I’m currently hosting the AUB’s Scriptwriting For Film & TV evening course, and in one of the classes I do a session on the importance of tone and genre.
In brief summary: GENRE is a type of film. It’s important to us as writers – to help define the stories we tell, and also how we define ourselves as writers (“I write romcoms”), or at the very least, how the industry will define us (“he’s the romcom guy”). Genre is more important for the audience as it helps to define the stories they want to see but even more importantly, what they EXPECT to see.
GENRE = TONE = Audience expectation
Tone and genre should be clear from (or appropriate to) the title of your story, and your logline, to the very opening page of your screenplay (how you set the tone from the outset). Be sharp, be clear, be focused, be assured. Develop your ORIGINAL VOICE as a screenwriter: your unique style and approach to how you write a script. Screenplays might seem ‘samey’ but good screenplays have original voice in the way the writer skilfully tells the story and sets the tone. Here’s page 1 of Foxcatcher by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman:
If I knew nothing of this film beforehand and was picking up the script from the spec pile, I would be thinking: ‘Foxcatcher, intriguing title. Opening page, imagery of a dedicated wrestler who trains harder than anyone else, and although the opening dialogue undermines that imagery, the writing is assured. This is a sports drama of some kind, maybe going for a gritty and realistic vibe.”
Genre conjures up certain expectations from an audience (in a romcom they’ll expect basic structure or representations of ‘boy meets girl, boy messes up with girl, boy gets girl in the end’). Genre also conjures up certain tropes (standard plot elements you’d expect to see or happen) but that doesn’t mean that tropes are cliches. Cliches are to be avoided, tropes to be subverted.
Here’s a fun one page exercise for tone and genre:
Write one page of the beginning of a script that sets the scene, tone and the genre of the film. NO DIALOGUE ALLOWED so you can only establish the tone and genre through the scene description. Choose an appropriate title for the script, and use the following scenario: a guy walks into a bank to take out some money. Now choose a genre: romcom, thriller, horror, action adventure (or do the exercise a few times in different genres, but ensure the title is fitting for each). Have fun!