Hello everyone, welcome back to my short film series shortcut where we look at short films usually through a specific lens to hopefully think of these various elements of film to gain some perspective and grow as media creators and critics ourselves. The common factor between today’s bunch is genre conventions. Conventions are common traits, aspects, or elements found in a particular activity. Your audience has most definitely consumed a similar product to whatever it is you hope to produce and that’s whether it be a film, a blog, or a sandwich. Any audience has some preconceived expectation of what comes with the territory and is constantly making connections to that realm of expectations no matter how bare bones it is. Genre is the easiest way to demonstrate conventions in motion, pick anyone of them and you already know what it might look like and how it might make you feel. By looking at four examples of films I hope we can all get a better understanding of how genre conventions can work for a project.

Passing

Director: Julie Hales

Genre: Hallmark Drama

Conventions:

  • vibrant colors, heavily saturated color correction
  • Bouncy, playful, (overbearing) score
  • Charming protagonist who’s good with kids and possesses a heart of gold
  • grouchy character who learns something from the goodness of the protagonist
  • flower shop setting, sunny exteriors
  • sarcastic best friend
  • intent to romanticize real-life, be inspirational or emotional.

This film sucks. It follows the genre conventions to a tee, but it goes beyond cliche and into a territory of self-parody. Admittedly, it is impressive how they are able to pull of such an imitation but because it’s just creating what it thinks everything should look and act like it just ends up all feeling and looking like cardboard. What’s the point of the film? We all have some understanding of how these sappy tales usually go, so I can’t imagine the point is for the audience to be represented by the old man who judges our Adonis Owen Wilson. I don’t understand what is so inspirational about writing the perfect human being and then revealing he’s doing a good thing. Maybe that he has a chipper attitude despite mourning some heavy stuff… but that doesn’t work because you didn’t write a human being you wrote an amalgamation of the hundred of characters that you pictured fit this genre of film.

Yet, if you love the genre then maybe the familiarity of it is enjoyable to you. A lot of the comments on the video seem overwhelmingly positive, it’s beyond me but it is crafty in mirroring the genre so maybe every genre has it’s audience to pander to.

The gunfighter

director: Eric Kissack

Genre: Western

Conventions:

  • Voice-over
  • drab lighting design
  • distinct townsfolk, sheriff character types
  • gratuitous violence
  • saloon setting, accents and archaic language.

Nick Offerman provides the cleverly incorporated voice over as a film that takes expected genre conventions and turns them on their heads. The Gunfighter pulls all the stops to visually and creatively create the feeling of a traditional western, only to mock those very troupes and cliches. The Gunfighter creatively adds the narrator into the fray as an active character that gives the characters something to fight against presenting an almost battle between the story running its course and the cast that questions the logic and necessity of them. It’s actually an interesting take on today’s topic, are conventions bad for causing stale narratives and reinforcing obsolete ideas or is it fair to use familiar troupes if the “entertainment value” is justified. Overall, I thought this was fun and clever that showed once you know the rules, maybe try and break them.

Total Awesome Viking Power

Director: Morten Forland

Genre: Fantasy

Conventions:

  • hero’s journey (wise mentor, thrust into a new world, final battle)
  • societal outcast
  • forest setting, combat
  • special effects, blue color corrected nights
  • epic score, percussion instruments

Total Awesome Viking Power is now somewhere in the middle. It’s a fun romp that uses the concept of LARP-ing to ridicule the conventions while also playing it straight. This film obviously doesn’t have the budget to achieve the exact thrills of a fantasy adventure, however they recognize what constitutes as one from a fundamental level. This film has a sort of an interesting dynamic in terms of conventions especially if you consider one of the points being made is the absurdity to emulate pure fantasy. By pointing out the unrealistic expectations of being a valiant warrior who encounters a mythical God and harnessing “viking power” which is all greatly removed from what an audience can achieve in their reality. However, by giving the average Joe LARPer his own magic quest does it reinforce how fantasy can be vital in inspiring heroic actions and quests of personal bravery. If anything it is a full on display of how understanding the genre you work in can inspire some fun, and comical moments.

Winston (Mature Content)

Director: Aram Sarkisian

Genre: Horror

conventions:

  • unreliable narrator, raspy voice
  • secluded/isolated setting, dark, shadowy settings
  • Rhythmic editing and language
  • paranormal or unexplained happenings?
  • tense and ominous score, use of natural sound
  • foreshadowing and foreboding visual motifs
  • Jump scare

Can we just imagine that this is what my voice sounds like, hints of being unhinged and all. Believe me when I say that this film rocks, very disappointing it missed my 31 Spooks of October collection. I felt the need to include this short because without it the message of the other three films is conventions are bad unless you play with them which is not true. Horror is a genre that is inescapable of its own semantics but conventions don’t necessarily mean anything by their inclusion alone but by their execution. This short feels very Edgar Allan Poe and enlists the aide of many conventional horror tactics to present a gripping, chilling, and suspenseful narrative.

What Did we learn?

When it comes to creating anything what you’re creating probably isn’t 100% original but don’t let that stop you. Understanding the field and what genre you’re working on is valuable to creating media that can either subvert or play with audience expectations or can effectively comprehend their usefulness in getting the desired effect towards your audience.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for following down the shortcut.

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