On Free Will in Screenwriting – Can I write, whatever I like?
So. If you decide to write a feature film (movie) screenplay…
You have (at least) 3 choices:
1) Write a `spec’ feature film screenplay: i.e.
- Write to the Hollywood “paradigm” (using guidelines in the `screenplay guru’ books)
- You can (possibly) ignore the film budget… (this is not advisable: expensive films are always less likely to get made)
- But – note that: only 2% of all screenplays submitted get produced (Macdonald 2004: 190)
- Note: you’re also competing with established Hollywood writers… (see, for example, The Black List of as-yet-unproduced but most-liked scripts in Hollywood: http://blcklst.com/)
OR – YOU CAN, ALSO:
2) Write whatever you feel like…
- BUT – that film may be very, very hard to finance. (i.e. May even NEVER get financed, even if it is Optioned.)
- (Again – note that: only 2% of screenplays submitted to financiers are produced. (Macdonald 2004: 190)
- (Please Comment on this issue, below – i.e. What do you think that 98% of writers are doing wrong..?
- And – Is the current `screenwriting convention’ to blame? (See previous post: StoryAlity #15)
- Or – are Producers partly to blame as well, given this: (NB – profanity warning)
- Story Notes From Hell – http://storynotesfromhell.tumblr.com/ )
- and also – the novelistic equivalent of the above:
- Rotten Rejections – http://www.writersservices.com/mag/m_rejection.htm)
- and here is the TV Development equivalent of the above 2 x lists:
- TV Network Notes: https://twitter.com/TvNetworkNotes
OR – AS A WRITER, YOU CAN:
3) Write a screenplay based on principles derived from: High-Return On Investment / High Audience-Reach films (in other words, the films that have been the most viral)
- This strategy is Highly Recommended, as the probabilities are then stacked much more in your favour.*
- Note also that the lower the film’s production budget – the easier the film is to finance, in general.
- Note also that the average budget of the top 20 most viral films is under USD$2m (and some are just USD$7k)
Actually – there is also a 4th option. You can procrastinate about writing – and decide instead to solve the Philosophical problem of “Whether or not we have free will”.
Here are some good links on Free Will:
- Bibliography on Free Will (maintained by David Chalmers)
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Determinism And Freedom Philosophy Website
Anyway, the point is, it’s about 50% Agency (i.e. – Choices) and about 50% Structure.
You are born onto a planet with 4 forces (strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravity). Also matter / energy / information. You also have a biological structure, and probably social structures (unless you live in a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond with an axe, like I do) and cultural structures you are born into – and exist as part of.
About half the time, you are making choices – and the other half you’re just “doing what they tell you”. (The choices are actually infinite, but – who has time to think of them all? It’s lunchtime already.)
You “flick between” agency and structure so quickly, most of the time you don’t realize it…
This is why, when you are writing a screenplay, it’s also good to think of: Agency and Structure.
With screenplays, Structure gives you the freedom to be Creative.
…More on that, soon… (update: actually – here)
On Scientific Paradigms, and on Free Will, and on `Agency and Structure’.
- StoryAlity #41 – On Scientific Paradigms – and Screenwriting `Paradigms‘
- StoryAlity #42 – On Free Will – and Screenwriting
- StoryAlity #43 – On `Agency and Structure’ in Screenwriting
- StoryAlity #43B – The `Creative Practice Theory’ online Agent-Based Model
- StoryAlity #43C – Creative Practice Theory – The Game
Thoughts / Comments / Feedback welcome,
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/
* Or – alternately: you can also just write a novel – or a play or a poem or song, I guess.
(Haiku is perhaps empirically the best, in terms of the `cost/benefit’ ratio, given that: Time Is Money.)
Macdonald, Ian W. (2004), ‘The Presentation of the Screen Idea in Narrative Film-making’, (PhD dissertation, Leeds Metropolitan University).
Story Notes From Hell (NB – profanity warning) http://storynotesfromhell.tumblr.com/
Rotten Rejections http://www.writersservices.com/mag/m_rejection.htm
TV Network Notes: https://twitter.com/TvNetworkNotes