Last time, I delivered the unpleasant news that a genre is really a set of handcuffs that a writer chooses to wear, accepting a set of limited options in return for a pre-selected audience that wants its movies to fit within those parameters. Today, it gets ever worse. Once you’ve limited yourself to a certain genre, you’re not done: you now need to pick a sub-genre.
As with genre, sub-genres can be defined by subject matter (time travel), point-of-view (satire), source material (docudrama), etc. Movies aren’t strictly marketed by sub-genre (they didn’t get their own sections at Blockbuster), but there are usually lots of clues on the poster, trailer, or tagline to let you know which one you’ve got. People don’t limit their movie choices quite as strictly by sub-genre, (most time-travel fans also like space operas) but everybody has their sub-preferences, which incline them more towards one than another.
Combining sub-genres is tricky. As with genres, you can mix one or two, if you do it right from the beginning, but you can’t switch back and forth at will, and you can’t have it all. Here are some sub-genres:
- Comedy: Romantic Comedy, Comedy of Manners, Farce, Spoof, Satire, Dramedy, Coming of Age
- Drama: Melodrama, Soap opera, Character study, Slice of life, Biopic, Docudrama, Ensemble, Romance, Coming of Age
- Thriller: Noir, Procedural, Contained, Detective, Police, Spy, Revenge, Manhunt
- Horror: Grindhouse, Slasher, Sexualized Monster, Gruesome Monster, Transformation, Psychological, Black Comedy, Zombie
- Action: Super-hero, Historical adventure, Super-spy, Super-cop, Martial Arts
- Sci-Fi: Dystopian, Space Opera, Space Exploration, Robot, One Step Beyond, Alien Invasion, Time Travel
- Fantasy: Fairy Tale, Magic Realism, Sword and Sorcery, Medieval, Cross-Over into Fantasy World
- Western: Spaghetti, Elegaic, Modern-Day, Cattle Drive, Lawless Town, Frontier, Revenge
- War: Black Comedy, Men on a Mission, Heist, Docudrama, Frontlines, Coming of Age
One problem is that, as with combined genres, you run into mixed metaphors: It would be ridiculous if, in the middle of Terminator 5, a wizard showed up, or a vampire, or a singing cowboy, but it would be almost as bad if an alien invasion arrived. That’s a different sub-genre, and a different metaphor, so what would it all mean?
But there are subtler problems as well. Let’s look at high school movies in each comedy sub-genre:
- Romantic comedy: Sixteen Candles
- Comedy of Manners: Clueless
- Farce: American Pie
- Spoof: Not Another Teen Movie
- Dramedy: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
- Satire: Election
- Coming of Age: Gregory’s Girl
Another reason to stick to one sub-genre is point of view. We sympathize with Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, but we also look down on her as a tone-deaf exemplar of a certain type. On the other hand, we fully identify with Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, who is on the same level as us. Once those two perspectives are established, it would be too jarring to jump back and forth between them.
So once you have your genre and sub-genre, how do you tap into the expectations that they create in your audience? That’s tomorrow...