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Approaching Genre & Subgenre in your Scripts

A little bit about Genre

Genres pretty much define anything from the type of writer you are to the way your characters speak. You’ve a message to write, and genre determines the way in which your message is delivered.

After all, what you do with genre is create a niche which ultimately determines your audience; you’ve got your Western buffs, your Tarantino fanatics, your drama queens, the J-horror aficionados and your rom-com devotees. But whether you’re a noir intellectual who likes to sip warm wine and compare Kafka’s Village Schoolmaster to Haneke’s White Ribbon, or you’re just in it for Borat’s snappy but catchy one-liners, everyone’s tastes fit into a specific genre.

As a scriptwriter, when you begin to break down genre like this, you’ll see that it goes a long way in terms of it defining your characters and settings. You’re obviously going to need dusty towns for a Western or a futuristic spaceship for a dystopian. And let’s face it, a sociopath with a tangent for spilling blood isn’t going to be popping up in the Love Actually sequel anytime soon… and with good reason. We choose different genres because we like to fit films into boxes. We like to be amused, or horrified, or ultimately saddened. It’s how we categorize entertainment, and how we cope with the emotions they inspire.

 

So how do you categorize your script?

This first part’s easy. Even if you’re on the initial story stage, you can pretty much break down your script into one category, even if you’ve only developed your main characters. Do your main characters share undeniable chemistry? You might be leaning towards a romantic journey of self-discovery. But then let’s take a step further. Is it set in harsh Victorian times and there’s a social imbalance between the pair, making it a drama? Or are your characters fighting for their survival and have no time for romance?

Do you want to make your audience laugh? Do you want to pull a Stephen King and do nothing but inspire horror? Defining your script is also about the emotions you want your audience to experience.

There are so many twists and turns that influence the way you choose your genre, so the best advice is to simply experiment, and most importantly of all, don’t chase trends and fads just because they’re all the rage in that moment, but write the sort of thing you like to watch, regardless of popularity. If you do this, you’ll unconsciously be gathering enough research to know what works and what doesn’t (yep, watching the films you enjoy is legitimate research, I promise).

This doesn’t mean that you have to feel pigeonholed as a writer, but it is a smart move to determine one you like and write lots and lots of pieces in that specific genre. This is because practice makes perfect, and there are lots of different elements and story beats you need to know before you can dominate any one kind.

Which story beats fit which genre?

Genre establishes mood. Tone. Style. It’s a selling tool for studios and determines the demographics of the film’s audience. Knowing which genre you’re writing in will also help sell your script or acquire funding because it’s the first thing you’ll need to include in your synopsis, logline or elevator pitch. It immediately helps set the most important scene about your film’s setting and even helps shed light on what sort of budget you’ll be requiring. It is vital.

Down below we’ve helped outline the most common genres, and some of their unconventional sub genres, alongside a list of examples to help you visualise. Whether yours is a noir film, psychological thriller or a western sci-fi, there are certain elements you’ll want to include.

Drama

Dramas rely on exploring real-life issues through realistic and flawed characters, triggering an emotional response in the audience. If you’ve chosen drama, you’ll need to incorporate the ability to tell an honest story of human struggle and perseverance. When developing your character arc, you’ll need to take this into account.

Drama Subgenres:

Biography (Gandhi, the Sea Inside)

Courtroom (Erin Brockovich, 12 Angry Men)

Dramady (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, It’s Kind of a Funny Story)

Historical (Schindler’s List, The King’s Speech)

Melodrama (Brief Encounter)

Period Piece (Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice)

Political (The Ides of March)

Romance (Brokeback Mountain)

Tragedy (Titanic)

Comedy

Comedy films are designed to make the audience laugh, using humour as its staple. An element you’ll need to include in script-writing is reversing the audience’s expectations, by creating scenarios that are the opposite of what they think will happen.

By subverting expectations with amusing–and often ridiculous–situations, the audience will find the humour.

Comedy Subgenres:

Action (Hot Fuzz, 21 Jump Street)

Black-Dark (Burn after Reading)

Parody/Spoof (Scary Movie, Austin Powers)

Rom-Com (Bridget Jones’s Diary)

Slapstick (The Jerk)

Action

Action films are designed to represent the spirit of physical action through chases, stunts, fights, battles and races. In the action genre, the protagonist will find it incredibly difficult to achieve his or her goal, as the action makes up the bulk of the stakes.

Action subgenres:

Adventure (Indiana Jones, The Mummy)

War (Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan)

Disaster Film (Deep Impact, The Day after Tomorrow)

Science Fiction  

Sci-fi films need several elements to make them work, but most importantly you’ll need an advanced, authentic universe, one that is supported by technology and science combined. Science fiction will explore how this world affects the protagonists’ lives.

Science Fiction subgenres:

Fantasy (Blade Runner, The Hunger Games)

Alien (Alien, Prometheus)

Apocalyptic (The Road)

Dystopian (Brave New World)

Time-Travel (Back to the Future)

Horror  

Horror depends on stimulating fear in the audience, so if you’re writing a horror script, make sure to exploit people’s fear of the unknown. The antagonist will often represent protagonists’ fears. You’ll also need to include suspense and the surprise factor. Think about horror films you’ve watched, and how the pacing is often slow before it reaches its climax for maximum impact.

Horror Subgenres:

Comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Gremlins)

Teen (Scream, I know what you did last summer)

Monster (Jaws, Cloverfield)

Slasher (Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Supernatural (Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring)

Zombie (28 Days Later)

Thriller

Thrillers aim to keep the audience on the edge of their seats by intertwining suspense and tension into the plotline. If you’re going to write a thriller, you’ll need to focus entirely on plot and your character will be proactive, working to unravel the mysteries of the thriller.

