The StoryAlity(TM) Screenplay Syntagm

So – in my empirical and scientific doctoral research study, I’ve identified (`discovered’ isn’t really the correct term for it) The Fibonacci Sequence, and therefore: The Golden Ratio (i.e. 1:1.618…etc), in the story-and-screenplay structure of The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films.

StoryAlity Spirality

The Golden Spiral, based on The Fibonacci Sequence. Actually Fibonacci didn’t even discover The Fibonacci Sequence. (See Stigler’s Law of Eponymy)

If you use this story-and-screenplay structure, your feature film will then be like the Top 20 RoI Films, structurally.

And: probability would therefore suggest that, your feature film is then: more likely to go viral.

(Than: say, if maybe, you don’t use it.)

This is, therefore, the `Universal Story Structure’ of The Top 20 ROI Films of the Last 70 Years, i.e. these 20 Films, right here:.

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

Note also that: These 20 films are – in fact – all essentially the same story.

(In the same way that, any film that uses the Hero’s Journey monomyth is: all the same story.)

And —————————————->

Here it comes… (drum roll…)

Right before your very eyes

And –

Here it is:



The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)


And – here is exactly how the `page counts’ work:


StoryAlity Syntagm Beat Sheet

StoryAlity Syntagm Beat Sheet  (Velikovsky 2012)


And: here is how the above `page counts’ look, when graphed, showing the overall film percentage of each of the 10 Acts.


10-Act StoryAlity Structure Graph

The 10-Act StoryAlity Structure Graph (Velikovsky 2012)

The graph above shows the percentages of the Story (in duration, i.e. in pages/minutes) in each of the 10 Acts.

Note that: Acts 9 and 10 combined are the final 39% of the story.


And – here, just for the record, is how it matches The Fibonacci Sequence:


10-Act StoryAlity as Fibonacci Numbers

The 10-Act StoryAlity Structure as Fibonacci Numbers (Velikovsky 2012)

This structure reflects The Fibonacci Sequence, which in fact was not discovered by Fibonacci but by some Indian mathematicians, much earlier.

Anyway, all that is not something that, as a screenwriter you need to know, or care about; but – just sayin’.

(Note however, that: Act 9 and Act 10, added together is: 34.)


Q: Hey – but, why is `the last Act’ split into two (Acts  9 and 10)? Shouldn’t it just all be `Act 9′, at 34 units? The Fibonacci maths seems to be `split’ at the end, there?

A: Great question – many people ask about that. Here’s the answer. The structure of the meme, the unit of culture, is the holon. Films are composed of memes, (ideas/beats/scenes/sequences) which are memes and which are holons. And, holons are fractal. That means, they are `self-similar’, on smaller and small scales.

So, think about this:

Fractal holon Fibonacci

Fractal holon Fibonacci sequence

You can examine the Fibonacci sequence in this way, `zooming in’, closer and closer (i.e.: increasing the scale) and, in this way (see the diagram above), we can split `34′ (that `big Act 9′) into: Act 9: `21′, and Act 10: `13′. (Because: 21 + 13 = 34). (We can even split all the smaller parts into the Fibonacci sequence too – as in the diagram above, but it soon gets overwhelming, and, most people don’t seem to like maths too much, so – let’s not go there, for now.) The important thing is — there appears to be a common structural pattern in all top 20 RoI films, and that’s why the big Act at the end is indeed, split into two parts, and so, there’s the 10 Acts in total…

So – out of curiosity – I then looked at, exactly what is happening, storywise, in all Top 20 RoI films at: `13 units from the end’ (in that `last big Act’ – of 34 units). And – when examined, all 20 films appear to do the same thing, in their story structure at that point. See this StoryAlity post, for the details of the 10 Acts of all top 20 RoI (i.e. most-viral / biggest `cost-benefit ratio’) films… So, that last Act, Act 10, the `last 13 units’ turns out to be Act 10 – `The Climax and The Villain Triumphant.’

And – for more detail on memes and holons (in: film structure), see these posts: the key point being that the structure (and, laws) of both biology and culture – are holons.

