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The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist

In 1995, while at film school, I read all the books on screenwriting that existed. I then summarized them into this book, which has over a million downloads.

Feature Screenwriters Wkbk cover

The Feature Film Screenwriters Workbook (JT Velikovsky 1995, & 2011 Revised & Updated Edition)

I then worked as a TV screenwriter (my first TV writing credit was in: 1993), a movie screenwriter, game writer and designer, for 20 years. I also worked as a script reader for major film studios and many independent production companies for 20 years.

Over that 20 years I realized a lot of the screenwriting guidelines were not correct.

So then I did a 5-year fulltime PhD study on High-RoI Movie Screenwriting. You can read the full 450-page PhD thesis, here. (And you definitely should, if you are a screenwriter or a screen reader).

7 in 10 movies lose money, and 98% of screenplays go unmade. That’s a deadly-serious real-world problem if you are in the screen industry. My 2017 PhD solves it.

I’m now also: a high-RoI movie Consultant.

(A PhD is the world expert on their research topic. Nobody else has ever researched this area before, and not in this way. – After publishing the “Screenwriting Wisdom Summary” book, above in 1995 (and – noticing all the flaws and contradictions in the Script Gurus’ “research”) – I actually waited for 20 years (while being a professional screenwriter), for someone else to twig to it, and to do it, and then finally realized – after 20 years of waiting – I would have to do it myself, as apparently, nobody else had the time to do it (it was actually a shocking amount of work, for 5 years fulltime), nor, did many people in the screen industry I spoke to over 20 years [producers, directors] seem to understand: Why scientific research on high-RoI story characteristics  actually matters. Some people are under the impression you cannot do scientific research on the Arts. If so see the following…)

Empirical Studies of The Arts – Journal

And see this amazing book:

Great Flicks - Simonton 2011

Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (DK Simonton 2011)

And this one:

So – if you are fine with all your screenplays not getting made, and with your movie losing money when it does get made – then, you too, can safely: ignore all of this! 🙂

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The following is a super-brief Summary, derived from my 2012-17 doctoral research study of Movie RoI.

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

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The StoryAlity Syntagm (Velikovsky 2012)

The following Checklist provides a useful practical tool for the empirical analysis of any film story/screenplay in terms of the expected/probable RoI (Return on Investment). The checklist aims to avoid the “single-cause theory” that many can apply to movie success… Movies are not ever successful for one single reason alone: there are many things they “do right” and likewise – many things that they “do wrong” that, they tend to avoid…

See The Anna Karenina Principle. (Or even better – read my PhD – for the full story)

The Checklist is recommended for use, by: Screenwriters, Filmmakers, Screenplay Development Executives, Professional Script Readers / Story Analysts, Directors, Actors, Producers, and any and all film industry Creatives.

Confused Crowd

Also, even more importantly: Film Financiers, Investors and Marketers can also use this Checklist as an analytical Story/Screenplay tool – to assess, given probability, the RoI potential of any movie project.

The key data-set of the research is – The Top 20 RoI Movies of the last 70 Years:

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


The Top 20 RoI Movies - StoryAlity Theory

The Top 20 RoI Movies

GENRE BREAKDOWN – The Top 20 RoI Movies:

Top 20 RoI Movies - Genres - List

Top 20 RoI Movies – Genres – List

Top 20 RoI Films by Genre - 2011 chart

Top 20 RoI Movies by Genre – (Side Note: there are no Dramas in the top 20 RoI movies)

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THE STORYALITY HIGH-RoI MOVIE CHECKLIST

Please also note, these StoryAlity Theory Guidelines (The Checklist) are: a probability calculus.

If any writer/filmmaker desires, they can certainly choose not to use, all x 30 of these StoryAlity Theory Guidelines… They may of course choose to use (say) only 29 out of the 30 guidelines, (or indeed, use none of the guidelines at all.) For example, a writer/filmmaker may choose to create/use their own film Story Structure, rather than the StoryAlity story structure (i.e. the Fibonacci sequence…). That is entirely their own choice, given the workings of Agency (choices) and Structure (guidelines)…!

