Screenwriting : Genre Jumping by Jody Ellis

Jody Ellis

Genre Jumping

What are your thoughts on it? I've heard and read advice that one should try to stick to one genre, or that one should plan to be stuck in whatever genre they sell first, etc. I've written comedy, drama, thriller, a tv pilot and just started working on a family movie. I write what comes to me and don't pigeonhole myself into one area. But I wonder sometimes if I should be concentrating on just one genre in order to increase my chances of actually selling something. OTOH, I haven't sold shit, so maybe it doesn't matter and I should just keep writing in whatever genre that appeals to me in any given moment. Thoughts?

Dan MaxXx

My take- sit down with your Manager and figure out which genre is your strongest. Then run with that to Buyers and job assignments. Very few Writers, Actors, Directors, Producers bounce around genres.

Aray Brown

I write from my heart

Craig D Griffiths

Stephen Knight wrote Locke, peaky blinders and who wants to be a millionaire. I think it is because your network is in one genre. You may need a few networks. Advice from a position of I haven't done this. But I have had several careers which may be a parallel.

Jody Ellis

@Craig I don't know what you mean by my "network is in one genre". What network?

Regina Lee

In my experience, trying to be an expert across multiple genres is like trying to play Center and Point Guard, or Quarterback and Punter. You can buy that a basketball player could play Power Forward and Center, but not Guard and Center. Trying to be a jack of all trades may make you a master of none. Therefore, I advise that you start by becoming an expert in 1 or 2 (maybe 3) related genres. For example, action and action/comedy. Or comedy and rom com. Be THE next thriller writer that everyone wants to meet/hire. Or be THE next action/thriller or straight action writer. Then you can branch out later on if you have the bandwidth.

Regina Lee

Typically, studios have the budget to hire the best X writer. They don't need to hire the handyman / jack of all trades, master of none.

Jody Ellis

Thanks Regina! I guess part of the problem is I am still trying to figure out what I'm best at! I have so many damned ideas and they range from high-concept thriller to family movies. I do feel more drawn to dark dramedy than anything else, but can't seem to figure out my niche. I've got 5 completed screenplays and 1 tv pilot and they are all pretty different (although 3 of the 5 could all loosely fit as dramas.) So my next question is how does one decide their "best" genre?

Cole Abbott

I respect what both of you are saying, but I feel one should write the story that stays with them the longest. If an idea comes and goes, chances are it was never worth it in the first place. But a story which can stay with you and means something and is of course compelling. Is a story which will thrive no matter what the genre is. For example my first teleplay was a comedy about a place i use to work, it was the worst two years of my life but the only way I could write it was to make it a comedy. But alas, to answer your question your "best genre" will most likely sneak up on you one day. Or you will write stories that you connect to no matter what the genre is, with a theme or concepts in common.

Regina Lee

Jody, a component of the calculation is defining what genre(s) you love to watch and know like the back of your hand. I'm coming from a Hollywood context, not DIY indie. Here's an example. I was in a meeting with a writer who is known as a horror guy and a comedy guy (a weird spectrum, I know, but these genres do have a lot in common too - but that's a different topic). He is currently writing a horror sequel for Lionsgate. Lionsgate is interested in buying/hiring him for other stuff, and they're counting on him to be the horror expert, to take that burden off of them. They're counting on him to have watched all the horror movies that came out over the last few years, to know what's been done and what hasn't, to understand the fan base, etc. They know that if they hire this guy, they're getting someone who knows what works for the horror market. They don't have to worry if the drowning scene from this script is too similar to a 2015 horror movie because this guy saw that movie, and he knows; he's got it handled. This type of genre expertise matters more in a genre like horror than drama, but you can see why Lionsgate would feel like THEY'RE IN GREAT HANDS with this kind of writer who knows the genre inside and out.

