MA Screenwriting

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Genre and Theme

Unit code ENGL70801
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module will explore the central importance of genre and theme within screenwriting.  You will learn that genre and theme are the foundations of every story and that they can be returned to during the writing process to help focus and stabilise the screenplay.  We will begin by considering primal themes and why they succeed with audiences. We will then consider the relationship between primal theme and genre - do some themes naturally fit with particular genres? How do you choose the best genre for your theme? We will then discuss in detail the structural and tonal 'rules' of various genres including romcoms, horror, and thrillers. We will look at how sci-fi is a shell which can be used to house many genres, and we will explore how dialogue, action, and violence are used differently in different genres. We will look at and discuss examples from the work of Martin Scorsese, Aaron Sorkin, Alien I and II, The Silence of the Lambs, Along Came Polly, Nora Ephron, Richard Curtis, Star Trek, Outlands, The Hunger Games, and Galaxy Quest and much other material as its relevance arises in discussion. Throughout the course students will be tutored in, and asked to provide, written assessments of scripts to reach an industry standard of coverage, there will also be a written document providing analysis of the ‘web’ effect of a specific film to show their understanding of how dialogue, incident and themes recur and are developed throughout a script.  The course will demand extensive reading of produced material as well as unproduced material which is currently in development within the industry.  Class interaction will also include regular oral pitching of projects to be honed to industry standard and for the students to be able to regulate these according to whom in the industry they are pitching.   The course will include showing examples of films that illuminate discussion and learning as well as inspiring the students with what cinema can achieve at its best.  The final assessment will be i) a written short film script in your chosen genre ii) two industry-standard script reports. Drafts of the scripts and sample script reports will be workshopped in class in the second half of the semester.



The unit aims to:         

Develop and deepen your understanding of the role and importance of genre in contemporary screenwriting practice.


Critically explore and examine the history and conventions of several currently significant film genres.


Develop and refine your understanding of the crucial relationship between theme and genre.


Encourage, support and enable you to work effectively within the conventions of a chosen genre.


Teaching and learning methods


Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate their understanding of the importance of genre and theme as ways of structuring and controlling a screenplay.


Demonstrate their understanding of the key conventions and tropes of a number of significant film genres and of the significant differences between them.

Intellectual skills

Critically analyse existing scripts/screenplays and comment effectively on their use of genre, and the relationship between genre and theme.


Analyse and discuss how character, dialogue and action are used differently in different genres – and understand what those differences imply.

Practical skills

Offer well-informed critique of the work of fellow students.


Write successfully within the inherited tradition and tropes of a chosen genre

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Communicate their ideas effectively both verbally and in writing


Manage their time and workload effectively in order to meet deadlines


Respond effectively to constructive criticism

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%

Recommended reading

Recommended Reading


Aristotle, The Poetics


William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade (Abacus, 1996)


Pauline Kael, Reeling: Film Writings 1972-75 (Marion Boyars, 1977)


Alexander McKendrick, On Film-Making (Faber and Faber, 2006)


Jule Selbo, Film Genre for the Screenwriter  (Routledge, 2014)


Blake Snyder, Save the Cat (Michael Weise, 2005)


William Goldman, Four Screenplays with Essays (Applause, 1997)




Recommended Viewing:




Lawrence of Arabia


The Godfather


Close Encounters of the Third Kind


The Hunger Games


The Silence of the Lambs


Alien I and II


The Shining


Before Sunrise


Annie Hall


Red Road


Fish Tank


This Is England


The Social Network


Cool Hand Luke


 When Harry Met Sally




Along Came Polly


The  Piano


Master and Commander




The Outlaw Josie Wales


Pan’s Labyrinth


The Lives of Others


Waltz with Bashir


The Departed




Apocalypse Now


Howard’s End


Rain Man




High Noon

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Clarke Unit coordinator

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