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The Top 20 RoI Films of the Last 70 Years

Below is the primary data set for my doctoral research study: Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema

Previously the PhD had the title:

`STORYALITY THEORY: Story and Screenwriting, Movies and Memes: Examining the Top Twenty Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies, using Systems Theory, Creativity Theory, and Applied Bio-Cultural Evolutionary Epistemology.

(Note: there is also a control set of films, namely: the Bottom 20 RoI Films.)

The data source is: The-Numbers.com, Movie Budget Records,i.e. Most Profitable Movies, Based on Return on Investment. The data set is publically available at The-Numbers.com (Nash Information Services 1997-2012).

But see also: StoryAlity #76 – On – The new `RoI’ numbers – at The-Numbers.com…

The Top 20 RoI Films - StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2013)

The Top 20 RoI Films – StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2012)

Note that: these films have the widest audience reach compared to their production budget (i.e. `negative cost’).

Negative cost – A film’s `negative cost’ is its production budget, or the cost of producing the film master-print `negative’ (a legacy term from when most feature films were shot and edited and mastered on 35mm film, prior to mass-market digital film production).

The data set really `selects itself’ as these 20 films are empirically the top 20 most popular films (relative to their production budgets) of the past 70 years, and therefore, the most viral film stories.

In other words, the key hypothesis of this research is that these 20 films are the films that are the most popular (relative to their own budget), due to the story.

The reason this is due to the story is that, there are no other observable reasons that might explain their success: they (mostly) had small marketing budgets (at least initially, if not later), had no stars (A-list actors), and most (17 and arguably 18 out of 20, all except Star Wars – 1977 and ET – 1982) had no `name’ directors attached, etc.

The reason these are the most viral films, is that they are the most contagious memes, due to word-of-mouth. The reason they are the most contagious memes, is that they spread furthest through the culture due to / via word-of-mouth, when their final audience reach is compared to their production budget. (See Brian Boyd on `cost-benefit ratios’ in On The Origin of Stories, 2009)

Notably, other potential causes such as: aggressive marketing, star power and director marquee value are absent – as all except two of these films had none of those factors, to therefore explain their success in going so virulent in the culture.

The literature search reveals that no other existing screenwriting manual nor research paper yet published uses this empirical data set.

As part of the doctoral study findings, it should also be noted that these films are:

1)    primarily low-budget (under USD$2m on average);

2)    primarily independently-financed; (18 of the top 20 films)

3)    all involve writer-hyphenates, (notably, 7 of the `bottom 20 ROI films’ do not)

4)    all are `original screen ideas’ (none of the top 20 are sequels, nor adaptations).

Also note that none of the 20 films had large marketing budgets, nor stars, and only two had “name” directors attached. The above four (numbered) factors in combination (and, the latter three factors, by their absence) indicate that: the reason each of these films became so popular/viral was the film story, alone.

It is problematic that story is generally not described in the film-making/ screenwriting discourse (in any significant depth) as the sole controllable reason for a film’s success.

Preventing and delaying the solution of this problem is the situation that in the domain of film, other factors – such as marketing and `star power’ – are still seen by many as causal factors in a film’s success, although the most comprehensive and scientific study to date (De Vany 2004, p. 6) shows this widespread conception to be false.

Note that, films older than 70 years are excluded from the data set. (Reasons for this are explained below.)

If the top 20 films of all time were considered, three films would then be included in the data set: Birth of a Nation (1915), The Big Parade (1925), and Gone With The Wind (1939) however these are excluded from the data set as (1) in the arrival of television in the 1950’s significantly changed the mediascape, and the economics of feature films, and (2) the Paramount Antitrust Case of 1948 (which removed `vertical integration’ of studios and theaters).

Notably the data set therefore shifts away from an emphasis on big-budget studio productions, to predominantly independent films. For this reason, when the data set is limited to the past 70 years (post television), three films move up onto the top 20 list: The Full Monty (1997), Star Wars (1977) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

The consilient method of the study (i.e. Creative Practice Theory Narratology) therefore includes the selection of an empirically-defined data set of films and their story and screenplays to study.

The international audience has decided (at the box office) that these films are the most popular (relative to their budgets).

These are, therefore, the top 20 films that have gone the most viral.

The top 20 films are used as the primary data set – as has a control set of 20 films – and the top 20 are compared to the bottom 20 RoI films, as these films have been empirically the 20 most – and 20 least, viral films.

The Film RoI Bell Curve

The Film RoI Bell Curve

Another view of the data is this:

Movie RoI (Velikovsky 2014)

Movie RoI (Velikovsky 2014)

The viral (story) characteristics are therefore the most extreme / exaggerated – and therefore reveal the clearest data/story characteristics. An analogy in biology might be: to study the morphology (and DNA) of the most virulent (rapid-spreading) influenza[1] virus.

As a side note – a larger data set was not chosen as 60 x films is a considerable data set, given the time required to closely study the story content of each film story (of 90 minutes duration each, on average) is limited by the 3-year timeframe of the doctoral research project.

Also, Distinguished Professor DK Simonton, in the excellent Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Success (2011) notes how long (and how many personnel) it would take to do a study of 1,000 films.

I hope one day someone does such as study. In the meantime I recommend reading Great Flicks (Simonton 2011) – as it was a huge inspiration for my research – and is simply excellent.

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A note on Australian Movies in the Top 20 RoI Films:

The #2 RoI film, Mad Max (1980) is an Australian movie.

The #14 movie SAW (2004) was created by two Australian filmmakers.

Crocodile Dundee (1986) is the #23 top RoI movie.

Australian Movies and the Top 20 RoI

Australian Movies and the Top 20 RoI

 

– Comments always welcome.

—————————————————

JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/

——————————————————————————–

NOTES

[1] It is also perhaps worth noting that the word `influenza’ is an Italian, from the Medieval Latin influentia, meaning `influence’. (Mifflin 2009) In many ways, these films have been 20 of the most influential, on cinema culture.

REFERENCES

The-Numbers.com http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/budgets.php but see also: StoryAlity #76 – On – The new `RoI’ numbers – at The-Numbers.com…

De Vany, Arthur S. (2004), Hollywood Economics: How Extreme Uncertainty Shapes The Film Industry (Contemporary political economy series; London ; New York: Routledge) xvii, 308 p.

Simonton, DK (2011), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, New York; Oxford.

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52 thoughts on “StoryAlity #3: The Top 20 RoI Films of the Last 70 Years

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  27. Your methodology here does have a couple of significant holes (and is based on partially inaccurate information). You do not consider the fact that most of these were picked up by major distributors who spent significantly on publicity, often times in the millions of dollars. You do not consider that the gross is factored over the life of the film, meaning that several of these titles have 30-40+ years to have earned these profits. In some cases, the released version also cost much more than indicated above (e.g., El Mariachi, which had considerable post-production work done prior to release at a high expense). At least five had “name actors” who were recognizable at the time of release. Only 8 of them could be said to have been produced “outside the system” and benefited from donated or extremely cheap labor, talent and locations (in this sense, they could be said to have started as amateur or hobbyist projects that were lucky enough to turn out well and get distribution deals). Blair Witch actually had a much lower negative cost, but much of the marketing budget is included in your figure – it also was successful primarily because of its aggressive and unique marketing campaign which presented it as true found footage with an actual mystery around it, prompting a huge opening and rapid drop-off after a couple weeks once the novelty wore off and people realized it was kind of a hoax. Similarly, Paranormal Activity was promoted via a studio-financed stunt similar to how William Castle used to roll out his shockers. Paranormal Activity also benefited from studio retro-fitting in post, not accounted for in your figures.

    I like the basis of your ideas, but it is over-simplified in your presentation of this list, with several films sold entirely on their gimmicks, while others were so culturally novel FOR THEIR TIME that they would not perform anywhere near as well now but were completely unique when released, meaning it was not the story itself but a novel aspect of the film that propelled its success.

    • Hi J,

      Thanks so much, for the Comment, and – especially for engaging with this material! (I think I love you. Yours has been the most engaged, thoughtful and considered comment to date, possibly).

      But – I totally disagree, that there are any `holes’ in this methodology, or that it is `based on partially inaccurate information’.

      I think, perhaps, you’re still missing some stuff. (And there is a lot of material to absorb here, right? And also maybe you haven’t read all the StoryAlity posts… There is a lot here. So, all totally understandable.

      (Also, perhaps the fault is entirely mine, for not making things clearer, in my posts.)

      But I just want to say I totally appreciate your critique.

      Here’s what I think you’re missing (tell me if ANY of this is incorrect, please. This stuff all has to be bullet-proof, right? Otherwise the theory is flawed, and can be criticised. And is a waste of everyone’s time, including mine. And that would be sub-optimal.)

      So here we go, point by point:

      1) I believe you’re incorrect – the StoryAlity Theory Methodology doesn’t have those `holes’ you suggest.

      Because:

      a) I do consider, the fact that the Top 20 ROI films “were picked up by major distributors who spent significantly on publicity, often times in the millions of dollars.”
      Actually ironically – I do consider it!

      This is the whole point. How do you make an awesome film (how cheaply can you get it in the can) that a studio or distrib then wants to support?! That is the whole point! These films did that – in spades.

      J – If you read all the material on the Blog, you’ll also see – I’ve shown scientific proof that: Marketing/Publicity has no effect on the success of a film. (See also: De Vany’s 2004 book “Hollywood Economics”. Hardcore, peer-reviewed, scientific and mathematical proof.)

      And – this is a key part of the StoryAlity Theory. – You have to realize, `Film Marketing Spend’ is irrelevant, beyond an initial baseline figure (around $1m). See De Vany’s book `Hollywood Economics’ (2004), it goes into more than enough detail.

      ie To be clear (and – most people *really* struggle to accept this fact, but – a fact it is. It is counter-intuitive, right? Marketing is irrelevant in ROI.

      But the underlying problem is – we all also think `Marketing’ knows what they are doing: They do not, mainly as they are based on Cultural Studies from the 50’s – and, they don’t use an empirical method. – The entire domain of Marketing is also a mess. – Nobody there really knows what they are doing. Sorry – but this is true. They really need to fix that domain. I don’t have time to explain all the problems with the Marketing Domain here. But there is loads of evidence on this.)

      The key point here being – You *do not ever” make a film more popular – by spending more, on Marketing.
      ie – There is *no correlation* between Marketing Spend and Box Office (ie – Audience Reach). Check the Marketing figures, on each of these 20 films. (In fact, check any film, and its marketing spend. No correlation.)

      (See also – how much Marketing was spent on the Bottom 20 ROI films, seriously. A whole lot o cash! Did it work? Nope.)

      StoryAlity Theory says – If the Film Story sucks, then people soon figure it out – and will then, stay away in droves. Please check all this yourself. – Can you find any flaws?
      (ie You do seem to be assuming that, Marketing has a causal effect on the virality of a film. – It empirically doesn’t. – This has been proven. See De Vany et al. – and many others on this.)

      b) You’re also incorrect here, too: “You do not consider that the gross is factored over the life of the film, meaning that several of these titles have 30-40+ years to have earned these profits”.

      Nope – wrong – J – those figures are *theatrical box office figures*. Not: ancillary (video, DVD, cable, free to air TV, etc etc). These are JUST theatrical box office, ONLY for when the film was in the cinemas. – Check it out. Seriously.

      (Most films also, later, make – on average – about 3 times more on ancillary – ie `the long tail’, right-? than they did in original theatrical box office release.

      But – I am ignoring that ancillary revenue. – I am not even interested in it. It is irrelevant. (But – we still know, it is about 3 times the theatrical box office, if we DID care.)

      But – there is no real reason to care. The key thing – that is important for a theatrical feature film – is to get it into a cinema (which is an amazing achievement in itself, right? ie This is `the goal’.)

      And then – how well it did: just in theatrical cinema release. (Once it is OUT of the cinemas – we all know, it will then make 3 times more. Over the rest of history. But, so what? The Question is: How do you first of all, get a film into cinemas?
      Answer: see StoryAlity Film Theory.)

      So – for that reason (which – is all that aspiring or even *practising* theatrical cinema-release filmmakers really primarily care about, right?) – I am ONLY looking at theatrical box office. Even if – the film was later re-released in the cinemas (say like Evil Dead 30th yr anniversary cinema release, or Star Wars 77 re-release, years later). I am JUST looking at cinema.)

      J – Do you see this point? So again, the Methodology is all solid, right? (ie – Your point here makes no difference to everything that the StoryAlity Theory says. – Right?)

      2) Your next point also is incorrect: “In some cases, the released version also cost much more than indicated above (e.g., El Mariachi, which had considerable post-production work done prior to release at a high expense).”

      Hmm – You are still currently missing the entire point of the StoryAlity Theory.
      – The point of it, is essentially this (as there are actually, about 30 `points’ of the theory):

      How cheaply can you get a film shot, and edited – ie “in the can”, so you have a negative, ie a print that you can show people? And so then – you can possibly have that Film (Story, which is the same thing, ie the Film IS – the Story) be *so incredibly great* – that it then will go on to be: mega-viral in cinema release due to word of mouth (ie – reach the widest audience, for the least `in-the-can’/neg cost budget.)

      ie – The budget may be $7k – or even may be up to $11m (like say Star Wars), – Who cares?
      The budget range isnt even important, but logically – the lower the better – as it is therefore easier to finance – and `do/make’, right?

      ie – I am not `missing the point’ that you raise above, in the research, at all. I looked very closely at all that.

      – Sure – Paranormal, Blair Witch, and several others in the list – also had *additional funding* spent on them (on: the film negative), to improve stuff like Sound Design, Music, Editing, ie – several of them also got more `finishing’ funding – from a Distrib/Studio as you say, and even some of them, shot alternate endings… Paranormal, Clerks, etc etc)

      – That `extra cost’ on the film neg, is not the point at all, and is also included in their production cost here, right? So – I haven’t `missed any points.’

      Point being: The fact that a Distrib *loved* the rough cut of the film so much – that they then picked up the film, and decided to spend more on it – to make it even better, is: the entire point. – Do you see?

      ie The entire point of the StoryAlity research – and indeed the StoryAlity Theory itself – is: to help any and all filmmakers do their job much more easily. (Without any silly assumptions.) Regardless of the budget.

      (But a small budget is: smarter. Easier to get the thing made. But it still needs to adhere to the StoryAlity Theory if you want it to have a high ROI/high Audience Reach. And – who DOESN’T want that? ie Why bother to tell a film story – when it is so hard and complex – only to have no audience go enjoy it? Pointless.)

      The point, again being: If you can get a feature film in the can for as low as $7k (like, a couple of these Top 20 ROI films did) and — it can then (after being picked up / `financially backed’ *because the Film Story is so awesome* – then — THAT IS ALL YOU NEED.

      ie – To get a great film story in the can, that will go viral (BECAUSE of the Film Story).

      Transhistorically – ie ACROSS ALL TIME – most of these films all `competed with’ (and – beat out!) the likes of `Star Wars’ 77 and `ET’ for audience reach/budget ie ROI, compared to in-the-can budget (ie – `negative cost’, right?).

      Yet – some of them cost only like $7k, or $15k, etc) – Do you see?

      – You do not need to `finish the film perfectly’ – so that it is `ready to show in cinemas’ — you only need to make a brilliant film story, and get it `in the can’ *as cheaply as you can*. (While still doing a brilliant job, obviously.)

      – If it is awesome, then the meme (the film story) itself – is then so powerful – that – big (or even small, whatever) Distribs/ Studios `smell money’, and will come running, and are happy to `polish’ it some – and `put it out there’. In theatrical cinema release. Then – it `went viral’ (via word of mouth) in all 20 cases.

      And again – to return to the above point, the Marketing Spend is totally irrelevant, beyond a baseline ($1m). Does all this make sense? Are there any flaws here?

      4.) J – You also opined: “At least five had “name actors” who were recognizable at the time of release.”.

      Ok – sorry J – I have massive issues with this statement :).

      First of all – A `name actor’ is – by definition – not the same as: an A-list Star. (or, even a B-list star, right?)

      And – anyway – so, who do you mean, exactly? – Sir Alec Guinness? (He wasn’t even the `star’ of Star Wars 77 anyway. And – I think, nobody would ever try and argue he could “open” a film for his marquee value, least of all in ’77 – given his age at the time (How many Stars are that old? Or: were, at the time – 1977?). Look at the cast of Star Wars. Essentially, all `standard actors’, and mostly all essentially unknowns (when we speak of the General Public, we are not speaking of the acting/film industry itself). – Mark Hamill? etc? – Hello?) Also, so, what – do you mean Donald Pleasance? (- Who exactly do you mean? You aren’t specific here.)

      And your comment is wrong anyway, right? I am saying “Stars”, you are saying: “name actors”.
      What exactly does “name actors” mean? ( – Actors who have names?).

      Again, for their time, neither Guinness nor Pleasance nor anyone else in the top 20 ROI films would ever be considered `Stars’. So you appear to be arguing against my point – with an irrelevant point here…?

      Besides all of which – take a close look at DeVany’s 2004 book (Hollywood Economics), and loads of other academically peer-reviewed papers on `Stars’. Stars do not help a film, they actually make it LOSE money… Do you see? Please read this paper, by Arthur De Vany: http://libra.msra.cn/Publication/35949387/motion-picture-profit-the-stable-paretian-hypothesis-and-the-curse-of-the-superstar

      – then come back and tell me about `stars’ again. Again, all totally counter-intuitive, but all empirically TRUE. Stars are a waste of money. Forget about casting them.

      Look – I am just: trying to single-handedly fix all that is broken in the domain of Film and Screenwriting here. Help me out, and don’t argue against stuff that is true.

      J – Check all these facts for yourself, please. Then let me know if you think I have missed anything. Seriously. I have also been solidly researching all this for 20 years. 🙂 Many of your assumptions are actually, faulty. (As are – most peoples’. It’s how the world works. – This is not your fault.)

      5) I also assert – this is incorrect: “Only 8 of them could be said to have been produced “outside the system” and benefited from donated or extremely cheap labor, talent and locations”

      (I will need to deal with this separately, I will get to the second faulty part of this sentence, soon)

      Ok so – J, sorry – I don’t know what definition you are using for “the system”. Can you please explain what you mean, by that term?

      Meantime I will try and address the point as it stands.
      ie – So – the entire film industry is a System, see Csikszentmihalyi’s `systems model of creativity’, and all my blog posts (eg the first 20 or so posts, here) on that.

      Or – Do you mean “the Hollywood system”? And – If so – only 2 films (Star Wars and ET) were financed/produced by Hollywood Studios. (And – even Star Wars 77 actually COULD be regarded as `independent’ – given Lucas’ falling out with the DGA (Directors Guild) over Star Wars and its production. Look into it, and tell me I’m wrong. But let’s leave Star Wars 77 in, and just say that 2 films of the 20 are Hollywood. ET and Star Wars. To be generous.)

      All 18 of the others were financed (for their shoot – and their cut) OUTSIDE Hollywood.

      In terms of: they are INDEPENDENT FILMS. Independently financed. Not major – or mini-major – or minor – Hollywood studios behind them, in their conception, writing, production, negative cost.
      (This is the definition of Studio vs Independent, right?)

      Also, anyway – what is your definition of a Hollywood film anyway? Check how many of the films were shot IN Hollywood, hardly any. Or – Do you mean Rocky? Shot independently, for $1m, in Philadelphia? And Stallone was a struggling Hollywood actor (an Extra, mostly), but so what? The film was not financed by the Hollywood system. It was independent.

      – Do you mean Halloween? That wasn’t shot in Hollywood either. Your statement is really vague. Give me some examples. But – before you do, check where each of the 20 films were a) financed and b) made. 18 of them are independent films. (So, I’m right, right?)

      ie – Independent production companies. (In fact, El Mariachi, Mad Max and The Full Monty are also `foreign films’ if you are in the US. ie Mexico (even: a foreign LANGUAGE film!!!) Australia, the UK/Britain.)
      So, you are incorrect here, yeah?

      – If later, a major studio picked them up (these films) and distributed any or all of these films, then: so what?
      That’s just testament to how awesome they are.

      The question of the StoryAlity Theory / research is: No matter who or where you are – HOW do you make a film, (ie get one in-the-can) that, is such a brilliant film/story that – then – Hollywood *then* wants to support it?

      (I am not saying Hollywood is so great either, just that they are the 800-pound gorilla with `film cash’, so – why not use their money and connections. They all have more money than sense anyway. – This is clearly obvious in the fact that they still think Marketing Spend affects Virality / Audience Reach of a film, right? Just as ONE example-! I could go on – but this is a long Comment Reply as it is. It’s all there in my StoryAlity blogs…)

      Ok so now to part 2 of the sentence:

      “(in this sense, they could be said to have started as amateur or hobbyist projects that were lucky enough to turn out well and get distribution deals).”

      Even if so, (and this point is still wrong) – so what?
      What’s your point here?
      But – you’re wrong anyway.
      As above, the whole point is: How do you make a brilliant film story so that everyone then wants to stick it in a cinema?

      Besides, I don’t understand the thinking behind this statement…
      First of all, it takes 10 years (on average) to `internalize’ (learn/practise) the Domains of Film, Screenwriting, etc. And – all the related sub-domains.

      If you really think, these Top 20 ROI guys are just `hobbyists’ take another close look at their lives.

      ie If you even think that is possible, I don’t think you understand what Filmmaking is – or how it’s done?

      Check the detailed history of every single writer-hyphenate behind each of the Top 20 ROI films.
      On *average* – they each spent 10 years – working very hard – to acquire and refine their craft skills – and then produced a masterpiece. (Some starting at a very young age. This is no miracle, `practise makes perfect’.)

      If you really think any of them are hobbyists, and that they `got lucky’, then – sorry but you seem to not understand how the creative arts work.
      Read all my posts here, please!!!

      ie – This is a Romantic View of creativity that you seem to be proposing, and – it’s plainly false.
      ie Do you honestly think – these Top 20 ROI films are because of `luck’?
      If so – then J – good luck to you 🙂 – I hope you make a top 20 ROI film tomorrow by accident/luck. – After all, there’s no reason to think: ten years of hard work, and talent, and creative genius, were responsible for these films being such viral memes right? – It’s all just: a bit of luck.

      If so – well I hope I also get `lucky’.
      Hopefully I can make a great film (by accident) tomorrow – and `random chance’ will also mean the film is a masterpiece – and that I can retire the day after that. That would all be awesome.
      Please – J – a little respect for these hardworking creative geniuses? Sheesh.