Dene Stark

It is sometimes really difficult for a writer to stick with one or two genre's. The advice I got was, know your brand, know your lane and crush it! Once you do that you can branch out. Look at James Wan. Horror writer and directer. For years that's just what he was but now he's directing fast and furious movies and now Aquaman. He established himself in his "lane" crushed it, then branched out. Someone asked me how do they know their lane? Just what Regina said, what genre's are you most drawn too? What do you love to watch? Pick one or two and try to write stories in those genre's.

Jody Ellis

Thank you so much Regina, I value your input! And thanks Dene, seems like most of my scripts can fit under the umbrella of being dramas, some more loosely than others, lol. I will probably try to stick with drama, dark dramedy, maybe drama/thriller. Those seem to be the movies I'm drawn to and of everything I've written, they mostly fall into that realm. My boyfriend/writing partner/reader said that while I'm great at infusing comedy into a script and can write comedy well, he thinks the drama scripts I've written have that "it" factor. I don't want to screw myself by writing all these different genres and then looking, as Regina said, like a jack of all trades, master of none.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

i believe I've done good work in multiple genres; and I have competed in Sci-fi, Thriller, action, comedy, historical and horror genres. Though I'll tackle anything, in the future I may narrow my focus to comedy. But I also think it's good to challenge yourself.

Aray Brown

What Regina said hit home. I've only wrote 3 screenplays, one comedy, one drama, one horror/thriller. this horror pilot will make four. I do have projects that fall into that category but I am drawn to horror/thrillers

Regina Lee

There are exceptions to every rule. In my experience, most new writers don't come out of the womb with excellent craft and genre expertise. For most people (not all), in my experience, they need multiple iterations to hone their skills. Therefore, if a writer is trying to be a sports drama expert and a broad comedy expert, this "jack of many trades" thinking may well impede his ability to build great expertise in one genre. I see it in myself too. For example, I haven't worked on a fantasy in a long time. That muscle gets weaker. If I had to dive deep into a fantasy project, I'd have to bone up on the genre and get up to speed. So a question to ask yourself -- Is trying to be a hire-able writer in comedy and in fantasy shooting myself in the foot? Is trying to do both actually slowing down my ability to build expertise in each? Is taking golf and tennis lessons slowing down my ability to go pro as a golfer? Is taking drum lessons and saxophone lessons slowing down my ability to audition for the symphony as a percussionist?

Regina Lee

None of this applies if you're in the indie DIY space. But in the studio space, if Sony Animation is looking for a writer for SMURFS 3, the President isn't asking, "Where's the writers list of writers who write 4 genres?" The President is saying, "Where's the family film animation list?" They don't have to hire the handyman / jack of all trades. They can hire the genre expert. Again, there's an exception to every rule!!! But if there's an Open Assignment for an action movie, the President is asking, "Give me an action writers list." The process may evolve from there, and it may take a different path, but I guarantee that one step in the "find a writer" process is "Where's my action writers list?" And some of you want to get on that list, as a branded genre expert. (I know that not everyone wants that.)

Regina Lee

And you may still be in a stage at which you need to experiment in different genres. Maybe you will focus in later, build a more focused brand. Maybe not.

Regina Lee

My friend is known as a female horror/thriller writer. She directed a stage play that was kind of a romance. Her manager: "I don't know how to sell you." These are merely examples to consider.

William Martell

When someone needs brain surgery they don't go to a GP, they go to a specialist - a brain surgeon. Same thing with screenplays.

Jeff Lyons

Almost nothing can be considered "one genre" ... even in commercial fiction. The most successful scripts are always mixed-genre. Unless you're doing torture porn, or a remake of My Dinner with Andre. Mix genres...but it's not as easy as it sounds... you have to know whatever genres you're using and what beats they have. Sadly, nothing is easy. My 2 cents.

Dan Guardino

I've written screenplays in a lot of different genres. Mainly because I get bored writing in the same genre after a while.

Regina Lee

Jeff Lyons - If I may speak for Mr. Martell, we're referring to primary/chief/core genre. Chiefly a horror movie. Chiefly an action movie. Chiefly an action/adventure. Chiefly a horror/comedy hybrid. Etc.

