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May 10, 2011



............. BARRY
....A screenplay guru I once made a
....pilgrimage to said, "Hollywood is
....all about Genres." Check out the
....coming soon's at any multiplex and'll see that it's true.
.........(a beat)
....So, doesn't it make sense that it's
....a good idea to have firm grasp on
....what your genre is?


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How do you take an amorphous mass of ideas and create a screen story that will grow into a successful screenplay?

One of the key steps for success is to embrace the genres of stories that fire up your imagination, the genres that have a personal visceral appeal.

Choosing the right blend of genres is vital to the success of your story and ultimately your screenplay. Genres, well understood, provide the writer with compass bearings on the style, tone, character types, themes and structure that will enrich and direct the telling of the screen story.

Knowing a genre?s typical framework and ingredients helps a writer to avoid cliché and stereotype. More importantly, knowing the genre is the only way to know how to ring the changes on the story form and create freshness in the work.

The following basic genres are defined in terms of the central struggle of the story.

"Typing" Genres is, at its worst, a prejudice, and at its best, an inexact science; nevertheless, here is my version of the basic types of movies.

The main point of this exercise is to provide a tool to understand, test, and define the different types of movies being made, and thus assist the writer to situate his or her own script in a workable combination of genres.

Note: Most Hollywood movies combine two genres in various proportions. For the screenwriter, the usefulness of knowing and defining two applicable genres when creating a screenplay resides in the benefit of greater focus, richer subplotting, and a keener sense of the audience.

Action (Disaster): Stories whose central struggle plays out mainly through a clash of physical forces: For example:

© 1998 - Warner Brothers

© Universal Pictures
.Mel Gibson, the suicidal cop  in . Lethal Weapon . Matt Damon taking his action to Russia in The Bourne Identity

48 Hours
Die Hard
Air Force One
Jurassic Park
Lethal Weapon

Return of the Jedi (also Science Fiction)
Speed (also a Thriller)
Titanic (also a Love story)
The Terminator
True Lies

Adventure: Stories whose central struggle plays out mainly through encounters with new "worlds." For example:
Apollo 13
The Deep
Get Shorty (extraordinary blend of Gangster, Love, and Crime with a twist)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (also an Action picture)
Little Big Man (Also Epic/Myth)
Lawrence of Arabia
Quest For Fire
Rain Man
Robinson Crusoe
Water World
Comedy: Stories whose central struggle causes hilarious results. For example:
Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (also Adventure??the name gives it away)
Analyze This
Annie Hall
French Kiss

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also Fantasty)My Best Friend's Wedding
Nine to Five
Shakespeare in Love
The Spy Who Shagged Me
When Harry Met Sally
Working Girl (also Love Story)

Coming-of-Age Drama: Stories whose central struggle is about the hero finding his or her place in the world: For example:

American Beauty
American Graffiti
The Breakfast Club
The Graduate
The Last Picture Show
The Lion King
My Brilliant Career
The Paper Chase

Pretty In Pink
Rebel Without a Cause
Risky Business
Saturday Night Fever
Shakespeare in Love (also Romantic Comedy)
Splendor in the Grass
Top Gun (also Action)
The Water Boy (also Comedy)

Crime: Stories whose central struggle is about catching a criminal: For example:

48 Hours
Basic Instinct
French Connection
Ghost (also Love and Thriller)

Patriot Games
Pulp Fiction (Also Black Comedy, Bends the Genre a lot))
The Sting
The Untouchables
Detective Story/Courtroom Drama: Stories whose central struggle is to find out what really happened and thus to expose the truth. For example:

Caine Mutiny
Death and the Maiden
A Few Good Men
The General's Daughter
Inherit the Wind

The Maltese Falcon
Rear Window
A Time to Kill
The Verdict

Epic/Myth: Stories whose central struggle plays out in the midst of a clash of great forces or in the sweep of great historical change.: For example:

Alexander is a movie that typifies the epic -- about a man who conquered most of the known world in his time.


