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Give Me the Same Thing… Only Better! Part 1

By on March 3, 2009 in Today's Blog

There is a famous blooper that caught 1950s TV star, Bozo the Clown, on tape for the ages.

In an unguarded moment at the end of the show, when the famous kiddie host thought the microphones were off, he expressed frustration with his audience, exclaiming: “That oughta hold the little bastards!”

I think of this line occasionally when I consider the perception of Hollywood… and it gives me the willies.

It speaks to an “us” the creators vs. “them” the audience mentality, and an attitude that says: We’ve met the basic standard for today’s entertainment and that should be enough. We’ve done the job. Let’s call it a day.

And I want to go on record right now to say: This is not the mindset of the most successful in our business, and it should not be ours. But I believe there is a sneaky suspicion by some in our audience that it might be.

If I had one thing to do over again in the writing of Save the Cat! it would be to enhance the helpful advice a studio executive told me during a meeting. “Give me the same thing… only different” was his mantra. It meant the best pitch was something familiar enough to understand but with a new, fresh, and ironic twist.

And that’s still good insight into the business.

Storytelling through the ages has forever sought variations on an art which must deal with the well-known fact that there truly is “no new story under the sun.” But I prefer: Give me the same thing… only better!

Save the Cat! is a language of storytelling terms and tools — easy and instantly applicable — that “sets the table” for further discussion. That’s why I wrote it. Early on, I attended many screenwriting classes (a few well-known ones), read many books, and what I always wanted — but rarely got — was something that would actually HELP me in my career… today… right now. I wanted something I could DO immediately that would resonate not only with audiences, but with the gatekeepers who separated me from the audience.

We have succeeded in “setting the table” and establishing a language to better dissect, understand, and deliver on what makes for solid storytelling. But it does not mean we should stand for the status quo.

We stand for improving skill, focused effort, and hard work beyond the five o’clock whistle. We stand for going the extra mile to make our ideas not just different than what came before… but better. And we must.

Within “the rules” of what makes the film business tick — vital for us to understand –this is only a starting point. Knowing what we know about “poster,” structure, transformation, and “stories that resonate,” we must seek out in our work something we don’t always sense onscreen, with the cameras either off or on:

Excellence.

To succeed beyond our wildest dreams we must push ourselves to new levels of achievement — whether we are writing a silly rom-com, frothy musical, thriller, horror flick, Academy-considered Indie or any other of a thousand “same thing… only different” subjects out there. We must always make sure we wring out every last drop of story, and every bit of enlightment, excitement, freshness, and beauty we can from ourselves.

And because this is Save the Cat! and because we are all about concrete action for us to DO, as Part 2 of this discussion, I will list exactly what steps we must take to make sure our work meets a standard that goes beyond Bozo’s infamous blooper line, because being “commercial” does not mean being “common.”

Let’s make it our goal this year and every year to drive beyond what will “hold ’em” — no matter what our genre, goal, or familiarity with commercial success. Let’s make being “better” our guiding light every day.

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Blake

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About the Author: Read about Blake here. .

There Are 13 Comments

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  1. Eli says:

    As usual, U ROCK!

  2. Michael says:

    “We must always make sure we wring out every last drop of story, and every bit of enlightment, excitement, freshness, and beauty we can from ourselves.”

    I agree, and for anyone who needs to be wrung out, I suggest one of Blake’s master board classes. The second day reminded me of the warning (or challenge) on the sign outside the US Army Ranger School – “Not for the weak or fainthearted.”

    Seriously – if you want to put your story through the wringer and see what it–and you–are made of, take it to one of Blake’s master classes. It’s worth every cent, and every ounce of sweat (okay, maybe no one else sweated, but I know I did). I’d rather have my story tested and strengthened there than to have it repeatedly rejected by the people who write the big checks. 😉

    Thanks, Blake (and Jose, storytelling guru and motivational speaker, and all the rest of the Feb 21-22 master board class members).

