In this article, I want to talk about genre. I believe it’s commonly overlooked by new writers and often leads to scripts that aren’t commercially viable, and even if they have a strong concept or story, they aren’t executed in a way that makes it easy to sell, or even digest as a reader. Moreover, new writers tend to write scripts that combine genres in a way that makes their story miss both. Combing genres is VERY HARD TO DO, but we will also look at examples of how they are done well.
To start, does your script easily fit in ONE genre? Yes, it may have elements of other genres – your dramatic story has some funny moments, jokes, or comedy – but is it first and foremost a drama? Yes, your adventure feature has a scary sequence where the protagonist is in mortal danger, but does it hit all the beats of a classic adventure story: call to adventure, refusal of the call, trials and tribulations, the inner cave, whiff of death, the journey home…
Far too often, I read scripts from new writers that try to be too many things, and the most common mistake I see is dramedy. I cringe when I see or hear someone describe their script as a dramedy, because it almost certainly means they aren’t doing either genre well enough. The stakes of the story aren’t big enough because of all the jokes, or the jokes aren’t landing because the situation is too dramatic. I promise, you will benefit more from sticking to ONE genre, than trying to write in two genres.
BUT, it’s possible. So, for fun, let’s look at some movies and tv shows that pull off genre-mashing:
THE GREAT (dramedy) – In my opinion, this is the greatest achievement of a dramedy in the last five years. Written by Tony McNamara, the show is impossibly funny, while also being deadly serious with literal life or death stakes. Almost all of the comedy is character driven (very few jokes, or bits), and the central story engine of the series is a coup to overthrow the government, where everyone will be killed if they fail. SO GOOD.
KNIVES OUT (thriller/suspense/comedy) – Written by Rain Johnson. Honestly, what the hell? How did he do that? Again, mostly character driven comedy, but the entire story is a murder mystery. I cannot explain how Rain was able to keep the audience in suspense and also laughing at the same time. Masterclass. Head scratching brilliance.
HOT FUZZ (action/comedy) – Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. This movie is surprisingly tense and scary, with a well-constructed murder mystery, but is constantly pushing jokes, some character driven, almost slap-stick comedy moments, with a very high joke-per-page count as well. A triumph in genre-mashing, not easily done.
THE SIXTH SENSE (horror/drama) – Written by M. Night Shyamalan. Easily one of the most iconic horror films of all time, with some heart-stopping scares, but if you go back and watch it, the movie is much more of a heart-felt drama than a true horror film. Yes, it has jump scares, and ghosts, and dead people hanging in hallways, but at its core, the film is about a little boy helping a lost ghost find peace in the after-life, and it’s a beautiful, dramatic story.
- What’s our takeaway here? Yes, genre-mashing can be done. But it’s very hard, and I would argue it fails WAY more often than it succeeds. I have read countless scripts that attempt to combine two genres and it typically creates a script that isn’t marketable. Be mindful of what genre your script lives in, and don’t stray too far from it.
Can you think of other examples of movies that genre-mash well, or ones that fail at it? Comment below! I’ll read it and reply!