Specs & The City: Mixing Genres and ‘Shaun of the Dead’

Because I'm good enough...

Because I’m good enough…

Originality in Hollywood is like some mythical cinematic Bigfoot that everyone says exists, but no one ever seems to be able to shine a light on. But perception is reality, and if your script “feels” original, then, for all intensive purposes, it is. So how do you capture that feeling in your script? How do you stand out in a town where appearances are everything and everyone is obsessed with finding the next big thing? There are loads of different ways to tweak your story and try to get into that “different but the same” sweet spot that makes studio executives squeal like school girls as they imagine dollar signs gleefully skipping all the way to the bank. But for the purposes of this column, we’re going to focus on two little words – Mixing genres.

The mere thought of potentially doubling a films target audience by successfully meshing two genres together is enough to make an exec go week in the knees. And the best news for writers is that there’s a long history of these films getting made. Look at Alien (Jaws in space) or Shanghai Noon (western meets martial arts) – mark your calendars because you may never see those two films in the same sentence again – are prime examples of how mixing your genre can produce a feeling of uniqueness in your story. Looking for a more recent example? No problem. A few years ago, Judd Apatow and company decided to take your traditional Rom-com structure and add in a dash of R-Rated sex comedy and came up with 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up.

Boom.

But my favorite film to discuss in relation to mixing genre has to be the first film of the self-proclaimed “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Director, Edgar Wright (for those not in the know, Hot Fuzz and the upcoming The World’s End are the other two). It’s a little film that is nothing short of brilliant in concept and execution. Let’s take a look at…

Mixing Genres and ‘Shaun of the Dead’

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

What makes Shaun of the Dead so amazing? Simple. It had the balls to mix not two, but THREE genres – Comedy, Horror, and Romance – introducing the world to the term, “romzomcom,” and then it executed on that idea brilliantly (always the key, isn’t it). What Pegg and Wright did so well in their script is creating a narrative that would accommodate all three genres equally well.

Surf's Up!

Surf’s Up!

See, the danger of attempting a mixed genre script is that you have to approach it organically. If you simple take two genres and mesh them together, the result will be an uninspiring as it sounds. You have to have a passion for every genre you’re bringing to the table and be willing to develop each of them with the same degree of attention to detail. If you don’t; if you’re simply slapping two genres together because it’s trendy (hey that surfing movie last year did well, and people are loving these Twilight films… so… surfing vampires! Actually… wait… that’s not bad), you can rest assured that it WILL show.

If, on the other hand, you can apply your core story arc, and then weave the tropes of each genre elegantly into that story, well, then you’ve got something. At its heart, Shaun is about a young slacker trying to prove to his (soon to be ex) girlfriend that he’s worth keeping around. But in this case, instead of a trip abroad, or an unexpected family visitor, the MacGuffin that kick-starts our heroes journey to self-growth and glory in the eyes of his lady is the zombie apocalypse.

By applying the same situations that you’d normally find in Rom-Com to this new universe, and then seeking out logical (and funny) solutions that pay homage to all three genres, Shaun of the Dead elevates itself on all fronts.

So, if you find yourself struggling with one of your loglines, try mixing genres. It’s not necessarily a move for beginners, but when well executed, it can give your script that special glimmer or originality. And sometimes that little something extra is all it takes to get you noticed. Give it a shot sometime and see what happens. But stay away from the surfing-vampire idea. That one’s all mine.

Now go wipe that red off, and keep writing!

Come meet Brad at Screenwriters World Conference this weekend in NYC! 

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