Field and McKee were obsessed with the theoretical underpinnings of storytelling. But Snyder’s book is far more straightforward. And that’s why it’s conquered the big screen so thoroughly. Indeed, if you’re on the lookout, you can find Snyder’s beats, in the order he prescribes, executed more or less as Snyder instructs, in virtually every major release in theaters today. Even the master storytellers at Pixar stick quite close to Snyder’s playbook: Watching Monsters University this summer, I loved the way it toyed with underdog sports and college movie conventions. Yet the story hits every one of Snyder’s beats, including an opening image that’s mirrored in the final scene, an act break when Mike and Sully reluctantly join forces to compete in the Scare Games, a false victory about three-quarters of the way through when (spoiler!) they “win” the final Scare Games challenge, and an all-is-lost moment followed by an emotionally charged dark night of the soul next to a moonlit lake afterward.
You should read the whole thing, but Peter makes a convincing case that the very success of Save The Cat has made it hard to break away from it, much in the same way Hollywood’s gotten into the habit of pouring a ton of money into effects-heavy blockbusters in the hopes of correspondingly massive returns. I wonder if part of the problem, and one of the reasons we see fewer of the lower-priced movies aimed at adult audiences instead of attempts to pull in teenagers and young men, is that studios have gotten into the habit of wanting the same outcome from every film, rather than understanding that their slate of films can function like a stock portfolio, the profits from some bigger profits fueling smaller movies that could have a longer critical and commercial shelf life. If you want the same results, it makes sense that you’d continue to follow the same formula over and over again. But if you’re looking for a mix, you need to trust that sometimes, talented people will be able to able to diverge from those story beats and make strong, compelling films anyway.