Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blake Snyder: Save the Cat (Tips on Screenwriting)

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder was really a random place to find something that has a strong racist twang. Tartarous the Noble was reading the latest rage in screenwriting when he came across this passage (second paragraph):



The passage in question says: Well, God and aliens don't mix, why? Because it's two sets of different kinds of magic. It's Double Mumbo Jumbo. And if you don't believe me, try substituting the word "Allah for the word "God" and see if your brain doesn't melt.

So Blake Snyder assumes there are no Muslim American screenwriters reading this? How offensive to block out an entire possible audience. And why would our brains melt? Allah and God don't mix? Or is it East and West don't mix?

Is it the Kipling theme: "East is East and West is West, and never shall the twain meet?"

Then say it a more clear way rather than just saying "your brain will melt".

This from such a popular screenwriting book is a shame.

PS: Since I got such biting responses about how Mr. Snyder was not racist. I also received this from another reader via email. A short short lesson on the difference between what is a racist act and who is a racist person. Fits perfectly in this discussion and the rabid response I got from another commentator proving me how nonracist Snyder is. What I care about is how racist that particular line is -- not anything about Signs or anything about how the writer's soul is beautiful. Watch this vid! Thanks reader!


And this analysis of Shyamalan and Hindu cosmology in his film Signs was recommended by another brilliant reader: America Loves Shyamalan by V.G. Julie Rajan

4 comments:

Blake Snyder said...

Dear Talibonita,

To call someone a racist is the worst possible thing imaginable, and when unfounded, as it is in this case, akin to shouting fire in a crowded theater. By citing this section from my book Save the Cat! as an example of such, you've done just that. Maybe I can clear up the misunderstanding.

I frankly felt this passage re: Signs would get protests from the Christian community, for that is what I am pointing out as a blind spot in this film and what I hope to illustrate by my example.

This is about screenwriting and job one for a screenwriter is acclimating an audience to the rules of "the world" you are creating.

What I am pointing out is a lesson in how when a screenwriter doesn't "set up" that world properly -- or assumes the audience is on the same page -- trouble results.

In Signs, Shyamalan assumes that the audience agrees with a Christian cosmology that is the belief system of his protaganist. Into that world he now thrusts an entirely new, and jarring, cosmology: aliens. And to my mind confusion results.

To show what I mean I say let's say the protaganist believes in another cosmology instead of Christianity -- try Allah for instance -- see! Aren't you even more confused? I am pointing out only how Shyamalan did not take the steps to properly "set up" his world. It's a screenwriting argument, not a religious one. I am not making a judgment about either religion and to suggest that I am is incorrect and offensive.

-- Blake Snyder

Akea Kamai said...

I was stunned to see Blake being called "racist," and I'm delighted to see that he responded before I did--and far more eloquently than I would have. This is a man who took me on--and by the way I'm African American and a "non-Christian"--as my mentor a couple of years ago out of the goodness of his heart and because he believed in my talent. I have seen him work with a remarkably diverse crowd of novice screenwriters more than once, and not only appreciate but also help every one of the cultures in that audience bring something rich and compelling to the table, under his loving tutelage.

I couldn't let this pass without comment. You may or may not accept what either of us have to say...but I know that I would NOT be an optioned screenwriter without the work I've done with Blake. He's not "colorblind" as many so wrong headedly like to put it. He revels in diversity.

I owe him a great deal. You owe him a apology!

Cihan Kaan said...

Blake writes:

"Well, God and aliens don't mix, why? Because it's two sets of different kinds of magic. It's Double Mumbo Jumbo. And if you don't believe me, try substituting the word "Allah for the word "God" and see if your brain doesn't melt."

A Muslim Filmmaker (me) responds:

Blake, your book is great. You've categorically broken down what mainstream America responds to a very easy way, however when I got to the passage above I quickly closed the book and felt suffering and heart pain come on. I substitute God for Allah everyday because that's what Allah means. My brain doesn't melt. At one time, it was inferred that educated people understood Allah, like Yaweh and Jehovah simply meant the Abrahamic God. Sadly, as much as I hate pointing these things out to non-Muslims as they get oddly defensive and begin attacking me, it is our responsibility now to bring these tiny semantic issues up because they reflect a growing misunderstanding of Islam. And the further American-Muslims are placed in psychological internment camps the more critical it becomes for us to bring these issues up. As Yoda said, "Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Suffering and Suffering leads to Hate." To put Islam in the category of "Magic" is to show a fear of it. To than have Akea aggressively demand an apology is to show Anger from it. To read Talibonita try to explain herself is watching her suffering and in the end, no one wins. We are pushed further inside and you are distanced further away.

Let's look to the Wiki for support on my statement so there is no misunderstanding here:

[Allah is the standard Arabic term used by Muslims as a reference to God, it is used by Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, in reference to "God". The term was also used by pagan Meccans as a reference to the creator-god, possibly the supreme deity in pre-Islamic Arabia.]

Blake, no offense brohan but you seem to use the term Allah as a pre-meccan would, to infer a kind of polytheistic magical diety. Islam is not a magical cosmology, it is rooted in Judaism and Christianity. However, Islamic Cosmology does venture further than the latter ideologies do (ie, "...the concept of the continuous expansion of the universe is exclusive to the Quran. No other Divine scriptures even remotely hint at it.")

Blake writes:

[To show what I mean I say let's say the protaganist believes in another cosmology instead of Christianity -- try Allah for instance -- see! Aren't you even more confused? I am pointing out only how Shyamalan did not take the steps to properly "set up" his world. It's a screenwriting argument, not a religious one]

I get your screenwriting argument about setting up worlds. It's important to do that, yes. However, I still dont get why you are throwing around the word Allah so slapdashedly as if it means more than what it means. I'm more confused by your reply because if you are saying Christian Cosmology than you should say "try Islamic Cosmology" not "try Allah". Allah is not a cosmology, it's a word that means God. If you mean Islamic Cosmology than know what that is, at least. Islamic Cosmology and Christian Cosmology are different, very different. I don't want to turn this into a lesson on Islam but at this point, this is where the road leads. You made a semantic error in comparison of an entire ideology to a proper pronoun. Sorry, it just makes no sense UNLESS I believed "Allahism", let's say, or that "Allah" was a religion. Is that what you believe? Is that what America thinks?

Armin said...

Mel Gibson call Allah makes MY brain melt...