When Is A Genre Not Really A Genre


There are four main genres in film: action, drama, comedy and thriller (includes horror.) Scripted TV is generally broken down into drama and comedy. Sure, there are hybrids like action comedy and dramedy, but the main genres remain intact. Screenwriters should familiarize themselves with these terms.

So when to these genres transcend their boundaries into something that extends hybrid film and TV genres? When the genres become QUALIFIERS. Qualifiers relate to how financing, style and theme alter the main film genre. Let’s take a look:

ADVENTURE

Adventure movies come under the action film and TV genre. The key difference is that adventure movies involve a quest through exotic, and often dangerous, locales while action films feature big set pieces, chases and elaborate stunts.

ADULT

Anything above an NC-17 rating is classed as an adult film. Anything with extreme violence, explicit sex and profanity generally fall into this category. Basically, anything you watch after the kids have gone to sleep.

ASPIRATIONAL

These movies are frequently religious in nature and feature some kind of epiphany and positive realization in the main characters, in the face of adversity.

ANIMATED

This is a means of production rather than a genre. Animation can fall into a number of categories, usually comedy and action, although adult, fantasy and sci-fi animated films remain popular. Animated movies are sometimes referred to by the studio that produced them such as Disney, Pixar, Manga and Ghibli.

AUTEUR

This is derived from the French word for author. An auteur film refers to a distinct style (usually by a director) that defines the aesthetic of a movie. Auteur films are highly stylized and range from quirky character-driven films to lavish spectacles.

CAUSE

These films explore social and justice causes such as slavery and climate change. They are designed to educate, maximize community awareness of an issue and to promote a solution.

CHARACTER-DRIVEN

As its name suggests, character-driven movies refer to a narrative style which deeply explores character behavior, motivation,  active choices and relationships. They are often (but not always) code for low-budget films.

CHILDREN

This is a deceptively complicated film and TV category which is broken down into sub-categories depending on a child’s stage of development. We start at 0-2 years old (infant), 3-4 years old (pre-school), 5-8 years old (junior) and 8-12 years old (tween.)

CONTAINED

This film category refers to a small number of locations. It is most commonly associated with the low budget horror/thriller genre.

CROSSOVER

Crossover films differ from hybrid films in that they are deliberately created from two or more distinct and well-known properties. This is commonly seen in superhero movies.

CULTURAL

These films explore specific races, tribes and countries. They are set in environments that many audiences wouldn’t experience otherwise. They include subcultures such as art, dance, music and sport.

FAMILY

This refers to movies for a general audience. It is often referred to as a four quadrant audience (adult male and female, children under 14 years old) film. It’s essentially a broad film that appeals to a wide demographic.

FEMALE-DRIVEN

These films have female protagonists and are told from a feminine perspective. They could have female-centric themes or feature actresses playing traditional male roles.

GROUNDED

These are often fantasy, science fiction and action films with many supernatural elements (such as time travel.) However, their stories must be firmly rooted in reality.

FRANCHISE

These films are produced from existing intellectual properties such as a series of books, comics, graphic novels, toys and theme parks with a pre-defined audience. Once the initial series is exhausted, franchises can exploit prequels, sequels and spin-offs.

HIGH CONCEPT

As its name suggests, high concept films and TV shows revolve around a big idea that can be summarized succinctly, such as shape-shifting robots which take on a human form to take over the planet. They are typically big-budget (but not always) action movies.

INDIE

This category relates to a relatively small production budget (up to $1.2 million according to the WGA.) Indie films have shorter production schedules and are typically destined for the film festival circuit.

LGBTQIA

This is a catch-all genre for films exploring themes aimed at non-cis-gender audiences. The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay (male), Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/ Questioning, Intersex and Asexual.

MUSICAL

Musicals must contain live music, singing and dancing in a movie. The music forms an integral part of the story narrative.

PERIOD

This relates to films set in a past era. There isn’t a formal definition of how far in the past a movie must be set to qualify as a period film. Film set two or three decades ago are sometimes called NOSTALGIA films and are designed to remind us of our childhoods or early adult years.  RETRO films loosely may be set in the previous one or two decades and exploit stylistic considerations such as fashion, cars and popular culture. SWORDS AND SANDLE movies are set at least a millennium in the past.

PLOT-DRIVEN

The opposite of character-driven movies. They rely more heavily on visuals than character development to entertain their audiences.

PRESTIGE

These prestige/ premium films are targeted toward sophisticated cinema audiences. They are designed to garner prestigious film awards and play the festival circuit.

SMART

This is a tricky film genre to define. It is sometimes used interchangeably with an ELEVATED genre. Smart films have a clever character or plot hook which subverts the genre without the use of gimmicks or visuals.

TEEN

This is an extension of the children’s film and TV genre. These films target male and female audiences aged 13-18 years old.

URBAN

These are youth-oriented, inner-city films typically focusing on the challenges faced by minority children. They tend to be gritty and authentic in nature.

WESTERN

These are man versus the land type of movies. They are set in unexplored, unforgiving terrains and our struggle to conquer them.

YOUNG ADULT

There is considerable overlap between teen and adult film target audiences. Young adult films refer to audiences that have reach emotional and sexual maturity but are not yet fully=fledged adults. These movies are produced for audiences around 15-24 years old.

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