On Holons and Holarchies

  1. StoryAlity #48 – On Film Holons and Holarchies – and How Holarchies Work
  2. StoryAlity #49 – On Movie Screenplays, Viral Memes, and Cultural Evolution

And for more detail, see also:

On the structure of the Meme (the unit of culture) – and, Towards a Science of Memetics:

  1. StoryAlity #100 – The Holonic Structure of the Meme – the unit of culture
  2. StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology

And see this book chapter.

So, but wait… Do these 10 `Acts’ correlate to the “Classic `Hollywood’ 3-Act” Structure-?

Yes, they do.

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

In (much) the same way that M-Theory in theoretical physics used 11 dimensions to unite 5 disparate/competing string theories in 1995, the StoryAlity™ paradigm unifies all prior screenplay paradigms.

This is also why some “classical Hollywood films” (which typically have a low ROI) are described by the paradigm (i.e. Star Wars 1977, E.T. 1982, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2002.)

StoryAlity vs `classical' Hollywood Structure

StoryAlity Screenplay Structure vs `classical’ Hollywood Screenplay Structure. …Who would win, in a fight? (i.e. – For the highest R.O.I.?)

Classical “3-Act Hollywood structure” (as in, Syd Field’s Screenplay, 1979) – and “The 10-Act Structure” of the Top-20 RoI Films of All Time correlates, as follows:

(Side Note: You also do not need to know, or remember any of this – or, even remotely care about it, but – just sayin’, in case anyone is curious about it: this, is how it correlates):

  • The “Inciting Incident” (page 10) takes place in the 10-Act Structure as “The Shape Of Things To Come” story beat, in Act 5 (which is pages 8 to 12, in the 10-Act Structure).
  • Act 1 (p 25) of a Hollywood screenplay would end in Act 7“Paradise Lost”.
  • The “midpoint” of a Hollywood screenplay (page 60 – of a typically 120-page Hollywood script) would occur at the end of Act 8 (The Descent Into Hell – page 54 of a 90-page high-ROI screenplay).
  • The “End-of-Act-2/Start-of-Act-3 Turning-Point” in the Top 20 ROI films is Act 10 – The Battle Royale – and is a constant escalation of conflict – until the very end (i.e. – The Villain Triumphant).

So – the 10-Act StoryAlity™ structure is – quite clearly – a one-size-fits-all screenplay paradigm  [1].

See here for 8 major screenplay guru structural templates, – which are actually probably all now scientifically and empirically falsified (in Sir Karl Popper’s terms) by the above StoryAlity paradigm, even while the StoryAlity syntagm also unifies and incorporates them all.

Also, given The Villain Triumphant story trope/meme, in all of the Top 20 RoI Films, films with this 10-Act Structure are very distinct from all the others in the very-crowded-marketplace of “classic Hollywood-structured” screenplays – as promoted by “Screenplay Gurus” (McKee, Hauge, Field, et al).

It could also be argued that, these 10-Act StoryAlity Stories deliver more surprises, twists, and reversals:

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

After all, “The Good Guys are supposed to always win” (…aren’t they…?)

Hero samwich

In many of the Top 20 RoI Films, the hero gets eaten. (e.g. Open Water, The Evil Dead, Night Of The Living Dead, etc)

The Long Answer: Yes, I guess in some `perfect world’, maybe the Good Guys (the `Heroes’) are probably supposed to win. But – in all of the Top 20 ROI Films, they actually don’t.

– The Top 20 RoI Films are all `Villain Triumphant’ Films. (Compare with The Bottom 20 RoI Films: which, are not all `Villain Triumphant’ films. In fact – very few of them are. Note also, that: both The Top 20 and Bottom 20 RoI films all actually have `3 Acts’. So – `3 Acts’ is therefore, not particularly useful, for screenwriters / filmmakers. See also John Truby’s sage advice on exactly why that is the case. )

So, but here’s the thing: with The Top 20 ROI Films – there is much, much more to it, than just the above StoryAlity Screenplay Structure.

`Pattern recognition’ tells us that: The Top 20 RoI Films of All Time – all, in fact, have at least 30 things in common. (That – very importantly – are not in all of The Bottom 20 RoI Films.)

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

The Top 20 Audience Reach/Budget Films of the Last 70 Years. Data Source: The-Numbers.com. Analysis: JT Velikovsky

And, so – If you’re a professional screenwriter / filmmaker (i.e. like I am too), then I expect, by about now you’d maybe be probably pretty interested, to know, exactly what they are.