      6) This next point is also flawed, in quite a few different ways:
      “Blair Witch actually had a much lower negative cost, but much of the marketing budget is included in your figure –”

      Nope. It is not. Again – it’s the finishing funds that are in the negative cost. (The shoot was about $35k, and then loads of finishing funds.) The Marketing cost of that film is not included here.

      (And – but, even if it were – that would mean my point was being made, even more emphatically, right? ie – the film would therefore have a lower neg cost and therefore — be making even a higher ROI than is currently indicated by those figures! So, even if you were right (and: you’re not) then – I would be even more right…

      (You are therefore now supporting – and not arguing against – the Theory. Is that what you had in mind when you said I was `missing stuff’?) i.e. You are not finding holes (or inaccurate info/data), you’re now showing that if I’m wrong in the figures, then – the Theory is even MORE demonstrably true, right?

      I have also cross-checked these film neg-cost figures across various sources. – Marketing is not included for the reasons given above.

      ie – (Sorry to harp, but this point needs smashing, a whole lot) – Marketing is irrelevant, beyond a baseline announcement to the public (eg TV ads, cinema trailers, posters) that – “a new film story is out, come and see it”. See: De Vany’s books, and his academic papers, for more. There is also loads more than just De Vany on it too, but – his is the best: most scientific, mathematical, hardcore, accurate).

      This is a weird point too:

      ” it also was successful primarily because of its aggressive and unique marketing campaign which presented it as true found footage with an actual mystery around it, prompting a huge opening”

      So what?
      Why are you raising all this? 🙂
      ie What’s your point?
      Surely you don’t think, that alone, makes for viral success of a film?
      And – it wasn’t a huge opening anyway? There were 2 theatrical openings, and the first one was small?
      Same as Star Wars 77, opened in 30 cinemas.
      And anyway, a `huge opening’ doesn’t ever mean that a film will then spread virally (ie word of mouth) anyway?
      Check how many films that have huge openings, then flop – and are withdrawn from cinema release?
      So many faulty assumptions here.

      Also – before you assume that I didn’t know the detailed history of that – and in fact, all 20 Top ROI films – please check out this conference paper I published on it: (on the `Blair Witch’ transmedia campaign)
      http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/research/research-nexus/digital-nexus/global-project-on-transmedia/transmedia-storytelling-and-beyond/conference-programme-papers-and-abstracts/session-14/

      ie There were many films before that, that did the exact same thing you mention above.
      See `The Legend of Boggy Creek’, and `Cannibal Holocaust’, etc.
      So – if that was the reason that film (Blair Witch) succeeded, why didnt all the others that did likewise?
      Result: It all comes down to the film story – and the memes in it. See: StoryAlity Theory. For FREE.

      Also – this is wrong too:

      “and rapid drop-off after a couple weeks once the novelty wore off and people realized it was kind of a hoax.”

      Huh? How can you know this?
      Please show me the (ANY) empirical evidence for this statement?
      Show me also any box office figures that verify this statement.
      Until then: you are just speculating. Making this up.
      (And – Even if all of that’s true – which it isn’t – it doesn’t change the ROI? Or that the film story was a viral meme?)

      ie – check this: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=blairwitchproject.htm
      (just as one example… there are more)

      So – Where are you getting your `facts’ from?

      And also – J – Why do you think, what you said, would be true?
      – How do you know for a fact, it `dropped off when people realized it was a hoax’?
      Where are the empirical survey results of the worldwide audience, that show that this is a true fact? (or is this just hearsay, or a rumour, or just what `feels right’, to say?)
      And – What has that got to do with anything, even if it *was* true, which the figures show – it isn’t?
      Who cares if and/or when people `worked out it was a hoax’? It was still a viral meme; it was a super scary film.
      I don’t see a valid point underneath this comment?
      ie Whether you are right or wrong, it doesn’t change anything?

      8) I also don’t understand – what this has to do with anything:

      “Similarly, Paranormal Activity was promoted via a studio-financed stunt similar to how William Castle used to roll out his shockers.”

      Again (sigh) – The Marketing, isn’t ever the point.
      Also – whether it was a William Castle “eg – The Tingler” film – or not (which – it wasn’t. ie – Why are you comparing it to William Castle films? Where is the electric current hidden in the audience seats?)
      Or: What is the `stunt’ you refer to, exactly?

      – The point is, the film story itself (Paranormal) was a viral meme.
      See: StoryAlity Theory.
      It adheres to the 30 key things that all the top 20 ROI films do. It is all empirical.

      J – You can also try and find all the *random reasons* you want that any of the Top 20 ROI films succeeded *in your view*

      I am going to repeat that: “IN YOUR VIEW”. 🙂

      ie Who cares about peoples random guesswork opinions, on: Why one film was successful or not?
      They are just (worthless, sorry) opinions – and that: is is EXACTLY why retards in the film industry keep repeating that STOOPID mantra “Nobody knows anything”. – Cut it out, guys.

      I don’t care about your opinions on why any film succeeded. Show me some empirical facts.
      And – It is not the things each film does DIFFERENTLY that is the point.
      It is what all top 20 ROI films do *exactly the same*, that is useful to us all.

      And – they (all top 20 ROI films) all do about 30 things the same, (at *least* 30 things, that I have identified – empirically. ie Anyone who examines these top 20 ROI films will find the exact same stuff in all 20 of them).
      Do you see?

      J – You cannot do Science, (use The Scientific Method) the way you are suggesting, ie have some random ideas with no evidence or tests.
      ie – First of all – How do you know that `a William Castle stunt’ would make a film successful anyway?
      And: Why are you ignoring all the William Castle style `stunts’ – that also FAILED to make loads of films successful? This is a logical fallacy.
      You are also totally looking at it the wrong way. Anyone (even me) can come up with “random theories” about why a film was different (and then say: so – THAT is what made it successful! ie – a viral meme).
      But what a complete waste of time.
      It solves no real-world problems, and: will not help a filmmaker tell a viral film story.

      Do you see? (Sorry but J – you are now exasperating me. Your approach is exactly the problem with the feature film story domain!) Cut it out.

      Alternately: sure – keep having *random theories* with no empirical proof, and keep hoping that LUCK is the reason things are successful.
      (And – *good luck* with all that. You will clearly, literally, need it.)

      9) This is also wrong:
      “Paranormal Activity also benefited from studio retro-fitting in post, not accounted for in your figures.”

      My figures are looking at: how cheaply you can get a film in the can for, and even if we add the $1m of retrofitting (and alternate endings) it’s then – still: the #1 ROI film by a mile.
      So – what’s your point? This changes nothing either way?

      10) Ok – Last point:
      “I like the basis of your ideas, but it is over-simplified in your presentation of this list, with several films sold entirely on their gimmicks,”

      Look, J – I am grateful you like the basis of my ideas. Seriously.
      And – I don’t mean to get furious and insulting and sarcastic. (But you keep hitting nerves that have bugged me about the Domain for 20 years. It’s super frustrating, so – I am sorry. I have probably gone too hard in defending the theory.)

      But I still reckon it’s all solid?
      Now that I’ve clarified, J – Can you see any flaws?
      Seriously.

      Also – I actually have no idea what you mean by `gimmicks’.
      Can you be more specific?
      Which exact films, and: what were there gimmicks?
      And – what do you even define a `gimmick’ as?

      (Also – I disagree. But – go ahead and please clarify what you mean by this. ie Gimmicks, etc)

      11) This is wrong too:

      “while others were so culturally novel FOR THEIR TIME that they would not perform anywhere near as well now but were completely unique when released, meaning it was not the story itself but a novel aspect of the film that propelled its success.”

      Nope, you are dead wrong – and are still missing the point of StoryAlity Theory.

      If – ACROSS ALL TIME, the 30 or so `common things’ in the Top 20 ROI films – of all time – are all identical – NO MATTER WHAT THE FILMS ARE ABOUT – NOR, WHAT TIME/PLACE THEY WERE RELEASED – then how can your point possibly be true?

      Also – if you read the entire blog (and especially, this post, StoryAlity #32: https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/storyality-32-on-mckees-methodology-in-story-1997/

      You will see – your point is totally wrong anyway.
      These ideas – were all OLD OLD OLD ideas.
      Not “culturally novel” at all.

      The point – is *not* to come up with a new idea.
      (Look closely at the film stories. All super-OLD ideas.)
      It’s: to combine two very old, very viral, very familiar memes.
      The novelty is just in: the way (or fact that) they WERE combined, not the old old old ideas (memes) themselves.

      Also, your comment here is so general – it’s hard to work out what you mean by it.

      Give me a specific example/s? (Why do you even think any of these films succeeded “of their time”? Because they were culturally novel? They are not that, anyway!)

      (But – please – only give an example, after you have read that post above, slamming McKee – and his lack of method, and also – showing how all 20 of these films are just: some VERY OLD memes, combined together).

      The entire point of the research goes right against your point “FOR THEIR TIME”.

      ie – ACROSS ALL TIME, these are `the common elements in the highest ROI films’ – ie – the most viral film story memes.

      The story (cultural) details are all irrelevant.
      The specifics – in each film – are not important at all.

      ie Are you going to seriously suggest, the idea of 1) a serial killer – and 2) `Halloween’ – were `fresh’ ideas – FOR THEIR TIME?
      (For real? Do you know how old the idea of serial killers, and also Halloween – actually are?)
      Or even – the idea of a babysitter? Or the idea of teen girls dating boys, in school?
      Those ideas (memes) are all literally thousands of years old.
      So stop saying `FOR THEIR TIME’. It’s wrong, untrue, incorrect.

      I can go through every single film if you want.
      Are you saying, *any idea/meme at all* in Star Wars 77 was `new for its time’?
      (Hello? Star Wars 77 is the ultimate OLD MEME mashup.)
      But – pick any film in the list – and I will give you a very long list – showing why what you said is completely incorrect.

      StoryAlity Theory says that: J – If you (or anyone) keep thinking that way, you will not be able to create a viral film story… (I don’t know if you are in the film business or not.)

      You are clearly suffering under `the single-cause effect’ fallacy.
      You are making a huge mistake – to point to `one reason’ why you think any given film was successful.
      Film success is vastly more complex than that. You need to look at an empirical set of films that were all successful and see what they ALL do right. And: what the failures are doing wrong. (And forget `LUCK’. Seriously.)

      But – hey – possibly, you also have probably been reading the screenplay gurus – NONE OF WHOM USE A SCIENTIFIC – NOR EVEN EMPIRICAL METHOD – LIKE THIS RESEARCH DOES, right? And – all of whom are essentially Romantics, not Rationalists. Massive massive problem. That way, madness (and: making unsuccessful films) lies.

      So – look, I am sorry J – but – I cannot see a single point you have made, that I haven’t utterly smashed here.

      …Does all this make sense?

      In short: Do you agree you are totally wrong – and I am totally right about everything I’ve said.
      (If not, why not, and show me the empirical proof, why. If I am wrong I need to know it.)

      So – in conclusion (and OMG – this is a ridiculously long Reply Comment, sorry, but what choice did I have? You’ve suggested, I am wrong – and I have therefore had to address every single point, at length.)…

      ie – J – Do you still feel that my “methodology here does have a couple of significant holes (and is based on partially inaccurate information).” – ???

      Anyway – I do thank you for all this J,
      If you think this way, then loads of others reading this, will obviously still think this way, too.
      So – I feel it’s important that I point out these corrections, to these possible misconceptions of the StoryAlity Theory.

      And – sorry for getting angry.
      The Domain of Screenwriting is in a complete mess, and now – finally, one man is here to `take out the trash’.
      LOL

      Also – historically, all new theories – that contradict the existing paradigm/convention in a Domain, are initially resisted. (See: Thomas Kuhn, `The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’.)

      So, I have loads of this, still to do…
      ie Correcting people’s misinterpretations of the StoryAlity Theory.

      But – your thoughts and feedback are gold. I can see why you would think that way. – Until you get all this information inside your head, you would only have false assumptions and incorrect memes in your head.

      But – look at the empirical data, and then, by all means, if you think so – tell me I’m wrong. Please!

      Thanks again J,

      Cheers

      JT

  28. Okay… you’re wrong. But I appreciate that. As I don’t have a lot of time right now, I am going to leave only a brief reply (infuriatingly brief, most likely).

    The good stuff first: I do still like the premise of your theory. I think there are some good ideas in there. I totally appreciate your approach.

    And, I can’t stand most of the so-called screenwriting “gurus” that have published books designed, I believe, to destroy both the art and craft of screenwriting.

    One of the biggest problems I see across your posts is that you are trying to force material into your box, although I am certain you believe you are merely culling what is naturally there. And I think you are selectively ignoring that while these 20 films may have strong similarities, you could apply most of those similarities to countless films that have flopped or have been at best average performers, especially with writer-hyphenates behind them. Have you done that study? Of ALL the writer-hyphenate films that follow your essential premise, how many have made a profit? Until you have answered that singular question, you do not have a paradigm. It is, alas, the point on which your theory hinges, because your theory dictates not that StoryAlity *might* be a probable roadmap toward success, but that it *is* the scientifically proven roadmap toward success. By definition, then, it must mean that such films are statistically more likely to be profitable, which, I am willing to bet after 25 years in the independent film world, they are not.

    Which does not mean that I don’t like what you are proposing. In fact, I see the observations here having a great value, especially when trying to convince investors on the potential of a truly low-budget project in a climate where too much money is thrown at effects-driven junk.

    Randomly addressing a few things from the above: if you are going to include finishing costs for Blair Witch (as you say you do, vs the marketing costs I apparently erroneously had stated), then you need to do the same for the other films like El Mariachi (close to $1 million before an answer print, which is the true negative cost) and Paranormal Activity. Yes, they are still very profitable, but the figures are incorrect. I don’t have the figures, but I have spoken with people from their studios who confirmed that the actual negative cost was much higher by the time of the answer print. And if a rough cut is all that matters, than you should go by that cost — prior to special effects — for the likes of ET and Star Wars, which will dramatically increase their ROI value (and likewise turn John Carter into much less of a flop). As you know, any true SCIENTIFIC examination, by definition, must include a CONTROL. You don’t have a control, so all you can do is extrapolate information to form a theory, but you cannot prove it without the control and blind testing, then being able to duplicate the results. This is the ONLY way to say it is scientifically accurate. And I would love to see such a study, because I think it would be really cool.

    As for marketing gimmicks helping or hurting a film, I think it is very well established that poor marketing (specifically, marketing to the wrong audience) can kill a movie at the box office. Conversely, good marketing only helps. And no marketing never works. However, some very good marketing is extremely cheap and clever (i.e., Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity) because it generates more word of mouth and encourages viral activity. That’s great, but it does involve clever, dedicated people to drive the publicity and does not ever happen just on its own. You can argue all day that nothing over $1 million matters, but you would be wrong, empirically wrong, with many profitable piles of crap to prove the point and many huge opening weekends (due to marketing blitzes) that are followed by steep drop-offs after word of mouth kills a bad film. What is true is that letting good movies open slowly and build a base audience with limited marketing works very well for good movies that have small marketing budgets. Jaglom used to let his movies play for months in a single theatre in a single market and made a good return for most of them on a very tiny marketing budget. He also self-distributed, making his films more profitable per-dollar.

    Yes, by “name actor,” I did not mean “star,” however the names were still recognizable (perhaps from television, where the actor already had a following). Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard in American Graffiti, for example, both had successful television careers behind them, as did John Corbett in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (produced by major Hollywood insider Tom Hanks). The actors in The Full Monty were all familiar in its local industry. (Even Mel Gibson had a television series in Australia prior to Mad Max). ET used established and respected actors in the major adult roles. The point isn’t that the films were driven by star power, but that the audience did KNOW some of the major names enough to trust the product. Rocky was hardly made outside the Hollywood system (meaning, it was made largely by established professionals working within the structure of the studio system): it had a director with ten features under his belt, was shot with union support and was produced by Irwin Winkler, who had already produced nearly 20 films by that time.

    On the opposite end of this, and yes, I know that it supports the idea that it is best to have as small a budget as possible, you have films that are in fact made outside of the “system” in that they are largely financed by friends and family or are pieced together over an extended period whenever shots could be picked up. Here you have your Clerks, Evil Dead, Primer and even El Mariachi, Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. The unifying factors here are that they were passion projects done by relatively inexperienced teams, without oversight from executives. Clerks, Primer and El Mariachi succeeded primarily because of early festival buzz, where they were competing against similarly budgeted movies that did not catch fire, and each was able to ride that wave of publicity (aka, marketing buzz) toward a successful release. The other three, horror films (again, supporting some of your statements), did well because of different reasons. Evil Dead is very unique in that it is actually very funny and as such was more of a cult hit, earning over an extended run. The other two, as mentioned before, had huge media help and very clever campaigns, including very limited roll-outs for initial buzz that was allowed to simmer until a major blitz for a wide opening. Saw had two very well known leads, Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, plus a host of recognizable faces AND was produced by an established Hollywood production company (Evolution Pictures). But you kind of erase this from your methodology.

    The films benefit from different things that contributed to their success. Star Wars was the first spectacle of its kind — of course the story was old as narrative, but that was beside the point. Nothing like it had been seen, ever. It had to be a hit. Can’t say the same any longer, since now every sci-fi film looks that convincing. Well, maybe not SyFy originals. But every movie with a $10 million budget. Paranormal Activity was surprisingly convincing, so it was rolled out perfectly to be a success and not over-saturated to the point where everyone going in already knew the “shock” ending. Blair Witch, aside from the barf-inducing camera work, had a similar effect on many people. I saw it the first week at the Nuart in LA and had people asking me if it was real. The audience was packed in at capacity there for weeks. After it went into wide release, however, it did not play long and public opinion, at least in LA, dropped significantly. Once was a quirky surprise, Clerks used more profanity than virtually any other film ever made and had a highly profiled clash with the MPAA over its rating. It goes on… When I stated that each film had a “novel” aspect, this is what I was discussing. Not the story idea for each film, but the film itself, somewhere in its execution or presentation, had a unique and novel aspect to it that had not been presented that way before. THAT, more than anything, is the unifying element of these films, beyond budget, beyond stars, beyond any plot points or whether the villain wins (which could be argued, as you have a very loose definition of what that means). So, yes, EACH of these films was, to some extent, culturally novel at the time it was released.

    Let’s talk about the villain winning for a moment. That is not the same thing as the hero losing, nor is it the same thing as the hero does not get everything he or she wants. Yes, when the hero is dead, it is hard to argue that the villain has not won – unless the hero’s sacrifice defeats the villain. In that event, even if the hero dies, the hero wins because evil is defeated. Additionally, even if you do not morally agree with the hero (i.e., Primer), that does not mean that the hero can’t get what he wants and be the winner. Perhaps if you amended it to be that the ending has ambiguity about the moral winner it would be more accurate, but the villain wins is not. Also, in the Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell does survive, he just has a lot more fighting ahead of him. ET gets away and, though the others are sad, they are also happy and proud, so the villain does not win — unless you are going to change the characters positions so that ET is the villain. The villains in American Graffiti do not win, because their relationship stays unaltered but the others move on — and when one character dies in Viet Nam it is not related to the film’s villains at all. Rocky, who does actually go through a character arc, may lose the fight but he wins in his life story, which is what the movie is really about. Apollo Creed is only a small part of his struggle, but the real villain in Rocky is internal (Rocky, himself), and the hero wins. Your argument for the Full Monty is weak, again, as the hero presumably will be able to swing the extra few bucks in your scenario (at least one of his buddies would hand it over with the take from the bar), but again the real story is man vs himself (or man vs the system), not man vs the bar owner. Although I will say this, I appreciate your assessment of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    So, again, without having the massive amount of time necessary to fully rebut your rebuttal, I have to respectfully disagree with you in that your theory does have some holes in it. I’ve read a large chunk of your blog and overall have enjoyed it, but scientifically it does fall short. I say this with full confidence because I have a decent amount of science under my belt and have good friends who are actual scientists, professionally and academically. Your theory is interesting, provocative and relatively on mark. But it is not scientifically sound at this point. You may be too entrenched in it to recognize this right now, but at some point there are areas that will need to be addressed. Also, your Golden Ratio seems a bit forced in its relation to your theory. Technically, it is an abstract extrapolation at best, but it does not actually work, as beautiful as it might look.

    In summary, I agree with a great deal of what you have written. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. But the methodology is not as solid as you state and there are a combination of holes in your logic and assumptions. Still, I find it a worthwhile read and thank you very much for having put it out there.

