A friend of mine recently emailed me this amazing photo of a mother tiger raising small piglets as her own. According to the accompanying story, the mother tiger was depressed after losing her own children. And the piglets were helpless without a mother. By combining the two, the zookeepers were able to solve the problem.
This got me thinking about screenwriting.
A famous poet said, “If they haven’t seen it before, it’s original.” But of course, there is little that is original and the question becomes how to tell your story in a way that seems new.
My previous post explored how to use genre to find your story. But you also have the option of combining structure and genre to “originalize” an existing project that doesn’t seem “to pop.”
Begin by identifying what genre your screenplay is in now and then consider what elements from other genres you could combine with what you already have. You would identify the basic elements in your script. If it were a crime drama, the basic plot is a cop catches a criminal and the main characters are hero/heroine, villain and partner/buddy/love interest.
Next, break up your story into three acts using our four-part structure and place the various plot events where they may fit. You will be able to identify what works and what doesn’t. Pretend your script is about a good cop with a good boss trying to solve a murder, and he falls in love with a nice girl. This is already a combined genre piece, crime genre and love genre. It’s well-structured, fits into the three-act structure, but doesn’t feel exciting or new.
You could borrow from the noir genre and make him a bad cop with a bad boss who falls in love with bad girl, and suddenly the story is a bit like LA Confidential. You could make the cop an FBI Agent trying to solve a gangland killing and add comedy and you might end up with something more like Married to the Mob, or add science fiction elements and have something more like Blade Runner. You might also flip the genders. Make the cop a female and you get something more like The Silence of the Lambs. Try various combinations and look for that moment when you sense you’re onto something new and then go for it. The more fun you have the better the result will be.
Movies with combined genres:
Drama + Crime = Witness
Drama + Romantic Comedy = As Good As It Gets, Something’s Gotta Give
Drama + Epic = Gladiator, The Godfather
Coming of Age + Action/Adventure = Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins
Coming of Age + Black Comedy = Garden State, Adaptation
Comedy + Gangster = Pulp Fiction, Married to the Mob
Comedy + Horror = Ghostbusters, Shaun of the Dead
Sci-Fi + Horror = Constantine