The second column below, “IDEAL/HIGH-RoI TARGET” is the recommended selection – as per overwhelming evidence, resulting from the (2017) empirical and scientific movie RoI doctoral research study.

CRITERIA THE IDEAL /HIGH-ROITARGET The Top 20 ROIFilms: Average The Top 20 ROIFilms: Median THE RANGE (Top 20 ROI Films) Your Screenplay: (Y/N ?)
Genre Horror

Comedy

Sci-Fi

Sports

Nostalgia

Musical

Gangster

Horror(mode / most frequently occurring) Horror Horror

Comedy

Sci-Fi

Sports

Nostalgia

Musical

Gangster

Number of Main Characters 4 (3 good guys, 1 villain) 4.4 4 2 – 9
Occupations of the Main Character/s Working class &/or students Working class / students(both = mode) Working class / students(both = mode) See Table on “The Character Occupations in Top 20 ROI Films”
Character Arc/s” in a high ROI film Story None None None None
Number of Story `Acts’ 10 10 10 10 – 10
Story Structure  See The STORYALITY™ Syntagm See The STORYALITY™ Syntagm See The STORYALITY™ Syntagm See The STORYALITY™ Syntagm
Screenplay / Film Length 90 pages exactly 92 pages /92 minutes 88 pages /88 minutes 77 -121 pages/mins
# of Scenes 122 scenes 119 scenes 124 scenes 71-189 scenes
Scene Lengths 1 min/1 page 49 seconds 1 min 12 secs 1 sec – 14mins 25 s
Ratio of Ext/Int scenes 44% Ext / 56% Int 44% Ext / 56% Int 53 Ext scenes/64 Int scenes (3 – 95) Ext(25 – 121) Int
Number of Locations 28 29 27 2-73
Types of Main Locations/Settings House/Apartment Domestic / urban See: Types of Top 20 ROI Main Locations See: Types of Top 20 ROI Main Locations
Time period / Temporal Setting Present Present Present Past, Present, Future
Story Ending Villain Triumphant Villain Triumphant Villain Triumphant Villain Triumphant
Theme Survival, Reproduction, Revenge Survival, Reproduction, Revenge Survival, Reproduction, Revenge Survival, Reproduction, Revenge
Sex scenes N 40 % 40 % 8/20 films
Chase scenes Y 85 % 85 % 17/20 films
Shootouts N 45 % 45 % 9/20 films
Fist-Fights Y 75 % 75 % 15/20 films
Montage/s Y 11/20 films 11/20 films 11/20 films
Expected Reviews/Critics Ratings? 73% 73% 81 46%-94%
Expected Oscars™ None <3% chance <3% chance 1/20 films
Expected MPAA Rating R R R PG – UnR
Length of Shoot  7 – 31 days 34 days 28 days 7 – 80 days
“Look” of the film Color & digital Color Color Color/ B&W35mm, 16mm, digital

This checklist can be used to analyze your own screenplay / movie story, for the various Characteristics, shared by all 20 of the Top 20 RoI movies.

Next up: Top 10 Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI (Return On Investment) Films…

Right before your very eyes

I think I went to Elementary school with this guy…?! And you know what – he hasn’t changed a bit…

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JT Velikovsky PhD

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie & Transmedia / Multi-platform Media 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/

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39 thoughts on “StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story and Screenplay Checklist

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #52 – Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-ROI Films | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #50.2 – The Universal Story Structure and Story Memes of the Top 20 ROI Films | StoryAlity

  3. Hey Stuart,

    It’s the universal mathematical form known as The Golden Ratio – (as Aristotle of all people used to preach). i.e, 3/2 = 1.6:1.