Thriller Subgenres:

Action (The Departed)

Film-Noir (Pulp Fiction)

Psychological (Memento, Shutter Island)

Crime/Heist

Crimes are all about focussing on the antagonist and the makings of a criminal. If you’re writing a crime film, you’ll need to have a real psychological passion for understanding the inner workings of a criminal mastermind.

Crime Subgenres:

Mob/Gangsters (The Godfather)

Neo-Noir (Mulholland Drive)

Crime-Thriller (No Country for Old Men)

Western

Western films portray fictional life in Western settings, and will often explore the lives of cowboys. Main elements will include horseback races, gun shootings, train robberies and sheriffs.

Western Subgenres:

Contemporary (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Revisionist (Dances with Wolves)

Spaghetti (For a few dollars more)

 

This doesn’t mean you need to religiously stick to one genre or the other. You can be original and start mixing genres to make your very own hybrid–like HBO’s Westworld, for example, a series that mixes contemporary science fiction within a classic Western setting, by making this setting a virtual game. Whatever you choose, however, just be aware of your genre requisites when it comes to character arcs and setting, particularly as they all form part of an effective selling tool.

 

The Director’s Statement: What to Write

So you’ve been asked to write a director’s statement. First off, know that director statements are very specific parts of any proposal, and must reflect the very best of your film.

But what exactly is a director’s statement?

Where a screenwriter might be asked to provide a synopsis for the script so that interested parties can gain a better understanding into the writer’s mind, a director might be asked for a written proposal of his vision for a film. It’s the director’s interpretation of the script, and the leading tool in its production.

This could include the technical aspects of a film, such as framing and focus, as well as the practical ones–i.e. the film’s budget. But it’s not as daunting as it sounds, and is actually quite fun to write.

Who reads it, and why?

So who asks for a director’s statement? Well, it depends. If your film has not yet been made, and consists only of the writer’s script, you could be applying for funds or grants from funding bodies to cover your proposed film budget. Perhaps you’re kickstarting a campaign for the same reason. Or maybe you’re submitting your project idea to a competition.

Whatever the case you’ll probably have been asked for a director’s statement. Sometimes directors even use a statement to send to their cast, just to get them in a similar mindset. Mostly, this is to give people the information as to how, as a director, you plan to make the scriptwriter’s idea come alive.

If, on the other hand, your film has already been made, and you’re pushing it into a festival run, your statement might be needed for one of two reasons. One, so that parts of it (such as synopsis, logline or your objective as a director) might be included as part of your film’s summary, or two, it might be used as part of a press pack, so say that your film was a runner up/winner, you wouldn’t need to be as thoroughly interviewed a you would have been had reporting bodies not been sent your statement already. They could report on your film using your statement as a reliable source.

How long does it have to be?

Usually no longer than one side of A4. It needs to be brief and to the point. Remember, the statement is used as reference, and people won’t want to skim through an entire essay. So make sure not to go over the required word count, especially if specifically stated in the guidelines you’re adhering to, which are usually strict about length/word count. Here your summary skills will be called onto, as information is key.

What goes inside?

  • Story

It’s always good to set up the premise of your film.

What is the story about? Here you can give away the main synopsis in a few sentences. You can talk about your main character, his or her dilemma, and the stakes of your story.

Also, What genre does it belong to? And the time period? Is it a modern-day horror? A fantasy-adventure film set in the desert? A mystery thriller neo-noir film that makes you feel just a little bit sick to the stomach? (That’s looking at you, Oldboy)

You can also talk about the film’s genesis. To what do you owe the idea’s origins and why do you identify with it?

  • Themes

What is the main theme of your film? Every film has got one, so think carefully! Even if you’re not sure, this is a good time to read through the script again with a critical eye. Are you going to be representing loneliness? Exploring an existential dilemma? Is it a man versus nature epic? Are you weaving a tale of revenge?

There will probably be a lot more underlying themes in your film, and these make up the subtext section of your project. You don’t have to touch on them all! Just the ones you think relevant.

  • Vision

As a director, you’ll have thought about the visual style, the aesthetics your film will adopt, and the visual choices you make that will complement the scriptwriter’s theme.

This can include anything from editing choices to production design, but whatever you include, make sure it stands out. What are your colour choices? Do the colours you’re going to use represent the themes you’re trying to evoke to the audience? So cold colours (greys, blues) to evoke isolation or warm tones for an idyllic feel? Will they match actors’ costumes?

Talk about your framing and focus, how you’re going to film, what mood or special effects you want to use, really anything visually important you want to include to show your project’s unique voice. This could also be technical difficulties you expect to or have faced throughout production.

  • Purpose

If you’re writing this in application of funding, it can’t hurt for you to write what exact purpose you want the funding for. Do you already have a budget that lays out each expenditure you’ll need? You could give a quick overview as to what purpose your funding will serve. Is it for equipment, actors, festivals or specific on set locations?

Also, why as a director, do you want to do this? Is it to raise awareness on an issue? Do you want to have a social impact? How will your story affect other people?

Again, this is all up to you, it’s the director’s vision, and everyone is unique in their own way. It’s your time to shed a light on the way you want to work and how you want to achieve your passion.

The director’s vision complements the writer’s script in a way that it become the script’s progression. It’s the next step towards the production of a film, the director’s blueprint, a map of sorts that can serve as a guideline for multiple reasons.  And only the director’s statement can really let people know exactly how the script will be transferred from page to screen.

Your vision, if it’s been well thought out and thoroughly developed, will separate you from the competition and shine a spotlight on your potential. Remember, it’s the way a film is told that makes the story unique.

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Submit your film today and come join us at our networking event. Watch works from fellow professionals, meet peers, chat, exchange details, collaborate and most of all, have fun!

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