The Last Time I Spoke With Blake

The last time I spoke with Blake was at the Writers Store’s previous location in West LA.

Blake lived nearby and would visit the store often. He’d usually arrive to find the staff trying to work through some story issue. Blake would be engaged by our conundrum and stick around, riffing suggestions, for however long it took until the issue was resolved.

The last time was different; all any of us wanted to talk about was Blake’s new book Save the Cat! Strikes Back and when it would be finished. The third chapter had been released in advance and had already been the topic of many conversations.

I remember standing off to the side by the entrance to our old event room, and asking Blake how work on Cat! Strikes Back was progressing. He told me it was 90-95% done and that he was very happy. He said he felt it was the best thing he’d written.

I told him something I mentioned often in our conversations: that he should include more classic films in his story breakdowns. I commented that Turner Classic Movies was doing a month-long marathon on legendary directors. Each was getting a full day dedicated to his works and what had jumped out at me the most were how many of the films (almost all of them) matched Blake’s theory on story.

I mentioned two in particular: Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. Since the third chapter from Save the Cat! Strikes Back was fresh in my mind, I mentioned how not only did the films deliver on the now famous 15 beats from Blake’s beat sheet, but also deeper story observations like the “party at Midpoint” concept. I pointed out that both Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun feature midpoint centerpieces that involve a party or gathering.

In Sunset Boulevard, the midpoint is on New Year’s Eve as William Holden’s character attempts to free himself from Norma Desmond’s influence. He leaves her behind to reconnect with some of his Hollywood friends. This leads him to encounter Jane Olsen’s character and sparks their desire to collaborate on a screenplay together (a testament to Wilder and writing partners Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr. that screenwriting is the topic for a compelling scene). When Holden calls Norma to inform her that he’s moving out of her mansion, he discovers that she has attempted suicide. Holden returns to Norma’s side, and as she brings him in for a kiss, the screen goes dark–just as the “Bad Guys Close In” phase begins.

In A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Cliff’s character partakes in a dinner party with love interest Elizabeth Taylor’s well-to-do family. Monty is charming, and with Liz’s support, beginning to fit in, when dinner is interrupted by an urgent call for Monty. It turns out that the woman he has lied to and wants to leave behind, played by Shelley Winters, is refusing to go away. She’s pregnant with his child and close by to Liz’s parents’ house. She demands that Monty come to her, and threatens to go to him and expose his secrets if he doesn’t. These events are what propel the momentum of the story’s second half, leading to Monty’s tragic choice.

Blake at the Writers Store

Blake at the Writers Store

Blake geeked out like he always did when we talked about movies. He loved both films and could recall the beats I was referencing instantly. He told me he’d been contemplating incorporating older films (All About EveThe Lady Eve—all the “Eve” movies) into more of his lessons, but these particular pictures hadn’t crossed his mind. I suggested he blow everyone else’s minds and drop a Citizen Kane breakdown.

Blake was leaving for some workshops on the East Coast in the coming days, but we made plans to discuss this further when he returned. (We’d just scraped the surface: What about films by Howard Hawks, John Huston, and John Ford?!)

Sadly, Blake passed away less than two weeks later. I still remember being so shocked when I got the news that I thought it was a bad joke.

It’s hard to believe that Blake’s been gone four years now. Maybe it’s because so many of his lessons and words of encouragement are still referenced every day. I can still hear Blake chuckling just like he used to do throughout the dramatic pauses in his lectures. The dude just loved story and got a genuine kick out of seeing how it worked underneath the hood. Now every time I see a scene from Sunset Boulevard or A Place in the Sun, I think of Blake and the last time we spoke.

And I wish we could’ve spoken more.

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