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  • Genre

    Genre scripts are often looked down on by those who wish every script was more like The Piano and less like The Howling.

    But doesn't logic dictate that every script, ultimately, is in a genre of some kind or another?

    And if that's the there anything that ISN'T genre?

    Winter in New York

  • #2
    It's the same thing that happens in other forms of writing, if it isn't literature it isn't worth reading.

    That snobbery comes, not out of a sense or desire for elitism, but that real conflict/drama comes out of people/characters interacting with other characters. You limit the amount of real tension you can create when you add artificial tension in the forms of explosions, monsters, or lesbian ninja's.

    When you go re-watch your favorite action exploding movie, what are you really re-watching the explosions or the relationships between the characters?

    And that's why "real writers" look down on genre writers. it's hard to write an effective piece that only involves people interacting with each other. It's a lot easier if you can suck up time/page space with car chases and explosions.


    • #3
      "Genre scripts are often looked down on by those who wish every script was more like The Piano and less like The Howling.

      But doesn't logic dictate that every script, ultimately, is in a genre of some kind or another?"

      it's a good question. and i'm not trying to be facetious or flip, but the question sort of answers itself in this case: looking down on a genre script and wishing every script was more like the piano and less like the howling, doesn't sound like a mentality rooted in logic to me. it makes about as much sense as hearing things like "the surrealists were looked down on by the _____ists."

      it's just another case of snobbery or artfaggery or whatever you want to call it, that happens a lot in the writing world. you always hear about some kind of writer looking down on his counterpart from another writing discipline.


      • #4
        When I rewatch any action/explosion flick again, it *is* for the characters. I connect with John McClane and Riggs and even Neo in THE MATRIX.

        I spun THE WARRIORS into the DVD player last night - and even though the lead guy has maybe 5 lines in the whole flick and spends a lotta time posing, I feel his pain. First he has to get control of his gang, and James Remar is fighting him on that all the way, then he has to watch as one-by-one he loses them. Should they go back for the guy or save their own skins? Hey, the movie has a cool sword fight with baseball bats, but if that's all I cared about I would have used scenes selection instead of watching the whole movie. I wanted to see that story again - live those lives again.

        There's this great scene where three of the guys get to Union Square early, spot some girls, flirt with them, and they are invited back to their clubhouse. One of the guys is a kid, probably a virgin, and while the other two are making out he feels out of place. He's just not comfortable with girls, yet. For a while, we feel his awkwardness - I remembered similar situations in my life - then he notices that some of the girls are dancing with each other... and figures out that something is wrong. But what? Eventually he figures it out - and we're in his shoes for that whole ride. But now that he knows these girls are a lesbian gang (sirens) how can he convince his pals without sounding like the fifth wheel guy? Just trying to spoil their fun because he's uncomfortable?

        That's character *and* conflict. If he doesn't find a way to warn his pals, the girls will kill them.

        Somewhere else someone is talking about RIO BRAVO, a kick ass John Wayne action flick that inspired ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13... in that flick, Dean Martin is a gunslinger turned drunk who slinks into a bar looking for glasses with a little booze left in them. This guy at the bar spots him, holds out a coin (enough to *buy* a drink) and tosses it... into the spittoon. Now Martin has to dig through the spit to get a drink... that's a pretty powerful character scene.

        It also sets up a cool scene later. Martin has sobered up, but is still an alcoholic... craves booze. He's got the sweats, he's a little delerious, and he sees a bad guy run into a bar. He tells Wayne that the bad guy is in the bar, and they'll know who he is because he stepped in a mud puddle - he'll have muddy boots. Okay - this starts as a chase scene, ends in the bar. Wayne holds his gun on this bar full of bad guys while Martin checks their boots. No mud on any of them. One of the bad guys taunts Martin, asks if he's got the DTs and is seeing things. Asks if he wants a drink. Throws a coin into the spittoon. Martin has hit rock bottom - did he see the guy run into the bar? Or was that really just the booze calling for him? He puts his gun down on the bar... and there's a full glass of booze only a few feet away. He feels himself being pulled toward it. Next thing you know, his hand is reaching for it. He sees the full glass... as a drop of blood falls into it. He grabs his gun off the bar and blasts at the guy hanging onto the ceiling over the bar... who has muddy shoes.

