark.
Thank you.


Next week: Guardians of the Galaxy Beat Sheet

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About the Author

About the Author: At Practical Pictures, Sheila Hanahan Taylor has a wide range of feature and television projects set up at major studios, including the comedy The Pet and the family comedy Hours Of Fun, both for Walt Disney Studios, and the thriller The Seminar for CBS Films. Sheila Executive Produced both Final Destination 4 and 5. Recently Sheila Produced the Australian-set feature film Oddball, to be released in 2015 by Village Roadshow. Known as a cradle-to-grave producer, Sheila’s skill set ranges from the story and development side of producing, where she often takes a one-sentence idea from concept/outlining all the way to shooting draft, to marketplace research and analysis, fundraising, on-set creative producing, and editing room savvy. Additionally, Sheila continues to share her filmmaking knowledge and love of the craft by guest lecturing for various screenwriting organizations, judging screenplay competitions, serving on filmmaking boards, and teaching in graduate and undergraduate film and television programs around the world. She lives in Santa Monica with her husband and son. .

There Are 4 Comments

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  1. Lisa Rothstein says:

    Love this! Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a lovely summary — I only heard Blake once, at the national Romance Writers of America conference, but his attitude of “it’s fun to share this gift” came through so clearly. Thanks for an inspiring memory!

  3. thank you for making me cry at my desk!

  4. Susan Holt says:

    I had been thinking about Blake lately as my inner writer has started roaring to come out again. I too can’t believe it’s been 5 years.
    I met Blake many years ago when I lived in LA at the Screen Writers conference. As I sat in a small conference room waiting for the work shop to begin and having just picked up Save the Cat! I was quite suprised when Blake walked into the room! I immediately felt the energy that radiated out of him; the passion; the gift. I kept flipping to my book and then back to him, completed enthralled that he was standing right in front of me. Needless to say his incredible drive and love for the craft pushed me to start writing my first screenplay. I attended his workshops and emailed him questions regularly. As life caught up to me I had to abandon my dreams of screenwriting and get a day job. Now years later Blake’s spirit has been gabbering in my head….”what are you waiting for….now is the time to share your passion…”
    I am currently formating a story that’s been rattling around in my head. And what do you know, my herion has an orange stripped tabby named Blake. 🙂