A Look at the Western Genre: The Salvation and Unforgiven

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Film industry executives have expectations. The most obvious expectation is to discover a brilliantly written screenplay that can be made into a film that will garner lots of attention and yes, lots of money at the box office. Executives also expect, if not demand, an engaging, plausible screenplay that follows the rules of the writing genres. Understanding genre conventions (characters, settings, events) and applying this knowledge to your script, will help you to sharpen your plot and characters, and deliver on the readers’ expectations.

Let’s take a look at one of the classic genre — the Western.

From my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays:

Western Ride ‘em, cowboy…or cowgirl! Whether your protagonist is faced with violence, robberies, shootouts or stampedes, typical Western heroes are courageous, tough, self-sufficient, honorable, independent, and/or moral with an expertise in physical skills and abilities that will enable him or her to survive. Generally, the settings for westerns are the American frontier with sweeping landscapes, rugged terrain, and ranches or the small town streets containing the local bank, general store, barbershop, and saloon. Themes include revenge, lost love, greed,man versus man, good versus evil, man versus nature, law enforcers versus criminals, and new settlers versus homesteaders. Research the iconic symbols of the time period in which you set your story. From lassos, to cattle drives, to sheriffs and their sidekicks, you must be historically accurate.

western genre

A Look at Two Westerns

In the 2014 film The Salvation, written by Anders Thomas Jensen and Kristian Levring, director Kristian Levring pays tribute to the classic western. Inspired by Nordic sagas, The Salvation, is set in the American west of the 1870s. John, an ex-soldier and Danish settler, kills his family’s murderer, unleashing the fury of notorious gang leader Delarue. Betrayed by his corrupt and cowardly community, the peaceful pioneer turns vengeful hunter. John slays the outlaws, as he attempts to cleanse the town’s black heart.