Regina Lee

I should also say that in a Hollywood context, TV writers tend to be considered for a wider range of stories than Feature writers. I don't have time to get into a detailed explanation at this moment, but let's say an hour-long writer who staffed on a legal semi-procedural like GOOD WIFE is looking for her next job. She will likely be considered for many, many hour-longs - not only legal shows, not only shows with procedural elements, etc. To be reductive, there are a few reasons why this is the case - such as the value of a seasoned staff writer knowing how to sustain a long-running show and the fact that there's a writing staff who all complement each other's strengths. In TV, you could be the British guy who staffs on a US-produced British supernatural show to give it British flavor, and you might not have much supernatural writing experience at all. You're coming onto a team. You're working on staff under a showrunner. In TV, the large majority of writers are either half-hour or hour-long writers, not both. Series writers do brand themselves in other ways, but IMO, series writers have a wider playing field when it comes to genre specifics than feature writers.

David E. Gates

I've written three books and a short story. All are very different. One is a biographical piece about some events I went through a few years ago, the next a full-on horror story, the next a collection of travelogues. Then a ghost-story. I've putting together a collection of other short-stories and scripts/poetry. I think if the writing's good and it has an audience, it doesn't matter that the writer jumped between genres.

Bill Costantini

Jody - I wouldn't discourage you from doing what you're doing, nor would I discourage you from trying to be a specialist. In my opinion, having as many scripts as you can in your box while trying to sell them is certainly in your best interests as someone who is trying to become a script seller. I've been fortunate in my strategies. I was contracted to write a bio-pic; I sold a comedy and gained part-ownership in the group; and I've been contracted to write an urban drama. I'm also writing a very explicit sexual thriller that will never see the light of day from a major studio, but will probably do very well as a cable and Internet film. I had a rom-com on a script listing site that drew a lot of interest. Nobody asked me "what other rom-com's do you have?" I pulled that script from the site, and am re-working it for my own purposes, even though it was well-received in its current state. My strategies are different than writers who seek to be a "go-to writer" in Hollywood. More power to them who are succeeding in Hollywood as "go-to writers", and to those of you who aspire to be one. Good luck and Happy Writing!

Jody Ellis

@Bill thank you! This question surfaced for me when I started working on a family/animated screenplay. Started really questioning whether or not I should write it, even though it is one of those stories that just came to me from what I call the "cosmic soup", fully formed in my head before I ever made a single note on it (those always seem to be the best ones, imo) Last night my bf pointed out that even though it's a family friendly story with humorous elements, at heart it is still a drama. And he said "you have to write this". And I do also agree that right now, having as many scripts as possible in my arsenal probably supersedes being overly concerned w genre.

Bill Costantini

Jody - your bf is a smart man! Family-friendly stories are always in demand, too. Go for it - good luck and Happy Writing!

Regina Lee

Again, my POV comes from a Hollywood context, which may or may not apply to readers of this thread, so take it for what it's worth. "What are my chances of selling this animated spec to a company that produces animation? What are my chances of using this spec to sell myself as an animation/family film writer-for-hire? What are my chances of selling a dramatic thriller spec to a company that produces live action movies? What are my chances of using that spec to sell myself as a dramatic thriller writer-for-hire? What do I want out of a career? How can I best build to it?" If you had a manager (some of you want managers; others do not), you would be answering those questions so the manager can best guide you, strategize with you, and sell you, in hopes that you both make money from your writing career. CJ Walley always says he doesn't want to sell into Hollywood, so for writers like him, you should ignore all of my advice here, and don't let me misguide you from what is right for you.

Jody Ellis

Thanks again Regina. Do you think though, since at this point I haven't sold anything and don't (yet) have an official manager (I posted in another thread awhile ago about being hip-pocketed by a manager but nothing has come of it yet) I'm okay with being a bit more fluid in the genres I choose to write? The family/animation script I want to write is more drama than comedy, but can I blanket it under "drama" and say writing drama is my expertise? Or is that too out there for a manager to sell?

