Decide the genre for your next film in 15 mins

It sometimes feels like film genres are often an afterthought. Once you’ve got the story, characters and started wondering where the heck you’re gonna get the £10k you need, genre feels like a distant point. 

But today we’re going to take a few minutes to dive into genre, why it matters so much, and how to find your personal genre. 

Film and literary genre – the differences

A film genre is based on settings, themes and narrative. Although it borrows from literary genres, there are far more film genres than there are literary genres. 

In film, you can have all kinds of genres, and sub-genres within each of them. 

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Drama
  • Fantasy
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Romantic & romantic comedy
  • Sci-fi
  • Thriller
  • Western

Genre and the indie film

While each genre shows up within indie films, drama, comedy and horror are usually the most common. 

These 3 are especially common in short films, as they do well on the festival circuit and can be relatively inexpensive to make. 

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There are plenty of festivals dedicated to just one genre – horror being the best example. But of course there are plenty of crossovers. Thriller, drama and horror frequently overlap, and comedy can overlap with drama, and even thriller or horror. 

Why genre matters to short films

The reason genre is important for short films (and all films, actually) is because it’ll massively affect your distribution. Get it right and you’re going to make your life a lot smoother, plus save $$$. 

Making a horror film? You need to budget for multiple horror festival submission fees, and you need to have your film finished by the first festival deadline. 

Making a drama? You might want to skip the expense of festivals and go for an online release. 

The question I see skipped most often is ‘how much can I afford for distribution’?

So if you’re trying to make your film on a shoestring, think about which genre is cheapest to make. Drama can be cheap to make if you make it all character-focused. Horror can be done cheaply if you get SFX done by a friend that owes you a favour.

Read more: How to Know Which Distribution Route is Right for your Short Film

Genre is also the easiest way to plan when and where you should release your film, and which audience you need to target. 

Having a plan will save you anywhere between £100-£600 on distribution, grow a following of fascinated fans and attract attention from producers, companies and investors. 

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Having a clear genre (and committing to it from first draft to final cut) also makes it a heck of a lot easier for festival programmers and sales agents. It even helps out YouTube and Vimeo recommend your film to the people who are already looking for films like yours. 

How creative geniuses make genre work for them 

Despite there being a set list of genres, you don’t need to feel restrained. 

Genre works best for writers, directors and creative producers when you make it work for you (instead of boxing your projects into a genre). 

Think of any creative genius. We’re gonna go with Phoebe Waller-Bridge because I binged Fleabag again last week. Side note: if anyone knows of an antidote to a Phoebe addiction, please let me know. 

Regardless of what show Phoebe is crafting, you can always tell it’s her creative work. She sticks broadly to drama, but throws in romance, comedy and a few thriller elements too. 

Or Sofia Coppola, for instance. She’s usually based in drama, with a few dark thriller elements thrown in.

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And of course, genre isn’t just rooted in the script. 

Genre can be shown through colour palettes, shot choices and soundtrack. 

Again, this is another reason why you have to know your genre (and stick to it). There’s nothing worse than watching a film that’s clearly a drama, but every visual is trying to make it a horror/thriller/anything other than drama. 

Finding your genre

One of the first things I do with all of the filmmakers I work with is to niche down their work. The first step to doing this is to make a list of every film or TV show that you love. 

Films and shows to include on your list:

  • Anything that speaks to you
  • Projects that stick in your mind 
  • Shows or films that you rewatch
  • Anything that you are always recommending to other people

Films and shows to leave off your list:

  • Projects you admire for their technical achievements 
  • Shows or films that everyone else is talking about 

I love pretty much anything by PWB, and by Sofia Coppola (a more recent love of mine). Both tend to feature protagonists that are in transition. They both tend to make dramas, with a few other elements mixed in. Plus, they can go from happy, to romantic, to dark all in the space of an hour. 

So I know that’s going to be the starting point for all of my projects. I tend to start with drama, and each logline begins with ‘a short drama’. 

It might sound repetitive, but you’d be amazed. Especially when you have so many other elements to work with. 

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For example, right now on our slate we have a historical drama, a romantic drama with comedy elements, a darker, mental-health-focused drama and a quieter drama that’ll be right at home in the mumblecore movement. 

Read more: Why you need a slate as an indie filmmaker

So if you’re thinking drama or comedy sounds too bland to commit to for your career, no need to worry.  

Why finding your genre is the key to stepping up your career

Once you’ve found your genre, you’re never going to want to leave it. Luckily, that’s the very best thing you can do for your career. 

Think about it. A new show from Phoebe Waller-Bridge? You know what your getting, and that makes you all the more excited for it. A new Tarantino film? You know the score. 

This is the key to building an audience that’s always looking forward to watching your next project. Having this audience will entice the big decision-makers to pick up the next 2 projects you have in development, and they’ll know exactly where to distribute them and who to advertise to. 

Then you’ll reap even more benefits, including *actually* making a profit and getting even more eyes on your film. 

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All that simply from committing to a genre? Hell yes. 

What’s your genre?

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