So most filmmakers are at least passingly aware of the importance of genre in independent film distribution. (If you’re not, read this.) But even while most filmmakers have a cursory understanding of what defines a genre, the lines are often less bendable than many filmmakers think they are. So with that in mind, here’s what distributors mean when they say a certain genre.
The classic definition for horror is somewhat crass. Distributors generally say they’re looking for babes and blood when they’re talking about horror films. The difference between horror and thriller is that generally there’s a substantial amount more blood and gore in a horror film, and even if that’s not the case there’s generally more of a focus on jump scares and less of a focus on suspense.
What I learned in Film School was that Horror films focused more on the supernatural and thrillers focused on crazy white guys. There’s some truth to this, but in recent years it’s become less true. The real defining characteristic of a Thriller is SUSPENSE. The thriller focuses more on the build up to what’s lurking at the top of the stairs, and the Horror focuses more on the guy with the Axe chasing the protagonist.
Thrillers definitely need a good payoff at the end. Think about The Shining, how 80% of the movie is largely build-up and the last 20% is jack Nicholson chasing his family around. Without the payoff at the end, the film would be boring and unsatisfying.
We’ve all seen action movies, and they still sell well. Action movies are all about the chase, the explosions, and the gunfights. Generally, there’s also a woman who’s in some level of danger and wearing way too little clothing for the situation she finds herself in. That’s why distributors often call what they’re looking for Girls and Guns.
Generally, it’s difficult to do an action movie on a budget. It can work with martial arts and foot chases, but those are difficult to pull off in as heart pounding a way as would be required to truly sell your film as an action piece. It’s for that reason, I generally recommend filmmakers making their first film to focus on building suspense and make a thriller.
Family films are very in right now, and as such a lot of people are trying to make them. But, just because you call your film a family film doesn’t mean it is one. Family films generally focus on two things. Kids and Animals. If you’ve got a heartwarming movie that focuses on Kids and animals, use this link to submit it. I’d love to represent or distribute it (if its good).
Generally, these films are rated G or PG. If it’s rated PG-13, then it’s probably no longer a family film. (at least according to the general genre guidelines.). Now I get that many families take their kids to see PG-13, this delineation is purely to communicate what sales agents and buyers are looking for, and in the case of family films we’re generally looking for films that appeal families with young children.
Comedy is fairly self explanatory. It’s funny. The point of it is to funny. Most times, this genre is mixed with either another genre or a sub-genre. The Sub Genre is much safer.
All of that being said, I wouldn’t recommend making a low budget comedy. Sure, there have been times that it’s worked, but for every breakout success you can name there are at least 20 you’ve never heard of and never will. In order to make it possible to attract international sales, you need strong, recognnizable name talent. Otherwise international sales are very difficult.
Drama is an interesting genre to define. All films require some dramatic elements. But dramas are generally dealing with life, and the problems that face all of us, or enough of us that the topic is worth exploring. In general, they can make some incredible cinema, but if they’re not exceptional they tend not to make money. Also, to be attractive to an international market, you need recognizable name talent to a very high degree.
Bruce Nash of The-Numbers.com and Stephen Follows of StephenFollows.com did a couple of blogs for the American Film Market exploring this in much greater detail. I’ve linked them below, but it’s important to note that you SHOULD READ THE WHOLE ARTICLES before flaming me in the comments on LinkedIn or other social media outlets.
Finally, we have documentaries. These are films that use a mix of interviews, found footage, and re-enactments to tell what’s sold as a factual story. In reality, every documentary has bias, although some have less than others. Even if everything contained in a documentary is technically true, there’s often bias in how it’s framed and nearly always bias in what information the filmmakers choose to present.
Documentaries tend to make less money up front, but have a longer shelf life than a narrative film. As such, more distributors are getting interested in them since Distribution is increasingly becoming a game of large catalogs and long term profits. More on that in another blog.
With that in mind, the best way to sell a documentary is to figure out what demographic you’re targeting, first, and make a story on a topic that they’ll be able to understand and hopefully learn at least a little bit from. If you want to get a distributor for a project like this, making sure that you and the distributor both understand the target market is absolutely necessary.
Also, if you want help with distribution, you may want to submit your film. The Submit portal will let me review the film for distribution or other services. If your project is early stage, submit it here as well, and I'll reach out to schedule a FREE Strategy Session to help you figure out the next steps to getting your film made.
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My name is Ben, I'm an Entrepreneur, Producer's Rep, and Author. I'm the founder of Guerrilla Rep Media, Co-Founder/CMO of ProductionNext, and founder of Producer Foundry. Together, the organizations seek to help make filmmaking a more economically sustainable endeavor. I am dysic, I have capitalization issues, and the blogs are often unedited. opinions all my own.
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