TUESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

PIGEON HOLING


visitor on DVD

I always say to write the type of movies you regularly pay to see, the films you can't wait to see, the films you stand in line to see. You know, from tip examples, that for me those are action and thriller movies. I have seen all three BOURNE movies on opening day, and if there's anything that even resembles a Hitchcock film (like the French film TELL NO ONE). I'm going to make sure I see it in the cinema on the opening weekend. Those are the kinds of movies I love, the kinds of movies I could not wait to see as a kid, and the kinds of scripts I write now. I write the kind of movies that I regularly pay to see - and that means I write what I love.

But you also know from the script tip examples that those aren't the only types of films I like - one of my favorite films from a couple of years ago was THE VISITOR and I see comedies and rom-coms and indie films and just about everything else. I love *movies* and have since I was a little kid. They take me into some other world for a couple of hours... they are my drug and I am an addict.

What do you do if you love *all* movies? What should you do if you want to write every genre of film? Should you just write every genre of screenplay? One of each? Ten scripts in ten different genres?

You don't want to get typecast as a writer of a specific genre, you don't want to be pigeon holed, right? I mean, Pigeon Holing sounds painful and dirty... You don't want to get stuck only writing in one genre for the rest of your career? You don't want to be married to one particular genre, do you? Stuck writing one kind of script forever?

LET'S PLAY DOCTOR

Extraordinary Measures

But being typecast is actually a *good thing* - it's the same as being a medical specialist. A couple year's ago the film EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, based on a true story, came out. Two of John Crowley's children are diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, Pompe... Now, he doesn't take his kids to their Pediatrician or call a General Practice doctor - those doctors know a little bit about everything and can diagnose some things... but whenever they are faced with something that are not an expert in (like Pompe) they will refer you to a specialist. And that's what Crowley does - he tracks down an *expert* in genetic diseases, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) because he knows more than any GP or Pediatrician about Pompe. You want the person who knows the most about the disease when your children's lives are at stake. In the case of Crowley (Brendan Fraser) little was known about Pompe, so he needed an expert in genetic diseases who could *discover* a cure. Though it' not *impossible* that a regular pediatrician could have discovered the cure, it's highly unlikely. The specifics of genetic disease are complicated...

Just as the specifics of any story genre are. When a producer is looking for a writer or script for a fratboy fart comedy with heart, they know that not every screenwriter can pull that off. How many bad films in that subgenre come out every year? (Okay, how many star Will Ferrell?) Not everyone understands that genre. So they focus their search for a script or writer to those who are experts in the genre and know all of those little tricks and techniques that I do not know... even though I have seen a bunch of films from Apatow and the rest in that subgenre. Even if you have written one fratboy comedy, there is some other writer out there who has written a stack of them... and which would you hire to write your fratboy comedy that you hope will spawn a franchise starring Paul Rudd and Michael Cera as identical twins? Producers look for specialists - and whether those specialists know more or less than a GP doesn't matter. Someone who specializes in the genre *seems* like they would know more than someone who has only written a single script in that genre. And that's who will end up with the job.

Rookie

You may not want to be categorized, but there are so many writer and so many scripts and so many possibilities out there that they have to find some way to narrow it all down. That's why we have genres in the first place - so that the audience has some idea what kind of emotional experience they will receive from seeing the movie. They want to narrow down the possibilities. "You'll like it!" Okay, but will I like it because it made me laugh or like it because it made me cry? I may not be in the mood to cry tonight... I might *need* a good laugh. Genres serve an important function in matching movies to audience. And the same is true when it comes to matching writers to material. You know who wrote EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES? Robert Nelson Jacobs - an expert in adapting dramatic stories to the screen. His previous credits include THE SHIPPING NEWS and CHOCOLATE. He's on that list the producers looked at when they needed someone who could take an existing dramatic story and turn it into a successful film. The specialist, not the GP.

You might look at a movie like BLIND SIDE and think no pigeon holing is involved in a script like that... and you'd be wrong! The great John Lee Hancock is a Texan and makes uplifting sports films like THE ROOKIE... which was written by the amazing Mike Rich who broke in with the Nicholl winner FINDING FORRESTER (basketball) and the wrote THE ROOKIE (baseball) and RADIO (football) and MIRACLE (ice hockey) and SECRETARIAT (horse racing)! All sports films! Even on a serious drama, they are looking for the expert.

CHOOSE YOUR HOLE!

Because there are so many screenwriters out there, they need some way to separate you from the others, to remember who you are. A "shorthand" for you and your talents. So, they are going to pigeon hole you in a genre or subgenre. Since they are going to typecast you anyway, why not *select* how you are going to be typecast? What if you aren't a die hard horror movie fan but write one anyway... and it sells and you are now typecast as a horror writer? This will happen to you - the first genre you sell in will end up your genre for a while, because that's the genre you've had success in. That's not a problem if you love horror films, but is a problem if you are just a generic writer who wrote a horror script that sold and want to follow that success up with a rom-com. You won't be generic anymore... you'll be that horror writer.