Regina Lee

Personally, I don't know any buyer looking to buy an animated drama, but that's just me. You may know buyers looking for an animated drama. If you don't, then are the odds in your favor? Maybe not. Do you want to factor that into your decision? It's up to you. You might also factor in whether taking time to write an animated drama will help or impede your ability to develop expertise in your core brand. I don't know the answer to that because I don't know you and your intent. To use another sports analogy, I just listened to a podcast with Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys QB. When he was young, he played multiple sports and he believes that playing multiple sports helped him build his overall athleticism, coordination, etc. As he kept progressing and went to college, he focused on football because he wanted to play pro football. So it depends where you are in your career trajectory and what you want for yourself. If you're early days, then yes, a writer probably needs to experiment to figure out who she wants to be and what her brand/forte is. If you're beyond early days, then you can focus on what your forte is and no longer have to test the waters. Just my POV. A studio (IF that is the game you want to be in) has the money to hire, as William Martell said, a brain surgeon to perform brain surgery. My analogy is the studio can hire the tile layer, not the handyman, to re-tile the bathroom. But the studio game might not be your target at all. I always say 1) it depends on your intent, and 2) there's no "one size fits all." If John Doe trying to get into the studio business? Is trying to be a jack of all trades diminishing John Doe's ability to master a brand/genre? It's your call.

Regina Lee

I will make the opposite argument too. I know a woman in the Midwest who makes a significant amount of money ghostwriting books and scripts for indie movies. She has no intention of ever moving to LA or NY. She is a jack of all trades. That's her business model; it's not my business model. I have never said that "one size fits all." Depends on your intent and the context.

Regina Lee

Another example - playwrights tend to be less branded than feature film writers. Authors may use one name for their spy thrillers and use a pen name for their romance novels. It depends on the business you're in.

Jody Ellis

Thank you. Sounds like I should stick to the drama/thriller I'm working on! I do want to be marketable and while I'm still "early stages" in many ways, I'm also right on the edge of making some real and valuable connections. My intent is to take it all the way.

Regina Lee

Ask your manager friend if s/he has a way to sell an animated drama. None of us would want to take responsibility for someone making a major life decision based on snippets from a message board thread.

Jody Ellis

I will, thank you!

William Martell

Novelists using pseudonyms department: Here's my obit for the great Don Westlake, who at one point in time was 3 of my favorite crime writers... http://sex-in-a-sub.blogspot.com/2009/01/my-three-favorite-mysery-writer...

Bill Costantini

Nora Ephron was a great genre jumper. She went from Silkwood to My Blue Heaven to Sleepless in Seattle to Julie & Julia, with other great films in between. RIP, Nora Ephron. So is Chicago boy Allan Loeb. He went from Things We Lost in the Fire to The Dilemma to Just Go With It to The Abandoned to The Space Between Us. And of course, there's William Goldman. Crikey - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...Marathon Man....Heat...The Princess Bride....Memoirs of An Invisible Man.....Wild Card...etc...etc. You'd be in great company with those three Writing Gods, Jody! Good luck and Happy Writing!

David M. Salkin

I've written 12 novels in SEVERAL genres. For commercial success, I think ultimately you need to be known for a genre, and I've found that the success of my Team series has sort of pigeonholed me into writing more military espionage for the simple reason that this is a "job"... and I need to make money at it. I'll write what's selling. That said, like yourself, I have to write what interests me and gets my motor hummin! I think you write what you need to write, with an eye always on the commercial goals. A few superstars (Michael Crichton) wrote in MANY genres, very successfully. Most of us, however, have a hard enough time succeeding in one genre (commercially.) If you have a successful novel, the common sense things to do (in my opinion) is to get the sequel or series out as fast as you can and keep building that audience! Best of luck! Dave