    • Hmmm. Well, look, J – I still think you’re awesome. Thank you – more – for more engagement. ie You’re obviously super-intelligent, and clearly know your movie stuff. And what’s more, if you’ve been in the film biz for 25 years, then, you beat me out for experience, by 5 years. (I’ve only been working in features for 20 years.) So – huge respect. And you’ve enabled me to consider some stuff, I hadn’t before. So THANK YOU. It’s incredibly helpful, I owe you a favour now. ie – You are greatly assisting with conceptualizing the multitude of problems I am aiming to solve, all at once, in the Screenwriting/Film Domain – but, from a different perspective. I will actually give you a Thanks, in the Acknowledgements of my thesis. But – J, I still don’t see how you’ve demonstrated, anything that I’ve said here (and: anything on the StoryAlity blog, and anything in the StoryAlity Theory) is actually wrong. And I (obviously) am glad that you like the gist of it. – Even if you’re still not `sold’ on some of the details. So – Let me try and convince you. (And if you even read this – let alone argue with it, I’m eternally grateful.) But – first I want (or: need?) to recap. Otherwise, we (possibly?) might be arguing at cross-purposes, ie – `talking past’ one another. A side story: If you ever read DK Simonton’s (awesome) “Creativity In Science” (2004), turns out, Einstein and another guy actually once famously did this. So – I’ll be `the Einstein’ (of the Screenwriting Domain) – and, you can be “the other guy” 😉 So – A recap of: “Our StoryAlity So Far.” From – your initial Comment, J: (Which, has many merits. Don’t get me wrong.) Paraphrasing you… (To try and ensure I haven’t misinterpreted anything. ie Words are so ambiguous. No wonder I feel so sorry for Screenwriters. And I’m one of them.) 1) Q: But – what about, how, some of the StoryAlity study data-set (ie – some of: the Top 20 ROI Films of All Time) were picked up by Distribs, and: they spent more money on them, ie massive Marketing campaigns (publicity)? A: Yes, all technically correct – but: a) Film Marketing – has *no causal effect* on the resulting theatrical success of a film. (See: De Vany et al. Sorry I keep saying that.) – All you need is: a bare minimum (approx $1m) to `get the word out’ on the street, and `into the meme pool’ (to the cinemagoing, or even non-cinemagoing, public) – that: “Hey, everyone at random, there is a new film out, and it is about `X Y and Z\'” (ie – insert whatever the story is about, from: the film trailer/poster). – If the film story (the film, as a meme) is super-viral – it will then spread like a: super-virus. – That’s what all the Top 20 ROI films did. So: Marketing changes nothing. And – we totally need to ignore it. (And, someone needs to clean up that Domain, it’s as messy as a dog’s breakfast. Hopelessly so. In another lifetime I’d study Marketing for 10 years and go straighten those guys out. They are lost; up excrement creek, and without a paddle. The people who pay for that? Filmmakers. Screenwriters. – When the Marketing guys screw up the Marketing, which they *almost always* do – on ANY film. Films that succeeded, after their Marketing, succeeded: *despite* the Marketing – and not because of it. Not even kidding right now. It’s an utter utter scandal.) 2) Q: What about where, the Distrib/Studio `spent more on the film’, prior to its cinema release? a) Even that `additional post-production budget’, *added in* to any of these Top 20 ROI film neg-costs, doesn’t change the final results. ie Doesn’t change the Top 20 ROI data set as a whole..! Please, Try it – do the math, yourself. (ie – Add in, the extra `finishing funds’ some of them received to the reported neg cost, and then: recalculate the new, `alternate’ ROI.) (Note: DO NOT EVER ADD IN THE `MARKETING COSTS’, AS – IT IS ALL UTTER B.S., ie – it *has no causal effect* on the retrospective success of each – and all – of these films) all that matters (makes them SUPER-HIGH ROI films) is: their virality (word of mouth, due to the Story) – They (each of the Top 20 ROI films, in the primary data-set) may well `move around’ in terms of their order in the list, if we add `extra film finishing costs’), but – so what? – The Top 20 ROI films, either with, or without, the `extra production spend’ – are still all: undeniably and empirically, *massive ROI films*. Meaning: they are massively super-viral, in their Story (and – StoryAlity says: due solely to – their Story). So – Is this not, what, Screenwriters/Filmmakers desperately want/need to know? This is indeed, the whole point of the StoryAlity Theory: How To Make a Super-viral Film Story. *Nothing else matters*… I reckon, everyone has to stop thinking that Marketing – or even `Extra Production Spend’ – changes (affects) that: the Film Story was a superviral story, in and of itself, and – is the only thing we ever need to consider/examine/look at/do. ie – For: WHY SOME FILMS SUCCEED – AND OTHERS FAIL. (The alternative? Sit back, give up – and say “Nobody knows anything” – like a retard.) b) Again, the goal (the Research Question itself) is: How Do You Make a Film, That Is So Awesome, Distribs (and/or Studios, whatever) are gagging / falling over themselves for it? So, why is that (an extra neg cost spend/polish) ever a *bad* thing? It is the point! ie – That Distribs picked up some of these low-budget efforts – and improved their production values a bit, or even a lot? (eg – Sound Design, Picture Grade, tightened up the Edit, etc). If we ignored the fact that these films managed to do that (attract more funding, AFTER THEY WERE SHOT/CUT), it would miss the whole point, of the (ok, my) question…? 3) Q: But some of the films had `name actors’…? A: Yes – but that’s not `Stars’. ie – We are now `arguing/talking past’ one another. So – I still maintain: NONE of them had Stars in them. Also – if you can show me any empirical proof they did, I will be forced to admit you are right, and recant on this point. (But even so: see De Vany’s research/literature on `Why Stars Make a Movie Lose Money’). – It is just a bad idea, anyway. I see above, J you mention Danny Glover and a few others. But Where is the empirical evidence that his presence made the film work (go viral) anyway? (This is actually, unprovable). Also – here is the rub (the key point) – Even if only 1 film in the data set (the top 20 ROI) had no stars, my point would still stand. ie YOU DO NO NEED A STAR – OF ANY DESCRIPTION – TO HAVE YOUR FILM GO VIRAL. And – even if, to be generous, J, I let you have say `Danny Glover and/or Cary Elwes’ as a `Star’… there are still laods of films in the TOp 20 list with no stars. So – do you need a star, for a superviral film? No. (But – I am letting you assume they are `Stars’, based on: no empirical evidence… ie – J – Can you produce any evidence he (Glover, or even Elwes) was considered a `Star’ at the time of that film’s release? And if so, who is it, who `says’ he was an A-list – or even B-list Star? ie Apart from finding a list of A- or B-list stars, which some publications eg – Variety – sometimes publish — in whose opinion? – There are no surveys done, on: Who the General Populace considers a `Star’, ie Who they would go and see in a film. ie The Film Industry is one thing, but the cinemagoing public is the ultimate Field/Audience right? So – more massive problems with the Film Domain. And – side note – can I just strongly suggest right now, for anyone reading this, who is researching `Film Acting as a Domain’ – Can someone PLEASE do an empirical study on this. Until then – we will all keep quibbling forever over “who is a Star and who isn’t” – based on our own personal, considered, yet ultimately random and non-empirical impressions of Reality.) 4) Q: Loads of these films were produced inside the system? Yet, JT, you’re saying the vast majority are Independent Films? A: So – The entire film industry is a system. Unavoidably, these films were all produced inside it. ie – As soon as they are produced, they are by definition: inside the film system. But – this is exactly what I have been saying all along. (Which is why I created an agent-based model of the System, see: https://storyality.wordpress.com/creative-practice-theory/ and run the ABM – Agent-Based Model…) But – J – I think you meant, they are *Hollywood system* films. I still say: (and you can check their production/financing histories) they are: Independent Productions (ie 18 of the 20). Even `My Big Fat Greek Wedding’: an Independent Production Co. So what if Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks were involved? (I have a chapter on that film, ie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, currently being published in the book: `WOMEN SCREENWRITERS: AN INTERNATIONAL GUIDE’, ie – a whole chapter on Nia Vardalos. It comes out in 2014.) (But also, J – I still think you are underestimating my knowledge of every single one of these Top 20 ROI Films. I had to *study the bejesus* out of every one them, for this research. You (probably) can’t imagine how much detail I went into. So – my conclusions (ie In StoryAlity Theory) are not based on a quick glance over the Top 20 ROI Films list. It’s actually based on years and years of research… And – I don’t mean to sound all high-and-mighty here. I am just saying: I reckon I know a lot – about THAT data set. The Top 20 ROI Films. How they were conceived, produced, sold, marketed, distributed, received, box office, ROI. – If anyone had spent such a ridiculous amount of time researching each and every single one of them, then: they too would know all that info. But – it is always good to be challenged on it. It reminds me what a stupid amount of knowledge I have accumulated on all this stuff. Just: THAT data set, I mean.) J – I see you also raise SAW. But you then point out yourself – it was an independent production company that produced it…? Also – same point as above: Let us look at `the bigger picture’: The overall point of StoryAlity Theory (and – as you know, there are about 30+ of them) is: You do not need to work inside the Hollywood system to have: a Top 20 ROI Film Of All Time. Look at how many of them were OUTSIDE the Hollywood system(!) And even if – for some weird reason I let you have SAW, (and it’s still Independent, anyway) that is now 3 out of the 20. The other 17 of the 20 – are still Independent productions. So – my StoryAlity Theory point still stands… And anyway – all it would actually take is 1 film of the Top 20 to be Independent – for me to still be able to assert “You do not need to be in or around or connected to Hollywood – to make a Top 20 Highest ROI film”. In fact given the data, Hollywood are clearly a bunch of retards at making High ROI Films. 2 (even 3 – at a huge stretch) of the 20 films, a *very small minority* maketh. ie – Hollywood needs a really good slap upside the head – from this StoryAlity research. And (as you agree J) for God’s sake – Hollywood, throw out all the `screenwriting guru’ books, they are ALL garbage, as none of them uses an empirical nor scientific method. Even if just 1 of the 30 points of StoryAlity Theory was right (I still say all 30+ are), given it uses a scientific and empirical method, it is still therefore more reliable, than all that trash combined. Call me cynical 🙂 LOL – All else is just opinions. Shadows and dust. And: will FORCE YOU TO GAMBLE. As a filmmaker/storyteller. (No good.) And I am soooo sick if this “Nobody knows anything!” BS. – That epigram is for losers, and dumbasses. – Get some Science, dammit. Do some empirical research. LOL 5) Hmm, well this point, was more on – how, you said I never included `neg-cost finishing costs’ in Paranormal, etc. (Same as I have argued, in Point 2 above. It doesn’t change the data-set nor the StoryAlity Theory findings either way, so – why does that matter?) ie But – just to appreciate something: How amazing is it that Oren Peli shot and edited a feature – in a (his) house – for $15k! And half that went on renovating the goddamn staircase! So – it’s (Paranormal) essentially, another `$7k in-the-can feature’ (like El Mariachi – and Primer. BTW – have you seen Primer? OMG – The most intelligent sci-fi time travel film ever made, IMHO. For $7k!!!! – Stunning, shocking. Genius.) And – anyway so with Paranormal, even if we include the finishing costs – its still the #1 ROI film. So: changes nothing. An invalid criticism! And: even if valid, still changes nothing. All my StoryAlity Theory points, data, findings, still hold. – Right? 6) This was really, 2 points (I am collapsing them onto one) on: a) Some of these films were sold on gimmicks, (William Castle style or whatever) and how, b) each of these films were `culturally novel’ and are “Of their time” And I think that you are implying, that somehow means – any or all of what I’m saying (or: What the Theory is saying) isn’t true? A: But a) I still don’t see any `gimmicks’ – and still want examples from you. These were all awesome stories. And – other films use (Marketing? if that’s what you mean) gimmicks – and: yet, they fail? And – b) I’ve shown, these films aren’t culturally novel. ie – The ideas in them: (even their combination of ideas) you can also point to in other, prior films. And I still think, J – you’re guilty of the `single cause fallacy’ in your thinking about this stuff. There are about 30 things the top 20 ROI films all do the same, and ALL DID RIGHT – if you want to make your film story a superviral meme. (And does anyone *not* want this for their film? And, if not, I don’t understand what planet you are on – but it sure as hell, ain’t this one) And J – you still keep trying to look at `what is different/unique’ about any/each of them. That will never help us, in this line of enquiry. – If you want to suggest “A film is successful because it’s a beautiful and unique snowflake” you are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. For one thing – we all need to know: What they all do *the same* (ie right?). And what the `duds’ (the Bottom 20 ROI films) all screwed up. So that: We can also `do stuff right’ – in creating viral story memes, when we make our own films, right? ie The subject matter/topic/details of the film: DO NOT MATTER. So, please stop picking out of the Top 20 ROi Films what you think are the `unique’ things. For one thing: How would you ever prove that THAT `UNIQUE’ THING (and I still maintain – they are not even `unique’ things) – is: What made them successful, when the empirical evidence shows, even the things you point to as `fresh/unique’ WERE NOT. You are ignoring the `initial silent population’ of all the other films, that previously used those same memes (ideas) and: FLOPPED. That is actually, the same mistake that all the screenplay gurus make…! It’s `magical thinking’ – and will get you nowhere fast. ie You will end up ignoring all the *right things to do* and will focus on `JUST ONE THING’ that you assume will: make it work. But that’s hugely problematic. – There is not JUST ONE THING that ever makes a High ROI Film. It needs to do about 30 things right! (and I don’t even bother going down to the level of `basic screenwriting 101′, as there are about 1000 things there that you need to get right. I am serious. And you would know that anyway with 25 years of experience in the biz/the field.) My previous Screenwriting Textbook addresses some of that. It’s here: (and is also FREE) THE FEATURE SCREENWRITER’S WORKBOOK (a summary of over 100 screenwriting manuals) http://www.lulu.com/shop/joe-velikovsky/feature-film-screenwriters-workbook/ebook/product-20376941.html So – to clarify: You can tell *any story you feel like*, using StoryAlity Theory. The choice of the actual `story details’ in your film is entirely up to you. And: ISN’T EVEN THAT IMPORTANT… But – maybe conceive of it like `The Hero’s Journey’. You can cram any story in there… Pick a random Hero character. Give them a Genre/Location/Quest. Now, make up some Mentor/s and Villains and Threshold Guardians and a `Princess’ and stuff. Or start with: a cool Villain – and then make up a Hero as Kryptonite for them – or whatever. Harry Potter, and all those stories. (Are you going to suggest `wizards’ were new at the time?) Also – see: The Top Ten Common Elements in Bestseller Novels http://on-writering.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/top-10-common-elements-in-all-best.html Anyway look – J, thanks again so much, and I will be giving you a Thanks in the final thesis. You are right about a whole lot of stuff, but I still don’t find any valid criticisms of the StoryAlity Theory in here. Also: to actually empirically disprove any, or all of it, you are going to have to make a feature film that uses NONE of the StoryAlity Theory elements, and then, have that film become one of the TOP 20 ROI Films of all time. I have a film coming out this year that is the first `real-world test’ of the theory. Let’s see how it performs in terms of ROI… 🙂 Cheers JT PS – Actually now – I should go through, and address your additional (new) points. So – I am pasting your Comment below – and inserting my replies/thoughts. And: I could be wrong about all this. But the empirical evidence to date still suggests: it’s all correct. So far. ————————————————————- J wrote: Okay… you’re wrong. But I appreciate that. As I don’t have a lot of time right now, I am going to leave only a brief reply (infuriatingly brief, most likely). > No it was a good length. Thanks again for all the engagement with the material. Seriously. You will be getting a Thanks in the Acknowledgements. The good stuff first: I do still like the premise of your theory. I think there are some good ideas in there. I totally appreciate your approach. > Ok – thanks. And, I can’t stand most of the so-called screenwriting “gurus” that have published books designed, I believe, to destroy both the art and craft of screenwriting. > Totally agree. No scientific or empirical method. The problem goes back to Aristotle. – What can ya do? Answer: ABANDON ARISTOTLE. And all the gurus that use his stupid `methods’. One of the biggest problems I see across your posts is that you are trying to force material into your box, although I am certain you believe you are merely culling what is naturally there. > Hmmm, well, I don’t have a good response here… I wish you didn’t feel that way. I don’t feel that way. ie – Isn’t this how The Scientific Method works? If the evidence agrees with the theory: the theory holds up? And I think you are selectively ignoring that while these 20 films may have strong similarities, you could apply most of those similarities to countless films that have flopped or have been at best average performers, especially with writer-hyphenates behind them. Have you done that study? > Well, you make a great (super-important) point, ie This is a crucial question to ask, at all stages of the study. ie – I have often asked myself this. But I don’t think I am ignoring that. Think of it this way: Nobody has looked at the Common Story Elements of the Top 20 and Bottom 20 ROI films before. I am the first guy to do it. Also, I don’t think anyone has ever used The Scientific Method before, to look at: What makes films successful. So the first place to start is: Compare the 20 most successful films to the 20 least, and see what the differences are. Now, when I look at those 40 films, I watch each one of them about 20 times each, and also, I watch them and pause it every 30 seconds or so and write down what just happened in the Story. This means: a VAST amount of data and time. ie Have you ever sat down and done that with a film? (let alone: with 40 feature films?) It takes a loooong time. It is a LOOOOOT of work. And I am just one, lone, humble, *unparalleled genius* trying to do all this stuff. 😉 And – that is just the starting point. Next – I would like to see, someone (a doctoral student – who isn’t afraid of hard work) continue this research, by looking at: the Top 40 and Bottom 40 films and seeing what changes. (If anything.) ie Add another 20 films in to each list. And do the same thing. Look for the common patterns. Find some other (new) ones. I don’t care. Like everyone: I just want to know the answers. What does a film story need, to succeed? There are about 500,000 feature films in existence. In `Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics’ (2011), (ie – AWESOME book) Prof DK Simonton estimates how long it would take to study 200 films. – I can’t recall the figure he arrived at – but basically, it’s not humanly possible. (ie You don’t just spend 2 hours watching it, you have to pause the thing and rewind a lot, and write stuff down, and think about it, etc.) Then you have to amass all the data – and then – look at (or: look for) all the patterns. And – you don’t know what you’re looking for, until it is spotted by you, AS a pattern. It’s HARD! LOL So – that means, you actually have to think of `things to look for’, as well. Then – you have to check if they all do it, or not. (eg All top 20 ROI films) And if 19 of them, do it – and then 1 doesn’t – you can’t then call that `a pattern’ across all of them (obviously). So, look – yeah – I’ve thought about examining all 500,000 films and finding out exactly how many of them adhere to the StoryAlity Theory. Who has the time to do that? But at the same time – I have looked at other films that flopped, that DON’T adhere to the pattern. But – this is the point, of comparing the Top 20 to: the BOTTOM 20 ROI films. ie You get the most `extreme/obvious’ patterns by comparing the 2 `opposite ends’ (shoulders) of the ROI bell-curve. This question though, raises, exactly the mistake that the Wharton School of Marketing (ie Uh-oh – alarm bells already… Marketing…) made in their 2 (2006 and 2010) studies of “ROI and Film Story – How do they correlate?” ie They looked at 200 films, spread across the spectrum of ROI. ie – WRONG! First of all, all the stuff they looked for was dumb, obvious stuff (taken from a dumbass `screenplay guru’ book by Hauge) Second, they used 200 `spoilers’ written by random spotty teenage kids on the internet. ie THEY DIDNT EVEN LOOK AT THE FILMS THEMSELVES So I ask you: 200 random kids (and a typing cat on the internet), writing up their synopsis of each film Can you see anything wrong with that idea? LOL For a start, all of them have different interpretations of: what just happened, in any given film Thirdly, they (the Wharton School) used a computer to analyze the results based on a keyword (`bag of words’) search. – Christ. So, that is the only other study of `Film Story and ROI’. (Jesus wept.) And their reports show – they clearly have no idea: What a screenplay is, how film story works, etc (or even what `P & A’ actually means) ie They think it means `Publicity and Advertising’ (OMG. Tautology, try FILM `PRINTS’ and advertising) So; yeah. My point being: yeah – I have looked at a few Control films. And the `Bottom 20 ROI’ are all a great control anyway? The results being: the less of the 30 things in StoryAlity Theory you have in your film, the less ROI it makes. Which: is exactly what the Theory itself predicts. So; yes – I’ve done some of what you suggest. And, it verifies the Theory findings. ** Next; J said: Of ALL the writer-hyphenate films that follow your essential premise, how many have made a profit? Until you have answered that singular question, you do not have a paradigm. > I disagree. See my above points for one thing. And: How do you propose we get consistency, across a team of researchers, in looking for these patterns, in 500,000 feature films? ie That would involve: first training a massive, massive team of researchers. And – how would you find Researchers who were `objective enough’ in the first place? ie And all of them (those poor suckers) would all need brain-wiping first. ie We would first of all, need to mentally de-program them – in terms of: Everyone has all of these faulty assumptions on `What a Story is’ (usually cos of the screenplay gurus – and all their super-whacky ideas) ie Then how would you analyze the data? You’d need Deep Blue or Watson (a supercomputer) or whatever. So – anyway, I don’t think you’re right. If you show the top 20 of anything (eg Olympic athletes – in, Wrestling – say) all do 30 things exactly the same, and that the bottom 20 of the same thing (Olympoic wrestling athletes) don’t do all those 30 things – you have a paradigm. ie You now have a theory that will predict – which people (some wrestlers – chosen at random) will become Olympic athletes. ie This is how Science works, yeah? When scientists have theories on how stuff will behave, they havent tested `every single possible past case.’ They just test enough – to get a decent indicative sample size. (Usually – cos of how much work it is. There is not enough hours in a single life to watch 500,000 feature films, with meal and toilet breaks, and sleeping, let alone then analyze that data.) So, I disagree. The theory still has enough data to be accurate, in making predictions. Of course the theory/paradigm will get more accurate, the more data that is included. (ie – Over time. By more researchers. And/or me – if I ever get time.) But – How many doctoral theses examine 40 films anyway? ie – IN THIS KIND OF DEPTH? LOL (A: None) ie Not just, looking at Story Patterns, but: HOW THE FILM WAS CREATED. (And produced, and marketed, and etc. ie I did look at Marketing, then realized we can all ignore it. It was not the Marketing that made them successful. There is no correlation in the data. And – others have proved that anyway, Marketing is useless. ie Its a necessary evil – so that people actually *know a film exists and is in the cinema now, if they want to go see it*, but then, once people know that – the Film Story itself does all the work – or not, of course – in: making that film succeed.) **J said: It is, alas, the point on which your theory hinges, because your theory dictates not that StoryAlity *might* be a probable roadmap toward success, but that it *is* the scientifically proven roadmap toward success. > I still say, it is. ie “the scientifically proven roadmap toward success” And I still think – the more research, the better. If the theory needs adjusting, when more data is added, so what? That’s how Science works. I absolutely welcome ANYONE who wants to jump in – and help out with (extend/refine/build on) this line of research/enquiry. The additional knowledge that results – will *only help the world* (ie – Help filmmakers to make better films – and, the public will be super grateful as all the movies they see will be frickin’ awesome. ie Who ever wants to see a crap movie/story? You never get that 2 hours back.) **J said: By definition, then, it must mean that such films are statistically more likely to be profitable, which, I am willing to bet after 25 years in the independent film world, they are not. > Wait – Exactly how much, are you willing to bet? LOL And – why would you ever say “after 25 years in the independent film world, they are not.” ie J – surely you realize, this is: the very first time in the History Of The Universe that anyone has actually used the Scientific Method to look at this. – What are you basing your skepticism here, on? The fact that: “It hasn’t worked before” ? Because … as you know – IT HASN’T EVER BEEN TRIED BEFORE, LOL! You also do realize, when Darwin proposed Evolution, this is the same reaction? (Resistance, based on: a feeling) And, Christ, some people still are emotionally-averse to the idea we evolved from apes. And you would realize, Einstein’s theories were also – at first – resisted? (based on: a feeling, nothing more. Not: empirical evidence.) **J said: Which does not mean that I don’t like what you are proposing. In fact, I see the observations here having a great value, especially when trying to convince investors on the potential of a truly low-budget project in a climate where too much money is thrown at effects-driven junk. > Well – J – thanks for saying that. Also – put it this way – let’s make it personal (in a professional sense): Have you (J) ever sat across the desk from some *retard* in a Film Studio – who turned down your project, based on: their own random idea (feeling/intuition) of `what would work as a film’, and what would not? And/or – based on their (retarded, ill-informed) ideas about “What makes a successful/good film story”? And – If you have – (and I certainly have – many many times) – you would know: exactly why – Empirical Evidence and Scientific Proof is important. Christ – Is it any wonder, 98% of screenplays goes unproduced, and that 70% of films that ARE made (of that miserable 2%) lose money?? – There are madmen at the wheel. They have *no freaking idea* what they are doing. And everyone just has to accept it. Cos (cue sledgehammer to the cerebral cortex) “NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING”… Christ, gimme a f*cken break. **J said: Randomly addressing a few things from the above: if you are going to include finishing costs for Blair Witch (as you say you do, vs the marketing costs I apparently erroneously had stated), then you need to do the same for the other films like El Mariachi (close to $1 million before an answer print, which is the true negative cost) and Paranormal Activity. Yes, they are still very profitable, but the figures are incorrect. > But like I say, even adding that, they are *still the same group of films*. And – even if a few films (like #21, Pi, or #22, etc) come up into the list (or not) – the 30 characteristics of the high ROI films all *still stay the same*. Even if we add the 3 really old movies: Gone With The Wind, Birth of A Nation, The Big Parade – THE THEORY DOESN’T CHANGE! Those films still all adhere to the same guidelines. – See what I mean? I reckon this stuff works. **J said: I don’t have the figures, but I have spoken with people from their studios who confirmed that the actual negative cost was much higher by the time of the answer print. And if a rough cut is all that matters, than you should go by that cost — prior to special effects — for the likes of ET and Star Wars, which will dramatically increase their ROI value (and likewise turn John Carter into much less of a flop). > No, I reckon this isn’t right. The Special Effects of each film, are still all included in the original neg-cost. (The film `master-print’ cost, that got shown to anyone, ie either Distribs who then threw in more cash, or otherwise) As – special effects were `part of the original film story’ of Star Wars and ET. And of Evil Dead, etc. ie The `special effects’ weren’t `added in later’ to any of the low cost films, And again the point of all this is: Q: How do you create a film story – that can even have, relatively crappy (ie cheap) or even NO special effects (like Once, Primer, or even #21, Pi) – or even have GREAT VFX, like Star Wars or ET? – The VFX aren’t the point, the `whole film story’ is the point, basically the Story of `Primer’ – is just as viral – as the story of Star Wars… Do you see? It still comes back to: How can you get a film `finished’ to a stage of completion (ie: written, shot and edited, and also do whatever basic post- you need to do – so the film is `watchable’/showable to SOMEONE, be it Sundance, or just one guy at a Distributor?) But that cost includes your VFX. Also – George Lucas was `further up the line’ than most of the other filmmakers when he did Star Wars, look at American Graffiti rather than