a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, October 09, 2006

Not Fitting Into the Genre Box

When I submitted my Nicholl semi script to the competition, I had to identify the genre of the script, so that if it made the cut, and qualified for inclusion on the list being sent out to agents/managers/producers, the genre would be on it. Happily, it all happened.

The problem is that, as I've written in the past, the script is a mutt.

It's a character drama. It's a road movie. It's a hunting-a-serial-killer tale. It's not really a thriller, though there are some thriller moments. It's sort of action, but there aren't really any big action setpieces. It's sort of a mystery, but not really. There's a love story in the middle of it.

Most crucially, the main character, an 18-year-old girl, has a psychic power.

It works for what it is... but what is it?

So I don't even remember what my process was, but for some unknown reason, when I submitted the script, what I wrote in the genre line was "Fantasy Action Romance".

If nothing else, it sort of captures the fact that it's different.

But it doesn't really capture the script. And the first call I got about it was from a guy who was picturing The Princess Bride.

It's nowhere near The Princess Bride.

The tricky thing is that genre words have connotations. When you think Fantasy, it's sort of otherworldly. Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Willow, The Princess Bride.

My script takes place in present-day America. There are no creatures or little people. It's really not fantasy. Wrong connotation.

Science Fiction denotes technology, space, often the future. Star Wars, Star Trek, Minority Report, I Robot.

Supernatural denotes ghosts, demons, stuff like that.

There's not really a genre word that adequately describes a tale about a troubled girl with psychic powers falling in love while hunting a serial killer.

I could see that Fantasy was a mistake, so I actually e-mailed the Nicholl, and had them scrub the word off the list.

Of course, that leaves me with Action/Romance. Which is bound to leave people picturing something like Romancing the Stone, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Not really what my script is either.

I suppose there are worse problems to have, and part of me is happy that I've written something that tried to be complex, that tries to be a lot of things.

The pessimist in me says that uncategoriable scripts tend to be dismissed.

I guess we'll see. But at least my new script is firmly a supernatural thriller.


At 10:42 AM, Blogger greg said...

Supernatural thriller sounds dead on for your script - and people are into that... should be getting a lot of response. Very wise to remove the fantasy tag... unless you're hiding a dragon in there you're not telling us about...

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Ron said...

My own experience is that people love to read hard-to-classify scripts, because they're different. If you can get a pitch down you'll have people falling over themselves to read it.

But ...

Those scripts also take a lot of courage to make, so you may find that it does more for you as a writing sample than anything else.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

When in doubt, label it "drama". The greatest thing about that genre is that it is so vague, and nobody really knows what's it all about, so it covers pretty much any kind of story. And dramas sell like hotcakes these days.

Everyone's a winner, apre moi le deluge.

At 11:59 AM, Anonymous pd boy said...

From your description of the script:




At 12:00 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Dramas selling like hotcakes? No one is buying drama -- it's one of the hardest genres to sell (next to "period drama" or "coming-of-age story").

Most of the dramatic films made today are adapted from books.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

"fantasy action romance" seems like a very misleading categorization for this story. i don't think you have an uncategorizable script.

i wouldn't say this script isn't 'supernatural.' supernatural is not just ghosts and demons. and psychic powers are definitely paranormal.

the love story is incidental (meaning you don't need to designate it as a genre element), everything has a love story. hell, terminator is a love story. unless there's nothing else but a love story there's no need to call it out.

and it definitely sounds like it's a thriller, given that it's about the hunt (strong word, you didn't use "search"), for a serial killer.

so although im sure your current script is a supernatural thriller, that seems like a perfectly appropriate identification for this script also.

profiler, firestarter, medium. these would all be considered supernatural thrillers of one kind or another.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

If the girl has powers that most of us don't, then it's supernatural.

If you think there aren't enough thrills to call it a thriller, and you think drama is too soft, maybe it's more appropriate to just go with Supernatural Action. Or Supernatural Action/Drama, if you think action is overdoing it.

Or, maybe just: Combo Plate.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

OK, OK, OK, come to think of it, I guess I was wrong, Scott. But in my defense, I wrote that after six hours of sleep, eight hours of college (The morphology of the ancient Greek language. *Yawn*), three glasses of wine, and a two hour's walk across town. I had a nap and a cup of coffee, and I'm feeling much better now, so allow me to elaborate:

What I meant was, drama is, in a way, safe. Any list of "Best movies ever"? All dramas. Last year's most popular movies? Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, all dramas. It also adds a sense of "seriousness" to it, which accounts for immediately warmer critical response. (I might be thinking too far ahead, but...). Also, think about some of the other genres up late: Comedies are rarely funny anymore. "Supernatural thriller" makes us think of M. Night, and that's not the best thing that could happen, not now anyway. What's the last time you saw a straight-out, GOOD, action movie made? And big-budget spectacles? Not counting some notable exceptions, do those things come with a script at all? No, dramas are becoming the #1 genre in the movies.