        Okay - that's a pretty tense scene, some suspense that comes between the chase and the shooting at the end. And it's all about character. People.

        Any (good) story is going to be about people - and genre stories use the genre to explore character. Nothing brings character to the surface more than life or death situations... and that's what you find in an action flick.

        Who was the writer who said "Action is character"?

        - Bill


        • #5
          What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?

          -- Henry James, The Art of Criticism

          IOW, character is action and action is character.


          • #6
            "ACTION IS CHARACTER" - (caps by author) F. Scott Fitzgerald - quoted from his notes for his unfinished work The Last Tycoon.

            It's the very last line in the hardback copy I own. The second to last line is "Don't wake the Tarkington ghosts."

            Because that one line - "ACTION IS CHARACTER" - has proven so essential in my creative process, I've resolved not to wake the ghosts either, figuring all of FSF's advice is worth following.


            • #7
              to look down on genre writing is to look down on probably 75% of all films ever made, and how many of those have won accolades? Writing genre stuff isn't easy, and I feel that anyone who thinks it is, is missing what genre writing is all about.

              The problem is that it easily lends itself to crapp.


              • #8
                The great thing about genre films is that the audience comes in expecting one thing--they've undoubtedly seen mysteries, serial-killer stories, romcoms, etc.--and you as the writer are given the chance to make the familiar completely unfamiliar.


                • #9

                  Yes! That's the great thing about genre - you can find a way to bend it into unexpected shapes.

                  Also, genre is a great way to "present" your story to the audience - few people saw THE CLEARING in the cinema, but it's on DVD now. It's a thriller about a wealthy businessman (Robert Redford) who is kidnaped for ransom. The film cuts between the FBI Agent co-ordinating the ransom, questioning the family, and a really tense ransom delivery scene with the wife (Helen Mirren) losing the FBI tail and dropping the money on time (or else they kill Redford), and Redford and his captor (Willem Defoe) in a very tense mind-game as he tries to find a way to escape (or get the guy guarding him to switch sides). Lots of suspense - the film delivers...

                  But it also uses the thriller genre (and the kidnaping) to explore the characters. The FBI guy questions the family, uncovering a whole bunch of anger. Redford was cheating (and Mirren knew), the two adult children hate their father for putting money above family, and all kinds of drama spills out of these scenes...

                  And the Redford/Defoe scenes are just as meaty, because it's uncovered that Redford and his captor used to be co-workers when they were young... and Redford got all of the breaks and Defoe pretty much got screwed. So this becomes a series of big dramatic scenes, too. With Redford's life on the line.

                  The film explores what it means to be wealthy, what family means, and all kinds of other *character* related stuff... in the skin of a thriller.

                  Genre is just an envelope, you still have to put a letter inside. Whether you shove a bunch of crap into that envelope (SAW) or put a great story inside is all up to you.

                  - Bill (just saw SAW and I wanted to cut off my own leg and escape from the cinema halfway through)


                  • #10
                    Re: Unexpected

                    Genre is just an envelope, you still have to put a letter inside.
                    Nicely stated, as always, Bill. Thanks for that.


                    • #11
                      Re: Unexpected

                      WWWD? What Would WILDER Do?(if you'll pardon the cliche)

                      Some great replies in this thread already.

                      Watching a movie once triggers the 'plot awareness' part of your brain it seems like to me. Watching a movie again and again is more like hanging out with your friends.

                      I guess the thing is to ignore patterns of genre. Handwriting is unique to each and every person. It is their own style. It happens unconsciously; how would go about changing your handwriting to fit a certain pattern? Genre awareness is a nice way to classify movies, but in the creative-creation process it's meaningless. My handwriting is constant, yours is too probably, there is no reason to pattern the style of it to conform to something that isn't natural.

                      Like Dr. Frankenstein and his experiment. He creates a 'living thing' out of several dead parts. It is HIS creation. Seems sort of like screenwriting in a way.