So, in Chapter 2 of Save the cat, “Give me the same thing… only different!” Blake Snyder talks about how to dance with cliche – you have to be in the vicinity of a cliche, because otherwise your script is probably so out there that most viewers won’t be able to relate to it at all, but not too close. He ties this back into the scenario of pitching your movie – that not only do you have to be able to explain what your movie idea is, but also what it’s most like – and that you have to be very familiar with other movies in your genre, so as to know what the specific cliches are and put your own spin on your story.
He then starts going into detail about his own working list of ten genres or categories, which aren’t organized along traditional lines, because a term like ‘Romantic Comedy’ or ‘Hard Science Fiction’ doesn’t explain anything about the storyline, which is a good point. To run down the story genres quickly, we have:
Monster in the house: Dangerous ‘monster’, (who could be a person,) and people trapped inside an enclosed ‘house’ with it. Lots of running and hiding, usually at least one of the people is morally responsible for the monster being there, and they die while others manage to escape at the end.
Golden Fleece: Any kind of quest, road trip, or heist movie. The hero goes out in search of some tangible goal and ends up discovering himself.
Out of the bottle: Stories of wish fufillment that don’t work as planned or the comeuppance of somebody who needs it.
Dude with a problem: An ordinary person finds themselves in desperate, extraordinary, primal circumstances, and must rise to the occasion.
Rites of passage: Any storyline fundamentally centered around dealing with a change or transition in the main character’s life that the audience can relate to.
Buddy love: Stories about the coming together of two friends, or the courtship of a would-be couple.
Whydunit: Exposing a mystery of motivation, unravelling the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.
The fool triumphant: Setting a ‘village idiot’ underdog against the establishment and showing that he’s the wisest of us all in the end.
Institutionalized: A movie about a group of people and the craziness that develops when we identify with something bigger than ourselves, group dynamics that are crazy and self-destructive.
Superhero: A main character larger than life and his difficulties fitting in or relating to the ordinary world.
After going over this list, Blake comments on how sometimes, two movies in the same category are really remarkably close when you look at the plot beats, but that such close matches are perfectly ‘okay’ because there’s always a new twist on the more recent story to make it something unique.
He also lectures a little bit in the summary about how looking for exceptions to the genres isn’t the point, that it’s a way of thinking about the stories in movies, and encouraging us would-be screenwriters to watch lots of movies and narrow our focus in concentrating on those that tell stories that sound like the kind of stories we want to write. He even points out that it’s alright to blend genres or set out in search of an eleventh genre – but that the script might not sell in either case. (Heck, I think it might not sell no matter how closely it matches a genre, but I understand the point of the disclaimer.
So, without further ado, let’s get to… the Chapter Two Exercises! And they seem to follow a cliche pattern with a twist too:
Exercise 2.1 – for the new releases this week, decide what genre the movie falls into and why.
No strings attached. I’d put this into the ‘buddy love’ category, and not just because it seems clear that the two leads are trying to straddle the fence between buddies and lovers. It fits in that ‘Buddy Love’ movies are the ones that are most concerned with the specifics of the relationship between the two leads. ‘Rites of passage’ might apply if going through a friends-with-benefits arrangement was a life transition that everybody could relate to, but I don’t think so, and while having a stable f***buddy might be a wish that a lot of people in that age bracket have, I don’t think that ‘Out of the bottle’ relates quite so well.
The way back. Based on the plot blurb available on IMDB, this is a storyline about escaping and journeying to freedom. I think that ‘Golden Fleece’ is the best bet, as long as the journey is a metaphor for the character’s own personal growth. Though there’s an ensemble cast, I don’t think that ‘Institutionalized’ gets to the core of the story. ‘Dude with a problem’ might relate too – but I think that the travel motif doesn’t fit as well for DWAP.
The company men. I put this solidly into ‘Rites of passage’ territory, with the life transition being the main character losing the jobs that they got their sense of identity from.
Exercise 2.2 – Look up TV movie listings and place five movies into their genre.