  3. Anne says:

    I second all of your thoughts, Michael. Anyone who wants to move forward with their story, to make it snap, crackle and POP! needs to take the Beat Sheet Workshop and, of course, the Master Class Marathon. Less than two weeks later, I’m past midpoint, and going strong!

  4. Scott Pinzon says:

    This is one of the few times I’ve read advice from Blake and gone, “Huh? What does that mean?” Blake, sounds like you plan to elucidate, and I’ll look forward to it. My specific question is, in any genre — family-friendly comedy to torture-porn splatter flick — I am unclear how to make it “excellent.” It seems the “give me the same thing” part renders excellence unachievable, since we are obligated to include cliches. How could a genre movie (example: 27 Dresses; Dwayne Johnson in The Game; Saw IV) ever be excellent? By all accounts, The Reader is excellent, but it’s done feeble box office. The attitude of “That oughta hold the little bastards” comes from screenwriters feeling like they have to dumb down their writing to appeal to the masses. Blake, would love to hear more from you on how to balance mass appeal with the quest for excellence!

  5. Racicot says:

    APPLAUSE!

    I’m a horror flick dude, and with all the power of 80s slasher movies vested in me, I will write some bloody great sh*t. No less.

    Thanks Blake.

  6. Blake Blake says:

    This is EXACTLY the point, Scott! And more will be revealed in the next blog. I hope to confuse you further with the 10 Commandments for Screenwriting Excellence! What you point out is why we get a bad rap. We can do better! It begins with us, the screenwriters, seeking what it really means to write “stories that resonate”! I couldn’t be more pleased with your comment, Scott!! You are hitting on the exact problem– one we must correct! Stay tuned!

  7. Bradford Richardson says:

    The five-o-clock whistle blew and all poor Bozo had tried to do was “make the donuts” for those ungrateful brats. If only he had what we have now in Blake’s, SAVE THE CAT.

  8. Joe says:

    Amen to all of this. And may the Gods lay feasts and blessings upon the doorstep of Blake Snyder forever and ever. Thanks to Blake’s teaching and inspiration, I think I’ve stumbled upon something that might just fit the bill for “same but different” in the best sense – something familiar that works but with a different and fresh spin.

    And Michael – I cannot WAIT to see your movie. I tear up just thinking about that final scene with Laila and the doctor (I forget her name now).

    All the best, folks!
    Joe

  9. Mike Rinaldi says:

    Scott, I think what Blake is explaining is the magic combo of a familiar story with a unique twist …the sweet spot that pulls in the audience. To a storyteller, there is a natural desire to concoct somthing wholly original that no one has seen before. As noble as that goal is, “wholly original” is both unfamiliar to the ticket buyer and unproven/untested to the studio that’s going to invest $80 million in your film. Adding the right unique twist to the familiar allows you to create a great script that is original without scaring off both movie-goers and movie makers.

  10. Tim says:

    Blake, I sympathize with what you’re saying, and it would be lovely if excellence were a priority. I suspect that the current wording in Save The Cat is probably fairer advice, though :/

  11. Pam says:

    I’m in the choir, Reverend Blake. Keep on preaching.

  12. Rachel T. says:

    Mike Rinaldi said something on the forums a while back: “Anything less than excellence is beneath you.” I keep it on my inspiration wall.

    There is no such thing as perfection, and there’s nothing that will appeal to everyone, but it isn’t worth my time to write anything less than my best, anything less than my most creative, innovative – my everything. If I don’t feel passionate about it, confident in it, inspired or excited by it while I’m working on it, then that attitude will show through, and no one else will, either.

    The biggest mistake we, as writers, can make is to assume that our audiences are dumb.

  13. Rob O'Hannon says:

    “Frothy musical.” I always suspected that these were financed by root beer companies.

    Okay, the silliness is out of the way. Nice job again Mr. Blake. Right to the heart of the matter.

    And now back to my ghost reality series, with a few dozen twists…

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