Tag Archives: genre

How Marketable is Your Film Genre?

Dancing couple

Is the Musical Dead?

Understanding the importance of the genre of your screenplay is essential in determining whether your story gets sold. The popularity of certain film genres is in a constant state of flux with regards to Hollywood studios. According to screenwriting guru, Michael Hauge, some genres are currently hard to sell. If your story concept falls within one of those, your effort to acquire seed money from a major studio, will be that much harder.

Here, then, in increasing order of acceptability, are some of the genres in question:

Musicals in the mold of Oklahoma are almost impossible to sell. Feature-Length, MTV-inspired, Flashdance type movies, however, are not.

Westerns are currently a difficult sell, unless a big name director gets behind the project, as are period films, meaning anything pre-1970s, followed by biographies, and science fiction—due to the high budgets associated with this latter genre. Here, again, the attachment of a specific director to the project can make all the difference—as The Terminator, Aliens and Avatar directed by James Cameron, have clearly proven.

Perhaps the most acceptable of these financially-jittery genres is the horror film, especially if independent financing is sought.

Of course, in stating the above, I do not mean to say that films belonging to these genres never get made; only that they are not favoured by the big studios, off the bat.

By contrast, genres representing action adventure, suspense thriller, love story, comedy, drama or any combination thereof, tends to be viewed as a strong commodity by Hollywood. If your script belongs to any of those last genres, its marketability quotient is high.

Summary

Certain genres are easier to market to studios, and independent producers, than others. Choosing a poplar genre maximises the chance of a first-time writer achieving success.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image by gnuckx
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Genre & Marketing

Masks

Genre

In his book, Story, Robert McKee states that “to anticipate the anticipations of the audience you must master genre and its conventions.”

Genre is as much a marketing tool as it is a story creation-tool. If a film or book has been correctly promoted the audience or readers approach the story with a certain expectation. In marketing jargon this is referred to as “positioning the audience”. This alleviates the danger of readers or audiences spending the first part of the story trying to find out what it’s about.

Adroit marketing taps into genre expectation. From the title, to the fonts used in the text itself on posters and in television ads, the promoters are at pains to telegraph the sort of story the audience or readers are to expect. This means that the conventions of the genre have to be adhered to. But what are some of the most important conventions?

Music, Location, Dress Code, Gadgets, Vehicles, Lighting, and Narrative Conventions

In film, music forms one such convention. Traditional love stories, for example, use a certain type of score to elicit emotions appropriate to that type of story. The mellifluous musical score for Gone with the Wind would not be appropriate for Alien, or vice versa.

Location is another important convention. Westerns use the untamed countryside as part of the backdrop, while science fiction films include high-tech interiors such as spaceships or futuristic exteriors and interiors to convey mood and a sense of otherworldliness.

Clothes, gadgets, and vehicles, and lighting, are further clues to identifying genre. Who can forget the white high-tech armor of Star Wars‘ Storm Troopers, the Jedi Light Sabers, or the hi-flying cars and taxis in The Fifth Element and Minority Report? In terms of lighting, Film Noir, for example, utilises a stark chiaroscuro style to dramatise seedy streets, alleys, rain-coat wearing detectives, and the femme fatale.

But beyond the physical elements, narrative conventions also apply. Sad or tragic endings form part of the narrative tradition of tragedies such as Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet, while “up endings” are traditionally associated with comedies and musicals, although exception do occur, as in Evita.

Things get interesting when genres mix, as in Blade Runner, which utilises conventions from film noir and science fiction. Indeed, the mixing of genres presents writers with the biggest opportunity for dressing up old stories in new clothes. Done well, the result is a tale that draws on tradition and novelty to produce narrative that is fresh and rooted in verisimilitude.

Summary

Genre is both a creative tool helping writers shape their stories based on what has gone before, and a marketing tool used by marketers to tell audiences what to expect in a film or novel. Understanding genre conventions allows us to use them effectively to create new and interesting combinations that are fresh and engaging.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Understanding Genre

Genre

Genre

Genre is a paradigm of shared characteristics conspiring to create a pliable mould that informs the work being poured into it. For a writer, it is a recipe for creating a story based on commonalities. I say commonalities, because stories within a certain genre, say, the Western, contain a number of shared elements, such as characters packing six-guns, riding horses, and drinking in saloons. Location, dress, props, and time period are important indicators of genre. Science fiction stories, for example might entail the use of non-existing gadgets, exotic creatures in equally exotic apparel, and perhaps other worldly locations, or at least, transformed or foreign spaces. I say ‘might’ and ‘pliable’, because none of these characteristics are set in stone. In the Science Fiction Western, Cowboys and Aliens, for example, alien spaceships and cowboys are juxtaposed unexpectedly, dispensing with a typical requirement for a futuristic time-line.

Genres Evolve

The evolution of genre, much like genetic evolution, involves successful stories passing on their genetic code – their characteristics, to future generations. But because there is a requirement of novelty or originality, the code is never exactly the same, but contains new inflections, which, if successful, are added to the existing genre and passed on to the next iteration. We see this evolution in the Western Hero, for example, where the protagonist of old, played by the likes of John Wayne, goes from being a tough but straight-laced man representing conservative values, to the ambivalent and racist Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, and finally, to the unequivocal anti-hero of Clint Eastwood’s William Munny in Unforgiven – a man with a violent past, a killer of women and children, who, nonetheless, expresses love for his dead wife, and whom we root for by the end of the film.