Erik Grossman

In my time mediating pitch sessions with managers and agents, I've heard it two ways: 1) Staying in one genre or theme of material makes it much, much easier to brand a writer who hasn't established a brand of their own yet. Max Landis has a brand. Aaron Sorkin has a brand. Shane Black has a brand. Those writers can do action, drama, comedy... doesn't matter, because you're fairly aware of what kind of movie you're going to see as an audience member. Not so for a writer nobody has heard of. BUT it's a much easier sell for a manager who say "I've got this new writer who KILLS IT in horror comedy. You're doing a horror comedy? You gotta check my writer, he's the one who can do it - absolutely rocks it, check out his other two horror-comedy scripts as proof!" "Oh, you want to do a film with a strong female protagonist? You gotta check out this new writer, does amazing female lead characters, check out the other scripts they wrote, awesome female characters!" So yeah, sticking to one genre or theme makes you an easier sell to the studios and producers. That said, here's what else I hear: 2) Being flexible, and being able to work in any genre is a great quality to have. But as Regina has mentioned, that's something you want in a TV writer's room. That's where TV writers lie - being adaptable to multiple genres, tones, your "theme of the week" so to speak. Feature wise though, you gotta look at it from their point of view. I mean if you're an exec and you're looking to do a female-in-jeopardy thriller... are you going with the writer who can do drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, and has done thriller, or are you going with the writer who has made his or herself KNOWN for doing female-in-jeopardy thrillers?

Jody Ellis

Thanks Erik! I do agree, I think I need to figure out a genre or theme I'm good at and stick with it. It makes sense to do so, and with the direction I'm trying to take.

Regina Lee

If there were one single foolproof strategy, we'd all be multi-millionaires and no film financier would ever lose money. That's not the case. There's no sure thing. The odds are crappy all over. This post will definitely be my last on this topic. IF IF IF a writer's goal is to land LA/NY representation and be sold into the market like Erik Grossman has described above, the odds are higher if the writer has a focused brand/forte, and has the well-written script samples AND THE SKILLS to back up that brand. Are the odds that you go pro in the NBA higher if you play all 5 positions on the court and try to play other pro sports? Or are the odds higher if you focus on mastering 1-2 positions and 1 pro sport? There's an exception to every rule, but are you the type of person to consider the odds? For you, is taking a detour into another sport indeed a detour, or is it your destination? Only you can decide that. What's right for one person is not necessarily right for another person. Bill C has used Bill Goldman, Nora Ephron, and Allan Loeb as models to aspire to. I'll add Leslie Dixon whose credits range from adapting the book DARK FIELDS into thriller LIMITLESS all the way over to MRS. DOUBTFIRE and FREAKY FRIDAY. To Erik's point about branding yourself with a theme (e.g. strong female protagonist writer), Bill Goldman is known as a structure giant. If a studio doesn't know how to structure a story, Bill G might get a call. I spent a week in NY with him when my boss hired him for a rewrite on a G-rated animated family movie. If you're plotting your career with purpose, and you want to sell into Hollywood, if you want to move toward those goals as efficiently as possible, you can decide if the odds are higher for selling yourself as the "next Bill Goldman, Nora Ephron, Allan Loeb, or Leslie Dixon," or if the odds are higher by selling yourself as follows - quoting Erik: "Oh, you want to do a film with a strong female protagonist? You gotta check out this new writer, does amazing female lead characters, check out the other scripts they wrote, awesome female characters!" Everyone's heart is different. Skill level is different. Opportunities are different. Goals are different. It's not "one size fits all." All a message board can do is try to present some info for people to make informed decisions that they are happy with.

Regina Lee

I lied - one last post. If your opportunity and/or goal is non-Hollywood, if there's a financier in Cleveland who wants you to write a G-rated family comedy, a PG-13 biopic, and an R-rated horror movie for them in 2017, then take the 3 differing jobs and write-for-hire!! Every person's sitch is different.

Jody Ellis

Thanks again Regina. All of this has been some excellent food for thought. I am also following up with the manager I've been talking to, as well as my mentor, who is a long-time veteran of the industry.

Lance Ness

I've only been at this a short while. I helped a friend with a ghost story and a scify script. Ive finished a ghost story/thriller, a zombie spoof, and a Christian movie made especially for children whether believer or not. Would like to focus on Christian, but might need to get my foot in the door first.

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