Genre. Defined by screenwriters’ salvation Answers.com as “a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form or content.”
The operative words here then?
Category is pretty self-explanatory; it’s the label we afford the types of film that we write. Sci Fi (sorry Good Dog, SF); horror; comedy; romance; drama; thriller; supernatural and countless others. Then there are the genre hybrids – favourites being romantic-comedy, supernatural thriller/horror, horror-comedy. In addition, there are what I call “splinter genres”: examples include the slasher-pic (loner kills everyone, preferably in the woods whilst wearing a mask for an indiscernible reason, yawn, we don’t care, let’s see some guts ripped out with fish hooks); Frat Pack comedies (Ben Stiller and Vince Vaugn in the same movie for the same reasons with some fart jokes and maybe a gross-out sex scene) and maybe the slapstick Rom-Com which has someone like the yummy Ryan Reynolds in, for no other reason than he has good cominc timing and great pecs). Then there are genres that have created themselves over time, because audiences seem to demand it: the teen “body swap” movie is an obvious example, but then parody is another for things like SCARY MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE et al which *possibly* seem more funny to those people who aren’t screenwriters.
Style then is the point of your script. Whilst a film gets the thumbs-down if it copies everything that’s gone before it, there ARE certain things an audience expects when it goes to see, say, a horror movie. You don’t expect fluffy bunnies on a picnic, let’s just put it that way. You want vampires, big monsters, women screaming and/or with big guns (possibly scantily clad? I’m looking at YOU James Moran), excessive blood and yes, guts pulled out with fish hooks. Why not? If you can’t kill a few people on a beer-infested saturday night via the medium of DVD or Cinema, it’s a poor do!
Defining Form and Content is when it starts to get tricky then. According to Wikipedia, “Form is supposed to cover the shape and structure of the work; content its substance, meaning, ideas, or expressive effects.” This is an interesting definition: does it always work out this way? The very fact the word “supposed” is included, even in a Wikipedia definition, suggests that this is not 100% concrete. After all, many genres *appear* to mistake Form for Content in my opinion – and that’s just the produced movies. Considering a film like UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, I am loathe to think there is a real sense of content; for me, it was more Category, Style and Form, almost as if someone woke up one day and said: “You know what would be cool? A Werewolf/Vampire hybrid” to which someone else replies: “That would be cool. What’s the story?”…”Pardon?” The other screenwriter replies, confused…
Before you Werewolf/Vampire lovers lynch me like the dog I am then, I should point out: I love the idea of a Werewolf/Vampire hybrid. Yet UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION just does not do it for me. Sure there’s the story of those two brothers, one bitten by bat, the other by wolf and then there’s that cool Vampire Librarian with the werewolf watchdogs and yes, there was even a sex scene, always a bonus in my book, but something about that Content just didn’t work for me. It looked cool. I got a little bit excited about all the fighting and the leather. Kate Beckinsale is hot. Ticks all the boxes there, hell yeah. But that content (its story in essence), does not engage me.
Form and Content are often overlooked in my opinion not just by those “big” produced movies, but new writers too. Sometimes a writer is so taken up by the “feel” of their piece, their arena, the audience expectations and so on, that concept is assigned barely any house room. Yet therein lies the problem. Form and Content can turn an idea around. Take 28 DAYS LATER and compare it with RESIDENT EVIL. Both are about mutated-style viruses that turn its victims into vicious monsters. Both its protagonists’ groups are trapped – one lot underground, the other on The British Isles. Both have to deal with far worse than just Zombies: one an apocalypse of mankind, the other (it already having happened), the degeneration of humankind into barbarism and rape. They could, still, be the same the movie. Yet it’s their Form and Content that differ. Resident Evil is packed to the rafters with cool-sounding marines with attitude; they have huge firepower and a big computer, the spookily-named Red Queen, is involved. 28 Days Later follows the fates of a bunch of stragglers, holding on to their wits and their lives by a mix of chance and sheer bloody-mindedness. At the end of the day: one is typical Hollywood: big gore and effects, the other a typical Brit Film – focusing on the minutaie of life and those human moments behind the big, apocalyptic big events: no saving the world or even Private Ryan here… Save yourself and piss off. Sir!
Content is important, but so is Form. I see a lot of ideas that are great, yet its Form is under-developed; similarly, I read a lot of scripts where the Form is fabulous, yet I’ve seen its content before. I can say this with some authority, because this past week, I’ve managed to practice BOTH ends of the scale with rubbish results. My first idea for 25 WOL was crap, but its Form was fine; the exact opposite can be said for the second idea.
It’s harder than it sounds, writing a genre you’ve never attempted before. Whilst I know what goes into SF (I like SF even!), for some reason I cannot summon the enthusiasm to create that “magic 4″ of Category, Style, Form and Content. Something always falls down and undermines my story. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t do SF dah-link. I’m no good at it. I recognise my short-comings: I feel free, I can go into my circle of light, blah-blah-blah. I’ve re-written my 25 WOL as the other brief, The Teen Hitchcock, with its “thematic concerns of suspense and voyeurism”. And you know what? I feel so much better.
Which genre is hardest for you to write? Spill…