Six months ago tomorrow, I was boarding a flight to come to LA, where, following Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting course in March, I had been sufficiently inspired to pursue my writing career 6000 miles away from home.
Last night, I attended Blake’s memorial. He died suddenly on August 4th, and the outpouring of grief on his website, together with the grateful thanks from those whose lives he had changed, made his death an all-consuming experience.
I heard about his death on Facebook; his longest-standing friend, Tracey, who had known Blake since they were two, heard about it on Twitter. Social networking is the new bearer of both good and bad tidings, and it is also the 21st century means by which the dead live on.
The many tributes to Blake that appeared on an hourly basis on Facebook extended the grieving process; tortuous as it is, I continue to dip into them; it helps me to feel that he is still among us. His words, and the encouragement and support he gave to so many, is, to me, the way he lives on.
Blake’s friends organised a wonderful tribute that, despite the sadness of the occasion, was full of laughter and happy memories. Colleagues and friends shared their thoughts at the Writers Theater in LA, and despite the air of disbelief that still hangs over his death (I still felt that electric shock when Tracey said: “When Blake died . . . "), the evening felt not like an ending but a new beginning.
Blake believed in the power of transformation; it is what informed his own work and his teaching. In his brilliant screenwriting book, Save the Cat, he addresses the Finale of his 15 part structure as the place where “we wrap it up”; the place where “the lessons are applied . . . " The Final Image, he says, “is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”
When I left London six months ago, I was very unhappy. For financial reasons, I had been forced to leave Paris, where I had enjoyed a very happy eight years, and I was miserable being back in the city I have never liked since I first moved there 25 years ago.
I had hit 50, many friends were sick or had already died, and the recession was biting hard in the media industry, as it was (and still is) elsewhere.
Blake’s passion, energy, and support of my writing got me to LA, and in the short time I knew him I felt ensconced in his bubble; that’s the only way I can put it. I drank in every word he said, both professionally and personally, and began to regain much of the confidence I had lost in the UK.
Blake and I talked or e-mailed all the time, and when we met for lunch shortly before he died, we talked about where the “act three” of my story – the autobiographical one that is the subject of the book I am writing – might be heading.
I was expressing fear; Blake, in his eternal optimism, expressed excitement that I didn’t know. Who could have predicted this cruel twist in the narrative that, ironically, has led me into my act three, alone.
Blake spoke often of the mentor figure who, in screenplays, sometimes dies at the end of act two, the point at which the hero decides whether he or she puts the lessons learned into practice, or reverts to the place they were in before.
Over the past six months, I have learned many lessons: about people, writing, and myself. My mentor has gone, but his teachings live on, and fearful (even more so) as I am about where act three might be going, this is undoubtedly the start of it.
I feel that Blake came into my life for a reason: right time, right place. I am blessed to have known him and to have shared in his wisdom.
At the memorial, one of his writing partners, Sheldon Bull, said that we should ask ourselves whether, when we died, people would share in such an evening as we were doing for Blake. If not, he said, we were not living, and we should get out there and make some mistakes.
I don’t know what my act three holds, but of one thing I can be certain: there will be many more mistakes; and they, just like the things I learned from Blake, will be valuable lessons, too.
Nobody’s life is perfect, but despite the sadnesses, there is still enough good to make it worthwhile, and it is by our mistakes that we grow.
April 1st 2009. The day I came to LA. October 1st 2009. A new beginning, Blake. As you say in Chapter two: “The same thing . . . only different!” - thanks to you. Good-night, sweet prince.