The Methodology of the Empirical Doctoral Research Study

For the purpose of this doctoral study, the research approach of both Creative Practice Theory and Creative Practice Theory Narratology means that the top 20 most viral theatrical narrative fiction feature films can be identified, using the Return On Investment (or ROI) metric, as can the least viral, or: the Bottom 20 ROI films.

The Film ROI (return on investment) bell curve

The Film ROI (return on investment) bell curve

The research also shows that these 20 films have many common story (and resulting, film production) elements that surprisingly, firmly contradict the current dominant `screenwriting convention’, as also identified and regarded critically, as a result of a triangulated Bourdieuian practice theory survey conducted by Macdonald (Macdonald 2004).

Eight of these most popular and academically cited screenplay manuals include: Story (McKee 1997), Screenplay,  (Field 1979) Making A Good Script Great, (Seger 1987) Writing Screenplays That Sell, (Hauge 1988) The Anatomy Of Story, (Truby 2007) The Writer’s Journey, (Vogler 1992) Dramatica, (Phillips and Huntley 1994) and Save The Cat!, (Snyder 2005).

Various screenwriting prescriptions can be derived from a textual analysis of these texts, as the screenwriting convention “principles/rules/guidelines”, such as: “Aristotelian 3-Act structure”, transformational character arcs, and `hero triumphant story’, etc. (Velikovsky 2012: 137)

These – and other `conventional’ film story principles – are contradicted by the doctoral study research findings of the top 20 most viral films.

The reason suggested for the problematic nature of the current `screenwriting convention’ (e.g. the screenplay `guru’ manuals) is that: the current screenwriting convention is based on non-empirical data sets, and uses one-off film example `illustrations’ presented as guidelines; as screenplay `guru’ McKee states in Story:

`first and foremost, each film has been chosen because it is a clear illustration of the point made in the text.’ (McKee 1997 : Notes on the Text – emphasis mine)

There is a big difference between empirical and non-empirical research.

The screenplay gurus have no apparent methodology, let alone, an empirical methodology. (This might therefore explain why: 7 in 10 films currently lose money.)

Notably also, Aristotle did not use an empirical methodology in Poetics, which has influenced Narratology ever since. This in fact is one of the major innovations, and, problems solved, of this doctoral research study.

This research also aims to help solve the current (incredibly serious) problem that 98% of screen ideas/screenplays are currently rejected by producers:

Only 2% of screen ideas/screenplays are produced

Only 2% of screen ideas/screenplays are produced, (Macdonald, 2004)

This doctoral research project also identifies all the key common Story elements in the Top 20 ROI films, and is, therefore, incredibly practically useful for screenwriters/filmmakers wishing to write/make a film story that will reach the widest possible audience, for the least production budget, as have all the top 20 ROI Films.

Please also note that – this approach to constructing a powerful and effective film narrative does not restrict creative freedom in any way – the story itself is still entirely up to the writer/filmmaker. 

…Thoughts? Comments? Feedback?


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/



Field, Syd (1979), Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (A Delta book; New York: Dell Pub. Co.) 212 p.

Hauge, Michael (1988), Writing Screenplays That Sell (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.) xxii, 314 p.

Macdonald, Ian W. (2004), ‘The Presentation of the Screen Idea in Narrative Film-making’, (Leeds Metropolitan University).

McKee, Robert (1997), Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (1st edn.; New York: Regan Books) 466 p.

Phillips, Melanie Anne and Huntley, Chris (1994), ‘Dramatica’, (Burbank: Screenplay Systems Incorporated).

Seger, Linda (1987), Making A Good Script Great (1st edn.; New York: Dodd, Mead) xvi, 204 p.

Snyder, Blake (2005), Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions) xvi, 195 p.

Truby, John (2007), The Anatomy of Story : 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller (1st edn.; New York: Faber and Faber) 445 p.

Velikovsky, JT (2012), ‘StoryAlity(TM) – and The Science of Story: Analyzing the Super-Successful Story and Screenplays of the Top 20 R.O.I. Films of the Last 70 Years’.

Vogler, Christopher (1992), The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Storytellers and Screenwriters (Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions) viii, 289 p.

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