Writers who’ve enjoyed Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, will likely be thrilled by the new Save The Cat! ($19.99) app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about should run out, buy this book, read it, and then come back.
In his books, author Blake Snyder teaches his system for perfecting the craft of screenwriting. He introduces tools and techniques designed to focus and inspire. He begins by stressing the importance of a powerful log-line, and then guides you in picking the perfect genre. After that, he helps you build a 15 step beat sheet, and then explains how to structure everything on a board with 40 index cards.
Snyder knows structure, and it shows in his techniques. The Save the Cat! app brings those techniques to the mobile screenwriter.
Let’s check it out!
Save the Cat! endeavors to keep writers organized, while making sure they address important aspects of story and character. Everything is divided into separate, and properly ordered text fields, all based on the rules in Snyder’s books. That may sound a bit dry… because it is. At its core, Save the Cat! is a single-minded word processor. But in this case, that’s a very good thing! In some ways, using the app is like filling out a form. But here, each empty field demands thoughtful consideration. Each field poses an important question. Answering those questions doesn’t guarantee a great script… but ignoring them nearly insures a bad one.
You begin by creating a new project, then entering its logline and page count. After that, you pick your Gene from the 10 available options. Descriptions for each genre are provided, but only after you’ve picked one. It would be more helpful if the descriptions were available before picking. This is something that needs to be reworked in future versions.
BEAT IT & BOARD IT
With your genre selected, you can now move into the Beat Sheet. Even on a brand new project, each of the 15 beats are already assigned a page count, keeping everything totally structured. The app will very smartly re-organize your beat sheet if you change the page count later on. Good stuff! The user enters information into each of the beats. These entries will require a good deal of thought. It’s like writing your story before you write your story. On a side note, the app (and the books) refer to this as the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. I don’t know why that bothers me, but it does. Feels a little pompous. (That’s not really part of the review… it’s just me working out my own issues.)
Once you’ve got your beat sheet in decent shape, it’s time to move to The Board. In the real world, this is where you’d start writing on 40 note-cards and pinning them on a board. In the iPhone app, it’s done a little differently. You create each of your 40 scenes by tapping the + button, and then entering that scene’s relevant information into the a series of text fields (i.e., Description, Emotional Change, Conflict, etc.). Once again, these fields require thought. But hey, that’s the writer’s job… not the app’s.
In addition to text, you can also give each scene up to 6 colored tags. Each tag represents one of 10 possible pre-defined meanings. Once your scenes are tagged, you can visually track your story and characters, just by following the colors. Scenes can be re-ordered, deleted, or tucked away into a temporary storage area known as the litter box. It’s all very clean, simple, and easy to navigate.
In the real world, you can easily view all your note cards at once, giving you a sense of the entire project. However, due to the iPhone’s screen size, viewing everything at once is impossible. You can quickly scroll through all your scenes by flicking up or down. While it’s very simple to do, it’s just not the same. It’s a minor issue, but one worth considering.
You’ll find helpful guidance spread throughout the app. Just tap any of the numerous cat-head icons, and you’ll be presented with useful tips. Consider them well-timed reminders of the book’s central concepts. My only complaint is that the cat-head icons are only available in review mode. Once you enter edit mode, the cat-heads are gone. It’s a very minor annoyance. To make learning Save the Cat! even easier, it comes with a sample project (Spiderman 2).
Every time you launch the app, you are taken right back to where you left off. This is a nice touch since many users will want to jump in, jot down a new idea, and jump back out.
Another nice feature is the ability to sync with the desktop version of Save the Cat! (Mac or PC). I’ve found it helpful to start and tweak a project on the iPhone, but then finish it on the desktop where I can see a larger representation of The Board. But this brings me to my biggest complaint. Without the desktop version, there’s no way to export your work from the iPhone app. Writers who don’t own the desktop version are limited to viewing their projects inside the Save the Cat! App. [UPDATE: Version 1.2 has been released, and includes an export via email feature. Woohoo!]
The fact is, you don’t need anything other than Snyder’s book to implement his system. So, why then, am I excited about the Save The Cat! iPhone app? Because, like a good writing coach, it constantly keeps you on track. You can remain focused on developing your story, while the app makes sure you consider every crucial step along the way. I’m sure it will be useful for writers just looking to stay organized, but the app’s true power is revealed when it’s used as an extension to the invaluable concepts taught in Snyder’s books.
Aside from a few issues, I love this app. If you write by Snyder’s rules, you should have this app in your pocket. Simple as that.
One final note. I hate cats. So, this article was especially difficult to write.
If you’d like to see Save The Cat! in action, you’ll find several tutorials at http://youtube.com/stcblake
If you’re a fan of Save the Cat, you may want to check out Snyder’s newest tome, Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get Into… and Out Of. And if you want to get Cat crazy, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told).
Blake passed away in August of 2009. It’s a tragic loss for the entertainment industry. His guidance and creativity will be greatly missed.