Star Wars. So his budget was higher. It wasn’t his first film (ie THX-1138, which again is crappy – and low budget) (But: look at them both. ie Star Ward and American Graffiti. They both do the same stuff, and in fact all top 20 do all the same stuff, in their Story) The point is, the Story. We could look at some films that have `better VFX than Star Wars or ET’ – but still, if their story sucked, no amount of brilliant VFX could help it go viral. (And – this is not exactly `news’ to anyone. ie Its not time to call Guinness just yet, by saying “Great VFX do not a good story maketh”.) But again, this is the point: forget the details, and forget the need to do great VFX. (ie If you have $11m or even $100m, then DO all that stuff, sure.) But – Just tell a great Story. Using all these StoryAlity points. THAT’S ALL YOU NEED. (So – I can’t agree about John Carter either, for the same reason. ie It did loads of stuff wrong in the Story, and has way too few attributes of a High ROI film. But even so, the VFX are still part of the `first neg cost’, when a film is showable in a `final state’.) **J said: As you know, any true SCIENTIFIC examination, by definition, must include a CONTROL. You don’t have a control, *** Wait – WRONG! J – the `Bottom 20 ROI films’ are the control – right? ie The Top 20 ROI films (and – all their 30 resulting common elements from my study) are the `primary data set’, from where we get all the “right things to do”. ie All the `key Screenplay/Film Guidelines’ for the StoryAlity Theory. The CONTROL – is the Bottom 20 ROI films. – Which not only shows the TOp 20 theory is right, it ALSO clearly shows us: all the WRONG things to do… So – I reckon, it all still stands? **J said: so all you can do is extrapolate information to form a theory, but you cannot prove it without the control and blind testing, then being able to duplicate the results. This is the ONLY way to say it is scientifically accurate. And I would love to see such a study, because I think it would be really cool. >Ok, J – so – you try it, pick 1 film at random. ie Blind testing. Check it, against the StoryAlity Theory. And see: StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-ROI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist (see the first column of that table in there) https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/storyality-51-the-storyality-high-roi-film-story-and-screenplay-checklist/ and StoryAlity #54 https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/storyality-52-screenwriting-guidelines-for-any-aspiring-writer-of-high-roi-films/ If it does *all 20 things right*, and DOESNT do all the 10 wrong (Bottom 20 ROI) things, Then: logically, according to the predictions of StoryAlity Theory – it should be in the Top 20 list. But – since it isn’t – then it hasn’t yet falsified the Theory, yeah? (See Karl Popper, and Feyerabend, Chalmers and etc – we can never actually `prove’ any scientific theory, we can only: find contradictory evidence that then falsifies it!) I haven’t yet, found a film that falsifies it… And – If anyone (including you, or me) does, that’s actually GOOD, it will mean – we (or I, or whatever) need to revise and improve the theory (or toss it out and find a new one, but I reckon it is pretty damn robust) – and that can only be good for our knowledge, right? (This can only help filmmakers, right?) ie Yeah – I too would love to see that study. But again – all it means is, I need to convince some academic researcher/s to do the study (only as – academia has a rigour to it, that you don’t get in `the outside world’…) I seriously hope, this ground-breaking research, spawns: an entire Academic Discipline. That would mean filmmakers have actual, useful knowledge – instead of the garbage (and false assumptions) we have currently in the Screenwriting Domain. **J said: As for marketing gimmicks helping or hurting a film, I think it is very well established that poor marketing (specifically, marketing to the wrong audience) can kill a movie at the box office. > This is `the opposite point’ to all this in StoryAlity Theory though. So – we’re again `talking past’ each other here. ie – I never said anything about that. All I have said is: Marketing Spend is irrelevant, if anyone thinks: Spending More Marketing Money will help a film go viral If that film (story) is not a viral meme in the first place, it really doesnt matter how much you spend, people will soon realize it sucks and avoid it. So – J, you are now arguing the opposite end of the stick. Bad marketing can kill a film, sure. I agree. But – almost all Film Marketing is bad marketing. Even for the films that then succeed. Take a look at the very first trailer for Star Wars. It sucks 1000 camels butts: Star Wars (original, retarded, Trailer) [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gvqpFbRKtQ&w=450&h=284] Star Wars succeeded DESPITE that Marketing. (Don’t get me started on Marketing Monkeys again) Cos: it was a super-viral film story …Do you see? **J said: Conversely, good marketing only helps. > Yeah, I agree. But how often does it happen? And – we are not talking now about the amount of spend, but – the quality of it. ie the cost of cutting a `dumbass’ trailer = the cost of cutting a smart one – one that actually promises what the film will deliver, and shows the key story memes, (ideas) and creates intrigue in the meme of the film overall. And that almost never happens. So anyway we agree, But – that still doesn’t change: Marketing Spend has no correlation to the subsequent viral success of a film Look at the figures. Look at De Vany’s research on this. Marketing is bullshit. (Also – Look at that Star Wars 77 original trailer. Soooo many things wrong, and – just to list a few: 1) The music isn’t even the classic theme – and suggests entirely the wrong `emotional tone’ for what that Story actually delivers. 2) “The story of a boy, a girl, and a Universe” (yeah – a brother and sister, and she kisses him on the lips, though that only came out in the sequel. 3) Dumbass: “Aliens from a thousands worlds…” – and they show: a Tusken Raider, who is native to Luke’s planet, Tattooine, and so therefore – Luke is now an alien. Ok well whatever. 4) Cut to: Darth Vader strangling and dropping some guy, which looks silly and lame. 5) Include some random close shots of Chewbacca that look like the cinematographer was hung over and having a bad day and screwed up the shot, etc etc etc)) Star Wars became the hit it was – DESPITE all that. Marketing as a discipline is: completely retarded. **J said: And no marketing never works. > True – but close to being not exactly true, as: Primer had *almost no marketing* – played in only 4 cinemas – and word of mouth did the work. It was a viral meme. **J said: However, some very good marketing is extremely cheap and clever (i.e., Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity) because it generates more word of mouth and encourages viral activity. > Absolutely agree, and that’s what I’m saying. (And said in that article I published, on Transmedia) But – if the film story isn’t a viral meme, even great Marketing is: useless. **J said: That’s great, but it does involve clever, dedicated people to drive the publicity and does not ever happen just on its own. > True, but I’ve never said anything that contradicts that. And – the point still stands, you need a minimum of about $1m for a cinema film, and if the story is any good (or: even better, superviral) the film (story) does the rest. **J said: You can argue all day that nothing over $1 million matters, but you would be wrong, empirically wrong, with many profitable piles of crap to prove the point and many huge opening weekends (due to marketing blitzes) that are followed by steep drop-offs after word of mouth kills a bad film. > But – Isn’t this, just what I have been saying? ie – Any film that has ANY marketing budget – and then drops off, when people realise it’s a piece of crap showing in the cinemas, proves my point. I didnt say `Marketing has no effect on gross box office.’ ie That is the `defensive strategy’ Hollywood has been using forever. (Stupid.) ie “Hose some more Marketing money at it, maybe THAT will make a film successful.” – Look at Vogel’s `Entertainment Industry Economics (2010). Most Hollywood films spend *the exact same amount* on Marketing as they do, on the film budget So: a $50m film – will on average, have another $50m spent on its Marketing. So that’s now $100m that needs recouping, plus – a lot more (around 373% ROI is break-even) But if the story is dumb, or not viral (same thing) it will drop off once people start going to see it, and warn their friends… So – We may well be `talking past each other’ again here. But – just think of how: 50 x $1m films – each with a great (viral) story could have been made for $100m. And the other $50m, as basic $1m spend on Marketing for each. Hollywood has lost it. (If they ever had it.) **J said: What is true is that letting good movies open slowly and build a base audience with limited marketing works very well for good movies that have small marketing budgets. Jaglom used to let his movies play for months in a single theatre in a single market and made a good return for most of them on a very tiny marketing budget. He also self-distributed, making his films more profitable per-dollar. >Yeah – Jaglom is an interesting case. I personally like his films. I also like that doco “Who the hell is Henry Jaglom?” But – I haven’t ever formally studied his work. **J said: Yes, by “name actor,” I did not mean “star,” however the names were still recognizable (perhaps from television, where the actor already had a following). Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard in American Graffiti, for example, both had successful television careers behind them, as did John Corbett in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (produced by major Hollywood insider Tom Hanks). The actors in The Full Monty were all familiar in its local industry. (Even Mel Gibson had a television series in Australia prior to Mad Max). ET used established and respected actors in the major adult roles. The point isn’t that the films were driven by star power, but that the audience did KNOW some of the major names enough to trust the product. > Well if you didn’t mean `Star’ then we are talking at cross-purposes. I have only ever said: `Star’. Also – note how many of the top 20 ROI films use: practically, complete unknowns? This shows: You don’t need Stars, nor even `known’ actors. ie To have a super-viral film story. So – StoryAlity Theory still holds. You don’t need Stars. **J said: Rocky was hardly made outside the Hollywood system (meaning, it was made largely by established professionals working within the structure of the studio system): it had a director with ten features under his belt, was shot with union support and was produced by Irwin Winkler, who had already produced nearly 20 films by that time. >But – it was still an Independent production. Doesn’t matter about the Director (Avildsen) having had Hollywood experience. – Directors are guns for hire, right? Doesn’t even matter about the Writer-hyphenate, having had prior Hollywood acting experience (Stallone). It was not financed by a major, mini-major or minor Hollywood studio… the point still stands..? Independent film. **J said: On the opposite end of this, and yes, I know that it supports the idea that it is best to have as small a budget as possible, > yeah but that can still be: $11m. For Star Wars in 77 ($42m now!). Or $10m for ET, in the 80’s. It’s still: `as small as possible’. (ie How could you make `Star Wars’ for less than $42m now? Its still `as cheap as possible’, at $42m) So I reckon this Theory applies – no matter what the budget, could be $40m, no reason it couldn’t even be $100m. ie There is no reason why: a Hollywood (or, even non Hollywood) $100m film couldn’t `do all the things the top 20 ROI films do’, and then enter the list. Its all down to: Story. And: the virality thereof. **J said: you have films that are in fact made outside of the “system” in that they are largely financed by friends and family or are pieced together over an extended period whenever shots could be picked up. Here you have your Clerks, Evil Dead, Primer and even El Mariachi, Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. The unifying factors here are that they were passion projects done by relatively inexperienced teams, without oversight from executives. > Yes – but even `Terminator’ did that right? ie – had to go back and pick up some shots, using favours and stuff. And – You have hit on one of the major points of StoryAlity Theory: These Top 20 ROI Films, are all “deeply personal” films. (As shocking/counter-intiutive as that sounds.) (Even Star Wars – and ET… I won’t go into why… Short story – basically, Lucas’ own journey in leaving Modesto, his experience studying Anthropology in college (ie Campbell), and – Spielberg’s childhood obsession with divorce (ie his own family life), and UFO’s shooting stars/meteor showers which is why he puts a shooting star in every film, etc etc etc). And – exactly! – the less retards (dumbass execs) at the studio interfering in the creative process, the better. The phrase you use, “The unifying factor here” is still problematic to me, as a phrase though. There are: 30 unifying factors of the top 20 ROI films. And – if only a few of the films do it (ie – any one thing), it’s not a unifying factor. (Of: all top 20 films.) I also found *loads of other things* in the research, that – only *some* of the top 20 ROI films do, but – unless ALL of them do it, it’s really not worth mentioning. And: doesn’t come into the Theory. ie It then becomes, a variable that: doesn’t necessarily matter… But – J – you are correct – `personal films’ by writer-hyphenates are: the way to go. Even if the budget is $10m. (or even $42m or $100m. Or $7k.) **J said: Clerks, Primer and El Mariachi succeeded primarily because of early festival buzz, where they were competing against similarly budgeted movies that did not catch fire, and each was able to ride that wave of publicity (aka, marketing buzz) toward a successful release. > J – Stop it! 🙂 J – You just made a false assumption They were: viral film stories. Other films ALSO do, (have done) what you just said – and then: they don’t succeed as viral films. But – Why did they “succeed because of early festival buzz”? Because: they were viral film stories. What makes a viral film story? See: StoryAlity. ie (Forgive me if this is wrong) This sounds like, J – you’re trying to propose other reasons that: Clerks, Primer and El Mariachi succeeded. But what you’re saying, is simply part of the bigger `cause & effect’. If they *weren’t* initially viral film stories, then they would never have gotten into those situations in the first place. (eg festivals.) So, please don’t say: “Clerks, Primer and El Mariachi succeeded because X” (eg: “Clerks, Primer and El Mariachi succeeded primarily because of early festival buzz”) That is not: WHY… That is just — *a part of their history of success*… Other films also have “early festival buzz,” and die. Right? And – Why? Not superviral stories. So I disagree, that is not true, a film does not succeed “primarily because of early festival buzz, etc” That is just a symptom of: being a superviral film. Gotta look at `the bigger picture’. When those films got into commercial cinemas, they were then competing with: other films. With different budgets… Yet – they still went nuts. `Early festival buzz’ doesnt mean anything, is not `the’ or even `a’ primary cause. – It could still mean a hit or – a flop. (Depends on the festival,and the audience at it, too.) **J said: The other three, horror films (again, supporting some of your statements), did well because of different reasons. > You are now speculating! Cut it out! – Where is your empirical evidence? 🙂 Seriously! Where? **J said: Evil Dead is very unique in that it is actually very funny and as such was more of a cult hit, earning over an extended run. > – All top 20 films are `very unique’. Yet – they are all the same. And you can still see loads of other films that like Evil Dead were “”actually very funny and as such was more of a cult hit, earning over an extended run.” ie – What does the length of the run actually matter? If a film is doing great, the run will then BE extended. That’s how it works, with viral films, right? You are now mistaking `cause and effect’. ie If you suggest, the length of the run is a `set factor’ and isn’t the result of how well the movie itself is performing. Whether a film is over a short – or a long run – if it is a superviral story, it will enter the Top 20 ROI list. Also – every film can be regarded as “very unique” – so: this is a logical fallacy. And anyway, this point, doesn’t change anything in the Theory. It (Evil Dead) was a viral film story and does all 30 things the other top 20 ROI films do. You can find loads of other films that are the same: “actually very funny and as such was more of a cult hit, earning over an extended run.” See: Bubba Ho-Tep. See even: Zombieland. But – they werent superviral stories. So, arent in the list. **J said: The other two, as mentioned before, had huge media help and very clever campaigns, > J, stop it. You are still trying to propose (with – no empirical evidence to back these claims up, I note) that *other reasons than the story being superviral* are the reasons these films succeeded. So you are now saying: any film with “huge media help and very clever campaigns” will become superviral stories.. (That is clearly untrue.) And you are implying that – the film story itself, is not the reason for success! If so you are not arguing your case at all well. I remain totally unconvinced. ie – You are just speculating. And, I could do that too – but, as we know, it wont help any filmmakers. ie This is actually, what we ALL do, all the time. And it’s: solving *NO* REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS! 🙂 **J said: including very limited roll-outs for initial buzz that was allowed to simmer until a major blitz for a wide opening. Saw had two very well known leads, Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, plus a host of recognizable faces AND was produced by an established Hollywood production company (Evolution Pictures). But you kind of erase this from your methodology. > WRONG!!!!! I do not. See all my earlier points on all this. Also – You are now slipping into, thinking: the exact same way, everyone else in the industry thinks. That way lies madness, and 70& of films losing money – and furthermore, it will only ever lead you to the dead end that is: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. This is NOT empirical science you are doing right now. You are mistaking effect for cause and all sorts of faulty assumptions. – If you keep thinking that way – you will still be trying to use LUCK, to make a viral film. **J said: The films benefit from different things that contributed to their success. > This is irrelevant. How much benefit? And – how could you prove that? And also: what you just said, goes entirely against StoryAlity theory. – Are you now going to argue that, all films / novels with `the Heros Journey’ in them that succeeded (and – there are also some massive flops, eg see: WILLOW) succeeded *because of everything they did differently to each other*, and, not because of: The Hero’s Journey? **J said: Star Wars was the first spectacle of its kind — > Nope, 2001 was. And – was even mostly the inspiration for Star Wars, right? As well as Flash Gordon, which Lucas couldn’t afford the rights to, so he ripped it off anyway?! (You have to realize – I have researched the bejesus out of: not just the Top 20 ROI films themselves, but – also their writer-hyphenates – and where the ideas first came from, etc etc – ad infinitum) ie – the `entire Creative Process’. Not just: the actual top 20 films themselves. And – anyway – what does “of its kind” mean? Cos – I can name, every other prior sci fi picture with special effects, and even Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Forbidden Planet. Which Lucas admits was a huge influence. And even *they* weren’t the first films “of their kind”… So – this stuff is all `off the mark’. Sorry. You haven’t convinced me anything I I have said is wrong. (Everything I say, is all based on: empirical evidence. It is impossible to argue against it. Seriously. This stuff is not my opinion. Its facts!) **J said: of course the story was old as narrative, but that was beside the point. > No, it was the whole point!!!! J – Stop! We are now talking about your opinions. Wrong way – go back. – This will not help me, you – or anyone – make a viral film. This is just random opinion and speculation now. And – your opinion is fine, and valid – but: has nothing to do with empirical facts. Or the scientific method. **J said: Nothing like it had been seen, ever. > Cut it out! Please! There are loads of films where: nothing has been seen like it ever, yet they still flop. Also – Go look at all the interviews with George Lucas… he used other films like 2001 as inspiration. Yes, Star Wars certainly had `the best visual effects’ up to that point. But – we have already shown – Great VFX means bugger-all if the story sux! So – You are now confounding and conflating things, that have nothing to do with each other. You are now mistaking the great effects – with – the story. Stop it. **J said: It had to be a hit. > Nope, it didn’t… Why do you say that? Based on: what? The only reason I can think why it `had to be a hit’ – was that – it adheres to StoryAlity Theory…? But – any other reasons are all just: speculation. APART FROM STORYALITY – THERE IS CURRENTLY NO SYSTEM OR THEORY THAT SHOWS: WHAT WILL BE A HIT Everyone just says: “Nobody knows, what will be a hit.” And — if so, (If anyone thought it “had to be a hit”) then why were Fox such retards – and thought it was a total flop they were pitting in cinemas? And – why did everyone in Lucas’s circle (except Spielberg, ie – Coppola, Schrader, Phillips etc) think it was a total stinker, when they saw it? And Fox only opened it on 30 screens, and promoted another movie (a complete bomb) over it? It’s no good, (no use) saying: something `had to be a hit’ in retrospect. ie Can you now predict another movie – that shares those same (or any) characteristics – and: `Has to be a hit?’ `John Carter’ shares all the things you just said – and: is one of the biggest flops ever. So Stop it! 🙂 This is not scientifically or intellectually rigorous. **J said: Can’t say the same any longer, since now every sci-fi film looks that convincing. > Okay – so you have just proved that `convincing FX’ means nothing. Therefore, why did it `mean something’ for Star Wars? Also – just on that – `2001′ was actually: `more convincing.’ If you want to get technical. As: it was based on real space research, (Wasn’t a space opera, right? Was: science fiction) eg – `No Sound in space’, and, Kubricks consulting with all those futurists etc. Yet – it flopped at the time. So I reckon this point is real shaky. I am still unconvinced by your theory on why `Star Wars’ was a hit. You have just a) used the `single cause fallacy’ AGAIN (that “it looked amazing/convincing”) and b) totally ignored – that it does all 30 things the same in its Story, as all the other StoryAlity Theory films. **J said: Well, maybe not SyFy originals. But every movie with a $10 million budget. Paranormal Activity was surprisingly convincing, so it was rolled out perfectly to be a success and not over-saturated to the point where everyone going in already knew the “shock” ending. Blair Witch, aside from the barf-inducing camera work, had a similar effect on many people. I saw it the first week at the Nuart in LA and had people asking me if it was real. The audience was packed in at capacity there for weeks. After it went into wide release, however, it did not play long and public opinion, at least in LA, dropped significantly. Once was a quirky surprise, Clerks used more profanity than virtually any other film ever made and had a highly profiled clash with the MPAA over its rating. It goes on… > J – Stop it! You are still selecting the things that make them each different – and suggesting *that* is what made them successful. Yet, almost every film ever made (500,000 of them) has *something different in it* – yet – why do 70% of them flop? Do you see that your logic here is totally faulty? Picking `something different’ and then thinking: THAT is why it succeeded! Is a huge mistake. There are more `differences’ in *every* film – than there are *things that are the same*. There were loads of other films that were `quirky tragic love stories’ before Once, and there were other films way more perverse than Clerks, and they flopped. They were not viral memes. And – this is also “the single-cause fallacy” AGAIN. You cannot just pick ONE THING — and say “THAT – is the sole reason, why, that film/novel/game/song succeeded”. It’s wrong. And – It’s not useful. So, look, sorry but J – all this is wrong, and – in no way, affects The StoryAlity Theory. You also haven’t used any empirical evidence here. You have just stated your own personal `single cause theory’ – as to why a few films succeeded. I remain totally unconvinced by your theory. Where is the empoirical eviddnce? Or: How can I now use this information to write a superviral film? What? Just : Do something no-one has ever seen before? Why? All Top 20 ROI films did loads of things, EVERYONE (well, a large proportion of the cinemagoing public) had seen before. Something `new/unique’ is NOT why people go see a film. Sure, you may THINK it is. But it’s empirically: not. You are still ignoring all those previous antecedents I listed in the table here: https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/storyality-32-on-mckees-methodology-in-story-1997/ And there are TONS more. I stopped listing after one or 2 examples as I don’t have time, but there are LOADS of films that do exactly what the top 20 ROI films did. J – I am sure you can see this. You are clearly a rational, sensible, highly intelligent and culturally-savvy guy. But – these are all the same mistakes the Domain has been making for so long now. The single-cause fallacy. (That film was successful because it had X in it. And – that is the only reason. Because: I said so. In retrospect.) It has gotta stop. **J said: When I stated that each film had a “novel” aspect, this is what I was discussing. Not the story idea for each film, but the film itself, somewhere in its execution or presentation, had a unique and novel aspect to it that had not been presented that way before. > I still say, this is wrong: You can easily find, at least 10 films (often: hundreds) that have each of these so-called “unique” aspects. Prior to each of the films, you name. If you don’t accept this, then: whatever. Keep thinking whatever you like. But – it’s the truth. **J said: THAT, more than anything, is the unifying element of these films, beyond budget, But – the budgets *do not unify* the top 20 ROI films. They range wildly from $7k to $11m. That’s point. You can make a film for $7k or $42m ($11m back in 1977) and use this theory. **J said: beyond stars, But – none of them have stars! And even if you argue (albeit with no empirical evidence, to support the claim) that one or 2 do have Stars (which: they don’t) the vast majority of them: don’t. **J said: beyond any plot points – What? Why do you say this? Why did we just `throw out the window’ the fact – they all do *exactly the same thing* in their plot points? Why? Based on – what exactly? ie This is the key!!! **J said: or whether the villain wins (which could be argued, as you have a very loose definition of what that means). > Wait, so – you are now saying – the thing that makes them all `unified’ is that: they `all have nothing in common’. Or: at least, they each have 1 thing – that is `totally not in common’. – As above – ALL films have “at least 1 thing” that is `not in common’ with – the top 20 films. This is wrong. Sorry J. This point is: the opposite of logic. **J said: So, yes, EACH of these films was, to some extent, culturally novel at the time it was released. > Disagree. Star Wars was a complete ripoff of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. (Have you gone back and looked at these old serials lately? Do so, then Tell me I’m wrong.) And it would only take *that film* (Star Wars) to prove that – you do NOT need `anything unique’ to have: a top 20 ROI hit. Yet – all 20 of them are OLD ideas, NOT unique. Not culturally new. Not not not! **J said: Let’s talk about the villain winning for a moment. That is not the same thing as the hero losing, nor is it the same thing as the hero does not get everything he or she wants. Yes, when the hero is dead, it is hard to argue that the villain has not won – unless the hero’s sacrifice defeats the villain. > But – This doesn’t happen, in any of the top 20 ROI films – so – why are we now discussing it? (ie “hero’s sacrifice defeats the villain”) So we are now speculating. Why? Just look at the stuff empirically in the top 20 ROi films. **J said: In that event, even if the hero dies, the hero wins because evil is defeated. Additionally, even if you do not morally agree with the hero (i.e., Primer), that does not mean that the hero can’t get what he wants and be the winner. Perhaps if you amended it to be that the ending has ambiguity about the moral winner it would be more accurate, but the villain wins is not. > Disagree. These films are all: Villain Triumphant. Watch them all again, and tell me they’re not. **J said: Also, in the Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell does survive, he just has a lot more fighting ahead of him. > You are: Wrong. Look again at the ending of that film, he (Ash) is just possessed (the Villain/ `The Evil Dead’ has won) and then – it cuts to black. If you call that `surviving’, then: whatever. There was not a sequel made, when that film first played… If there had *never been* a sequel, then – how would you – or anyone – know there was “more fighting ahead of him” ? This is speculation! And: The only reason there WAS later a sequel to The Evil Dead, was because its story (the first film) was a superviral meme. So – J, You are now conflating stuff – by thinking back across the subsequent sequels. The end of that film: Villain Triumphant. Cut to black. – Empirically. Villain Triumphant. All the good guys are dead, and Ash is possessed by the evil spirit. If you see that as anything other than `Villain Triumphant’, then, hmmm. **J said: ET gets away and, though the others are sad, they are also happy and proud, so the villain does not win — unless you are going to change the characters positions so that ET is the villain. > But – in short: Elliot “I’m going to keep him!” Note – He does not get to do that. Keys also says: “I’ve waited for this my whole life” So – even Keys doesnt get to keep him. – Do the good guys win? Nope. Villain Triumphant? Yep. You are maybe also missing the whole point of why that point is important, in StoryAlity Theory. Because – all the gurus (the `screenwriting convention’) say: The Good Guys have to win! And – it’s bullshit, based on nothing. ie – THEIR RANDOM IDEA/OPINION! ie – Not helpful.. CONTINUED
      • CONTINUED FROM ABOVE:

