One of the keys to successful screenwriting is how you answer this question: Is this something the Hollywood producers will willingly pay big money for? Don’t fall into bitter complaints of mediocre writers who think all it takes is connections and knowing the right people. It doesn’t hurt to have either or both but what ensure your success in selling your script is the fact that producers can in turn make money out of it. And making money in Hollywood comes down to one thing only: genres.
Marc Shmuger, former chairman of Universal Pictures, said only recently that the star system is undergoing some changes. “Arguably the two biggest stars in the first half of 2009 were Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and Liam Neeson (Taken). That’s a significant shift in the meaning of star power and a shift to the premium that is being put on concept and genre.”
Shmuger is sending a message any worthy screenwriter should realize as the golden rule of the entertainment industry: genres are the commodity. In short definition, there are 8-15 story beats (story events) which create a form, which in turn creates story forms or genres.
Genres dominate the way marketing is done in Hollywood due to the fact that executive producers are selling their movies all over the world. International market segments can be identified based on different film genres. This is something you can use to prepare your script for the competition in the screenplay market that is genre-oriented.
1. Know the 10 most popular genres.
The first thing you should do in order to write a script a producer will sign a check for is to learn and familiarize yourself with the top 10 genres in the market. It is close to impossible to sell scripts based on genres outside of this group: Comedy, Love, Crime, Thriller, Action, Detective, Myth, Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction.
2. Combine 2 or 3 genres
One of the best ways to take advantage of a genre-oriented market is to combine genres. Almost all movies produced worldwide are mixtures of a number of these genres. They all follow the classic rules of selling: ask for the price of 1 and give your costumers 2 or more.
Examples are easily retrieved: the Twilight series are fantasy and horror. The Bourne sequels combine thriller and action. Love and comedy made Knocked Up. Comedy and myth produced Little Miss Sunshine. Big blockbuster Titanic combines myth, love and disaster. Myth, fantasy and crime created The Dark Knight. Harry Potter movies combine horror, myth, fantasy and coming of age drama. Fantasy, action, horror and myth are clear elements of the series Pirates of the Caribbean.
3. Find the right genre for the story idea
You start making big decisions right at the beginning of your writing journey as you develop the idea of your story. The first thing you need to decide is the genres you are going to employ to develop your premise, your story idea. One thing to give you an idea of how it works: Premise is where 99% of scripts meet their failures. This is not in any way reflects the quality of the original stories. Failure occurs simply because the writers don’t have a clue of which genres are the best one to base their 2-hour, 120-page screenplay from the original 1-line idea.
The use of a certain genre can take one story idea in a completely different direction when compared to the employment of other genres. Choosing the wrong genres will disastrously result in numerous bad scripts as well as the waste of many good story ideas. So the question remains, what are the correct genres to use? The right genres to use is closely related to the core of the story itself. Delve into the premise and recognize the genres related to the idea. Don’t try to resemble any popular movie you have seen, instead look for originality in your core idea. The strength of genres is the fact that correct ones underline the originality of an idea and safely push back any potential weakness.
There are techniques and methods one can use to burrow into the premise and identify the genres that are best for your story. One technique is to spotlight the desire line, a major story structure step; one out of seven of them. You will find out that a cut and dried, unique desire line is attached to every particular genre. The desire for the Crime genre is to catch the crime perpetrator. In the Detective genre, truth is the end of the journey. Slaying the monster is the desire of Horror. Love is to find love, naturally. Going on a journey to eventually discover oneself is the desire of the Myth genre. Work out what goals your hero has and match them with the appropriate genre’s desire.
4. Use myth as one of your genres
Blockbuster potential is the only thing the producers in Hollywood want from a script. Thus it is important to make sure your screenplay fits the popular genre in many different countries and cultures around the world. With over 100 different cultures to consider, it is not really the easiest thing to do. It is important for good writers to know which genre has access to the heart of that many people. It is important to remember that comedy that is showcased mainly in the dialogue is not going to enjoy international success. Myth, however, travels well as a genre. Haven’t you noticed so many of the blockbusters movies are that of myth genre?