So, instead of just being a writer, it makes sense to become a specialist - an expert in a specific genre. Just like a heart surgeon is higher paid and usually more in demand than a standard doctor. Being an expert in a genre helps them remember who you are, and is often the reason why the call you in the first place - screenwriting tends to be genre work unless you plan on making the film yourself. "Who do we know that writes big action stuff?" If your name is on that list, you end up meeting with some producer who read a couple of your scripts a while back and is now trying to come up with a buddy movie for Vin Deisel. (A job I was up for a few years back - I didn't get that job, but the guy who can't be typecast wasn't even on their list). As long as they want to pigeon hole you, pick the pigeon hole you want to spend the beginning of your career in. The genre you love. And then really become the expert in that genre - if you love romantic comedies, learn everything you can about them and know how they tick... so that you are *the* romantic comedy writer.

MAJOR & MINOR

bladerunner

That doesn't mean you can only write in one genre. Because you are your own boss, you can write whatever kind of scripts you want (you just may have trouble selling a romantic comedy if you are known for horror). Being pigeon holed doesn't limit what you can write - It just focuses your career in a specific genre so that when they open that wacky Rolodex to "Fratboy Comedy" your name is on the list. I know that sounds crazy, but somewhere there really is a list of screenwriters broken down by genre - you know there's some notebook in some assistant's desk so that when the boss says they need someone who knows how to write a Nudist Western to adapt Max Brand's recently discovered novel A FISTFUL OF RAW HIDE, that assistant can start making calls and setting up meetings for writers to pitch their take. They don't want to spend a lot of valuable time wondering who the hell they can get to write this - they want a list to choose from.

The best way to change your pigeon hole? Write a couple of specs in another genre and get them out there. "Hey, you know that guy who writes Nudist Westerns? He also writes Robot Romances! I just read a couple of his rob-roms and they're great! Let's call him in to pitch his take on BLADERUNNER 2: THE FORBIDDEN LOVE?" And you've just switched genres. What's more, if there's anything that straddles the genre you *were* known for and the genre you just wrote a couple of new specs in, you'll probably land that job. You majored in Fratboy Comedy and minored in Robot Romances, so you're perfect for A.I. PIE - the futuristic sequel to AMERICAN PIE.

As a thriller and action writer, I've written a family comedy that was made (and spawned 4 sequels) and frequently get meetings from a girl/horse thing I wrote. You can't get more different than military action and family comedy - but I wrote both in the same year. Most of my favorite films are thrillers and action movies, so I am writing what I love - the kind of movies I pay to see every Friday night.

The only thing that sounds kinkier than pigeon holing is...

SELF BRANDING

No. Not with that hot cattle brand - unless you're into that.

repo man

Another reason why you *want* to be pigeon holed: the problem when you are starting out is that no one knows who you are or what you are, so you need to create a "brand" for yourself. A way for them to identify you. That's where being a specialist in a genre is important. You identify yourself with a specific type of work that they are looking for... so when they look for that work they come to you.

It's important to create an identity for yourself as a writer. Without an identity you're just a generic - white label with blue stripe and block letters that say WRITER (see REPO MAN if you're too young for the ref). You want to take WRITER and focus it, individualize it, make it a specific label so that they know what kind of writer. You create a brand name and identity for yourself, so that when they are shopping for a writer they grab your brand and put it in their cart.

For a while I was a thriller writer - and people bought scripts and met with me because I wrote thrillers. Then the market changed, and I became a military action writer (despite having never been in the military) - and I had meetings with a bunch of places because they were looking for military action writers - I had a couple of meetings with Neufeld at Paramount on Tom Clancy stuff (post Ford, pre-Affleck) and the military action thing was one of the reasons Regency was interested in having me do the rewrite on HIGH CRIMES... and was the sole reason the movie THE BASE was made. If I had not been "military action writer" I don't think I would have gotten any of the meetings where they were looking for a military action writer. I was on the Rolodex under that genre.

I think having a genre that you are known for is an important part of self branding - identifying the kind of work you do so that the people who buy work or hire people to do work think of *you* before that generic writer.

THE BIG TENT

extraordinary measures book

Even though I'm a thriller specialist, that doesn't mean I'm just writing the same script over and over again with a different title. There are dozens of different kinds of thrillers - subgenres that I can write. I have written chase thrillers, political thrillers, erotic thrillers, psychological thrillers, contained thrillers, espionage thrillers, women in jeopardy thrillers, cop thrillers, revenge thrillers, and all kinds of other subgenres. Any genre is a big tent with all kinds of possibilities - known and unknown. When I have a meeting with a producer of Lifetime Movies, I'm the guy who knows how to write women in jeopardy thrillers, when I'm meeting with some other producer I may be the guy who knows how to write revenge thrillers. Next year I plan to rewrite a political thriller, write a high concept espionage thriller, do a major page one rewrite on a contained thriller, and write a comedy thriller about a butler who solves mysteries. Each of those is an entirely different experience for the audience, and a different experience for *me* when I write them. Different kinds of things that I enjoy.

Look at your favorite genre and see all of the different subgenres within... and invent some more if you feel creative!

Which brings up the next step in being a specialist - the angle on the angle. With so many different subgenres, you may want to further focus yourself on one subgenre. Pigeon hole yourself even more? Sure, why not? You can write whatever you want to write - you are your own boss - so why not be the expert on contained thrillers, so that when they open that crazy Rolodex, you're the name at the top of the list for that subgenre? The first person they call! If you know all of the ins and outs of Contained Thrillers, you aren't just the first person on the list, you are the *best* person on the list. You can still work within that big tent of Thrillers, but specialize in a certain type of thriller as well.

Being pigeon holed isn't a bad thing - it's a great way for them to remember you, and to be seen as an expert instead of just another generic writer.


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