        **J said:
        The villains in American Graffiti do not win, because their relationship stays unaltered but the others move on — and when one character dies in Viet Nam it is not related to the film’s villains at all.
        > Yeah but the real villain is Time.
        Dreyfuss resists growing up and moving on, but: Time wins.

        **J said:
        Rocky, who does actually go through a character arc, may lose the fight but he wins in his life story, which is what the movie is really about. Apollo Creed is only a small part of his struggle, but the real villain in Rocky is internal (Rocky, himself), and the hero wins.
        > I still don’t see how Rocky wins, as: he loses that fight.

        **J said:
        Your argument for the Full Monty is weak, again, as the hero presumably will be able to swing the extra few bucks in your scenario (at least one of his buddies would hand it over with the take from the bar),

        > Wrong though, the goal was to raise the bucks to save his son. Those other guys are broke too, how will they lend him the money?

        **J said:
        but again the real story is man vs himself (or man vs the system), not man vs the bar owner.
        >But the system still wins – if he hasn’t got the money right? Also: his ex-wife is the villain. She wins.

        **J said:
        Although I will say this, I appreciate your assessment of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
        > Yeah, a few people have found that amusing actually.

        So, again, without having the massive amount of time necessary to fully rebut your rebuttal, I have to respectfully disagree with you in that your theory does have some holes in it.

        > Well, I appreciate all the time and energy J – and all the thought that has gone into this.
        But – I still can’t see, what you are calling `holes’. I reckon all that stuff is covered.
        And – we can of course, argue about it forever, but: the empirical evidence speaks for itself…
        So – Keep an eye out for the next film that enters the top 20 ROI list.
        The StoryAlity Theory predicts: it will be in 2014.
        And that it will adhere to all the 20 guidelines – and will not do any of the 10 `bad things to do’ (Bottom 20 ROI film traits).
        Let’s see, huh?

        But again, J – I do need to thank you, for all you thoughts, and for some fascinating info I didn’t know/wasnt aware of. Your contribution has been massive. And sorry if I sound like a high-horse guy. (I am supposed to defend the theory, right?)
        And I certainly appreciate that you like the spirit of the Theory, and what I’m trying to do – even if, you still aren’t sold on some points.

        **J said:
        I’ve read a large chunk of your blog and overall have enjoyed it, but scientifically it does fall short. I say this with full confidence because I have a decent amount of science under my belt and have good friends who are actual scientists, professionally and academically.

        > Well, thank you for reading – and that is good to know,
        but – I still don’t see any flaws yet.
        I reckon I’ve defended your criticisms here, and shown why they’re invalid.
        And anyway, I think about half the time, we are `talking past each other’ anyway.
        Like I say, the TOP 20 ROI is the key data set; and the bottom 20 ROI is the CONTROL. That’s Science.
        And – you can pick any film at random – and do the ROI calculation, and check it against the StoryAlity Guidelines, and see how it works.
        Let me know what you observe.
        I wish I could get the whole world doing that so all 500,000 films would be in the data set – but: Time is the problem.

        **J said:
        Your theory is interesting, provocative and relatively on mark.
        > Great, and: thanks for recognizing that.
        It’s relief to know all this research is paying off…

        But it is not scientifically sound at this point. You may be too entrenched in it to recognize this right now, but at some point there are areas that will need to be addressed.

        > Well, your comments are all extremely helpful; they help identify areas that need clarifying, and/or more evidence to be fully convincing, etc etc.

        **J said:
        Also, your Golden Ratio seems a bit forced in its relation to your theory. Technically, it is an abstract extrapolation at best, but it does not actually work, as beautiful as it might look.

        > Why?
        – Why does it not actually work?
        Don’t all Top 20 films do the same in the Story, at: Minute 1, Minute 2, Minute 4, etc-?
        Why are we dismissing that?

        In summary, I agree with a great deal of what you have written. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

        > Good, thank you, I wanted the Blog to be enjoyable to read.
        – The StoryAlity textbook is a lot more `serious and hardcore’. Not so many jokes/gags, etc.

        But the methodology is not as solid as you state and there are a combination of holes in your logic and assumptions. Still, I find it a worthwhile read and thank you very much for having put it out there.

        > Well, thank YOU, J.
        But I am still not convinced yet (about the `holes and assumptions’),
        but – I now owe you a favour, and do really appreciate all your comments. (Even if I respectfully disagree with some of them).
        You have raised loads of points, that, others (who, are just as highly intelligent, articulate and knowledgeable) will also be likely to raise. So – by allowing me to think about things, and `parts of the problem’ from other perspectives, this all really helps a great deal.

        Thanks again,

        Cheers,
        JT

  29. JT,

    It would be easier to address this if the discussion wasn’t all over the place, but I will make a couple of (actually) brief points this time.

    I will use your method of quoting here, but via copy and paste.
    #1:
    **J said:
    Also, your Golden Ratio seems a bit forced in its relation to your theory. Technically, it is an abstract extrapolation at best, but it does not actually work, as beautiful as it might look.
    > Why?
    – Why does it not actually work?
    Don’t all Top 20 films do the same in the Story, at: Minute 1, Minute 2, Minute 4, etc-?
    Why are we dismissing that?
    –> Here is why: each of those films is a different length. You cannot possibly disregard that. Therefore, you have to selectively force the material to fit your design. Period. No other option. It does not work. What it does do is provide a nice visual example of what you “believe” to be the optimum page count for the various sections, but it lacks variables (which would be scientifically necessary) and cannot retain its form with variables. You have to acknowledge that.

    #2
    **J said:
    The villains in American Graffiti do not win, because their relationship stays unaltered but the others move on — and when one character dies in Viet Nam it is not related to the film’s villains at all.
    > Yeah but the real villain is Time.
    Dreyfuss resists growing up and moving on, but: Time wins.
    **J said:
    Rocky, who does actually go through a character arc, may lose the fight but he wins in his life story, which is what the movie is really about. Apollo Creed is only a small part of his struggle, but the real villain in Rocky is internal (Rocky, himself), and the hero wins.
    > I still don’t see how Rocky wins, as: he loses that fight.
    **J said:
    Your argument for the Full Monty is weak, again, as the hero presumably will be able to swing the extra few bucks in your scenario (at least one of his buddies would hand it over with the take from the bar),
    > Wrong though, the goal was to raise the bucks to save his son. Those other guys are broke too, how will they lend him the money?
    **J said:
    but again the real story is man vs himself (or man vs the system), not man vs the bar owner.
    >But the system still wins – if he hasn’t got the money right? Also: his ex-wife is the villain. She wins.
    –> Actually, you are wrong on all three of these. First, you state the villains CLEARLY in your description of American Graffiti, and the list does not include TIME. So, re-writing your theory here cannot be included in defense of what you had written. I.e., Time does not figure into your posted analysis. Still, even if you are going to fall back on that, I do not believe you can argue that Time is the villain, because it is a story of man vs self before it is a story of man vs nature. The story in Rocky is not actually about the boxing match. The plot is about the boxing match, but the plot is only there to propel the story, which is more about Rocky and himself and Rocky and Adrian. In the end, Rocky wins the story in spite of losing the plot. This is a CENTRAL misconception in your argument. Plot is often irrelevant in terms of the story and themes. And, with the Full Monty, you are projecting failure upon the hero where he (and the other characters) clearly believe they are going to be successful. You are the one making assumptions here, in order to make the film fit your pattern; the filmmakers clearly believe in his success, even if it will continue to be a life of hardship.

    #3
    **J said:
    ET gets away and, though the others are sad, they are also happy and proud, so the villain does not win — unless you are going to change the characters positions so that ET is the villain.
    > But – in short: Elliot “I’m going to keep him!” Note – He does not get to do that.
    Keys also says: “I’ve waited for this my whole life” So – even Keys doesnt get to keep him.
    – Do the good guys win? Nope.
    Villain Triumphant? Yep.
    You are maybe also missing the whole point of why that point is important, in StoryAlity Theory.
    Because – all the gurus (the `screenwriting convention’) say: The Good Guys have to win!
    And – it’s bullshit, based on nothing.
    ie – THEIR RANDOM IDEA/OPINION!
    ie – Not helpful..
    –> And you stated in your posting that KEYES was the villain, but here you state that he wins. He does not. And, you try rewriting the movie by suggesting that Elliot, although initially wanting to keep ET, still wants to keep him at the end when the whole movie is propelled by Elliot helping ET to escape and help him “phone home.” Elliot WANTS ET to go home, even if he is going to miss him, so sending ET home is a WIN for Elliot. Again, you must agree, massive shoehorning to consider that a loss for the hero. Besides, isn’t ET the real hero of the film? Elliot helps him, but ET is the hero and ET goes home. Win for the hero.

    #4
    I’ll skip the copy/paste on this one. To address the novel concept issue once more, I want to be clear that I know Star Wars was not a new story. I said that before. In fact, several of the films on your list are highly derivative or flat-out rip-offs of previous films. Friday the 13th is a virtual remake of an earlier film by Mario Bava (which also takes away one of your points about these being personal projects and completely original scripts by the writers). Yes, 2001 pre-dated Star Wars, but it did not do what Star Wars did, nor did ANY previous space opera. This is not about the retreaded story, that really no one cared that much about at first. Star Wars took the b-grade sci-fi space opera and made it LOOK real for the first time. 2001 was simply NOT that kind of film. It confused too many people. It was way too cerebral for most viewers. And it was slow, slow, slow. Star Wars, on the other hand, was a total crowd-pleaser, and it had far more amazing special effects than any film up until that point. It was one of the first blockbusters and there was a feeding frenzy from the audience that was all about the novel new way of seeing this sci-fi universe, light sabers and laser blasts. It struck at just the right time — with the truly independent likes of Battle Beyond the Stars flagging because they looked like crap in comparison. In that case, it was all about the EFX. That cannot be denied. Plus, although it was “independently” financed, 20th Century Fox did, in fact, plunk down a large portion of the budget and had an agreement in place with Lucas PRIOR to filming, so it did have massive studio support. And while we are talking about breaking the rules, let’s look at Friday the 13th again. This was a piece of hack-work written by Victor Miller, not by Sean Cunningham (who merely had part of the idea of killing kids at a summer camp, based on the prior Bava flick), and was only more successful than some of the other slasher flicks coming out at the time because Paramount chose to pick this one up. In the original film, also, it should be noted that the villain dies and the hero lives — it is only in her DREAM that the image of Jason haunts her, but in the reality of the first film, Jason is presumed dead.

    That’s about all I have time for. My point is that you overlook the cultural identity of each movie as being a defining factor at the time of release. It is true for each title and may have nothing to do with the originality of the screen story. Beyond that, I am not convinced that all 30 points you state actually work for each of the films. If even ONE of the films is off, then your theory is in need of revision. While I do agree that films can find an audience without a huge marketing budget, it is not true that they will find AS BIG an audience, which proves that there is a correlation between marketing spend and success. It may not be a DIRECT correlation, but even you have admitted that there IS a correlation, which you then suggest needs to be ignored. Admission of the correlation at all, however, requires that it be considered a component of success. It is and unless you have made your film for only $7,000, you will need to market it beyond the four screens to make a profit, especially a high one. Primer, while a fantastic film, could only go so far without more marketing dollars, great success that it was for what it was.

    There are other points I wanted to get into, like why some films get distribution from a major distributor and why others (better films) don’t. This is why name actors, while not stars, still sell movies: distributors will be willing to just LOOK at those films whereas they might not ever view movies with no recognizable faces. There are lots of reasons for this, but it is one major way to open doors for a movie (and was one of the main reasons Saw had a distribution deal with Lionsgate in place before it was made). Had Saw been made without the name actors, it would not have gotten wide distribution and therefore it would not have made as much (or any) money. But, with a healthy budget secured on the power of marketable names and funding from a major distributor to fuel the production, it was made sufficiently well and marketed on one basic, prurient element that had little to do with the actual story. Yes, it was culturally novel, but not because of the story structure.

    I’ll end with this: the bottom 20 films are not a scientific control. The closest you will have to an actual control is the film you claim to have coming out in 2014. That film will have to be shown to conform exactly to your points without variation, while retaining no elements common to the bottom 20 — and it will have to do really well. Then, you’ll have to do it again. At that point, maybe, you’ll have something resembling actual controls to show. (While you are at it, unless you agree to address the marketing spend, you’ll have to cap it at $1 million, regardless of how much the distributor wants to spend.)

    • Hey J

      Thanks again – for continuing the dialog. – It really helps!
      And thanks also – for putting up with my emotional outbursts. You are very patient.

      But – this stuff really smokes my bacon.
      (When you can see a paradigm [an entire framework for `The Screenwriting Convention’, ie do not mean Syd Field’s `structural screenplay paradigm’, which – is wrong anyway] is wrong, and you then present loads of factual evidence to help fix it – and: it is still resisted.)

      – The trouble is, if you read the meta-scientists (and you may well have done so), eg Kuhn, Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Chalmers etc, this stuff (a scientific `paradigm change’) is the same as a religious conversion.

      – Whenever a new paradigm is proposed, the old guard refuses to budge – and we all need to wait till: all the old guys, with their old convictions, assumptions and prejudices, actually DIE.

      Then the new paradigm can spread freely, without resistance. Until a better one comes along and replaces that one. Rinse and repeat.

      (J – I am not saying you personally, are resisting it. or maybe you are. Who knows. You seem to keep thinking you have found a flaw in the research – and therefore, the StoryAlity Theory, and yet I keep showing – with evidence – why you are incorrect. Yet – you still keep on doing this. ie Trying to find more holes. Without ever pausing, and admitting I was right, on the previous point/s, then: trying to find another flaw. 🙂

      But (assuming you have time) – Keep trying though!

      All theories need rigorous testing/attacking (just like this).
      You are – so far – the person who has tried the hardest, searched the deepest, to find flaws. I applaud you for it.

      But I still can’t see any?
      ie Your points have not convinced me.

      And J – if you (or anyone) think you can turn me round on any of the previous points, mention them.

      (That’s the only reason why I did `the recap’ before, ie – of all the initial, and then follow-up points you made, versus all the evidence I presented to refute those (invalid) objections.

      ie I step away from your argument when you say stuff like “I don’t have the figures right now, BUT -”

      (ie Anything after the `but’ there, is pretty much random. It could be true, it could be false. – How will we ever know? – It is – most likely – just a personal impression. Not: empirical evidence.)

      Nobody can `argue with’ empirical evidence.

      Well – unless you maybe think we are all living in a computer simulation, and that nothing is ontologically `real’, in which case, You’re probably right, but who cares about all that anyway.)

      i.e.: My key point being – see Max Planck: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”[1]
      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift

      Anyway, so – on with the show: 🙂

      J you said:

      It would be easier to address this if the discussion wasn’t all over the place, but I will make a couple of (actually) brief points this time.

      True, it would, but there is so much stuff here, it’s hard to see how it won’t be “all over the place”. That isn’t anyone’s fault. ie Not Yours nor mine.

      There is a vast amount of points StoryAlity makes (like about 30 things, and only 1 part of that is: The 30 Screenplay/Film Guidelines for Aspiring Writers/Filmmakers of High ROI Films.)

      ie We are also dealing with `underlying faulty assumptions’ half the time.
      (eg: Say: `That Marketing/Publicity matters – beyond a baseline $1m level.’)

      I will use your method of quoting here, but via copy and paste.
      #1:
      **J said:
      Also, your Golden Ratio seems a bit forced in its relation to your theory. Technically, it is an abstract extrapolation at best, but it does not actually work, as beautiful as it might look.
      > Why?
      – Why does it not actually work?
      Don’t all Top 20 films do the same in the Story, at: Minute 1, Minute 2, Minute 4, etc-?
      Why are we dismissing that?
      –> Here is why: each of those films is a different length. You cannot possibly disregard that. Therefore, you have to selectively force the material to fit your design. Period. No other option. It does not work. What it does do is provide a nice visual example of what you “believe” to be the optimum page count for the various sections, but it lacks variables (which would be scientifically necessary) and cannot retain its form with variables. You have to acknowledge that.

