When we had the Moving Media Film School in Cebu last August, I was introduced and acquainted with Blake Snyder.
Snyder’s 15 beats of Screenplay Writing, explained in detail in his book “Save the Cat: the Last Book on Screenwriting you’ll ever need” really is interesting. The 15 beats, Snyder says, is something that most screenplay writers follow, whether they are aware of it or not. The beats are actually a framework – a pattern, if you will – that most screenplays follow. (Seriously, get the book. You will never be able to not deconstruct any movie or film after reading it.)
I have to admit though, when it was first explained to me, my mind defaulted into “Critiquing Mode”. I couldn’t help it; it has become a natural reflex brought about by four years of media studies and deconstructing and whatnot. I hadn’t even realized it, but I was now doing naturally what my Media Studies professor had to constantly remind us: “Be negative. That’s the secret to critiquing media. Always. Be. Negative.”
And so I was. I was, until I realized how this mindset was preventing me from actually learning.
The problem I had with the Beats is the idea of having to follow a formula.
But a formula works, doesn’t it?
Precisely. It works – for most of the public. That means having to homogenize your idea / concept, which means having to sacrifice, in some cases, “creativity”. This then implies that you want to please as much of the public as you possibly can. And who does that? Who pleases the public? Capitalist corporations who above all else are money machines.
Still, for whatever reason and intents these companies might have, it works. These stories work. Disney and Pixar make millions and billions because of their stories.
I had to concede to that.
After all, movies are almost never made just to entertain the public, or just “for the sake of art”, they are made for money. The existence of gatekeepers (individuals and institutions who filter and decide what content can be released to the public) mostly prevents this anyway. I say mostly, because there may be exceptions to this, such as advocacy filmmakers – filmmakers who make movies based solely on a theme, i.e. human rights.
Writing with a Purpose
What really won me over to the Beats was the reminder that we aremaking short films for a reason: to inculcate curiosity and interest which could open avenues and opportunities to start spiritual conversations, which could then eventually lead to gospel-sharing.
If I want to reach out to as many people as I can, if I adhere to this highest, noblest purpose, shouldn’t I then use something that works?
But what about creativity? The “formula” limits creativity!
Well, I grappled with that question until I realized how self-defeating it was.
I am only limited by what I allow will limit me. The existence of that “formula” still opens avenues for creativity. After all, while there are lots of 15-beat movies that suck, there also are 15-beat movies that rock.
Who are we Writing For?
I remember a scriptwriting class back in college. The instructor was going over the formulas commonly used for teleplays and screenplays. The discussion then turned to movie critics. The instructor then shared how difficult it is to please the critics and the masses.
Afterwards he concluded saying something to this effect: “Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve been programmed to reject anything that follows a ‘pattern’. True, these formulas may not please the critics. But who are you writing for? The critics, or the masses?”
Who am I writing for?
Perhaps we should always ask ourselves this question every time we start writing a story or even when we start thinking of writing one.
I must with the hopes of reaching and connecting with people. I must write with the intents of showing and surfacing truth and striking issues relevant to humans. I must write for the One.