Mr. Snyder, RIP, was never a fan of stuffy, academic definitions of genre. He talked about audience expectations and divided his stories into the following categories to help us remember them more easily. These are explained in more detail in his book “Save The Cat Goes To The Movies”. We all need stories to guide our moral compasses, to illustrate our lives and to help us grow. When fully fledged stories were merely fables there was always a moral to the story.
Monsta Inda House
These are essentially horror films not a rap song. A powerful creature intent on hurting the cast runs riot in an enclosed community. One of the cast is guilty of a ‘sin’ which facilitates the release of the beast. Remember the doctor in Frankenstein or the video tape in “The Ring”?
Not the now defunct Australian petroleum company, but refers to Jason and The Argonauts. These are essentially road movies. A hero must hit the road with his team of followers (or buddy whose skills and knowledge assist the hero) to obtain a prize. The prize could be a lesson, a treasure or winning the first prize. “Raiders of The Lost Ark” is a classic example.
Out Of The Bottle
And I’m not talking Jack Daniels. These cover magical, fantasy and magical realism films. Typically there’s a hero who is granted a wish (desire). A spell (such as Beauty and The Beast) is used as a framework to teach the hero a moral lesson.
Dude/Dudess With A Problem
These films can be action, drama, noir, thriller, sci fi, even horror and comedy, but they deal with the ordinary bloke being thrust into an extraordinary world, developing an attitude along the way. No wonder he’s got a problem. Typically the hero is reluctant and alone, and a sudden event triggers his rapid path to heroism. The stakes are high, as the hero must save the planet or deal with other life or death situation. These films tap into our innate need for staying alive (and I don’t mean the Bee Gees) and the indestructibility of the human spirit.
Rites of Passage
These can be comedies and dramas, but refer to the hero reaching a crossroad in their life, such as adolescence, divorce, mid life crisis, retirement, parenthood, and the problems that occur. Typically, the hapless hero has no idea how to solve the problem and makes many mistakes along the way, often times making the problem worse. However, it was a good idea at the time. Although the problem itself may not be fully solved, the hero has matured, grown and accepted certain aspects of life. An initiation or shedding of an old skin features in many cultures.
You can’t hurry love… These are stories based on our physiological need to be loved and accepted. It’s part of our self identity and our social programming. Everyone loves a hug, right? At the core of these films, lies transformation. Despite constant bickering, two people need to be together to function. These films require the hero (incomplete) with a desire to fill a gap whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual or practical. The counterpart is complementary to the hero and often has skills and knowledge the hero needs, or helps bring them out in him. As in all good stories, we need conflict to raise the dramatic stakes, whether it be a misunderstanding, differences in values or beliefs, gender differences, or external social forces. These films can be buddy or romantic comedies, or straight romance such as “Romeo and Juliet”.
This covers thrillers, crime, mystery, noir , gansgter and detective films. When we work out the what, when, how and why, we are led to the who, or is that whom? The typical format of these films include the “detective”, often jaded and put on standard case which turns out to be more than he bargained for. There is also a mystery or secret which motivates the crime, be it money, sex, power, greed, fame or any one of the seven deadly sins. Finally there is a dark turn, where the detective throws caution to the wind, tosses morality aside and breaks the rules in order to unravel the mystery.
These are comedy films. The buffoon oblivious to the world around him, sticking his foot in his mouth. These films help us deal with our imperfections. Such films must contain a fool who is gentle and affable and bluffs his way through life. There is a jealous associate, “frenemy” (friends who are really your enemies) or colleague determined to see the fool fail. The fool must travel to an establishment or an unfamiliar, hostile, dangerous world in which he does not fit. Don’t you love those fish out of water stories like “Legally Blonde”? Then there is a transmutation, metamorphosis (change to the non Greeks) that occurs either by accident or by design. Think of the buffoons bluffing their way to victory in “Dodgeball”. We love these films because we all know someone like that, maybe ourselves.
These are films defining the human struggle as we pit our wits against society or other undesirable factors. Despite all odds, we stand up for what we believe in. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but we always try. It’s all about the human endeavour. At the core of these stories is a group, a family, a corporation, a society or other oppressive system. The hero makes a calculated decision to take on the establishment to prove a point. Think David and Goliath. Like all good heroes, especially biblical ones, a sacrifice is made and they must endure pain, ridicule and hardship to prove their conviction and enrich their souls. The endings are trichotomous; beat ’em, join ’em or die trying.
We don’t need another hero. Oh yes we do. These stories feed our desire to feel safe and protected. We need to know someone is fighting our corner because humans are important. We don’t like to think of ourselves as simply existing, we need purpose. How’s that for an ego? The films must have a superhero with a special power, usually used for the greater good to feed our need for morality (even Hancock). Superheroes often wear a mask because society at large, treats them with disdain. Often they have a mascot who knows their real identity. So, despite being super, they are human too. The superhero may be reluctant because they don’t feel comfortable carrying the responsibility of being the saviour. Hence they have a day job and wear a disguise, because they’re modest. The hero needs a nemesis, a rival, a bad guy can represent the ugly side of the superhero. He has powers of equal or greater strength than the hero and knows the superhero’s weakness or ‘Achilles Heel’. Otherwise, the fight would be uneven.
Which story are you?