Screenwriting 101: mixing genres


“I was fixin to write an animated western/film noir/horror film. Could you do a short blog about how to fuse genres? I am in a quagmire about what to keep and what to discard in my screenplay.”

I don’t know of any hard and fast rules about mixing genres, but I can point you toward two directors who do it well: Ridley Scott and Alfred Hitchcock. Scott loves to fuse genres: sci-fi and horror, sci-fi and noir, western and chick-flick. He takes elements from each genre and smushes them together so well that it feels completely natural and something new and exciting happens. Hitchcock, on the other hand, loves to upend his audience’s expectations by starting out a movie in one genre and then switching it half-way through. Psycho starts as a melodrama about a woman in trouble and out of nowhere becomes a horror thriller, The Birds starts as a screwball comedy and out of nowhere becomes a horror thriller. Often, great new paradigms emerge from fusing genres, like Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black. And sometimes you get a clumsy misfire like Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West.

It’s funny that you’re writing a western/noir/horror film, because I was once involved in the development of just such a project once — at least the western/horror part anyway. What I did was sit down and watch a ton of westerns and a ton of horror movies (well, monster movies really) and kept track of the beats that best exemplified their genres: the wide-open spaces of the westerns, the dark, claustrophobic interiors of the monster movies, the black-hat/white-hat morality of the westerns, the dark underbelly of the monster movies, etc, and tried to think of ways to combine them. How would monsters work in the harsh glare of the western’s sun? Could I turn the conventions of the western to my advantage? Hitchcock found terror in a cornfield for North by Northwest, could I find it on a dusty desert plateau? Is the monster’s desire rooted in the conflict between the white men and the Indians? And so forth.

I don’t know how you work noir into that — three genres is a lot to work with. Plus, you have to deal with the general lack of imagination you find in Hollywood executives. Fusing two genres makes them feel smart, fusing three is liable to make them say “I don’t get it.”



7 Responses to “Screenwriting 101: mixing genres”
  1. 55seddel says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! That answered my question very well

  2. mike_baehr says:

    For great examples of genre-crossing writing I strongly recommend the graphic novels by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason: “The Living and the Dead” (zombie horror/romance/dry humor), “The Left Bank Gang” (fictionalized literary history/heist caper/dry humor), “The Last Musketeer” (swashbuckling/vintage sci-fi/dry humor), “I Killed Adolf Hitler” (time travel/Jarmusch-esque comedy-romance) and many others. They’re all phenomenally great.

  3. teamwak says:

    I thought the recent Zombie comedy Fido was a prefect blending on genres.

    It had Zombies, Comedy, A nod to big corporations taking over the world, and a love letter to the 1950’s. Kudos to the writer for even thinking of that lot, let alone making it work! lol

    It is an excellent movie if anyone hasnt seen it yet

  4. sheherazahde says:


    Tremors was a great example of monsters working “in the harsh glare of the western’s sun”.

    I came out of the movie theater afraid of the ground I was walking on.

  5. toliverchap says:

    anime suggestion

    Good genre blending actually occurs in some anime series. Check out a show from 10 years ago called Cowboy Bebop. That show blends so many genres.