Jaci Stephen: 'I celebrate his life, not with a drink, but by doing the work he encouraged'

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

Readers of this column will be familiar with the name of screenwriter Blake Snyder. It was through his encouragement that I first came to LA, having sent him the title and log line for my budding screenplay, Celebrity Stalker, in response to which I received the most encouraging email.

I subsequently signed up to Blake's Beats course, and it was the start of a friendship that would see me end up living here and pursuing my dream of being what I called a "real writer".

Blake died suddenly last week. I found out on Facebook, where I daily looked at his profile to see how many more inspiring stories there were from the people across the world whom he had helped in their screenwriting struggles. His passion and enthusiasm for what he did never faltered, and everyone who came into contact with him became the beneficiary of that.

He is described by those in the industry as "Hollywood's most successful spec screenwriter". He sold scripts in their dozens, including Blank Check and Nuclear Family, which was bought by Steven Spielberg.

But it was his first book, Save the Cat! of which he told me he was most proud. Delivering lectures and conducting seminars around the world, it was his wish simply to pass on what he had learned from others and he did so with passion, wit and charm.

From my first contact with Blake in May 2008, he taught me many things. In terms of writing (of any kind), I discovered that a solid structure gave more, not less freedom, for creativity to flourish. I learned that you don't have to stay on the treadmill of suffering for your art: that writing should be fun. And the most important lesson of all he taught was that you should never, ever stop wanting to know more.

He also taught me many life skills. He was human and had his flaws like the rest of us, but he was full of compassion and love for his fellow men and saw the good in everyone he met.

When we had lunch two weeks ago, I remarked that although we had known each other just five months, a lot had happened: I was living in LA, for starters. It was a move he had positively encouraged and continued to support as I struggled through some very bleak moments.

None of us here can believe he is gone, but we feel blessed that our lives had been touched, briefly or otherwise, by this giving, wonderful man.

Facebook and his own website are full of tributes, and what comes through in all of them is Blake's goodness, kindness, and ability to embrace people who reached out, both professionally and personally. He had that rarest of things: the gift of spirit.

Mine is not the only heart aching. In his screenplay structure, Blake would call it the All Is Lost moment that precedes Dark Night of the Soul. But then comes "act three", the finale, when the hero decides whether he/she puts into action the lessons learned in acts one and two. The final image, he says, is "the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred and that it's real".

The image of my life now, compared to before Blake came into it, is very much the opposite of what it was, and I have him and the things he brought to it to thank for that.

I will enter my own act three armed with his wisdom and continue to celebrate his life, not with a drink (he encouraged me so much in my efforts to knock that on the head, too) but by doing the work he constantly told me would bring success; and it will always be with immense gratitude and love that I remember him.

In Save the Cat! he says of the moment when you finally drop your script into the mailbox: "It is what it is." The suddenness of his death, too, is what it is.

Quite how we will all move on without him is too early to say; but we will – and he will be with us in so many ways.

I told him over our last lunch that for me, everlasting life was about the things we left behind – the laughter, the ideas, the insight, the love – and that it was this, rather than any notion of God, that gave me great joy.

There's been no joy this past week, and the Dark Night of the Soul looks never-ending. But he will live on: as son, brother, colleague, friend and teacher. Eternally.

To read Jaci Stephen's blog LA Not So Confidential in full, go to lanotsoconfidential.blogspot.com