Watch: How Tobe Hooper Dissolved the Limits of Genre

Hooper’s work shows that there’s always room for experimentation.

The word genre is usually accompanied by the distant sound of cage bars descending and locking into place. Horror films have rules. Science fiction films have rules. Romantic comedies have rules. But do they?

Hooper’s ‘The Mangler’ is, rather than a late-night mental snack, a tour-de-force.

In his newest video essay in the “Unloved” series for RogerEbert.com, Scout Tafoya shows, with his characteristically nuanced and incisive commentary, that Tobe Hooper, known most for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and perhaps least for the subject of this piece, The Mangler, knew how to bust open the boundaries of whatever genre he might be working in—usually sci-fi or horror—and create something new that stayed new. He did this primarily through technique—camera angles, bizarre color sense. In so doing, he demonstrated by example that there is always room, regardless of what genre a filmmaker might be working in, for experimentation. Watch Tafoya’s video and read our genre-defying points from Hooper’s work that any filmmaker might appreciate below:

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No Film School

How the DIY Safdie Brothers Shot the Genre Thriller of the Year on 35mm Cinemascope

In ‘Good Time’, the Safdie brothers use their characteristic scrapyard DIY to bring Robert Pattinson into the ‘warped moment.’

“We wanted it to feel like lightning,” Josh Safdie said of his new film in an interview with No Film School.

And it does. Good Time is electrifying: every turbocharged moment of the bungled heist film has a lightning rod’s power to transform or destroy. Co-directors Josh and Benny Safdie, brothers who are known for their gritty, homemade movies, put the audience through its paces. Their film teems with manic energy, breathless performances, neon and strobe lights, and a pulsing synth soundtrack from Daniel Lopatin that underscores the film’s relentless experience.

In fact, watching Good Time is like riding the Coney Island Cyclone: it’s a genre film, or a “pulp movie,” as the brothers describe it—a thrill ride old as time. Its rickety structure threatens to collapse at every turn, and you emerge from the theater with whiplash.

“Once the movie starts, you have no option but to just accept it as, ‘I’m in the crazy story and I’m experiencing it.'” — Josh Safdie

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No Film School

Watch: How ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Teaches Us to Break Genre Conventions

‘When Harry Met Sally’ is a classic romantic comedy, right? Wrong. This video essay argues that the film actually breaks the genre.

“Genre is a set of expectations the audience has when they walk into a particular kind of movie,” Michael Tucker notes at the beginning of this new essay from Lessons from the Screenplay. A filmmaker’s job is either to conform to—or to break with—these conventions.

Although When Harry Met Sally belongs to the pantheon of great romantic comedies, Tucker’s essay argues that the film achieves much of its success by breaking the conventions associated with the romantic comedy.

“The challenge is to keep convention but avoid cliché.”

A writer is well served to “have a deeper knowledge about the genre you’re working in, and the conventions that come with it,” says Tucker. “Genre is ‘like a check-list.'”

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No Film School

Why You Should Care About The Genre of Your Story

“It’s a romantic comedy about this woman and this man…”

“It’s a thriller about a lobbyist who…”

“It’s a zombie coming-of-age story…”

All loglines should have several things: a conflict, a main character and a genre.

Most screenwriting book will tell you the importance of creating a three-dimensional character and of having a central conflict with high-stakes, and unifying theme as well… They will, however, spend less time focusing on the genre of your story. Here’s why you should explore the genre of your story.

Know your classics

Each story fits within the rules of a given genre, some of them better than others. You can dismiss that fact, and try to do your thing, and by all means you should do your thing, as no one else can do it, and the more distinctive your voice the better.

However, when you’re writing “Fade in”, or walking onto the set and drafting your Oscars speech in the back of your mind, you should also keep in mind the fact you need to abide by certain rules. Use them and break them if you wish to. But know them.

Knowing the classics of your chosen genre(s) will make you see the patterns of what works and what doesn’t, and help you ascertain what you should do. Not only can it help unlock certain situations, it can also enhance your film vocabulary.

Subvert expectations

Thinking of what’s out there when you’re creating is not (necessarily) pandering or corrupting your vision. If you’re not thinking about it, your producer or distributor or someone who pulls the strings is already thinking about it. So make the most of it.

By knowing what’s out there, you can then channel that into subverting expectations. Think of Seven. It’s technically a whodunnit, but as anyone who’s ever seen it can attest, that doesn’t even begin to cover what that film is.

It’s hard out there

Finally, some genres have a very strong following: horror for instance. But then again, people turning on Netflix will think “I want to watch a comedy” or looking at what’s in the cinemas “I want a good thriller”. Genre will help define your product. Your work doesn’t have to be the lowest common denominator -Hollywood has gladly unburdened you of that task, dear indie filmmaker. However, it will help put it in a box. Even if it’s just one of many boxes by which your work is defined.

A genre will follow certain storylines, certain archetypes of characters that you can and should transcend. But you can create your own niche by doing your thing within a genre. With steady dedication, some people have become a genre of their own. “Woody Allen” is a genre, as is “Wes Anderson” and as are “the Coen Brothers”.

Question is -what’s your voice?

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