Thoughts on Genre

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Thoughts on Genre

First as a development executive, and then as a manager, it was my job to find, develop, and shop screenplays. In the course of those experiences, it swiftly became apparent that the scripts that had the easiest time getting traction were those that were driven by a big, clear genre, and were just as clearly working to deliver the goods of that genre.

Simply put, a comedy should be funny, a horror project should be scary, a thriller thrilling, an action script needs action, and so on.

For example, if a script is intended to be shopped as a comedy, it should have a funny set-up; it should be working to be as funny as possible as often as possible; it should have comedic set pieces. Even if the reader doesn’t laugh at a given beat, the script should be clearly trying to make the reader/audience laugh. That is: the script is delivering the comedy goods.

Yes – scripts can and should have a tonal mix. For example, a horror or thriller spec can have lighter moments to break the tension, and a comedy project can be funny while being underpinned by dramatic character development. But the script should have a clear overall genre in the forefront.

Doing so helps creatively and commercially. Creatively: A clear, strong genre gives the writer direction in shaping the material. Again looking at comedy, we can constantly look at any given page, scene, or beat and ask, “Is this funny? Can it be funny? Can it be funnier? What’s the choices that delivers the laugh?”

Commercially: When the audience goes to the theater, they’re looking at the marquee and the one-sheets and deciding which movie to watch. The movies that offer a clear genre can sway that choice.

That is: someone who wants to see a comedy will pick the movie that looks like it might be funny. And then if the movie delivers the goods – i.e. it’s funny – then that movie-goer in turn tells their friends and family about the funny movie they saw, driving word-of-mouth.

When it comes to hustling scripts, the same rules apply. Executives and producers with a certain mandate will angle toward projects that are driven by genres that fit their needs and deliver the goods. Someone who is working for a company that is focused on horror will look for horror specs, for example.

And word-of-mouth applies to executives and producers, as well. Everyone talks. “Did you read XYZ Script? It’s really scary.” “I just read a really funny script; I’ll send it to you.” This is how scripts get traction behind the scenes.

So, when working on a script, first ask: What will the audience get if they buy a ticket to see this movie? Laughs? Scares? Thrills?

Then ask: Is the script delivering the genre goods? If the audience bought a ticket to get laughs, are they getting as many laughs as the script can give them? Apply this thinking to every script in every genre. 

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