Friday, July 17, 2009


From the screenwriter’s perspective, genre is the acknowledgement of the pre-eminence of both tribal affiliation and the presence in one’s audience of a tribal consciousness.

In terms of dramatic, screen storytelling, tribe is identifiable by what it does.

Genre, in turn, is an expression of those defining social processes through which particular tribal entities manifest their being, both inside and outside the script.

Genre is the tribal storyteller's manner of portraying or dramatising the guiding themes and symbols inherent in both the storyteller’s tribe and audience. The underlying values, emotions and ideas by which the storyteller and his/her audience identify themselves are major considerations (or influences) in the choice of genre.

Consider the words: "Once upon a time ..." They will have a very different meaning for an audience whose cultural initiation has included fairy tales. An initiated audience will expect an anecdote or narrative, probably of a fanciful nature, involving unexpected events and characters, some of whom may be larger than life.

Genre invokes tribe and tribe evokes genre.

Dramatic scripts, if approached tribally, from the perspective of character-based experiences, evolve into structures that are purposeful; and, like the actions of the characters that inhabit them, are goal oriented. Genre implies purpose.

A screen story exists for a purpose; it possesses its own objective, some times quite different from the objectives of the characters, insofar as it conveys an emotional meaning that the storyteller wants to leave with his or her audience.

The character, structure and movement of the emotional energy of a film, when grounded in a dramatic grammar and guided by tribal sensitivities, produce a singular coherence, which we refer to as genre.

Every genre produces its own, special kind of energy that derives from the actions of ALL of the story’s characters. Such actions appear real, legitimate and seamless so long as they maintain coherence amongst all of the story’s constituent parts, most of which – if the film is successful – will go unnoticed by the audience.

Only when it breaks down, when the style is inexplicably altered or changes in some way, do we become aware of the species of the emotional energy we have been experiencing, and if that happens we are invariably thrown out of the story.

Genre is the dress code of character and plot – not a physical dress code, but an emotional one, for it tells the audience that has been invited to the feast what kind of emotional investment is required and what sort of party they can expect.

So long as the story remains the story in which the emotional investment has been made one reads the emotional codes of the characters with alacrity and, hopefully, some degree of empathy. But break the code and you will find that it is difficult if not impossible to transcend or constructively transform the confusion thus produced.

A screen story makes a pact with its characters, and these include not only the characters IN the script, but also the characters outside of it, namely the AUDIENCE and the TRIBE. Taken together this configuration determines the screenwriter’s relationship to the subject matter.

The most successful film storytellers frequently tell stories about themselves, or the people to whom they are tribally connected. It is difficult to imagine how a filmmaker could create the kind of emotional energy required to make an emotional impact on an audience without working from his or her origins. Indeed it is these origins that have brought him or her into the ambit of the audiences to whom the stories might be addressed. In this way, genre waits on audience, or at least the storyteller’s realisation of audience, imaginatively, in the process of finding the story.

The means by which one communicates a story – in this case, film or video – is another factor in the encoding process that is genre. Choices concerning the way in which the story is shot, lit, designed, edited or organised, are all elements in the creation of genre, and are themselves grounded in the writer’s, director’s producer’s et al, relationships with the characters, the audience and the tribe.

Purpose, or genre, is determined by a nexus of identities involving characters in the script (and their given circumstances) and characters outside the script - namely the storyteller/s, the audience and the tribe (and their tribal circumstances).

The sympathetic and coherent alignment of all the circumstances of ALL the characters in the story-finding enterprise produce the CHARACTER of the story itself, which is its genre.

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