Remembering that: 7 in 10 films lose money

7 in 10 feature films lose money

7 in 10 feature films lose money

…And that only 2% of screenplays ever get made

Only 2% of screen ideas/screenplays are produced

Only 2% of screen ideas/screenplays are produced


Or – when we combine these two problems:

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


And – coming up soon: The StoryAlity(TM) Film Story Checklist: 30 Things You Can Do In Your Story and Screenplay To Statistically Increase The Odds That Your Film May Go Viral, much like: all 20 of The Top 20 RoI Films of All Time.

Right before your very eyes

Magic-Guy isn’t getting any younger. (If he did, I bet his head would disappear.)

…Thoughts, feedback, comments?


For a comparison on StoryAlity 10-act structure to other systems, see the diagram below:

The StoryAlity syntagm vs 8 other systems

For more see: 8 x screenplay structure systems.

And see my (2016) PhD for full details of the StoryAlity screenwriting system…

Hope it helps!



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/



[1] In fact, the 10-Act StoryAlityStructure is actually not even a `paradigm’ at all, but is in fact: a syntagm. See this post here for why we should all probably maybe stop calling screenplay story templates `paradigms’, and instead, should maybe probably really call them `syntagms’. i.e. mainly because – that’s what they are.

(Don’t shoot the messenger/piano player… I don’t make up the facts, I just report ’em, etc etc…)


31 thoughts on “StoryAlity #50 – The StoryAlity Screenplay Syntagm

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  10. Very interesting information. I found my way here because I was trying to incorporate the golden ratio into my own screenplay and I was glad to see some else has had the same idea.

    A question I’d like to pose is whether the larger acts in the Syntagm, (7,8,9,10, and to some extent 6) can be broken down themselves into smaller Fibonacci numbers, and would these smaller ‘fractal beats’ be represented in the films on the top 20 list? Have you looked into this?

    Also have you tried applying the Syntagm to critically acclaimed works (as opposed to ROI leaders) or perhaps to Kubrick’s work? (Because, honestly, I only like 7 or 8 of the films listed in the top 20).

    Another idea is perhaps adjusting the the box office ROI for inflation would bring about interesting results.

    Great work anyhow.

    • Many thanks Mark, and glad you find it useful.
      And, I haven’t yet (for time reasons) looked at all 20 RoI films in detail for this, but I believe, the 10 x Acts probably also have the ratio within them (ie – those fractal story beats, exactly as you suggest.)
      In my forthcoming, (much bigger than the first) book on StoryAlity Theory (this next one is 800 pages/200k words), I do examine `fractal StoryAlity’ in 3 x of the top 20 RoI (El Mariachi, Halloween, and Friday the 13th). When I get more time, I also want to study/examine the other 17 films for this, as well…

      And – Great point, about looking at other films (besides RoI leaders). I haven’t yet had time to look at any Kubrick films, but certainly plan to (he’s my favourite filmmaker.)
      I certainly will try and keep the (ie – this, StoryAlity) blog updated with extra/other films, as I get to examine/analyze them…

      – Interesting point you make too, about inflation-adjustment.
      I currently have a long list of things I want to look at with regards the theory itself, and also, many other films (ie, to study in more detail…)
      Currently, I’m looking at `emotion in the top 20 RoI films’, (and that’s quite an involved task, as well.)

      At any rate – many thanks again Mark, for all these great thoughts and feedback,
      (And – however you ultimately choose to structure it – hope the screenplay goes really well!)



  11. Going through your other posts now (wow, a lot of them as well, I’ve got some reading to do), and I see you’ve covered why you’re focusing on %ROI instead of anything ‘critically acclaimed’. I find your reasoning sound.

    I’d still like to see your theories applied to something like Kubrick’s 2001. A film I feel uses some occulted level of craft to affect the viewer on a extremely deep level… I’d like to caveat that by saying I’m not now, nor have I ever been, insane..lol. I just think Kubrick was a true genius.

    • Hi Mark
      Thanks for this comment too –
      Yeah – my doctoral thesis is 130,000 words, so – the StoryAlity blog is an attempt to `cherry-pick’ stuff from it, that people might find interesting/engaging/useful – without being too `academic’…

      And – yes, exactly – I think DK Simonton’s amazing book (Great Flicks, 2011) covers off “critically acclaimed” films, much better than I ever could, so I am just trying to cover the `other end’ of the spectrum (well – assuming that, it only has 2 `ends’ 🙂 There are actually some fascinating overlaps. (eg – Simonton finds `Writer-Directors’ do better critically – and of course `writer-hyphenates’ [which includes: Writer-Directors] also do better, with virality/RoI.)

