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How the Dragon Really Got Trained

By on March 26, 2010 in About the Beats, Success Stories, Today's Blog

Blake and his Writers Group on the Warner Bros backlot: (left to right) Ben Frahm, Dan Goldberg, Blake, Dean DeBlois, Jeremy Garelick

Blake and his Writers Group on the Warner Bros backlot: (left to right) Ben Frahm, Dan Goldberg, Blake, Dean DeBlois, Jeremy Garelick

DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon opened across the country on March 26. It was co-written and co-directed by Dean DeBlois. Variety’s review of the film states: “DreamWorks Animation tries a new tack, embracing sincerity over satire, with How to Train Your Dragon, a thrilling drama interspersed with amusing comedic elements (rather than the other way around) from Lilo and Stitch directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois.  Dragon seems destined to become another cornerstone franchise.”

Dean just sent us this:

Not only did Blake consult on the movie, but I pushed for a dedication to him in the end credits. And it’s there, up on the big 3D screen!

Just a few weeks before he passed away, Blake, Jeremy Garelick, and Ben Frahm (Danny Goldberg, our other writer’s group member was away shooting) all came by to watch Dragon in-_12651625745478progress, and weigh in with notes and ideas. As always, Blake was beaming with enthusiasm and energy. He focused on a few structural elements that were muddied and gave us great ideas toward clarifying them. He absolutely made the film better.

In fact, Blake’s whole approach was used in structuring the story that Chris Sanders and I brought to the project when we took it over. We had just over a year to rewrite, storyboard, edit, animate, and light the entire film. A crazy undertaking — and time was of the essence being that the release date was immovable. Our task was to take the world of the source children’s book and broaden its audience by giving it a dynamic, fantasy adventure story that would deliver on the promise of the premise. Chris and I also saw an opportunity for strong emotional payoffs within its central relationships, so we made them our primary focus.

Our first step was to lay out our concept according to Blake’s Beat Sheet, and from there, we laid out the detailed structure. The Board became our foundation, and we never veered from it as we felt our way through the moments of the story. I’m a big believer in Blake’s approach because everything he teaches was proven true in the years of story work I did prior to reading Save the Cat! The theories he touches upon are undeniable, universal truths of human storytelling, and Blake did us all a huge and lasting favor by putting them in a digestible form that people can immediately use and rely upon.

I miss Blake a lot, but I keep him alive, in my own way, by carrying the torch through every story I work on. He won’t be forgotten.

Editor’s Note (February, 2011): How to Train Your Dragon won 10 Annies, including Best Animated Picture, Best Directing in a Feature Production, and Best Writing in a Feature Production.

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  1. Al Rodriguez Al Rodriguez says:

    I’m definitely taking the kids to see this this weekend. Congratulations on your successes, Dean! Keep training dragons and saving cats!

  2. Alyson Noel says:

    Okay, now I’m DEFINITELY seeing this one!!

  3. Save the Cat! Is one of my all-time fav books!! I was saddened to hear that Blake passed away. I am definitely going to see this movie!

  4. Howard Burkons says:

    Thank you for your tribute to our dear friend.

  5. Mike Rinaldi says:

    I too am sold. Going to see this for sure! Besides, the critics are saying great things about the story and the flying sequences.

  6. Russell Bolding says:

    I just got back from seeing it in 3D (didn’t need it) and it was just adorable! I had no clue of Blake’s involvement with the movie. That really showed through in the story. It was almost on point with the beats. That would have been cool to find out his reaction to the finished product. “Lilo and Stitch”? Really? Wow. I forgot Chris Sanders did that one. Well, go check it out, everybody! You’ll fall in love with it! Especially if you have cats. 😉

  7. Joe Whyte says:

    I’m so glad this film was dedicated to Blake’s memory. I miss him so much and his books inspire my work every day. Dean is such an awesome guy – I was in Blake’s class with him and his ideas were incredible, and he and Chris have really nailed it with Dragons!

  8. Claudia says:

    I’m thrilled somebody is finally giving him the credit he deserves… it’s the good guys who acknowledge those around them. Thank you, Dean!

  9. Jin choung says:

    Just saw it. Fing great. Saw the great tribute and dedication at end to Blake as well. Wonderful and great job in pushing for that. Blake would’ve loved this movie.

    And I’m calling it: INSTITUTIONALIZED and a really great example of one. Better institutionalized manifestation than avatar.

  10. jay says:

    I dreaded the thought of watching this film. I figured it would lame or even similar to kunfu panda or cloudy with chance of meatballs. Boy was i wrong. I truly ended up enjoy ever moment of it. This film was well thought out. The jokes weren’t slap-stick humor. The detail of the film was great.

