Never play to genre — Tennyson E Stead


❦ “…anyone who thinks elevating genre is a question of checking into a set of conventions before getting on with the business of the story is deluding themselves, setting their film up for failure… and they’re pissing off the audience.

My audience!  Guys, stop pissing off my audience!”

❦ “Getting to the core of a truly visionary genre story, in the end, is about not telling a genre story at all.”

❦ “…stories I was writing weren’t about dinosaurs and spacemen.  They were about the longing I had to make friends.  Genre convention pretty much prohibits dinosaur/spaceman fraternization… but I didn’t care.  My spaceman/dinosaur odd couples were determined to overcome their differences.

“So… the point is to not care about genre convention.”

No.  Of course not.  There are reasons why the classic genre stories are classics.  With all that said, understanding what works in genre does not give you the tools to tell a great story.  WHY genre conventions work is useless information.”

❦ “Don’t try to rebuild the watch.  Even if you can, it won’t work as well the second time around.  But save the parts.  Use them sparingly, and without ceremony – because the parts you don’t use today will wind up helping you with a different story, somewhere down the road.  This is the difference between playing TO genre… and playing WITH it.

Keep that box of spare parts handy, and focus on telling a story.  Maybe it’s a story about two people – good people – who have irreconcilable differences.  And maybe they both need a friend.  What could be more simple, beautiful, and human than that?  And say… maybe one of them’s a dinosaur!”

☞ Some apposite comments on genre from a practitioner of screenwriting. Clearly, genre is neither a set of off-the-shelf ready-made formulae for use in writing film scripts, nor are generic conventions to be taken lightly, even if one wants to break it. As Stead reminds us, one mustn’t lose sight of the story’s impact on the audience when engaging in generic screenwriting. Read more…


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