Screenwriters and filmmakers need to prioritise understanding genre. It’s become of crucial importance in today’s crowded film marketplace. Thousands of new films are created each year and yet only a portion of them make it to online distribution platforms and fewer still to cinemas.
Genre is something that has been part of storytelling since Aristotle came up with the concept of happy or sad endings. Developed further, modern storytellers use the tool of genre for these specific reasons:
Genre’s Importance To Screenwriters And Filmmakers
1. Genre’s importance to finding your audience
When your film is finished the future of your blood sweat and tears rests with the marketing department. Their job is to attach an audience to your film as quickly and cheaply as possible. Genre really helps with that. For example, The Godfather and Goodfellas were both gangster crime movies set in New York. Although the stories are different, the tone and setting are similar and will appeal to a certain audience segment.
An audience for a rom-com early on a Friday night is likely different than one for a slasher/thriller running in the midnight madness slot.
It might be tempting to use the tool of genre to turn out film after film following the genre formula. Many filmmakers take the basic tools of genre and then twist them on their head, for example, Judd Apatow. He’s a writer/director/producer. Two of his films I admire are Super Bad and Knocked Up. Both are twisted versions of the romantic comedy genre except they are heightened and distorted through risqué storylines and an alternative view on the characters.
3.Genre’s importance to film producers
Genre is basically a formula for success when trying to draw an audience or to win an award.
For example, Sci-fi films rarely win awards, but they do draw in large audiences. Award winners tend to be large sweeping historical melodramas or ‘Oscar-bait’.
Producers recognise genre’s importance when deciding what type of picture to make and the reasoning behind it.
4.Genre’s importance to screenwriters
Screenwriters love genre because it’s like a secret recipe book that tells one what is possible or not. For example, you’d hardly find aliens in a movie like Twelve Years A Slave. You do find aliens in the wild west in Cowboys Vs Aliens – where Jon Favreau took our expectations of the wild west and bent it inside out.
5.Genre is about repetition
Just like a cadence in music, repetition in movies is one way we recognise a genre. We watch a western and expect the clothing and setting to be similar from one western to the next, for example.
6. Directing styles vary from genre to genre
Simon Hunter is a highly experienced commercials director with three feature films under his belt. His success is largely because he understands the differences between the performances of actors from genre type to genre.
I shared offices with Simon in the early years of Raindance. On long weekends the local video store would have a ‘rent three take five’ offer. Simon would come back on Tuesday morning having watched and re-watched these five movies until he knew them shot by shot.
He told me that the difference between acting for horror and acting for rom-com was this: In horror, the camera was usually in tight on the actor’s face, while in comedy the frame was usually medium shot. Another interesting use of genre in filmmaking – this time from a technical point of view.
Simon teaches film directing courses at Raindance.
Randall Will teaches Mastering Genre at Raindance