The word “genre” essentially means “category”, so going on this basis alone, the notion of “drama” makes it a genre. However, the key here is not so much in the LITERAL words “drama” or “genre” but how the industry uses them.
Genre film generally describes *those* categories like Horror, Thriller, Comedy, Action, Science Fiction – and their many cross-genres (Rom-Com, Horror-Comedy) or sub-genres (slasher horror, creature feature, body swap comedy and the many, many others). Genre film is event-driven with high stakes; stylised storytelling; larger than life; often highly commercial with large audience appeal. Genre film is highly conventional, with many “expected” elements to it (ie. Final Girl, the Best Friend/Mentor, explosions, etc) but with enough surprises that it does not turn into “tick the box” screenwriting.
In contrast then, “drama” encapsulates just about everything else that’s NOT the above. Drama films are frequently about the minutaie of life such as the private moments or tragedies of relationships between individuals; drama films are often highly personal and very emotional. Often dramas are for niche audiences, though of course many award-winning films (particularly Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes) are dramas, though critical acclaim is not always indicative of commercial success. Crucially, many dramas are producer-led, particularly when it comes to true stories and adaptations.
It’s important to note NEITHER drama or genre is “better” than the other; both have their challenges. A good genre film is MUCH harder than it looks and a satisfying drama is difficult to achieve without alienating your audience.
The biggest difference however between drama and genre at the moment is the market-place. In short, genre sells better than drama. That’s just a fact. Of course the market-place is subject to change, so this may turn on its head in the next few years. Certainly the unexpected commercial success of British films like THE KING’S SPEECH may have broken the ground for this, though we’ll just have to wait and see.
Summing up then, next time you hear
“Genre” – think, “BIG stories; event-driven with high stakes; stylised storytelling; larger than life; often highly commercial with large audience appeal.“
“Drama” – think, “SMALL stories; individuals; relationships; private moments; tragedies; relationships; personal; emotional; typically niche audience”
‘Cos you can bet your bottom dollar that’s how the industry person you want to target sees them.
Aren’t *All* Movies “Character-Led”? The difference between characters in dramas and genre movies
Writing Genre – a case study
The Required Reading List – check out the Genre section
Don’t forget this blog has a labels section for “drama” and “genre” too – click on the bottom of the posts for them!
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