Of course, because of all that, everybody else is going for the same thing. Which means, your script has to be twice as good for it to get read and produced. But I do have faith in you, Scott. I do.

I hope all that made sense... if anybody even bothers to read half a page of my bullshit. :-)

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Shawna said...

good thing one of my next projects is a period piece! I can't wait to not sell it!

At 1:43 PM, Blogger taZ said...

I can actually relate to that problem, cause I've written a script that handles a lot of genres as well... Didn't know what to do, until I did know.

But through your description it sounds like thriller/mystery/drama. Sounds good to me anyway.

At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

Genre can be a tricky thing sometimes. I vote for calling it a supernatural thriller. It may not be dead on, but it seems the closest popular genre.

I would suggest calling it anything BUT a 'drama'. All the dramas released by studios recently have been based on previous material, written by established writers, or both.

Going by everything i read & hear,it's extremely difficult to break in w/ a drama. Novices are better off writing a stricly genre script.

i have a few dramas & period stories i want to write, but i'm saving them for when i sell a couple of scripts or get tired of waiting. For my 1st few sales (if i can presume...ahem...)i'm concestrating on thrillers, rom coms & horror (b/c according to Bill Martell, it's a real hot genre right now ;-)).

If & when i have a really great drama, i'd probably try & get a big star attached to it. If it's a good story, it should have good, meaty roles. Actors love good roles. And studios love big stars.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I still think supernatural usually has a different connotation. I don't think the current TV series "Heroes" is really described as "supernatural".

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's wrong with just "psychic thriller"?

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

Whether it's "supernatural thriller" or "fantasy action romance", your script sounds killer, Scott. It kind of reminds me of Time After Time, instead of what passes for supernatural thriller these days, but that's why I dig it.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Jennica said...

I actually agree with S.A. (before he recanted). Lean towards "drama" rather than "thriller" unless the script is truly a thriller... the story sounds more about character than plot, which, for me, makes it a drama.

Besides, it's unlikely you'll turn someone off just labelling it a drama (folks'll just read the logline to find out whether they're intrigued, right?). But if you label it a thriller and it's not intensely thrilling, you're going to disappoint.

At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Blair said...

And focusing on something else in your post -- they did include genre on the list? I heard somewhere on WP they didn't. I'd rather they did.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Dave said...

If you go to a walk-in video store, odds are they probably don't break down the genre into different types of thriller. Also, many, many flicks are wedged into drama. So from that perspective, you might be able to swing drama.

On the other hand, on-line rentals can easily break up the genres. Firestarter, for instance, is listed as supernatural thriller, thriller, etc.

Of course, Ghost, is listed as Thrillers, Supernatural Thrillers,
Crime Thrillers and Suspense. All this listed right above a list of how so many customers have rated it one of the best "romance" movies of all time.

As you can see, genre is truly an accurate measure of a film. I'd say focus on what the majority of the story is about. If it's about the hunt, then it's a Thriller. The logline or back page blurb will give you the "supernatural" information, not need to super classify it unless you have to.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger wcmartell said...

If you were on the other side of the desk (where you usually are) and someone gave you a doesn't-fit-in-any-genre script, would you include that in your coverage? Would you suggest that the script may be improved if the writer focused the story? Or if it were more clearly in one genre? Would you think it's a little messy and needs to be cleaned up?

For me, genre is all about emotions - what do you want the audience to feel in this script? What is the *primary emotional experience*?

We all want the audience to laugh and cry and kiss $10 goodbye...

But when you were looking at the pacing of your script and you were coming up with the big emotional scenes that pop up as regular as a heartbeat - what was the emotion?

If a story is everything, it is nothing.

- Bill (in Dr. Phil mode)

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I'd like to think that ultimately the reason that this script touches on so many genres is that that was the best way to tell this particular story. It's not genres for the sake of genres; it's all about creating a cohesive emotional experience.

I have no problem with this. It's just that this is an industry that too often writes in shorthand, which wants to be able to drop a tale in a box they can understand.

At 2:19 AM, Blogger erlandus said...

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At 2:28 PM, Blogger Spanish Prisoner said...

Call it a comedy and see if it works. Hehe.

Seriously, my first thought was Supernatural Thriller. From the infos you gave, I'd go with that genre.

At 1:22 AM, Blogger James said...

Something that helped me when thinking about genre was...

Most movies have comedy in them, most have drama, some sort of romantic entanglment, and some sort of suspense.

The thing that makes them fit into a single genre is what your movie is at it's core. The rest is just frosting.

Also, keep in mind, things change. Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT was a straight up comedy. By today's standards it's a Romantic Comedy, or maybe even a straight Romance.


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