      J – YOU – ARE – WRONG. 🙂

      Please read this next bit, extra-closely.

      (Irony – You are the one who needs to acknowledge: I am right here.)

      (But – I will expect that: we don’t, and that we simply `move on’. But that’s all part of the game, so, whatever.)

      Please, J – go back and read all those StoryAlity posts on the StoryAlity Syntagm.
      eg:

      From here: https://storyality.wordpress.com/an-index-to-this-blog/

      You could read any or all of:

      THe StoryAlity Theory:
      StoryAlity #50 – The StoryAlity Screenplay Syntagm
      StoryAlity #51 – The Universal Story Structure and Story Memes of the Top 20 ROI Films
      StoryAlity #52 – The Golden Ratio / The Golden Spiral / The Fibonacci Sequence
      StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-ROI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist

      Note how – The StoryAlity Theory says:
      at the 1% mark, the 2% mark etc.

      ie I HAVE TOTALLY DONE, WHAT YOU JUST ACCUSED ME OF: NOT DOING!!!
      (Argh! Frustration.)

      ie These movies ARE all a different length!

      I KNOW THAT. LOL

      I HAVE TOTALLY AND UTTERLY INCORPORATED THAT INTO MY METHOD,

      AND – FOR ANYONE *NOT* TO DO THAT – WOULD MEAN THEY ARE MAKING: A HUGE MISTAKE!

      But I didn’t make a huge mistake.

      I did not do, what you just – totally mistakenly – accused me of(!)

      Argh!

      I went through – and I examined literally *every second* of every one of those Top 20 ROI films.

      Cue: `Scientific and Empirical Method theme.’

      I then *divided the length of each film story* – by the length of the film.

      – It is a percentage!

      ie – AND IT IS TOTALLY AND 100% TRUE!!!

      – THE GOLDEN RATIO AND THE FIBONACCI SEQUENCE IS THERE IN ALL OF THEM 🙂

      J – PLEASE go and check this for yourself.

      If I had done what you just suggested, I would be making the exact same mistake Todd Klick made! (in his – ironically, BEST-SELLING “Something Startling Happens” screenplay book. – Have you read that?)

      ie – J – You have *got to stop underestimating me*.
      Imagine that I am: a super-genius, just for a second.
      And imagine I’ve already been tackling all this stuff, for 20 years.

      You see, what you said (just using: minutes) is exactly wrong:
      THAT IS: THE WRONG WAY TO GO.
      – THAT IS NOT SCIENCE!
      THAT IS BARELY EVEN: MATHS.

      (And note how he – ie Klick – also `very conveniently’ even swaps the Protagonist around, half the time, in his `Theory’, to make the evidence fit his paradigm(!!)

      At some points – he even says: THE AUDIENCE is the hero/protagonist of the film. Sheesh.
      More garbage from a so-called `guru’. Christ. Gimme a break!

      I mean – I do applaud *what he tried (and: clearly failed!) to do there* –

      But as soon as I read it (ie Todd Klick’s `screenplay manual’ book: `Something Startling Happens’), I had to laugh – as, I could see he was *forced to do the exact same thing, that the Screenplay Gurus all do*.

      ie

      1) Not use an empirical data set.
      (If you don’t start from this point, you are just: Making Sh*t Up.)

      2) Make the so-called `theory’ so vague and slippery – it can fit *anything*!

      ie To be clear: The StoryAlity Theory DOES NOT FIT the bottom 20 ROI Films!

      And – most of the films (the 70% of films that lose money) in between!

      ie StoryAlity Theory EXPLAINS them all…

      But only the top 20 ROI Films adhere 100% to the Theory!

      The rest (all the other money-losing films) break `the clear StoryAlity rules of success’, and therefore: they do not go superviral, and often: fail at the box office.

      ie – The gurus all use random, selective `examples’ (that we all know) as so-called `evidence’ that *illustrates*, rather than: demonstrates empirically, the Theory.)

      So – That stuff (in StoryAlity) is all still totally solid.
      – Your criticism there, was completely mistaken.

      ie – You just do not yet understand, what I have said.

      (or maybe you read it too quickly – and didn’t notice the `percentages’, easy to do. I am not casting any aspersions on your intelligence – or anything like that.)

      So J – will you PLEASE now at least acknowledge one point:

      That exact part of StoryAlity Theory is correct. (The Story Structure of the Top 20 / High ROI Films)

      It is empirical.

      Anyone can (and: SHOULD) check this for themselves.

      The Top 20 ROI film stories all do *the exact same thing* at the same `percentage points’ in their Story.

      This is: my discovery (well, one of about 30).
      And frankly – it is probably, utterly remarkable.
      A few people have come forward, and admitted that.
      (For some reason – most people are slow to recognize it.)

      Ok – so, for example then: I will break it down again –
      If a movie is 100 mins/100 screenplay pages: the percentages, are then *ridiculously easy and quick* to calculate.
      ie – Minute 1/ Page 1 – is the 1% mark of the Film.
      And – Minute/Page 10 is the 10% mark – etc (of a 100-minute film)

      But if it’s a 90 min/90 page film (and not: 100), you then need to `reduce everything by a factor’.

      ie – Now, suddenly, the 50% mark, is: page/minute 45. Of that 90 min film.

      And likewise: If it’s a 120 min/page film, you then need to extend everything by 20%. Now, page 60 is the 50% mark.
      Do you see?

      (Potential Explanation: I’m an inter-disciplinary genius – not just at screenwriting, but also at maths, statistical analysis, computer modelling, EVERYTHING INVOLVED. Consider that possibility – just for a moment. And please stop underestimating me. You seem to be working from the premise that I’m wrong.

      Try (briefly) working from the perspective: MAYBE – THIS TOTALLY-AMAZING STORYALITY THEORY IS ALL CORRECT — AS INCREDIBLE AND MIND-BLOWING AS THAT MAY SEEM…?)

      – Do you therefore see (ie – will you just, please, acknowledge) that:

      – What I have done, with that `StoryAlity: Structure/Pacing Analysis’ (and I note that, that alone, the Story Structure stuff, is about only 1/30th of the overall Theory) is: an unparalleled feat of mind-boggling, towering genius? (LOL)

      …That’s all I’m asking. 🙂

      Seriously, J (or: anyone) – go back – and check – every single of the top 20 ROI Films. Do it.

      ie – Do the work!
      Get them out of your local Blockbuster.
      They are all in there, for a very good reason. They are all the superviral films.

      And: Stop/Pause each of them, at: the 1% mark, the 2% mark, the 3%, 5%, 8% etc.
      (You will need to do a quick calculation. Divide the number of minutes eg 90, by 100.
      And – it is all much easier with auto-calc formulae in an Excel spreadsheet, trust me.)

      And – ask yourself: What just happened, in the Story.

      Please – Do this for yourself.

      So I can stop arguing – and you can just: be convinced by the evidence you see for yourself.

      (Christ, is this stuff so hard, it’s like `The Matrix’? Morpheus: “You have to see it. for yourself…”) ???

      Then – now, compare the results you get, to: my StoryAlity Syntagm.

      (And: in fact, I note, Screenplay “Paradigm” is the exact opposite thing! – This is part of, the whole messy problem: the Screenwriting Convention *currently has almost everything ass-backwards*!

      But – I am trying *real hard* to straighten it all out.
      But – it will only work – if people accept the empirical evidence in front of their noses.

      – Some people simply: resist it.
      I could go into Why… But it’s a very long story – and has an unhappy/depressing ending, anyway.
      Basically: it’s just plain threatening to think: “Wait, everything I know is wrong, but I can be straightened out”.)

      Anyway.
      See why, I’m right?
      Check the percentages. – It is all true.
      The Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence is: RIGHT THERE.

      (Note: I looked for loads of other Mathematical patterns in there, before I found the right one. Took frickin ages to realize, it was the Golden Section. Then I felt like a retard for not seeing it quicker than I did.)

      BUT – THAT IS EXACTLY HOW SCIENCE WORKS.

      Mostly: just accidents. (See: Primer. LOL)
      And see; DK Simonton’s (awesome) `Creativity In Science’ (2004)

      #2
      **J said:
      The villains in American Graffiti do not win, because their relationship stays unaltered but the others move on — and when one character dies in Viet Nam it is not related to the film’s villains at all.
      > Yeah but the real villain is Time.
      Dreyfuss resists growing up and moving on, but: Time wins.
      **J said:
      Rocky, who does actually go through a character arc, may lose the fight but he wins in his life story, which is what the movie is really about. Apollo Creed is only a small part of his struggle, but the real villain in Rocky is internal (Rocky, himself), and the hero wins.
      > I still don’t see how Rocky wins, as: he loses that fight.
      **J said:
      Your argument for the Full Monty is weak, again, as the hero presumably will be able to swing the extra few bucks in your scenario (at least one of his buddies would hand it over with the take from the bar),
      > Wrong though, the goal was to raise the bucks to save his son. Those other guys are broke too, how will they lend him the money?
      **J said:
      but again the real story is man vs himself (or man vs the system), not man vs the bar owner.
      >But the system still wins – if he hasn’t got the money right? Also: his ex-wife is the villain. She wins.
      –> Actually, you are wrong on all three of these. First, you state the villains CLEARLY in your description of American Graffiti, and the list does not include TIME. So, re-writing your theory here cannot be included in defense of what you had written. I.e., Time does not figure into your posted analysis. Still, even if you are going to fall back on that, I do not believe you can argue that Time is the villain, because it is a story of man vs self before it is a story of man vs nature. The story in Rocky is not actually about the boxing match. The plot is about the boxing match, but the plot is only there to propel the story, which is more about Rocky and himself and Rocky and Adrian. In the end, Rocky wins the story in spite of losing the plot. This is a CENTRAL misconception in your argument. Plot is often irrelevant in terms of the story and themes. And, with the Full Monty, you are projecting failure upon the hero where he (and the other characters) clearly believe they are going to be successful. You are the one making assumptions here, in order to make the film fit your pattern; the filmmakers clearly believe in his success, even if it will continue to be a life of hardship.

      Nope, all incorrect J.

      I haven’t changed my opinion on American Graffiti. Nor the others.

      I’ve just done more work: AND ADDED ANOTHER OBVIOUS (in retrospect) VILLAIN.
      ie I STAND BY, ALL THAT I SAID, PREVIOUSLY. – In that Blog post. – That hasn’t changed.

      Yet – through out conversation/discussion, I also thought even more about it – and in passing, since you raised it, (American Graffiti) I actually remembered: `Time’ as something I thought was the problem in American Graffiti when I was analyzing it. But as I happens, I never mentioned it at the time. (pardon the pun.)

      ie – I have not changed my position… I have just: ADDED EVEN MORE STUFF, TO IT….

      (and it is not stuff that in any way, contradicts anything I have previously said. About American Graffiti, about StoryAlity Theory, or about ANYTHING.) So stop making it sound like, I am “doing a screenplay guru, or a Todd Klick”, and changing the facts (or even the Theory) around to fit my story. I am just *adding more evidence*.

      (If it *was* something that contradicted the Theory – suggested by you or anyone – I would then have to go check all Top 20 ROI films against it, right? The evidence is the evidence. The data set does not change. I am not going to use other films to explain my point. The Top 20 ROI films are the Top 20 ROI films. It’s not MY fault they’re all Villain Triumphant. I didn’t write/make them! LOL)

      #3
      **J said:
      ET gets away and, though the others are sad, they are also happy and proud, so the villain does not win — unless you are going to change the characters positions so that ET is the villain.
      > But – in short: Elliot “I’m going to keep him!” Note – He does not get to do that.
      Keys also says: “I’ve waited for this my whole life” So – even Keys doesnt get to keep him.
      – Do the good guys win? Nope.
      Villain Triumphant? Yep.
      You are maybe also missing the whole point of why that point is important, in StoryAlity Theory.
      Because – all the gurus (the `screenwriting convention’) say: The Good Guys have to win!
      And – it’s based on nothing.
      –> And you stated in your posting that KEYES was the villain, but here you state that he wins. He does not. And, you try rewriting the movie by suggesting that Elliot, although initially wanting to keep ET, still wants to keep him at the end when the whole movie is propelled by Elliot helping ET to escape and help him “phone home.” Elliot WANTS ET to go home, even if he is going to miss him, so sending ET home is a WIN for Elliot. Again, you must agree, massive shoehorning to consider that a loss for the hero. Besides, isn’t ET the real hero of the film? Elliot helps him, but ET is the hero and ET goes home. Win for the hero.

      J – Keys doesn’t win. He loses ET, too.

      Also, we can do it both ways then:

      1) Let’s first, analyze `ET’ from: the initial goal of Elliot, the hero (stop saying “the real hero is” or “the real theme of Rocky is”… as soon as you say that you are putting your own interpretation on the empirical evidence. And anyone can interpret anything any which way they like, given enough time.)

      Which is (Elliot’s goal) “Im gonna keep him!” (which – I note – all screenplay gurus would claim is `his goal’, right? ie In their `Story’ so-called `Systems’
      By the end of p30/30mins. The goal of the protagonist. Right?)
      Empirically, How does that work out for Elliot?
      A: Epic fail. He loses ET.

      Now:

      2) Let’s also do, what you seem to want to do J, which is: Change the goal of the hero, as the plot evolves, along the way. (ie Elliot, and I say he is the Hero because the camera follows his POV more than anyone else’s… and anyway I think its hard to argue Elliot is not the key character and therefore protag and therefore `hero’ in that film.)
      Ok – so what if, suddenly halfway through, everyone realizes, *ET will die, if he stays on Earth.*
      And that – to stay alive – he has to get back to his spaceship.
      And that Elliot’s goal has now changed.

      You do realize – that Elliot has just denied the population of Earth the chance to study an advanced alien civilization.

      What Elliot does is totally against the law – and if he were an adult – he would go to Guantanamo.

      The FBI, Americas’s shining beacon of national security – has just been duped by some bratty little retards’ civil, legal, and ethical and moral disobedience.
      Do you realize what boons mankind would have gained from studying ET?
      Do you realize how important it would be – if we could learn to levitate stuff like Coke cans?
      Do you realize how much easier life would be for plant doctors and biologists if we could heal plants by pointing our glowy fingers at them?

      Elliot screwed all that up by helping ET back to his ship.

      To say nothing of how expensive it would have been for his shipmates to make a detour back to the Earth – just so they could pick up that little retard.

      Now it’s getting messy right?

      I prefer the empirical evidence.
      ET screwed up by wandering too far from the ship.
      The FBI just wanted to study intelligent extraterrestrial life – and capture one of those creepy little ugly suckers.
      Elliot messed all that up.
      So: maybe now HE is the villain.

      Also: finally, consider, from
      http://www.postmodernbarney.com/2009/04/uncomfortable-plot-summaries/
      “E.T.: Out-of-control pet causes mayhem, sadness.”

      Where is: `The Good Guys Win’ in all of that?
      The bad guys win in ET.
      Ergo: Villain Triumphant story.

      (And even if one of the top 20 ROI films doesnt convince you, [although I am still convinced, see all the above] that still means if you have a `Villain Triumphant’ film, you have a 19/20 chance, in terms of probability, of your film entering the top 20 ROI films – ASSUMING YOU DO EVERYTHING ELSE THE TOP 20 ROI FILMS DO, TOO.)

      ie Do you start to understand how the Theory works?

      ie Say you decide to have `Hero Triumphant’ and ALSO `Villain Vanquished’ (against all the overwhelming evidence in the Top 20 ROi films of: Villian Triumphant, ie in 6/20 cases the heroes just plain DIE, right? Which should strongly suggest something. Is that a coincidence? Almost 1/3 of them? – Really?)

      Well if you do decide to do that, in theory YOU COULD STILL HAVE A TOP 20 ROI FILM IF YOU DO EVERYTHING ELSE RIGHT

      (ie Do everything else, The Top 20 ROi films do.)

      You could get your film in the top 20 ROI list (and thus – reach a huge audience – relative to your budget – which is the goal of all storytelling, especially film, right?)

      That is what the StoryAlity Theory is saying.

      If you want `a possible winning strategy’:

      If you: want the laws of probability on your side: then, Do what the StoryALity theory tells you to.
      (It’s not even that hard to do, in a script.)

      On the other hand if you prefer random chance, then sure: IGNORE the empirical evidence of what makes a film go superviral.
      What do I care? Go blow your film budget, and your time, your life.
      – It don’t make no nevermind to me.

      But – I AM TRYING TO HELP!

      I BELIEVE IF YOU DO ALL THIS STUFF – IT WILL HELP YOU MAKE A SUPERVIRAL FILM!

      (And if anyone had done this study, and I hope more people do more studies both using this exact data set, and – expanding the data set as well, as i mentioned before.)

      ie Example: Someone should study the Top 100 ROI films of all time

      (But: note how long that would take them. To properly study 40 films – in the level of detail I have provided in this study (ie there is an 888-page textbook filled to the brim with data…) – takes about: 3 years fulltime, and also, about 20 years of prior thinking/learning about all the issues).

      #4
      I’ll skip the copy/paste on this one. To address the novel concept issue once more, I want to be clear that I know Star Wars was not a new story. I said that before. In fact, several of the films on your list are highly derivative or flat-out rip-offs of previous films. Friday the 13th is a virtual remake of an earlier film by Mario Bava (which also takes away one of your points about these being personal projects and completely original scripts by the writers). Yes, 2001 pre-dated Star Wars, but it did not do what Star Wars did, nor did ANY previous space opera. This is not about the retreaded story, that really no one cared that much about at first. Star Wars took the b-grade sci-fi space opera and made it LOOK real for the first time. 2001 was simply NOT that kind of film. It confused too many people. It was way too cerebral for most viewers. And it was slow, slow, slow. Star Wars, on the other hand, was a total crowd-pleaser, and it had far more amazing special effects than any film up until that point. It was one of the first blockbusters and there was a feeding frenzy from the audience that was all about the novel new way of seeing this sci-fi universe, light sabers and laser blasts. It struck at just the right time — with the truly independent likes of Battle Beyond the Stars flagging because they looked like crap in comparison. In that case, it was all about the EFX. That cannot be denied. Plus, although it was “independently” financed, 20th Century Fox did, in fact, plunk down a large portion of the budget and had an agreement in place with Lucas PRIOR to filming, so it did have massive studio support. And while we are talking about breaking the rules, let’s look at Friday the 13th again. This was a piece of hack-work written by Victor Miller, not by Sean Cunningham (who merely had part of the idea of killing kids at a summer camp, based on the prior Bava flick), and was only more successful than some of the other slasher flicks coming out at the time because Paramount chose to pick this one up. In the original film, also, it should be noted that the villain dies and the hero lives — it is only in her DREAM that the image of Jason haunts her, but in the reality of the first film, Jason is presumed dead.

      Well, let me deal with each point: (and I don’t mean to `jump all over the place’. I am trying to simply directly address each point. if that feels like jumping all over the place, then: I don’t know how to solve that problem. We may just have to accept it)

      “Friday the 13th is a virtual remake of an earlier film by Mario Bava (which also takes away one of your points about these being personal projects and completely original scripts by the writers).”

      But – This is my point exactly, all the films are virtual remakes of prior films.

      We are now arguing at cross-purposes. (Yet you take it to mean I am wrong about something, which is not the case.)

      I have always maintained (and always will, as the empirical evidence exists and I can’t erase it from History unless I can build a Time Machine like the `Primer’ guys.)

      Apart from the Mario Bava film you mention (not sure which one you mean, I know Twitch Of The Death Nerve from ’71 was ripped off in Friday The 13th PART 2, but that is very different from Part 1, right? ie Part 2 would never have existed without part 1 being a superviral meme) but I know a lot about Bava – and giallo films – as I’ve written a screenplay for one, years ago.
      It has actually been in an out of option/financing for over ten years.
      This one: KILLING TIME – http://studios.amazon.com/projects/18611
      For what it’s worth. Not much probably.

      More obviously – Friday The 13th is a literal ripoff of Halloween. One of the other top 20 ROI films.

      ie As you would know – the producer saw Halloween – and wanted to do likewise.
      AND – DID!
      And even if it was `hack-work’ (a writer for hire) – look closer at what Victor Miller did there.

      He used names in the screenplay from people he knew at high school, etc.

      He also threw in that one of the villains (who I note, is essentially, triumphant) is a woman. That was relatively unseen in popular horror.
      BUT IT WAS OLD HAT in unpopular horror.

      (Please everyone – do not go doing `the single-cause fallacy’ and pointing at the fact that Mrs Voorhees was the real killer as “the one reason that film was special and therefore successful.”)

      Again, my point that – you can’t find things that are different/unique and then say “And, er, I guess – THAT is why it succeeded”

      You have to find all the things the successful films did the SAME – and therefore: THAT is what is a characteristic of a successful High ROI flick.

      Just one thing is never enough. It takes LOADS of things to `get right’

      Thus: StoryAlity Theory has LOADS of guidelines in it.

      (Again its not my fault the successful films were a) successful and b) all do a bunch of stuff `the same’)

      So, anyway – key point there on Friday The 13th being:
      This all – in no way – changes my argument.
      You can keep saying the `novelty’ factor is why these things were successful.

      But I will keep saying “But films that fail also have novel things in them. So why is that `one, culturally novel thing’, according to you, with no way to prove it, what made that film successful – and – How is it, that I can also show you loads of other films prior with that same “novel thing” in them – which now mans that thing is no longer “novel” anyway – and you keep right on ignoring that?

      ie You are ironically – doing the exact thing (making the exact mistake) you are (falsely) accusing me, of making!

      I am not ignoring any evidence.

      J – Put it this way:
      As soon as you `dig for evidence’, and this goes, for ANY of the top 20 ROi films, you will find at least 10 prior feature films that did: whatever you say (or: assert) was “Culturally novel”
      So – they *werent* culturally novel!
      That is NOT why they succeeded!
      – If it is, then why didn’t all the others, before them?

      These films all use old, tried and tested memes.
      However – they sometimes, COMBINED MEMES – in a way that hadn’t been done before.

      But `the single meme’ (one, single idea) you keep `identifying’, in each case – was OLD OLD OLD!

      It had been in at least 10 feature films, before!

      But – they usually flopped – and so – you (we, everyone) don’t know/havent heard of them!
      ie Sure – the idea may well be new: TO YOU
      But – it is NOT NEW in The Domain of Film!!!!
      Not new!
      NOT!
      For God’s sake stop doing it. Please.
      That is not why films succeed.