Mixing Genres

Things become at once more exciting and complicated when we mix Genres. Certain mixtures are common – Action/Comedy films such as Bad Boys, or Crime/Love Stories such as Out of Sight. Some mixtures are even more exotic, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a Musical/Comedy/Horror/Science Fiction/Love Story that was concocted decades ago, yet still remains fresh.

The purpose of genre, then, is to guide the expectations of audiences and readers, as much as writers, by referencing past stories of similar ilk. Genre helps audiences and readers choose a story as much as it helps inform the story itself. Good stories inject new and unexpected elements, which help to keep the material fresh.

Summary

Genres are a groups of shared characteristics that survive form story to story – albeit with new elements and variations that are intended to keep the material fresh. Genres not only assist the reader or audience in selecting which stories to consume, they also provide the writer with a blue-print to emulate, extend, and adapt.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Plot and Subplot: Several Strands, One Yarn

Image of yarn

Many Strands, One Yarn

We know that plot and subplot form the basis of all stories. What may be somewhat less obvious, however, is the precise relationship that exists between the two. How are these narrative elements knitted together, and what patterns do they form in stories? It may be useful to answer these questions in the following way: If plot is primarily concerned with the outer journey — the protagonist’s pursuit of the goal, the subplot(s) supports this journey by exploring its motivation, whether it concerns love, hate, generosity, revenge, or the like, and additionally tends to highlight theme, symbol, and the moral framework of the tale — the inner journey. In a finely crafted story, plot and subplot are woven together into a seamless whole.

The Role of Genre

Action-driven stories tend to spend more time on plot, although subplot is never ignored. Even frenetically paced films like Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol contain scenes which explore material centered on emotional content: Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), for example, is wracked with guilt over having failed to protect Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) wife from being killed in Budapest. This frames many of his actions and his refusal to remain with the team at the film’s conclusion. We later learn that Hunt’s wife is very much alive and that Hunt has known this all along but has kept it secret in order to protect her. This sort of inner layering forms part of the story’s subplot.

The Piano

Art-cinema inflected films, by contrast, tend to emphasize subplot over plot. In The Piano, for example, the plot, involves Ada’s (Holly Hunter) attempt to get back her piano and thus regain her “voice” and self-expression. The new owner of the piano, George Baines (Harvey Keitel), who is obsessed with Ada, promises to returns the instrument to her in exchange for piano lessons and sex. This thread of lust, obsession, and Ada’s own awakening sexual passion, overshadows the plot, primarily because the action is diminutive in comparison to the spectacle found in Action/Adventure films. By contrast, it is the subplot that contains the large and tempestuous emotions that drive the story forward.

Retaining Plot Prominence

In some genres, such as the conventional Love Story, plot and subplot may even occasionally appear to merge, becoming difficult to pry apart. Here, the “love” thread, which typically provides part of the protagonist’s inner motivation/subplot in the Action/Adventure genres, now becomes the outer goal (plot), itself. This genre typically centers around the attempt of lovers to get/stay together despite mounting obstacles. Strengthening the outer obstacles may prevent the subplot from usurping the role of the plot.

In Summary

The normal function of the subplot(s) is to support, motivate, and highlight the inner concerns of the plot by exploring the relationships and emotions of the protagonist and other characters through one or several story strands. Occasionally, and depending on genre, subplots appear to usurp the plot.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

What is “Tone” in Story-Telling?

This post come about as a result of a suggestion by Mark Landen, a regular contributor to this blog, that I say something about tone in story-telling, and its impact on narrative elements such as theme and plot.

First, a brief definition: By “tone” (or the slightly more imprecise, “mood”), I mean the moral, ethical, and aesthetic attitude the writer/narrator adopts towards her material in narrating it. Tone can be satirical, comic, serious, or tragic. It is no coincidence that a description of tone corresponds to the overarching genre in story-telling; it is genre, more that setting, plot, or theme, that determines a story’s tone by inflecting the aforementioned elements. Hence, a similar setting in a musical such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show or a classical horror such as Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) can produce a disparate mood of levity and dread respectively, precisely because it is modulated by a difference in genre.

Theme

Does tone help to determine the theme of a story? The short answer is: not necessarily. If we take theme to be the (moral) lesson delivered at the end of the story as a result of the final conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, then it is clear that a musical or a comefy can produce as viable, serious, and independent a theme as drama, or tragedy. In this sense, theme tends to be a universal and etherial ordering element, floating above the specific textural concerns of genre.

Plot

What about plot? Here again, at the most quintessential level, tonal elements are not fashioned by plot itself, but by genre: The exploration of the going-on at Frankenstein’s castle, for example, may receive a traditional horror treatment, or may be rendered comedic or satirical, as in a musical, giving rise to a different emotional experience. Again, it is genre, not plot, that creates the tonality of the story.

In Summary

Although tone is deeply rooted in the generic demands of the tale, it is inflected by the writer’s moral, ethical, and aesthetic attitude towards her story and her method of narrating it.

If you’ve enjoyed this post or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting.

I post every Monday.