Script Coverage Chronicles – May 2015: Should Screenwriters Specialize In One Genre?

The short answer is yes.

Here’s the long answer:

You should specialize because...

Most Professionals Specialize

Top-notch practitioners in most professions specialize.  Doctors don’t dabble in brain surgery and also try their hands at arthroscopy.  Elite law firms divvy up their attorneys into highly specialized practice groups.  Even NBA players, as good as they are, need to focus on a particular position.  Well, LeBron James could probably play any spot, but he’s not human.  If you have “inhuman level” talent like LeBron, then go ahead and write whatever you want.

For the rest of humanity, there are very good reasons for specializing in every profession, including screenwriting.  One of them is:

You Can Master Your Niche

If you write in a particular genre, you have a chance at learning nearly everything you can about that genre.  You can conceivably watch almost all the movies in that genre.  You can focus your screenplay reading in that genre.  You can put your energies into one place and eventually cultivate the deepest possible understanding of that place.

I specialize in animation and family projects, and I remember meeting with an executive at IDT Entertainment (now part of Starz), to discuss possible assignments.  This executive brought up the old movie Hercules, and I made the mistake of admitting I hadn’t seen it.  She looked at me like a kid who forgot to do his homework and said, you’ve gotta know this stuff.

My point is:  Executives want you to specialize and want to know your genre very well.  They want you to know everything that’s already been done so you don’t repeat it unknowingly.  They need to feel like they’re in the hands of an expert.  And only then will they give you work.

How can you achieve that if you don’t have a specialty?

It’s really more of a moot point than you think.  Whether you know it or not, you already have a built in specialty because...

You Have A Particular Voice

We’ve all heard the idea of an actor being miscast.  Writers can be miscast too.  Each writer has a style.  Each writer has certain things that he or she does particularly well.  And those traits usually translate into success in a particular genre.  Writing in a genre that doesn’t suit your voice can sometimes result in a feeling of being seriously miscast.

It’s up to you to figure out what your voice is.  Once you do, your genre of choice should be pretty obvious.

If you have difficulty deciding, don’t worry.  The industry can be very helpful in that regard.  Whichever script you write that first gets the industry’s attention, the genre of that script is the genre you’ll be known for.

All that said, as in everything to do with screenwriting, there are no absolutes.  Sometimes you can succeed in more than one area. 


You can write a new spec.  The very talented Susannah Grant (writer of Pocahontas and Erin Brockovich) once said to a group of us at dinner:  You can reinvent yourself; all you have to do is write a great spec in a different genre.  Suddenly execs will see you as a different kind of writer.  As with all screenwriting endeavors, it’s not easy, but it is possible!