© Warner Brothers

Apocalypse Now
The Birth of a Nation
Bridge on the River Kwai
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Godfather
Gone With the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
Lawrence of Arabia (also Adventure)
Star Wars
The Ten Commandments
Fantasy: Stories which are animated, or whose central struggle plays out in two worlds??the "real" world and an imaginary world. For example:
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Alice in Wonderland
Heaven Can Wait
Mary Poppins
The Mask
Peter Pan
Snow White
Toy Story
The Wizard of Oz
Who Killed Roger Rabbit?
Gangster: Stories whose central struggle is between a criminal and society. A cautionary tale, rooted in a main character who commits crimes (This genre is often blended with Film Noir). For example:
Bonnie and Clyde
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Dead End
Dead Man Walking
The Godfather (also Epic/Myth)

La Femme Nikita
Out of Sight (also Love Story)
Sling Blade
The Usual Suspects

Horror: Stories whose central struggle focuses on escaping from and eventually defeating a Monster (either human or non-human). For example:
The Blair Witch Project
Friday the Thirteenth
I Know What You Did Last Summer
It's Alive
King Kong
Nightmare on Elm Street
Love (Romance): Stories whose central struggle is between two people who each want to win or keep the love of the other. For example:

Tichard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman,
a Cinderella love story
Annie Hall
As Good As It Gets
Casablanca (also Epic/Myth)
The Graduate
It Happened One Night
Mickey Blue Eyes
Notting Hill
Pretty Woman
Roman Holiday
The Way We Were
Wuthering Heights
Science Fiction: Stories whose central struggle is generated from the technology and tools of a scientifically imaginable world. For example:
2001 A Space Odyssey
Back to the Future
Blade Runner (also Crime)
ET: The Extra Terrestrial
The Fifth Element

The Sixth Sense
Star Wars (and all the sequels or prequels)
The Terminator
Twelve Monkeys

Social Drama: Stories whose central struggle is between a Champion and a problem or injustice in society. Usually the Champion has a personal stake in the outcome of the struggle. For example:

A Civil Action
Dead Man Walking
Dr Strangelove
Grapes of Wrath
Kramer Vs Kramer

Philadelphia (also Courtroom Drama)
Schindler's List
To Kill a Mockingbird
Thriller: Stories whose central struggle pits an innocent hero against a lethal enemy who is out to kill him or her. This is a favorite genre to blend with a love story. For example:
The Net
No Way Out
North by Northwest (also Love Story)
Sleeping With the Enemy
Night of the Hunter
Three Days of the Condor
Wait Until Dark
Witness (also Love Story)

Other Types of Movies: There obviously are many other groupings that might be constructed. Discussing genres of movies might just be a way of describing the history of moviemaking?a method of grouping motion pictures for whatever convenient need arises for whatever individual or group. Without trying to define them, I?m listing here a number of other possible types.

The Art Film: Not a preferred Hollywood Type. HOWEVER??the acceleration of cheaper video-to-film technology makes this an interesting potential genre to look at for the future.

The Black Comedy: A comedy that uses death and morbid doings as the root of its humor. Surfaces regularly. Most recent incarnations, Very Bad Things and Pulp Fiction.

The Buddy Movie: Not a distinctive genre. Really describes a vehicle for two stars of relatively equal importance, although one of them is usually the main character. Redford and Newman are the most well known pairing from the recent past.

When these types of films work, they can be a cash cow for the studios; for example, the "road" films of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the wacky doings of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbot and Costello, etc. In today?s market there is probably a pent-up appetite for female pairings, witness the phenomenal success of Thelma and Louise (despite the sour "downer" ending??somebody took the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid too seriously. They should have checked out The Sting).


The Film Noir: From the standpoint of the way I prefer to define a "genre"??that is, defining the genre according to the nature of the central struggle??this type of film is more of a stylistic categorization. Even so, the typical black and light patterns, the dark shadows, the penchant for cynicism and irony, the use of the dark side of human behavior??these elements still have a potent appeal for a large segment of the moviegoing audience.

The Ghost Story: Obvious from its title, needs no definition. This type of story, popular in the past, has been somewhat supplanted by the horror genre. Interesting to us writers for its resurgence with a twist in the Demi Moore thriller Ghost. Testament to the writer?s imagination.

The Heist (or Caper): Sort of a "cross-categorization." An intricately planned theft by a group of people. Examples: Ocean?s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Great Train Robbery, and more recently, one of the genres in The Usual Suspects.

The Picaresque: An episodic string of adventures by a hero who moves from place to place. Stellar example, Tom Jones, and more recently, Forrest Gump.

Other obvious types:

The Historical Drama
The Musical
The Western

So, enough analysis of genre.
Try to settle on a mix of two genres for your story. To start with, that is. Keep the possibility open that you might be able to spice up your story with little bits of a third genre, but?proceed with caution. As an old Hollywood pro once growled at me, "More than two genres is a mess.

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