      Totally agree with you about Kubrick – the all-time genius of cinema (well, to date) – in my view. I’ve also just been re-reading “The Stanley Kubrick Archives” (2008). Amazing stuff.

      And yes – `2001′ as a film is fascinating – for about 100 x reasons… For one thing – the first-and-last 20 mins has: no dialog. (ie – How many other films can you name, that do that..? 🙂

      I note – he stated a few times, (about story/sequence structure) that – he felt a film should have 8 `non-submersible units’. (Which perhaps is a bizarre, and very Kubrickian way to express it.) By which – I *think* he meant: 8 `unforgettable story sequences’. You can see this, in all his films, from `Lolita’ onwards.

      Also – Mark, do you know about the 1966 Kubrick (Jeremy Bernstein) interview? (If not, try Googling something like: `kubrick interview 1966 bernstein’
      It’s very illuminating – as, he was working on `2001′ at the time… And – a fascinating insight into his (genius) mind. Filmmaking really is like: chess.


      PS – As an interesting point: `2001′ didn’t go viral at the time, in the cinemas… it actually lost money on initial cinema release…(!) But – of course, as with almost-all his work (apart from the 2 earliest features) in later years, Audiences and Critics finally came to appreciate them (I think he was always about `20 years ahead of everyone else in the world’ (ie – the bulk of: the audience). – I would imagine it must have been quite frustrating for him, at the time-!)

      So, it is possible that some of the 30 key StoryAlity Theory elements actually, wouldn’t apply. Obviously – he was a `writer-hyphenate’ himself (writer-director-producer) – but I would expect, some of StoryAlity Theory actually probably wouldn’t apply… His films are critical masterpieces – not always necessarily commercial. (`Dr Strangelove’ would likely be a great one to apply StoryAlity Theory to… as that was a high-RoI film, in cinemas… also one of my fave films ever – as it happens. Genius… we are not worthy 🙂 I still find all his films stunning, and still get more out of them every time I re-view them (after 20 years of: watching them all once a year, at least). Mind-boggling, really. Anyway thanks again.

  12. Hey JT, cheers for telling me about the 66 Kubrick-Bernstein interview. I hadn’t heard that one before… very, very interesting stuff… On my searches I’ve found this very illuminating series of interviews Kubrick gave to French film critic Michel Ciment from 1975 to 1987:

    This video edits them all together but they were originally aired with a French overdub that can’t be completely removed so it can be a frustrating listen.

    Thought it might be up your alley anyway mate.

  13. Probably the most important work on screenplay structure in film’s 100+ years. Ignore this at your own peril, writers. A large and growing portion of the audience is now addicted to several social media and messaging input products simultaneously. They are in the hyper-present and will probably be consuming your work on a platform that allows them alternative connectivity and gives them the capability to speed-watch your movie. They will likely consume your movie in the StoryAlity Syntagm form even if you tell it in a three act form.

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  16. Hi JT, hugely impressed by your work, and the 10-act structure, specifically. Could you here, or perhaps in a future post, go into a little more detail about the beats themselves? Elaborate on what they mean, perhaps. I bought your book on Kindle today. Very drawn by your theories. Regarding Kubrick and his 8 non-submersible units, have you read about Frank Daniel’s 8-sequence paradigm? Very interesting, if you come across it. Wondered what you thought.

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Thomas,
      Thanks so much for the kind words.
      I do have a more detailed explanation / `breakdown’ of the 10 Acts, in a forthcoming, expanded book…
      I like Frank Daniel’s 8 sequences approach, I think it’s a very useful method / structure…
      Thanks again, and will try to let you know when a more detailed version of the 10 Acts is either up here, or out in the new book… (or both!)

      • Thanks, JT,

        Please do let me know. I’ll certainly be in the queue to purchase the book. Your 10-acts are very interesting and impressive, as I’ve said, and will be useful for me as a horror novelist. I do sequence books at the moment, but I’m always looking at more effective structures.

        Thanks again,

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