Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Genre Schmenre

An easy pasta recipe that I would recommend: some farfalle pasta. smoked salmon. frozen peas. single cream. Make the pasta al dente, then chuck into frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Add torn strips of smoked salmon and a good cup of frozen peas. Pour in a tub of single cream. Salt & pepper. Juice of about half a lemon and serve. Delicious and simple and quick. All because my delusions of grandeur made me think I was Henry Hill for the day.

James raises an interesting point about genre in the UK. It seems it's something that's not talked about with 'proper' UK professionals but is a top topic for production companies and funding bodies (check out the UK Film Council's 25 Words or Less Scheme (look at me with the links, such a dab hand).

Hollywood, naturally, does genre best and perhaps their success and string of McMovies generates the UK’s dismissive habit against the form. But it’s an interesting phenomenon at the box office. Disposable Hollywood fare will make decent money at the cinema (say between £3-5m) while a UK genre flick of superior quality will do respectable but unremarkable business (around £2m). This is a generalisation but recently, The Descent, Neil Marshall’s fine horror, was far better than a lot of recent genre samples from the US (The Forgotten, say) and to date, has earned about £2.5m at the box office. Look at House of Wax (or maybe not): just shy of £3m and over £30m in the US.

So the audience certainly responds to genre movies, especially from L.A. I think UK genre films get it wrong when they try to emulate the tone and aspiration culture of the U.S.; a mood and society that doesn’t quite exist on the same level over here. But I’ve opened up a whole can of worms now. You could argue that Mike Leigh’s films are strong genre material and suitably reflect the tone and culture of British society. Richard Curtis’s affluent romcoms share the bright tone and warm feel of American hits which may explain why his films have international appeal. It’s a tough nut to crack and you’d probably go cross-eyed thinking about it or trying to second guess the whole ‘genre’ issue. Personally, I love genre and I want as many people to go to see my films as possible (if any get made naturally). But I also want to tell the stories that interest and excite me. Commercial awareness is all fine and well but ‘a good story, well told’ will always stand out. However, I am aware that I should keep my Japanese/English period drama about love and revenge in my cupboard until I’ve established a reliable track record in the industry…

1 comment:

sretherf said...

I once thought ill of genre pictures... but in the back of my mind I knew there had to be something there, because it's such an accepted method, in Hollywood at least. Thing is, I'm not sure anyone completely understands the genres or the exact reason they're used.

Many people get caught up in the idea that genres make it easier to market a screenplay. There is no doubt that a common language is provided by using the various genres. But, beyond that, the genre as a format really seems to work... you must be objective with this to see it. This was what I was thinking, then I asked myself why.

What I found is that, as long as I have been writing screenplays I have found the whole idea of telling a story in the form of a film is quite strange! Namely, there's an expectation from a film, that almost all of your viewing audience is going to have (right or wrong), of a certain cut-to-the-chase kind of information delivery... We take this for granted, but actually, if you think about it, a bunch of new people, settings, and stories are being thrown at the audience all very quickly during the initial parts of the film. That's a lot to take in, and have it all pull together seemlessly.

This is exactly what the genres so nealy address. Namely, they provide a way to make sure the audience will be on board for the entire ride.

So what I believe, is that as much as us writers may not want to just do a genre story, the more we stray away from the formula (and sometimes we are really doing a genre picture whether we are aware of it or not) the more lost the story tends to become. Trying to get away from the genre may seem like a freeing thing, but in reality you need certain aspects of the genre just to pull off what you are trying to do, which is write a film. So your challenge is, because I know you and you really want to be original more than anything else (unlike the average Hollywood tripe that's out there right now), is to use the genre format, but figure out how to smuggle in your own style and interests.