Almost Everything You (Think, You) Know About Movie Screenwriting May Be: Wrong

Epistemology - How do we know what we know?


But – you can be straightened out. There are many myths around screenwriting.

If you have been a practising movie screenwriter for around 10 years or so, you will already know that these common myths about screenwriting listed below are: false.

But, if not –

Here are some common myths about successful movie screenwriting:

  1. You need `3-Act’ structure in your screenplay…
  2. You need Character “Arcs” in your movie story…
  3. The `Good Guys’ in the movie story should always win, in the end…
  4. Adaptations (of novels, or plays, etc) are a better idea, than, not…
  5. Marketing Spend correlates with (or even, causes) the success of a movie story…
  6. Movies with `stars’ (A-list actors) always do better than: movies with `unknown’ (or, `new’) actors…
  7. The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) movies are – mostly – big-budget, and, `Hollywood’ movies…

i.e. None of these things are true

Here are the reasons, one-by-one:

1. You don’t need `3-Act’ structure.

3-Act structure is in successful movies.

But – is also in: unsuccessful movies.

It is in: almost all movies. (Even `2-Act’ or `4-Act’ or `5-Act’ or `10-Act’ movies, can be `divided’ into 3, so-called, “Acts”.) But that doesn’t solve any real-world problems. (Like, say: How to make a movie that succeeds?)

Both Successful and Unsuccessful movies have: 3 `Acts'...

Both Successful and Unsuccessful movies have: 3 `Acts’…

So `3 Act structure’ just tells you: How to write a movie…

Not – how to write a successful one.

See also, this post:

StoryAlity #26 – “3 Acts”? …Did Aristotle ever say that?

And, especially see:

Why Three-Act Will Kill Your Screenplay” (2012) by John Truby.

And …Why is it important to write a successful one?

Mainly because: of The Less Than 1% Problem.

See: StoryAlity #115The `Less-Than-1%’ Problem in the Domain of Film

Next up:

2. You don’t need Character `Arcs’ in your movie story.

…Because, most of the Top 20 RoI Movies don’t have them!

See: StoryAlity #51 – The Universal Story Structure – and Story Memes – of the Top 20 RoI Films


3. The `Good Guys’ in the story don’t need to win, in the end…

See: the `Villain Triumphant’ trope (or, meme) in the Top 20 RoI Movies –

StoryAlity #51 – The Universal Story Structure – and Story Memes – of the Top 20 RoI Films

Also –

4. Adaptations (of novels, or plays, etc) are not a better idea, than, an original screen story – written for the screen.

See: StoryAlity #54 – StoryAlity Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI Films

(See Guideline #4 in the above – Don’t base it on existing literary material (e.g. a novel, a play, a short story). )

Note that:

5. Marketing Spend (on the movie) does not correlate with (or even, cause) the success of a movie story.

See the three quotes here: StoryAlity #21 – What Makes A Film Succeed? – The Story.

See also all the other elements that have been shown NOT to correlate with movie success:

  1. Production Finance Source (i.e. say, Independent vs. Major Studio financing)
  2. The Production Budget
  3. The Genre
  4. The MPAA Rating
  5. Sequelity / Adaptationality / Originality
  6. “Star power” (Cast)
  7. Director marquee value (`branding’)
  8. Country of origin
  9. Timing (with regards to holidays, seasons)
  10. Number of screens the film opened on
  11. Opening weekend figures
  12. Oscars (nominations and wins)
  13. Reviews
  14. Social Media
  15. Marketing Spend
  16. Anything else – besides THE STORY.

See: StoryAlity #22 – So What Doesn’t Necessarily Make a Movie Successful?

ie The story is what makes a movie become a viral meme.

See; StoryAlity #130Why Some Things Are Popular (Velikovsky 2014)


StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle

6. Movies with `stars’ (A-list actors) in them do NOT necessarily better than: movies with `unknown’ (or, `new’) actors

See: The Top 20 RoI movies. They don’t have `stars’ in them. (Or – didn’t when they were released; later, some of those actors became `stars’.)

Also – and, this is important –

7. NOTE also – The Top 20 RoI Movies are NOT typical `Hollywood’ movies. And, are not typically big-budget.

17 of the Top 20 RoI were independent movies. That is NOT `Hollywood’. (You may be thinking of: their sequels.)

The average production budget of a top 20 RoI movie is USD$1.9M, many much less. A few are a $7,000 budget.

You may see the Top 20 RoI list – at a glance – and on the surface, you may well (mistakenly) THINK of them as typical `Hollywood’ movies, but – look closer at all of them. You would be: wrong.

Star Wars, ET and My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Yes. Hollywood movies, big budgets.

The other 17 movies? …NO!

So – think again about all of your: unexamined assumptions.  🙂

Also, you may well see a lot of Horror Movies in the top 20 RoI list, and may think they are `different’ to the other Genres.

But – you need to look deeper.

The top 20 RoI movies all do lots of things the same, even if they are in different Genres.

See: StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist

And see:

StoryAlity #69 – StoryAlity Theory – 20-minute paper @ the `Interventions & Intersections’ Conference (2013)

The reasons many people make fallacious assumptions about these Top 20 RoI movies (and about things like “3 Act structure”) are mainly due to Evolutionary Psychology.

See also: The 12 Cognitive Biases that prevent you from being Rational

And see the Evolutionary Psychology books, here.

Also – see this article:

StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle

And see the next post.

In short – as counter-intuitive as this sounds:

Almost Everything You (Think, You) Know About Movie Screenwriting – May Be Wrong…

This is because the screenwriting convention (how screenwriting is traditionally taught) is not consilient. (i.e., scientific and empirical.)

See: StoryAlity #36 – On Empirical vs. Non-Empirical Film Story Research

And, see: https://storyality.wordpress.com/an-index-to-this-blog/ for the full details.

– 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/


One thought on “StoryAlity #5B – Almost Everything You Know About Movie Screenwriting May Be Wrong

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #160 – Reply to `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’ | StoryAlity

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