  11. Pat says:

    Saw it tonight. WOW. In my mind, best animated movie ever. Characters and story line far, far better than UP and had more heart and fun flying adventure than AVATAR. Very touching. The Vikings and their island were fantastic. Illustrations have come a long way. And action! WOW. Blake would be beaming!

  12. Simon Maxwell says:

    Well, after reading this … count me in to see the movie as well!

  13. Grant says:

    It was a cute kids cartoon, but it didn’t much for me. Storytelling was rushed and insincere. Kill the cat.

  14. Pat says:

    A question for Grant. What are your favorite children’s movies? I will say the action was too fast in spots, especially for anyone under 10. Seems like every new movie ups their game in that department. I would have liked it all a little slower. But the story was solid…beats were right on. Father/son relationship believable. Most of the animation was amazing…I did wish that his dragon “Toothless”‘s head looked more like a dragon and less like a fish.

  15. Michael says:

    Saw it tonight, based on my newfound knowledge that Blake’s teachings helped steer the film.

    A masterpiece. One of the most perfectly structured movies I’ve ever seen. Huge emotional payoffs. It’s all of the good things about Avatar, without any of the terrible things about Avatar.

    About 2/3 of the way through, I said to myself “This is as good as The Iron Giant.” Then Dragon just kept getting better. And better.

    If any of you want to see the perfect Blake Snyder “Opening Image” and “Closing Image,” you will find it in How To Train Your Dragon.

    Thank you, Blake. What a great testament to your work. Thank you Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois for a magnificent film.

  16. Steve T says:

    I just finished reading Save the Cat! and wanted to see what was going on at Blake’s website. I’m so sorry to see that he passed away, may he rest in peace. My kids recently saw How to Train Your Dragon, and enjoyed it very much.

  17. Jason says:

    If you couldn’t figure out the ‘All is Lost’ moment in this one, it has Blake’s fingerprints all over it:


    “Hiccup, now you’ve lost everything — your family, your friends, your dragon — what are you gonna do about it?”

  18. Barbara Baker says:

    Love, loved this film. I raise “train” Guide Dogs for the Blind. Our club went with 15 dogs. Everyone enjoyed this film. Even some of the young pups sat in their raisers laps and watched the action flying by. Adorable.

  19. Beth Deeter says:

    Just finished watching How to Train Your Dragon for the 20th time (14 times in the theater, but who’s counting?!) to ring in the New Year, and my curiousity about the dedication to Blake Snyder got the better of me since I had never heard of him so I looked it up and found this site. I am so sorry about his passing. Dragon is a fitting tribute to him because it is a masterpiece. In my over 50 years of studying all film genres, it is the best movie I have ever seen, period. I am so grateful to all who had anything to do with creating it for the joy it has brought to us. Thank you. It makes me feel like a better person just for watching it. I feel smarter, braver, stronger because that is how I have always been on the inside and now, like Hiccup, I can be true to myself and be that way on the outside, too. Thanks again.

  20. Sid says:

    I have read Blake Snyder’s book and use it consistently. Recently, I was so inspired by Ben Frahm’s story and success. I am also a school teacher that writes screenplays. Note, I graduated from screen writing school, had several of my plays performed around the nation and one short film produced with various awards.

    I still writing but I now live in Texas instead of Los Angeles to be close to my famiy. How can I get in touch with Mr. Frahm for advice on making the transition to full time screenwriter. And lastly, how can I find other SAVE THE CAT GROUPS in Houston. Thanks so much.

  21. David Lynam says:

    I’m a 4th year film student focusing on screenwriting. Dragon was brilliant for me because I was able to see everything I’d been learning about screenwriting unfold before me. I was so excited I reached out to Dean and he told me about Blake’s books. I’ve been spending my Summer break so far working hard on the book, analyzing films and doing beat sheets. I’m about to take on a rewrite of a feature I wrote and Blake’s books are teaching me so much I know it will be a great success!

  22. Wow, I got a little teary-eyed to find when I came to this site (after spending all day using STC to re-habilitate my novel) and found out that Blake’s gone. I know this happened a couple years ago but I did really want to say thank you to him for putting his work out there. I’ve used a few books to help me over the years as a writer and his was especially helpful; Blake’s work has the gift of getting out of the way and letting creativity explode versus a lot of other theory and advice writers who want to make you sure you know how much they know before they give you the simple, honest help you need. He was okay to let his book just be an entertaining place to pass through quickly in order for all the budding screenwriters in the world to write their masterpiece. He gave me tools to find my voice and my story, and you just can’t ever find the words to say thank you for someone who helped you find yourself

  23. Christina Patjens says:

    I`m just a aspiring screenwriter from Germanny. I read his book save the cat and love it for the first time. Nobody ever wrote such a funny and useful screenwriting book with so much helpful tools. Thank you, Blake.
    I feel so pity and very, very sad that he passed away immediately.