Josie and the Pussycats. Out of the bottle – a small town girl-rock band gets a record deal out of the blue and is flown to the big city by their new label representative – who has a sinister motive. Classic wish fufillment story.
Nick and Norah’s infinite playlist. Definitely buddy love.
Out of Sight. Buddy love, with a side of dude problem.
Two week’s notice. Again, buddy love.
Salt. This would be a classic ‘dudette with a problem’ story. Finding out that you’ve been named as an assasin for an enemy country is definitely a big problem, and the fact that the main character is a CIA agent just makes the stakes higher. (I don’t see any reason that she qualifies for the superhero genre just because of who she works for.)
I also found two titles in the TV listings for Friday night that were a bit harder for me to categorize, so I’ll ramble about them for a bit, comparing what I know about the movies to each of the ten genres to see how well they fit and I’d welcome your comments.
My best friend’s girl…
Monster in the house? No, no monsters here.
Golden Fleece? Again, I don’t think so, there’s no travel and no obvious goal.
Out of the bottle? Possibly, with the wish fufillment being a beautiful girl who gives you an unexpected invitation. (And the original guy getting his comeuppance?) Still, I’m not sure that fits.
Dude with a problem? Several dudes have problems here, but DWAP is about PRIMAL problems, and there’s no life and death stuff here.
Rites of passage? I really don’t think so.
Buddy love? Possibly – but that leaves open the question of who the buddies are. Does Buddy Love cover love triangles and other threesome plots? Maybe it does – I don’t see anywhere else on the list that can handle them.
Whydunit? No, no great mysteries or evils here.
The fool triumphant? I don’t think this fits either.
Institutionalized? Really no.
Superhero? Definitely not.
So we’re left with Buddy love, or possibly Out of the Bottle.
Monster in the house? Nope.
Golden Fleece? Doesn’t seem to work.
Out of the bottle? Not here.
Dude with a problem? Not primal.
Rites of passage? Possibly marriage, and finding out that your friend is going to marry the wrong person, might fit.
Buddy love? The ‘buddy’ side could fit here, though again it’s not a one on one friendship but a group of guys. (I don’t think that the girl the buddies want to set Silverman up with is central enough to the plot for it to be a typical romance, though I might be wrong.)
The fool triumphant? I don’t think so.
Institutionalized? Possibly, we do seem to have some crazy group dynamics here, but I’m not sure that’s the core of the story.
So again, it’s most likely Buddy love, or possibly Institutionalized. There’s definitely a lot of Buddy Love on the tube tonight, either way.
Exercise 2.3 – Explain what category the scripts that you’re currently working on would be in.
Well, I haven’t been writing or planning a script recently, so I’ll do what I did last week and go with some of my Script Frenzy entries:
Dungeon Heroes – I initially thought that this was Golden Fleece, and that fits to a certain extent, but there’s not much of a journey involved, and ‘Dude with a problem’ actually fits better, though the main character to a certain extent signs himself up to deal with the problem. On the other hand, his girlfriend is being held captive, and that’s a parallel situation to a lot of the example movies in the ‘Dude with a problem’ section – they’re just ordinary guys, who realize that if they don’t fight for the person that they love… maybe nobody else will.
The African Secret – This one is definitely Golden Fleece. The heroine goes to far distant places with a specific plan and objective, (it’s a heist movie, except that what’s being stolen is information, not physical, a spy caper,) and finds out more about herself.
Haunted by a Whisper – I think this one actually goes in as a Buddy Love story – not on the romance side, but the main character’s relationship with his ‘mentor’ is closer to the heart of the storyline than the supernatural capers… which might be part of the problem I had in writing this script, that I didn’t realize that. There’s also a fairly strong element of Golden Fleece.
Antarran Holiday – Call it an Out of the Bottle movie, with the wish being taking a trip to see an alien planet. (Which does also make it a bit like a group road trip movie, bringing in Golden Fleece elements.)
See you next week for chapter three – where we’ll talk about main characters!