Compared to the other 10 most popular film genres, myth is the oldest, and with 15 story beats, it is certainly complex and yet, still immensely popular. Cast back your memory to these myth-based blockbusters – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight, Shrek and the Lion King.
5. Combine myth with one or two other genres
The number one genre to always secure a blockbuster is Myth. It hardly stands along though. It is not necessarily because does Hollywood wants to follow the golden old selling rule but also because the genre itself has a lot of weaknesses. For one, it is more than a thousand years old. Next, the structure is very episodic that a big start is definitely followed with stagnant middle phase. Good screenwriters are aware of this thus their choice to always include a couple of other genres to bring myth up to speed and cover its episodic tendency.
6. Make one genre primary
Savvy screenwriters catch up quickly enough once they study how business is done in Hollywood. They know good screenwriting means genres combination. The follow up that some don’t know is how to execute combined genre screenwriting. Easy enough to say you need to out together several story forms and make them whole. What’s not that easy is doing it. It effects the story structure and that creates quite a lot of difficulties most people don’t foresee.
Every genre has a cut and dried hero, enemy, thematic focus, line of desire and other story elements. Chaos is what happen when you try to accommodate all that into one story idea. Numerous desire lines, enemies, heroes, story beats and themes. One mistake in your structure and goes die the script. Imagine what a mess it is if you make multiple mistakes.
This is why you need to choose one genre as primary. You’ll get yourself one hero, a single desire line, one story line and better yet, story beats that are unique. Add the elements of the other genres when appropriate to add resonance to the priority form.
7. For indie films, write horror, thriller, or love
Make yourself stand out among competition by writing and producing your own film. A natural drawback is indeed the need to keep a tight budget. That further translates to shooting love, thriller and horror. There is no need for too many actors, special effects or well built sets. Out of the three, it is indisputable that horror is the one to make. The international popularity of the genre is enough of a reason to produce horror films. Still, keep in mind that you need to choose the genre that is most suitable to your story idea to start writing your script for your future indie effort.
8. Hit all the genre beats
Successful screenwriters know all the in and out of the genres their stories are based upon. They also try to include all the genres’ story beats into the story or what is called ‘paying your dues’ in the world of genre writing. You need to do this lest your audience feel they’ve been cheated.
Audience comes to watch and experience the genres they love even if they don’t know there are forms to the story. It is your job as the script writer to compose the forms in a way that satisfies your audience. Which means, it is imperative that you know the inner working of your genres where the actual story is generated.
9. Be original, transcend the genre
One of the most common reasons screenplay readers reject a script is the fact that it is “derivative.” A subtle way to call things boring and predictable. All the beats were duly hit but not much more is in existence. Script readers read thousands of work from all genres all the time; being predictable and basic is not how you stand out in the midst of competition.
Needless to say, good screenwriters with their eyes on success hit all the beats of the genres and do so in their own fresh, original ways – or what is called genre transcending. There is no success if you can not transcend the genres in your writing. What’s more the rules are not that easy to follow as it is differently applicable on every form. A big part of one-day-genre class is spent to explain the how to of genre transcending. It all depends on the beats unique to the form you have chosen for your story. Studying successful films in your genre does not hurt as you can then learn the ways writers did the transcending.
10. Be honest, specialize in the forms that are right for you
As a writing tool, genres are really strong in that they are the key factor to success in the business of entertainment. That is not to say they are simple or easy. Mastering more than 2 or 3 genres is unheard of, even among professionals.
Which is why honesty is very important as you start thinking about and deciding which genres are yours as a writer. You need examine your own strength and weaknesses so as the genres you choose spotlight your pluses and help support your minuses. Work hard to master the forms of your choosing, pay attention to details and be determined. Let genres do the labour of story structure while you do your own labour of being original in your writing and wait for the birth of the good and successful script you generate.