How You Can Make Great TV and Movie Dramas
The drama genre in film and television is the basis for every story told. So what makes this type of story stand out?
Have you ever been called a drama queen? Entered into serious self-examination? Dealt with real-life trauma and live to tell the tale? Well, it sounds like you, among with everyone on the planet, need therapy.
I can't give that to you. You need a medical professional. What I can do is talk about films and TV shows that highlight these kinds of dramatic events and turn them into riveting storytelling. Today, we're going to dig into the drama, talk about how the genre works, find potential mashups, and look at a few examples in the entertainment world.
Explore the Drama Genre in Film and Television
These are serious stories that hinge on events that regularly happen in everyday life. These film and TV series portray realistic characters in conflict with either themselves, others, or forces of nature. They usually focus on character and how these people arc over time. Drama is regularly mashed up with other genres because most movies and tv rely on character-driven stories to keep the audience involved.
Tropes and expectations within the drama genre:
Dramas frequently follow characters you'd see as your friends, neighbors, and family dealing with the struggles of everyday life. They usually take place in a home, office setting, or with a group of characters forced to interact day to day.
Some of the topics of drama movies and tv are current events, societal ills, racial prejudice, religious intolerance, drugs, poverty, politics, alcoholism, class warfare, sexual inequality or assault, mental illness, and corrupt institutions.
Sometimes the center of the script also involves a love story.
A dramatic film or television show shows us humans at their best and their worst. These kinds of films can be biopics based on real people or fictitious stories. They usually include a strong moral stance or view of the world around them. the characters in these films are always dealing with what life has to offer.
That can be as small as their brother moving home or as the Nazis taking over their enamelware factory.
While in other genres like action and comedy the characters need to perform physical feats, dramas are all about words and subtle actions. People here are focused on fixing themselves and those around them. While subgenres like courtroom dramas have a certain case they have to crack, most of these movies are about making personal choices that make the characters see the world in a new light.
Drama is all about conflict and how people deal with the world constantly in their way.
Any setting works inside a drama. You can have a period piece, something set in the modern-day, on an ocean, in space, the sky is the limit. If there's conflict to be found, then a drams will be there.
Genre mash-up potential
The drama is the most versatile genre because it can apply to almost anything. Since humans and our problems can exist anywhere, drama will follow. you can even anthropomorphize animals or objects and have drama follow there too.
Because of the malleable nature of TV and film, it's hard to find any straight dramas anymore. Instead, most storytelling thrives in one of the dramatic subgenres.
Dramas have a ton of subgenres:
- Biopics - deals with the drams in one person's life story. Think The Coal Miner's Daughter.
- Dramedy - the natural medling of comedy and drama to tell a character-driven story. Think Casual.
- War - deals with how people react during battle. Think Saving Private Ryan.
- Courtroom - deals with a case or series of cases that determine a person's fate. Think To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Family - follows a family as they deal with a crisis. Think Ordinary People.
- Melodrama - follows a character(s) as they deal with high emotion scenarios. Something like Magnolia.
- Contained - This occurs in one room or location where people live and work. Think Rope.
- Political - What happens when a group of people tries to change the world? Think All the President's Men.
- Race relations - What was life like before or during the fight for equality? Think Green Book.
- Romantic - Love has a ton of conflict and emotions to deal with. Think Meet Joe Black.
- Religious - How do we see ourselves in perspective with a higher power? Think God's Not Dead.
- Sports - What does it take to be a winner? Think Invincible.
- Showbiz - What's the drama inherent within Hollywood? Think The Player.
- Social problems - How do we deal with the changing social morays and problems? Think On the Waterfront.
Drama examples in film
A straightforward drama rarely exists anymore. Studios are putting less and less money and time into movies for adults. Those stories have moved to television, but recently we've seen an influx of streamers trying to engage with this sort of entertainment.
One of my favorite additions has been Kenneth Longeran's powerful Manchester By the Sea.
The movie is quiet, contemplative, and dissects what happens to a man who's lost everything. Juxtaposed against his story is that of his troubled teenage nephew, who has also suffered a great loss.
Can they get over it? Can they form a new family? Answers are not that easy inside this northeastern town.
The classic era of drama movies was probably the 1970s. American cinema saw a boom in these kinds of stories. One of the most memorable being a mashup between courtroom and family drama; Kramer vs. Kramer.
This story about a couple falling apart and a father trying to raise his son contain depths of the human spirit and the preconceived notions of mother and father.
Still, when I think about the "drama" section of Blockbusters of old, I am drawn to the classic dramatic films like Citizen Kane and 12 Angry Men.
These films thrived on complex moral questions and what lives inside a man's heart.
One of the popular drama riffs is the melodrama. While some people use that word as a slight, these kinds of movies have always attracted the attention of viewers who want an intensely emotional experience.
Movies like the ones of Douglas Sirk, especially Imitation of Life, are wonderful dramatic films that some would classify as tearjerkers.
TV Drama Examples
As I mentioned above, modern drama lives on television and streamers. These complex character studies now take seasons to chase what we used to only find in a few hours. Shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos took popular movie drama subjects and turned the tide.
This is Us is still the most popular show on television, as people love crying along with the Pearsons.
TV dramas exist in hour-long procedurals, like Law and Order: SVU.
These show us a specific dramatic formula with every episode being a case ongoing characters solve.
But TV drama doesn't have to only be an hour long.
Shoes like Barry, Transparent, and Dead to Me carry drama into comedy territory, with the dramedy subgenre filling out people's quest for a deep show with some laughs. They don't always have to be dark either. CBS's God Friended Me adds a light drama into the mix, while still allowing audiences time to chuckle.
What's next? Learn all about TV and Film Genres!
Film and TV genres affect who watches your work, how it's classified, and even how it's reviewed. So how do you decide what you're writing? And which genres to mash-up? The secret is in the tropes.
Click to learn more!