Watch a bad movie and it typically focuses on a single genre such as a bad action movie that’s nothing but explosions and gunfire (“Terminator Genisys”), or a bad comedy that tries to do nothing but pile on jokes that fail to work (“Disaster Movie”). To create a compelling story, combine two or more genres.
Consider two movies: “Ghostbusters” and “Ready or Not”. Both are comedy horror movies but “Ghostbusters” is a comedy first with horror second. Thus the emphasis is on jokes first and horror as an afterthought. The comedy shapes the story but the horror helps shape how that story is told.
For example, “Ghostbusters” starts out with a librarian terrified by seeing a ghost. From that point on, “Ghostbusters” could have focused solely on horror but then the next scene shows Bill Murray hitting on an attractive co-ed by shocking a boy until he leaves.
When your story consists of two (or more) genres, every scene must reflect that genre somehow. In “Ghostbusters,” every scene either contains comedy or horror, or a combination of the two. A horror scene occurs when Sigourney Weaver unpacks groceries in her apartment and eggs start mysteriously breaking open. A horror comedy scene occurs when Rick Moranis is running from a statue of a dog and peers into the window of a fancy restaurant. The patrons stare and when Rick disappears, they go back to eating as if nothing happened.
While “Ghostbusters” focuses on comedy first and then horror, “Ready or Not” focuses on horror first and then comedy. That means most of the scenes are horror with comedy thrown in to highlight the horror.
In one scene in “Ready or Not,” family members are arguing about where to find the hero to kill her when a maid rushes in to say she knows where the hero is. At that moment, one of the incompetent family members accidentally fires a crossbow and sends an arrow through the mouth of the maid.
That scene combines horror and comedy but unlike “Ghostbusters,” “Ready or Not” always focuses on horror with comedy never appearing on its own.
The key to identifying two genres for your story is to define what your story is about (the main genre) and how you want to tell your story (the secondary genre).
Watch bad movies and they’re awful because they often fail to stay focused on two dominant genres. “Mortal Engines” is about a dystopian world where cities roll around on wheels, attacking smaller towns. It’s kind of an action genre but that’s about it. As a result, it relies on mindless action to tell a story because it lacks a secondary genre that would have focused on how to tell that action story.
If your screenplay feels flat and uninteresting, focus it by clearly defining a main genre and a secondary genre. The main genre defines what your story is about and your secondary genre defines how you tell your story.
Two genres help define your story so use them to help you stay focused in telling a finely crafted story that Hollywood will want to turn into a movie.