      Look at the evidence.

      Pick any of the top 20 ROI films and research: where their ideas came from!

      – In each case, the filmmaker (writer-hyphenate) nearly always: immediately identifies (eg in multiple interviews) WHERE THEY RIPPED THE IDEA FROM…

      (ie which prior film, inspired them, for any given idea/story component in the film)
      And – anyway – as we know – this is exactly how Creativity works!
      Take 2 old ideas: and breed em together.
      (Repeat, forever)

      ie I am also not hereby suggesting: any film ever has, ONLY 2 IDEAS in it.
      This meme-breeding effect goes on down the chain:
      In the Premise (combine AT LEAST 2 old ideas, and usually – loads more)
      In the Themes… (combine 2 themes)
      In the Structure (combine at least 2 structures)
      In: the visual composition of the shots, the sound design, everything
      (As you’d know – ask any Cinematographer where they get their ideas, they rip off other cinemtogs, and so on – for every creative team member. There is no other way to, actually do it)
      The Dialog, – etc etc etc
      (ie Every film is – a mashup of: loads of other films, you just need to `dig up the evidence’ on exactly, which films they were that were being yoinked)

      CONTINUED…

      • CONTINUED FROM ABOVE

        I had typed in loads of stuff, and my browser crapped out (probably from text overload) it disappeared. (I hate that.)
        Now I have to remember all that I said.

        Here goes:

        J said:
        That’s about all I have time for. My point is that you overlook the cultural identity of each movie as being a defining factor at the time of release. It is true for each title and may have nothing to do with the originality of the screen story.

        Look, I do appreciate the time, you have been super-helpful. Thank you.

        But J – the stories in the top 20 ROI (ie the underlying StoryAlity syntagm / film story structure) is not `new’ (or: original).
        It is as old as: 1915..!

        Same as `the heros journey’. (See: Campbell, or Vladimir Propp! ie Russian Folk tales, same thing)… Old, timeless stuff.

        It is actually (the StoryAlity Theory, screenplay story structure) as old as cinema.
        And: it works – ACROSS ALL TIME.
        And – that is the whole point!

        I reckon we need to all forget about stuff being `OF ITS TIME’.

        For one thing – You will (probably!) never manage to pull that off, as – the zeitgeist always changes.
        These films, were only `culturally defining’ because they WERE POPULAR…
        Not: the other way round…
        The old cause & effect conflation.
        It is always too easy to look at a popular film and the historical (cultural) context – and find `links’.

        But – if you can do that with *unpopular films* too, then what’s the point?

        It really teaches us nothing we can use, in our films.
        ie That will not make money / make a film go superviral…

        Beyond that, I am not convinced that all 30 points you state actually work for each of the films. If even ONE of the films is off, then your theory is in need of revision.

        I think you are Wrong,

        So maybe – try and think of it this way:

        If a `Villain Triumphant’ even is only in: 19/20 films,
        Then a `Villain Triumphant’ story has a 95% chance of becoming a top 20 ROI film – IF IT ALSO DOES EVERYTHING ELSE in StoryAlity 100%…

        And, also – ALL Science theories are `refined and improved’ over time, anyway?
        (That’s how Science works, right?)

        While I do agree that films can find an audience without a huge marketing budget, it is not true that they will find AS BIG an audience, which proves that there is a correlation between marketing spend and success. It may not be a DIRECT correlation, but even you have admitted that there IS a correlation, which you then suggest needs to be ignored.

        No, De Vany and others who study it shows: the vaguest of correlations, and — so little correlation — as to be irrelevant. (This is not me speaking, it is academic, peer-reviewed studies. Of film.)

        Also – J – if you still don’t accept that “$1m is all you need, and if the film is a superviral meme – word of mouth will do the rest”, then good luck with Marketing.
        (Spend whatever you want in Marketing a film – what do I care?)

        But check the evidence. See De Vany, et al. They have scientifically proved it.

        And J – until you can point at some proof or studies that show otherwise (and that are valid), as far as I can see: De Vany et al is right! Empirical evidence. See: `Hollywood Economics’ (2004)

        And – I am also convinced, as – the Top and Bottom 20 ROI films show: exactly that.

        If you don’t all believe this, then – good luck to you.

        (But I fear – you may risk, wasting money on Marketing, believing it will actually do something that – it won’t)

        (And – jeez, why are you so convinced anyway? Are you a Marketing guy? LOL – or – wait, are you a script guru? Uh-oh! 🙂 LOL

        Admission of the correlation at all, however, requires that it be considered a component of success. It is and unless you have made your film for only $7,000, you will need to market it beyond the four screens to make a profit, especially a high one. Primer, while a fantastic film, could only go so far without more marketing dollars, great success that it was for what it was.

        Ok so J – how much do you think was the Publicity budget for Primer?

        And where did you get that info, and how can I please verify it?

        There are other points I wanted to get into, like why some films get distribution from a major distributor and why others (better films) don’t. This is why name actors, while not stars, still sell movies: distributors will be willing to just LOOK at those films whereas they might not ever view movies with no recognizable faces. There are lots of reasons for this, but it is one major way to open doors for a movie (and was one of the main reasons Saw had a distribution deal with Lionsgate in place before it was made). Had Saw been made without the name actors, it would not have gotten wide distribution and therefore it would not have made as much (or any) money.

        Ok first point: Distributors will actually MAKE you cast name actors – as: THEY STILL THINK, IT MATTERS… 🙂

        (They all don’t bother to read academic/scientific studies on this stuff, right? They are too busy trying to cut down the trees [read: make profitable films] – to take the time to sharpen their blunt ax. It’s sad. A really dumb loop they are stuck in.)

        Also – J – please explain to me how you can possibly know that:

        “Had SAW been made without the name actors, it would not have gotten wide distribution and therefore it would not have made as much (or any) money.”

        …How can you propose to KNOW that?
        This is just speculation now, right?
        Or: Have you run some incredible computer simulation (including: modelling all the Cultural Systems of Earth) to prove that?

        How can anyone ever prove – or purport know – that?

        “Had SAW been made without the name actors, it would not have gotten wide distribution and therefore it would not have made as much (or any) money.”

        This is a false assumption – that you are now stating as if it were a fact.
        I do know – this is what you ASSUME…
        But – so what?
        Speculation. No good. Show me the evidence.
        Viral meme story films do not need initial wide distribution, they soon create their own wide distribution. Based on word of mouth.

        And – to be clear: here is the evidence that refutes it:

        If so many of the Top 20 ROI films have *no name actors* in them, let alone stars, How can you be right?

        How can you possibly argue they (name actors) are necessary – if the Top 20 ROI films show: they are not?

        Even just *1 single top 20 ROI film* (with all unknowns in it) would prove that. Yet – there are loads of them in the top 20 ROI.

        To be be more clear:
        Some of them – even have: PRETTY BAD ACTORS
        eg Say: Mark Hamill? (No Laurence Olivier.)
        And – The cast of `Clerks’?
        …Hello?
        Anyone in EVIL DEAD??

        Actors are barely even relevant.
        Look again, at all the unknowns in the top 20 ROI.

        A GREAT STORY – IS THEREFORE, ALL YOU NEED.
        A SUPERVIRAL FILM STORY WILL SUCCEED *DESPITE* EVEN BAD ACTORS!
        (LET ALONE: NOT HAVING STARS, or Name Actors)

        (And anyway – it is pretty hard NOT to cast `name actors’ anyway, as 97% of actors are always unemployed. And why? Because 70% of movies lose money.)

        This again is the point of StoryAlity.
        All you need is: the Story.
        (Cast your mum in it, I don’t care.)
        If it is a great story, the cast is irrelevant.

        But, with a healthy budget secured on the power of marketable names and funding from a major distributor to fuel the production, it was made sufficiently well and marketed on one basic, prurient element that had little to do with the actual story.

        Hmm – but what exactly does this mean?
        “marketed on one basic, prurient element that had little to do with the actual story” ?
        – What exactly are you referring to here?

        Yes, it was culturally novel, but not because of the story structure.
        J – Please, cut it out!
        Stop saying `culturally novel’.
        It doesn’t actually *mean* anything.
        You would have to research ALL CULTURE, and then show that, even just for 1 film.

        And also – anyway – if you (anyone) think, THAT is what makes a film succeed, then: you still have it all backwards.

        Looking back on ANY successful film, everyone ALWAYS says:
        “Ah yes, very culturally novel!”
        ie You will find it hard NOT to think of stuff like that.
        UNTIL – you dig deeper and realize – there were loads of stuff (films) exactly like it, that all went nowhere…

        I’ll end with this: the bottom 20 films are not a scientific control.
        Why?
        Okay I dunno what definition you are using of `Control’. (Go ahead and define it?)

        Here is my understanding (tell me if this is wrong)

        When you test a new drug (say to fight cancer), you have 2 groups.
        The test group (who you give the drug to) and the control group (who: you don’t).
        Then after the testing period is over, you compare and contrast.
        ie Did the `test group’ get cured of cancer? Ok great.
        But – ah wait, for some reason the control group (who never took the drug) also all got cured.
        So: it’s back to the drawing board. ie The drug had nothing to do with it.
        Or – they all got lucky.
        Or – something else that we may never understand
        (eg `God did it’, just for a practical joke)

        So, every film that has ever been made to date, is the Control.
        Because – none of them had this StoryAlity Theory, to use.
        Yet – there are still undeniably clear patterns in the top 20 — that are ALSO NOT in the Bottom 20.

        And – you can still `pick a film at random’ – check its ROI, and compare it, and – it works!

        (Did you do this yet? Or – wait, are you just arguing/skeptical, with no empirical evidence to back up your argument, again? 🙂

        The closest you will have to an actual control is the film you claim to have coming out in 2014. That film will have to be shown to conform exactly to your points without variation, while retaining no elements common to the bottom 20 — and it will have to do really well.

        Ok then – hows this for a Control?

        In 2012 – a film came out called `THE DEVIL INSIDE’ – which proved the StoryAlity Theory correct – on all counts. Beyond a shadow of any doubt.

        ie J – You keep underestimating, not only me, but the StoryAlity Theory as well.

        Also, the film I have coming out, comes out this year, 2013. Not 2014.

        Though – I will likely have the 2nd one coming out then (2014).

        The 2013 one adheres 83% to StoryAlity. (I tried but people wouldn’t let me make it adhere, 100%. The next one I will aim for 100%, and anyway 83% is fine.)

        That still means – it has an 83% chance of entering the top 20 ROI list. (Which still means – it has vastly more chance of making an ROI at all, than: any film that ignores the Theory – right?)

        Also – So, J – here is an intriguing question:

        If I also tell you (and – everyone) what the film is, (ie its title) that is coming, in 2013, is that cheating?
        🙂

        ie Surely then — it might also go viral – partially also, just based on the fact: That – it’s The First Real-World Test of Revolutionary `StoryAlity Theory’, right? (which as an idea, is a viral meme in itself, right?)

        Also, StoryAlity Theory clearly predicts: every 2.05 years – on average – a film will emerge from the film system – and will enter the Top 20 ROI list.

        So `Devil Inside’ was early in 2012 (just slightly late, since `Paranormal’ was in 2009).

        So – now – we are actually, due for: 2 x top 20 ROI films in one year.

        Watch – and let’s all see what happens, right?

        And: If I am right, what do I win?
        An apple?
        A Nobel Peace prize?
        An Oscar?
        Probably: just a whole lot more skeptics. LOL 🙂

        Then, you’ll have to do it again.
        J – I think (maybe, sorry if this is wrong) you’re forgetting that, there are thousands of films made every year, and any one of them can become a Top 20 ROI film?

        ie Are we going to ignore: THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012)?
        ie The film that actually proved the StoryAlity Theory?

        Are you suggesting that, *no films will occur* in the next 2 years that will enter the Top 20 ROi list?

        And – why do you think that?
        People are making films now, right?
        And – Especially now this info is right here on this blog.
        People are making films, *based on this info* – right now. As we speak.

        And sure, as you say: if I do it, I will need to do it at least twice.

        I have already predicted what ROI the first movie (the 2013 one) will make. (ie – I wrote a paper on it.)

        ie It is: 83% of what I would normally expect a Top 20 ROI film to make.
        – Do you see?
        And for my 2nd film, let’s see. (It’s called `EVERYTHING WARZ’.)

        But – meantime J: What is stopping another Top 20 ROI (or even a whole swarm of them, eg say 10 films) coming along in one year?

        In 2004, 4 films entered the top 20 ROI list.

        Watch the free – online interactive StoryAlity doco
        I just posted it yesterday.
        (see the 2 min segment on: `FREQUENCY’)

        The StoryAlity K-Film
        https://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/storyality-65-the-storyality-k-film-online-interactive-documentary-part-1/

        At that point, maybe, you’ll have something resembling actual controls to show.

        No, all it will take is for a film (any film) to enter the top 20 ROI list.
        And the Theory will be checked against that new film.
        There is currently a 100% probability it will be: Villain Triumphant, 2-Act structure, No Character Arcs, StoryAlity story structure, budget of $1.9m, Marketing budget of around $1m, etc etc etc etc. (See: all 30 or so StoryAlity Theory `rules’.)

        And – Any film made, with no knowledge of the Theory – is technically a `control’. – Right?
        – There are thousands of them being made.

        And: even any film made – WITH knowledge of The StoryAlity Theory is also incredibly useful (if not strictly a `control’) as – it will help refine the theory…
        (using Bayes Theorem: when more – ie later/subsequent – evidence – means: you need to adjust the probability of the predictions made by any Theory.)

        (While you are at it, unless you agree to address the marketing spend, you’ll have to cap it at $1 million, regardless of how much the distributor wants to spend.)
        Like I say, no film deserves more than $1m on Marketing.
        If it is a superviral meme, it will then spread by itself. Like any of the top 20 ROI films.
        I would be totally fine with a $1m max (but also $1 Minimum!!!) spend, on Marketing. I still think any distributor who spends more than $1m on marketing is nuts. That is all you need.
        If the FILM STORY IS GREAT – IT WILL SPREAD ON ITS OWN…
        That is how it has always worked. (So: Why would it not ever work that way?)
        If they want to spend more, I will ask them to please just give me the extra $1m that they were going to spend (read: waste) on Publicity, so that I can just go make another movie with it. (Does this make sense?)

        Anyway — thanks again J, all super-helpful stuff.

        I do need people to `attack the theory, and from all angles’ or else: it wont be robust.

        You are doing a fantastic job. This is actually, what Science is all about.
        (And I still owe you a favour.)

        All the best,

        JT

        PS – Keep it coming, if you have time. But – totally understand if you don’t! You have already done a lot.

  30. I forgot to add, you’re certainly welcome. I do hope that my comments are useful in the further development of your ideas.

    Best,
    J

  31. Okay, I am going to go about this one more time. And for the record, I approach this with a completely open mind. I love empirical evidence. I just have REALLY HIGH standards for what I call “proof.” I see your evidence clearly, but I don’t think you can step back and see where it suggests something rather than proves something. It is extremely easy to see why you got your ideas and it is very interesting how you went about piecing them together. That doesn’t mean they are 100% correct, mostly because they aren’t. I’ll suspend disbelief and assume you are a super genius. But I’ll add to that a bit of hubris, which is preventing you from seeing the flaws in your own manifesto. And I’ll ask you to do me the courtesy of assuming that I am also a super genius. Perhaps, as is likely the case, an even bigger one, in spite of the fact that you don’t think I can see the forest for the trees. But my arguments have no emotion attached to them. In fact, I am only interested in this from an intellectual standpoint, as I see the light in the center of your theory and it appeals to me. You should feel really proud of that, by the way, because I have never said that about any screenwriting theory by anyone. Still, it’s wrong in some irreconcilable ways, but that does not make it something without value. I do think it’s valuable.

    First, your Golden Ratio. I do not agree with your logic, even though you claim it to be entirely based on empirical evidence. Whether you are using minutes or page numbers (as in your diagram, which is why I mentioned it could not be applied to films of different lengths) or percentages, you fail to account for one massive factor (and this is IF your percentages are 100% accurate and you are not, as I suggest, shoehorning the material or cherry picking the scenes to fit your theory): editing dramatically changes the structure and length of not only every individual scene, but often the entire film story. That said, it would be COMPLETE CHANCE that the percentages could ever come out to fit your theory 100%, even if you offer a range of acceptable variance (which would, by itself, disrupt the Golden Ratio to the point of making it meaningless). In order for a Golden Ratio to exist, it MUST by its very nature be unbendable. The fact that the initial cut of any of these films likely ran much longer and included additional scenes makes these final choices almost arbitrary — but moreover means that it would be almost impossible to construct a script that would absolutely survive the editing process to align with the final product in a 1 to 1 ration of screenplay pages to screen minutes in the final cut. And are you taking the TOTAL running time of each film into consideration? Because if you are, you must also consider that each has different amounts of time dedicated to things like opening or closing credits, some of which have nothing to do with the story. By including the TOTAL running time, inclusive of these non-story elements, you have also invalidated the Golden Ratio. I still call shoehorning on this, only doubly so after looking over a couple of the scripts (which I am sure you have done to compare them to the final material) and also alternate cuts of the films before the distributors had their say (as they usually do). Clerks made significant changes for distribution, for example.

    Second, you completely failed to refute my commentary on the films in which the villain does not win. You state that you disagree and that I am wrong and that you have added more evidence to support your theory, but you really don’t refute anything. In order for you to claim that the villain wins in each of the films I mentioned, you would have to re-write the movies. Your interpretation may well be that the villain wins, but it seems very forced to me, and I’ve got to say that my opinion is every bit as valid as yours, so the BEST case you can make is that IN YOUR OPINION the villain wins, but that is hardly empirical evidence. In fact, it is just the opposite of that. You are making an entirely subjective determination (which is clinically wrong) and calling it empirical evidence. To take this further, you actually support my position in your defense of your ET interpretation. You remind us that, yourself included, “anyone can anything any which way they like.” True, which you have done, thank you for the admission. Second, you admit that Keys, whom you had termed the villain, also loses. As for Elliot, yes, he initially wants ET to stay and HE GETS THAT WISH, so he wins early in the film. Then, yes, he changes his mind and wants ET to live and be happy, which is nice. But also you suggest that Elliot must be the hero and protagonist because he is the main character — but you had previously stated that the protagonist does NOT need to be either the “hero” nor the main character. But this is just another instance you your part of the dialogue being all over the place. I get it, though, it’s cool. I see why you’re doing it. And you’re a good salesman. But it isn’t the way to refute an argument based on empirical evidence. As for Elliot denying the human race some amazing technology or risking imprisonment, those things don’t figure into the logic of the film, which is a fantasy, and so do not belong in a serious discussion of the movie’s own universe. But I appreciate your suggestion that ET is the villain. That’s an interpretation I could get behind. At the end of the day, however, I find it trivial to have a discussion about how mankind could have benefitted from the technology or how Elliot broke federal law because, really, it is an incredibly stupid movie that did more to harm Hollywood than anyone imagines. I hate that film and don’t really want to waste any more time on analyzing it. But you are wrong about the villain winning, no matter how you choose to reinterpret the film to fit your needs. Ultimately, ET would have brought a virus that wiped out humanity AND his homeworld brethren planned to return and destroy the planet anyway because the population spent too much time watching films that valued sentiment over actual emotion or intellect.

    Third, you change your stance on original material. You had stated previously that all the films had to be unique original scripts by writer-hyphenates. Now you are stating that all the films are virtual remakes of other prior movies. And you don’t address AT ALL the fact that Friday the 13th is NOT an example of a writer-hyphenate. The director was a producer-hyphenate at best. The film has a minimum of three strikes against your theory, yet you persist in obfuscating these arguments rather than merely admitting the theory still needs work.

    Fourth, the point of films being “novel” and being “culturally novel at the time of release” may require a bit more distinction for you. Each of the films could be said to contain elements that had existed in previous films. But the same could most likely be said about every element in your theory – with so many existing films it would be statistically probable that numerous other films would completely fit your requirements and yet did not manage to find a place in the top 20 ROI list (and also statstically probable that there are plenty that did not return any profit at all). I can’t prove this, of course, any more than you could disprove it. What does this mean? Only that while your theory might be novel, it is also likely that the films all ended up together by CHANCE and that the list may change, thus disrupting your theory, if it remains based soley on the top 20 list. The singular thing that does unite all the films, however, is that there was something about the presentation that appealed to a mass audience at the time of release in spite of anything and everything else (including story, marketing, talent, etc.). The movies SPOKE to their audience in a unique way which they might not have had they been released a year prior or a year later, or even during a different part of the year. Would Star Wars have been a huge success if it had been released in September when all the kids had just gone back to school? There is a reason it was released at the beginning of summer. The culturally novel component drove each of these films. You PROVE THIS by suggesting that similar films had been released prior with lackluster success. You keep trying to disprove their novelty, but you miss the key point of being culturally novel: time of release. That is what sets each of these apart from the competition. It’s all about timing. Although you PROVE MY POINT by stating “they sometimes, COMBINED MEMES – in a way that hadn’t been done before.” So thank you for that. Yes, that is part of being “Culturally Novel.” A big part.

    You cover the possibility of error by stating that all theories are refined and improved over time. That is true about theories. And you have a nice theory. But it cannot move out of that territory. In fact, your science is not entirely sound (as I have pointed out several times). You often use a pseudo-scientific approach, and you have a tendancy to consider things what they are not (i.e., your control groups).
    A more scientific approach would have been, for example, to compare only films made for $7,000 or less. Primer, one of your key examples of a “super-viral” film was seen by very few actual people, which makes the case for being super-viral somewhat dubious. Of the thousands of films made for under $7,000, how many were profitable? I’d guess a few at that budget. But what are the commonalities among only that subset? That is scientific. The higher the budget, the less likely to be profitable: that would be my initial thesis. But you claim that any film following your method will become super-viral without actually identifying what that means.

    As for DeVany “proving” anything about marketing, the work (peer reviewed or otherwise) does not actually prove a darn thing about marketing because it LACKS CONTROL GROUPS. There is no way to know how Movie X would perform with a different marketing budget because it didn’t have one. And, even if it had no budget in one market but a huge budget in another there is too much cross-over marketing that is not contingent upon markets AND all markets are different (many films perform well in one market but not another with the same marketing strategy, not because the marketing is bad but because it isn’t customized to the market). There are no apples to oranges scenerios to be examined. The best you could ever do is release a film with no marketing, see how it does, and then market it, but in actuallity, that doesn’t prove anything either because the initial unmarketed phase would still, in and of itself, be a form of marketing. Can’t release a film in a vacuum. So, stop using DeVany to prove your point. It’s worthless info that says nothing of value. It is not real science. It’s just, at best, an educated opinion.

