Narrative Formula Through the Geography of Transformers: Age of Extinction
In 2005 a screenwriting book was published showing what was already known: Most Hollywood movies are the same. What separated this book, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, from its predecessors, was the absolute specificity of Snyder’s formula, as well as its widespread adoption by the film industry. Rather than providing general advice on how to develop a unique and innovative three-act story, Snyder constructed a precise formula of 15 “beats,” or specific events, that not only must happen but that must happen on the same page of every script. This formula, known as “Save the Cat,” has now become synonymous with Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. Similar to the introduction of continuity editing to filmmaking at the beginning of cinema’s history, this formula prefigures the scope of possibility within which filmmaking can operate, subconsciously training viewers with each subsequent movie what to expect and when. “Save the Cat” has become cinema’s lingua franca, or common language, allowing Hollywood to transcend international cultural and linguistic differences. This lingua franca of the silver screen has never been more vital to Hollywood’s success: With the turn of the new millennium, international ticket sales – especially in the ever-expanding markets of China, Russia, and Brazil – dominate American box office revenues. Of note, these new foreign markets are not buying tickets for all types of American films, but are mainly focusing on spectacle-driven action and science fiction movies in 3D and IMAX formats. To understand the role of Hollywood’s lingua franca on the industry’s global expansion or, rather, the effect that global expansion is having on the types of narratives that Hollywood producers are interested in making, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, a recent blockbuster that peaked in China, is used here as a case study. Through the use of this case study, the application of the Save the Cat formula is demonstrated and the role that geography plays within its beats is noted. Through this analysis it is easy to see how Save the Cat works as an architecture through which Hollywood is able to construct a lingua franca that, in this case, reaches US, Chinese, and international filmgoers the world over.
KeywordsSave the cat Narrative formula Classical paradigm Hollywood China film
- Aitken, S., & Zonn, L. (Eds.). (1994). Place, power, situation and spectacle: A geography of film. Totowa: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers Inc.Google Scholar
- Clarke, D., & Doel, M. (2006). From flatland to vernacular relativity: The genesis of early English landscapes. In M. Lefebvre (Ed.), Landscape and film. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Doel, M. (2008). From animated photography to film: The formation of vernacular relativity in early English films (1895–1908). In C. Lukinbeal & S. Zimmermann (Eds.), The geography of cinema – A cinematic world (pp. 87–100). Stuttgart: Franz-Steiner Verlag.Google Scholar
- Ford, J. (Director) (1939). Walter Wanger Productions. Distributed by United Artists.Google Scholar
- Fast, K., Jansson, A., Lindell, J., Bengtsson, L. R., & Tesfahuney, M. (Eds.). (2017). Geomedia studies: Spaces and mobilities in mediatized worlds. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Fletchall, A., Lukinbeal, C., & McHugh, K. (2012). Place, television, and the real Orange County. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.Google Scholar
- Hanson, M. (1990). Adventures of Goldilocks: Spectatorship, consumerism, and public life. Camera Obscura, 22, 51–71.Google Scholar
- Hanson, M. (1991). Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American silent film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Hochberg, J. (1978). Perception: Foundations of modern psychology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
- Keelty, C. (2016). http://christopherkeelty.com/video-did-save-the-cat-really-ruin-hollywood/. Last Accessed 19 June 2018.
- Kirby, L. (1989). The Railroad and the cinema 1895–1929: Institutions, aesthetics and gender. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA Theater Arts.Google Scholar
- Kirby, L. (1997). Parallel tracks: The railroad and silent cinema. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- Lukinbeal, C. (2018). The Mapping of 500 Days of Summer: A processual approach to cinematic cartography. NECSUS an International Journal of the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies. Autumn. https://necsus-ejms.org/the-mapping-of-500-days-of-summer-a-processual-approach-to-cinematic-cartography/
- Lukinbeal, C., & Sharp, L. (2014). Living montage: A gastronomy of the eye. You Are Here: The Journal of Creative Geography, 17, 96–98.Google Scholar
- Lukinbeal, C., & Zimmermann, S (Eds.). (2008). The cinematic world. The geography of cinema – A Cinematic World. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.Google Scholar
- Mains, S., Cupples, J., & Lukinbeal, C. (Eds.). (2015). Mediated geographies/geographies of media. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
- Palazuelo, F., & Smith, K. (2018). http://www.packardplantproject.com/. Last Accessed 16 June 2018.
- Remis, S. A. (1993). The uptown – Waiting in the wings. Edgewater Historical Society, V(1), 1.Google Scholar
- Scott, A. (2005). On Hollywood: The place, the industry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Synder, B. (2005). Save the cat: The last book on screenwriting that you’ll ever need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions.Google Scholar
- Wei, L. (2013). Brand China in leading role on transformers set. ChinaDaily USA. http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2013-11/09/content_17092188.htm. Last Accessed 16 June 2018.