    In fact, your whole suggestion that a film goes super-viral with minimal marketing if it follows your rules is undermined by the films on the very list you hold as proof. Not all that many people went to see El Mariachi or Primer or even Evil Dead (relatively speaking), so what makes them “super-viral” without good marketing? Nothing, really. The only reason they are on the list at all is because they were super cheap and happened to connect (yes, you are going to say they connect because of your 30 points, but that does not make them super viral, just lucky). If your points were ANY guarantee of success, those films would all have pulled in similar box office numbers. Your magic pattern would have ANY film with the 30 points going super-viral and making a huge return, but because you rule out ANY other factors as having been responsible for the various successes, their successes should all be relatively equal (its not story, production value, cultural novelty or star power, so therefore it is ONLY the structure that adheres to your 30 points, meaning all returns should be more or less the same… unless marketing does make a difference after all). Admit it, scientifically, this is the sound premise that would prove your theory: all films that cover the required 30 points will perform identically (within a small variable) that fluctuates only with marketing dollars and distribution reach (a byproduct of marketing costs). Scientifically, this is the only conclusion. Anything else is speculation or conjecture.

    I don’t, for the record, think that you need to overspend on marketing. But (and I did work extensively in advertising, so I’ve seen a lot of marketing’s influence first hand) you cannot disregard marketing as a factor in a product’s success, whatever that product may be. There is also negative marketing, usually put forth from competitors or special interests, that can “kill” a worthwhile product by using misinformation. This is generally a political device, but it has been used in the film business when two films on the marketplace appear too similar or if a group is opposed to a film’s message (“Last Temptation of Christ” as an example there).

    As for your insistance that I could not have knowledge about how Saw got funding and distibution, the director happened to be a PA for a good friend of mine up until he got the deal through connections at Lion’s Gate. Long story short, I’ve got an inside track to how these things work. Funding was promised contingent to name casting in order to secure distribution. That’s the business. It would not have been considered without name actors. You question my assumptions. I hope that satisfies you. Is it possible that it would have done as well with unknown actors? THAT is the conjecture, not my assessment. YOU are the one making conjecture with this. Admit that, because that is the honorable thing to do. Your theory requires conjecture (as most do). But what you offer up remains largely theoretical and cannot be considered proof of your success.

    And, scientifically speaking, having one of anything in a group of twenty is not proof of a theory. One of anything in a group of twenty is considered an anamoly and will generally be a sign that the theory has holes, not that it is sound.

    Also, for the record, “Cultural Novelty” is what creates a meme. You cannot have a meme without cultural novelty. When the novelty is gone, the meme ceases to entertain, ceases to be relevant. And a meme can only exist within the context of a current cultural movement. I’m going to suggest that Primer never made that kind of connection. Most people have never seen, much less heard of it, in spite of the fact that it made some money. It was not hugely profitable (in terms of absolute profit, not percentage of return). The last Pirates of the Carribean movie was more profitable and made some people rich, very rich even, with a far greater reach than probably half the films on your list combined (excepting the obvious Star Wars and ET, for instance). Clearly the Pirates’ movies were successful ONLY because of marketing, especially the last two, because they were TERRIBLE movies. But they were marketed into our consciousness.

    Then you mention “The Devil Inside” as proof of your theory. All I really know about that film is the marketing, but from what I have read it’s kind of a stinker and no one wants to see it. Super-viral? I don’t think so. It barely played theatrically. Could have made money. But tons of profitable films won’t be on the top 20 list simply because of percentages. Have you done a study of all films in the top 200 ROI list to see what percentage of those adhere to StoryAlity? I know it’s too many to do. But that does not mean that you are not basing all of this on assumptions.

    Also, you state that a film adhering only to 83% of your theory has an 83% chance of getting into the top 20 list? How does THAT statement support your theory in ANY way? Rather, you have completely undermined yourself, positively, irrevocably. That’s actually crazy talk, Man. Either your theory works (ONLY films that follow all 30 points are in the top 20 list), or it really doesn’t make that much of a difference (most films click on your map somewhere — hell, ANY film made by a writer-hyphenate that has the villain winning at the end and a comparatively low budget should stand SOME chance of getting on the list). How could your 83% chance film hope to get on that list? What OTHER variables are you not mentioning that could push it there? Hmmmm. I guess if it was marketed really well… You can insert a little smiley thing here, I guess.

    And I’m sorry, did I miss something? Did “The Devil Inside” actually break into the top 20 list? If it did, good for them, but I still don’t think I’m going to waste money on it. But they spent more than $1 million on marketing that one, didn’t they? Yes? How much? Okay, so if word hadn’t gotten out, would anyone have seen it? How can you know that? Oh, conjecture. I see. But that doesn’t count.

    As for your controls, congratulations on making two movies back to back like that. I’m really, truly happy for you. But, as I stated, they can only be considered controls if you DO NOT SPEND A PENNY OVER $1 million on marketing. Which, I’ll admit, is a lot of scratch for a small movie. But unless you made these films for $7,000, you will have to get a big audience to be profitable. I wish you luck. With budgets that low, I’m sure you’ll make some money. Maybe a big return, maybe even a big profit on top of that. I do hope that you have a lot of success. That’s what Roger Corman based his whole model on. It worked great for a lot of years, but he changed style and tone to match his audience and had super success with that formula. He also made movies based on existing sets. A lot.

    Now I have to tell you this: you CAN plot character arcs in some of those films on the top 20 list. The characters may not change SIGNIFICANTLY in terms of their behavior, but they exist. Luke Skywalker (and Lucas will back me up on this) does have an arc (as does Han Solo). Even Elliot in ET has an arc. The dad in Full Monty has an arc. Rocky Balboa has a big arc. Just because they are professionally not that different at the end does not mean they have not undergone inner changes. Sorry. That’s a fact.

    That’s about it for now. Gosh, I’m jealous of you making those two movies. Super. Good luck getting them out the way you envision. I mean it. I’ve been working on a slate that would be super profitable myself and I may borrow some (but not all) of your ideas. It’s true. Anyway, I’ve got to go do some actual work now.

    Best,
    J

  32. Oh, and I forgot to include this bit of insight into my method of argument. Just in case you still thought I was not addressing this with an open mind.

    Here is how I work: I approach every potential argument from the perspective that the opposing position is correct. That’s right, I give you the benefit of the doubt. Then I look at what you are positing and ask myself what arguments might come up against my newly adopted position. Where would someone try poking holes? If I cannot find any, then I change my own personal position on the issue — I have been converted. If I do find some arguments against the position I am trying on, I do my best to defend them. If I am successful, again, I have been converted. This will be my new position. All of this is before I ever try arguing against a point.

    If, however, I do find holes and cannot close them, I know that I can argue against it. And that is what I do. I’m always happy to see where my own logic is wrong and correct it because, frankly, I want to be right, but not in spite of taking up an incorrect position. That’s all.

  33. Here is a late addition. Since you mentioned that The Devil Inside had been added to the list, I went back to your source to revisit the top 20 and found that it also included Super Size Me at #3 and The Stewardesses at #12. These are both missing from your list for some reason, and I can somewhat understand that you removed the documentary because it would is not exactly a scripted entertainment (but then shouldn’t you also remove films that purport to be documentaries like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and Devil Inside?), but I do not understand why The Stewardesses would be off the list.

    Having seen The Stewardesses in 3D during a truly unnecessary revival sometime around ’89-’90, I can attest to the point that it absolutely does not follow the structure of your theory. It is essentially a collection of shorts strung together by a bad narrative conceit, and you definitely cannot hold it to the same plot cues as the other films. Yet it was a smash hit. I’ll give you this, though: it was made by a writer-hyphenate. Supposedly it is based on an “unpublished novel,” but I don’t think there is any proof of that.

    What really seems to be consistent among all titles remains the relatively small budget, accessible themes and *timely* cultural novelty in presentation. I don’t think that The Stewardesses would have done much of any business had it not been for the 3D aspect, which had just been designed to take advantage of a single camera system (ostensibly invented for this film), allowing for truly budget 3D filmmaking for the first time. But I cannot PROVE that, of course. Still, it’s hard not to ponder why anyone would have seen it otherwise. Super Size Me, similarly, rode a cultural wave to success, blowing away all expectations for its reach. It was a film that was so tied into a rising social awareness of problems with fast food that it truly spoke to what was perceived as a “new” social problem. Were it to be released today, however, I doubt it would do all that well because of over-saturation of this theme in the marketplace. Speculation, perhaps, but educated speculation, and no more so than speculating that it would do just as well.

    • Hey J

      Okay so just quickly: (famous last words)

      1) As you have figured, it makes no great sense, to compare Feature Documentaries with Fiction Feature Films. ie – What actually would be genuinely useful, is for someone to do an empirical study – say, like mine – of: The Common Elements/Patterns/Practices in the Top 20 ROI Theatrical Feature-Length Documentaries. That list would include docos like: Super Size Me, An Inconvenient Truth, and a bunch of Michael Moore doco’s, etc… But – since feature doco’s aren’t may main (research) interest — for pretty obvious reasons, I excluded it from the study of the Top 20 ROI `narrative fiction feature films’ (ie It doesn’t fit with my definition – nor data set.) Seriously, I would love to see someone do their PhD on that. It would surely help documentary makers. – Right?

      But – I’d still urge you (or: anyone reading this) to go through the `Checklist of Top 20 ROI Characteristics’ and see how many fit…
      (Villain Triumphant. Who wins? Ronald MacDonald. Dude nearly destroyed his liver, etc. Spurlock.)

      2) Why did I remove (ignore) `The Stewardesses’? A whole bunch of excellent reasons. For one – it is a 3D soft porn film, and with jiggling 3D naked breasts. 🙂 (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that.) But – if The Story is the reason a film succeeds, let’s not bother to look at 3D soft porn films and see what their `Story’ does. ie – How many people watch porn for The Story? And: If you are someone who does, I am very sorry to hear that.)

      But J – I urge you to check VERY CLOSELY how many of the criteria it matches, resulting from the StoryAlity study. eg – Villain Triumphant? (Check. Main girl in it commits suicide right? Seriously. Check it against all the criteria of the StoryAlity Theory.) The fact it isn’t in the primary data set doesn’t change anything.

      Put another way, in the same way that Super Size Me is a doco, The Stewardesses is a porno. ie Not your typical `narrative fiction feature film’. (ie Does anyone really need to be told: If you want to make money in films, go make porno’s. ie I don’t think that in any way helps solve the 3 key (burning) problems of: 1) Why 7 in 10 films loses money – and 2) Why 98% of fiction feature screenplays go unmade – and 3) Why the `screenwriting convention’ does not use a scientific or empirical method.) – Your thoughts?

      Finally:

      3) On Speculation. I don’t think speculation ever works, the way you are currently framing it up. ie – I believe, You can find out: What worked before (eg – Study the top 20 Olympic athletes in a given sport, for their common characteristics, and if you are an Olympic athlete in that sport, try and emulate them, and their methods, and it will likely help you. Or, say – study the Top 20 ROI Films (eg StoryAlity) and find the common characteristics – and try and emulate them. It’s probability theory, right? ie Why do the top 20 (flu) viruses spread so rapidly? Because they have certain characteristics in common. Sure if you want to engineer a flu virus – you can just use random ideas, or – you can use the exact same tricks the top 20 viruses used. ie Clearly, they work. Empirically.)

      But – I really don’t think you can speculate about: when a film would – or wouldn’t – have worked. ie You can’t say: `Super Size Me’ wouldn’t work today, because that is a circular argument: it is only (partly, perhaps largely) because it *did* work when it did, that – now we are over-saturated by such anti-fast-food, anti-corporate docos… That would be like, saying “A movie like Star Wars 1977 wouldn’t work today”. That is because: it worked in 1977. And now (film) culture has evolved as a result of the impact and influence of Star Wars 1977.

      In short, I don’t think you can ever say “X won’t work today.” ie How do you know? You have to make the film and then: find out, if it works. You can’t make those kind of assumptions on behalf of The Field (the world Audience). (If you think this is flawed logic, check out: Rotten Rejections: http://www.writersservices.com/mag/m_rejection.htm – those people were all sure those (now classic) novels “wouldn’t work” either. The Field (the Audience) proved otherwise…)

      One way is – to actually do some research… Rather than trust anyone’s “instincts”. So – for example – Go and stand next to a queue of people in a movie theater with a clipboard, and ask them: If a film came out about Burger King, and how unhealthy it is, would you go watch it, now? (Now – try adding this to the empirical survey: Oh and by the way the lead in the doco/film, is a really funny, charismatic guy (eg like Spurlock was/is). And – he nearly accidentally kills himself, and gets really fat doing it, and it’s morbidly compelling to watch. And the Tone of the doco is pretty wiseacre, witty and anti-authoritarian. etc etc).

      Also, same point: Fox – and 25 other movie studios were totally convinced that sci-fi was all `kids stuff’ and that nobody wanted to see it, in 1977.
      They were all dead wrong.
      So – so much for speculation and predicting “what won’t work”.
      With regard to that stuff – peoples’ opinions and instincts are a compete waste of time.

      When anyone says “You couldn’t make a film like `X’ today, it just wouldn’t work”, I always reply: Can you prove that? How do you know that? Show me the empirical research that validates that?
      (It’s assumptions that kill us all. Seriously. We don’t know, what we don’t know.)
      So: no wonder 7 in 10 movies lose money. Studio Executives come out with remarks like that. “Oh – this sort of movie wont work…” (Really? Why not?)
      Nobody knows “What won’t work.” History is full of idiots who thought they did know what wouldn’t work.

      But I do know: The Top 20 ROI Films have about 30 things in common. Everyone can certainly ignore them, if they want. ie Free will!
      In which case – I predict, it will stay stable (as it has for the past 20 years).
      And – 70% of movies will continue to fail.
      Or – Let’s maybe try a new approach.
      (It just might work. The old one doesn’t work so good…)

      – Your thoughts?

      JTV

  34. I was just going through some of your other posts and also came across this in your essay about creativity (https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/what-is-creativity-and-how-does-it-work/):

    “From the 2nd edition of Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity, creativity can therefore be seen as:

    `A system – composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation.’ (Csikszentmihalyi 1997: 6)”

    What you have quoted here absolutely supports my position (which you had argued against in this thread) that in order for a film to be successful it must tap into something that is Culturally Novel. It must be of the time and place, regardless of any other elements, and even over any other elements. Unfortunately, it is a tough thing to predict for projects that take years to make. The ability to predict what will be culturally novel or relevant in two years or more cannot be undervalued.

    • Hey J

      Okay so, J – first of all, if you even think I would ever put anything on the Blog that contradicted anything else I said on the Blog, you are underestimating me again. – ie Why would I do that?

      Second – Your own interpretation of what Csikszentmihalyi says is deeply problematic (okay, is wrong, there I said it)

      “From the 2nd edition of Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity, creativity can therefore be seen as:
      `A system – composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation.’ (Csikszentmihalyi 1997: 6)”

      This is all absolutely correct.

      J – You Said:
      “What you have quoted here absolutely supports my position (which you had argued against in this thread) that in order for a film to be successful it must tap into something that is Culturally Novel. It must be of the time and place, regardless of any other elements, and even over any other elements.”

      But you are conflating “successful” (such as a Top 20 ROI film – ie going superviral) and being judged `creative’ by the Field.
      ie `Creative’ may mean: it wins awards.
      But some films win awards – and still lose money (ie not find a wide enough audience to make over a 373% ROI/break even)

      ie This is a general statement about Creativity… Not specifically about: ROI.
      ie Consider a screenplay that a producer reads: he might find it is Creative (novel and appropriate). And option it.
      And – he may finance and make the film.
      But the film may or may not be judged Creative by the Field (the international audience)

      There are 2 separate areas of Creativity:

      1) Winning awards (critical success)
      2) Going superviral (commercial success)

      Rarely do they overlap. But both represent Creativity. (Novel and appropriate)

      So – this doesn’t really support your position (about how each of the Top 20 ROI films is Culturally Novel.)
      I feel, none of the Top 20 ROI Films are `Culturally Novel’ in the terms you are framing them in..?
      ie Look at them again… Some examples:
      – Paranormal Activity is just The Amityville Horror with found footage: not novel. Putting those 2 old things/memes together – is novel. Therefore creative, but just becauser something is creative does not mean it will go superviral. (ie Become a top 20 ROI film)
      – Star Wars is Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and Joe Campbell. That is all: not novel.
      – Friday The 13th is a knockoff of Halloween. Not novel.
      etc

      What is it that you think is novel? `Novel’ means `new’. These things are all not new.
      Only the combination of 2 old things (2 or more old memes) is new/novel.

      But – even then – you are also ignoring the films that did the same things (all the failed `Amityville Horror meets found footage’ or `Buck Rogers meets Flash Gordon via Campbell’ that flopped. – Watch (or search on Google for) all of the 500,000 movies that exist – and, you will find them.

      So I still have to rest my case:
      You need to do about 30 things, to have a viral film.
      J – I feel, if you keep thinking it is JUST the `Cultural Novelty’ alone – when there is demonstrably just: a combination of 2 old memes – and you ignore the other 29 things, then you will need lots of luck…)
      ie – You are still doing the `single cause’ fallacy.
      And you are conflating World Culture with: Film Culture.

      J you said:
      Unfortunately, it is a tough thing to predict for projects that take years to make. The ability to predict what will be culturally novel or relevant in two years or more cannot be undervalued.

      Well, I think it’s just a matter of paying attention to Culture, ie the zeitgeist, right? If you are alive and are a filmmaker, and watching new films, and reading the news, noticing the world mood, that will all – inexorably – find its way into your work. Those memes are in your head. Try and stop them. ie When you watch the news, the `news memes’ get in your mind.
      And if you see new films (that use new tricky editing ideas, or camera angles, or storytelling structures, eg say Seven Psychopaths, or Memento, Pulp Fiction etc etc)… you will be influenced by it. (or will deliberately ignore it.)
      If you are writing a screenplay, odds are – these things will all `come out’ in that (or your next) screenplay.
      In the form and the content.

      But – the point of StoryAlity is not the zeitgeist.
      Writers all live in the zeitgeist. – They have no choice.
      Those 30 or so things in the top 20 ROI films are: common across all Time.

      The key is: Write what you know.
      If `what you know’ is in fact, culturally relevant (not totally “alien”), and you do all 30 things right, your movie has a high probability of going viral.
      ie Look at `Clerks’. Are `a bunch of funny guys in a Convenience Store’ ever NOT culturally relevant?
      Or `Once’. Are: musicians making an album (and `Romeo and Juliet’ stories) ever: NOT culturally relevant?
      Or – see any of the top 20 ROI films.
      Timing is not important.
      You could release those films 10 or 20 years, earlier or later.

      I mean, J – What – in any of those movies – do you think, is specific to any time or place?
      eg Star Wars? ie Sci-fi space operas? – When are they ever *not* culturally relevant? Any time after WW2, that movie was relevant.
      Or say – Serial Killers? (eg Friday the 13th, Halloween, SAW etc). – Have you seen all the serial killer movie `M’ from 1931? (Why did that not go viral? It didn’t do the 30 things that make a highly viral film story.)

      So – I am still not convinced that `cultural relevance’ or `timing’ has anything to do with it, as – with any film (whether it was a hit or flop), you can find cultural relevances – and the zeitgeist – in there.
      Just depends, how long and hard you think/dig.

      And to disprove/cancel your point: I can also go through all the Bottom 20 ROI films – and point to `cultural relevance’.
      Look at `Southland Tales’.
      At the time – You would hard pressed, to find a more zeitgeist-y film than that. – Yet: it is a bottom 20 ROI film.
      Or – The Gambler? So – Dostoyevsky’s novel is a classic. And – the film is about: a writer writing a classic novel. – How is that not ever culturally relevant? Right now, there are more authors than ever, writing classic novels. (See: Amazon Kindle.)
      (Do you see? Cultural relevance – and zeitgeist – and predicting what will work 2 years ahead, has nothing to do with it?)

      We just need to focus on the timeless 30 characteristics the high ROI films have in common – and do them.
      – You can tell any film story you like, using those 30 characteristics.
      The story/subject matter is up to you, the writer, and: the memes in your head.
      You don’t have a choice about them, if you are alive right now. The news is: the news.
      We all just lived through The Boston bombings. (How is that NOT going to find its way into the zeitgeist?)
      It IS the zeitgeist.

      And if you do a mashup of a million other ideas that have already been `popular’ (see: everything in Star Wars 1977, from WW2 Nazi weapons/costumes to Joe Campbell) you will have better `luck’.
      See also: The Matrix. (Though it’s not a top 20 ROI film.)

      Anyway, I am still not convinced, I do not believe there is any “trick” to: zeitgeist.
      The zeitgeist is happening.
      If you are a filmmaker, you are `swimming in the same culture’ as everyone else.
      (ie – If you talk to people, and watch the news)

      ie J – Are you going to tell me that Culturally, there were more house-hauntings the year that Paranormal Activity went superviral?
      (and: How will you prove that?)
      Or – what?

      And if Mad Max (1980) was culturally novel, how was `A Boy And His Dog’ (which Mad Max is very derivative of) *not* culturally novel?
      And why therefore: did it not go viral? ie It had all the `cultural novelty’ of Mad Max…?

      So – You are misinterpreting Csikszentmihalyi.
      He means: film culture there. Not `world culture’.

      ie – It was `Culturally Novel’ – WITHIN FILM CULTURE – to jam the idea of `Amityville Horror/haunted house’ and `found footage’ together.
      But `novelty’ alone is not enough, it has to be `appropriate’. New + Old.
      The `Old’ is mostly where the other 29 High ROI Guidelines come in.

      And – I still don’t get why: I am the first guy to look at this. (The Top 20 ROI Films.)

      J – Have you any ideas why: In over 100 years of cinema, nobody else has ever looked at this data set – and done a study on Screenplay/Film/Story characteristics before?

      Anyway – thanks for thought-provoking comments as always. You always make lots of great points, I just don’t always agree with them all.

      Cheers

      JTV

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