    It’s (the Golden Ratio/the `Golden Spiral’) in The Fibonacci Sequence: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc. (ie Add the last 2 numbers starting with 1,1, to get the next, and repeat, forever…)

    Then, if you divide any number in the sequence, by the previous number, to get: 3/2, or 8/5, or 13/8, etc. The further up you go (to infinity) – the closer it (the result of that fraction) gets to: the Golden Ratio (1:1.601-etc).

    For the Golden Ratio/Fibonacci Sequence – see also: Laws in Nature – the pattern in sunflowers, in rabbit and cattle reproduction, how plants grow, in cell reproduction, etc.

    The actual diagram of: 1,1,2,3,5,8, etc – can be shown in a number of different ways… ie – 1) in a straight line, 2) in a spiral (makes it appear more familiar/relatable/`organic’), 3) as a pie-graph, 4) as a column graph – etc etc.

    Given all the screenplay `paradigms’ out there (which – are actually `syntagms’ – see: StoryAlity #34 – Screenplay `paradigms’ or screenplay `syntagms’?) it seemed logical to look for a naturally-occurring universal mathematical formula, in the most successful movie artifacts… Given we read left to right in the West it seemed best to plot it, as a spiral, left to right… (like any concept, it’s an abstraction – and could `face’ any direction – in theory…)

    JT

    PS – For more info, if it’s of interest, Google: `The Golden Ratio’, and also Google `the Fibonacci Sequence’… (but, you prolly knew all that anyway…)

  4. Pingback: StoryAlity #53.2 – Patterns in the Top 20 ROI Films: # of Scenes vs Film Duration/Screenplay Length – and: Elliot Waves | StoryAlity

  5. Pingback: StoryAlity #51 – The Universal Story Structure and Story Memes of the Top 20 ROI Films | StoryAlity

  6. Pingback: StoryAlity #56 – Patterns in the Top 20 ROI Films: # of Scenes vs Film Duration/Screenplay Length – and: Elliot Waves | StoryAlity

  7. Pingback: StoryAlity 18 – Problem: 7 in 10 feature films lose money | StoryAlity

  8. Pingback: StoryAlity #61 – On The Storyality Probability Calculus – and the Principle of Induction | StoryAlity

  9. Pingback: StoryAlity #66 – Scientific and Empirical Proof that the StoryAlity™ Theory works: `The Devil Inside’ (2012) | StoryAlity

  10. Pingback: StoryAlity #68 – StoryAlity Theory 3MT @ Interventions and Intersections 2013 | StoryAlity

  11. Pingback: StoryAlity #70 – Predictions of the StoryAlity Theory: a Top 20 RoI Film in January 2014 | StoryAlity

  12. Pingback: StoryAlity #72 – Gene Theory and Story: G,T,C,A… (coincidence..?) | StoryAlity

  13. Pingback: StoryAlity #43B – The `Creative Practice Theory’ Agent-Based Model | StoryAlity

  14. Pingback: StoryAlity #76 – The `new’ Film RoI numbers at The-Numbers.com | StoryAlity

  15. Pingback: StoryAlity #79 – These instincts are highly complex (Charles Darwin) | StoryAlity

  16. Pingback: StoryAlity #88 – On Evolution and Film (David Bordwell) | StoryAlity

  17. Pingback: StoryAlity #93 – Jealousy in `Othello’ (Nordlund) | StoryAlity

  18. Pingback: StoryAlity #106 – Movie Pitches, Hybrid Memes and Worland’s `Combustion’ | StoryAlity

  19. Pingback: StoryAlity #98 – What were the first feature films of 15 awesome Directors – and what do they all have in common? | StoryAlity

  20. Pingback: StoryAlity #97 – Biocultural Dissertations | StoryAlity

  21. Pingback: StoryAlity #116 – StoryAlity Theory @ `Interventions and Intersections’ 2014 (UWS PG Conference) | StoryAlity

  22. Pingback: StoryAlity #116 – StoryAlity Theory @ `Interventions and Intersections’ 2014 (UWS PG Conference) | StoryAlity

  23. Pingback: StoryAlity #48 – On Holon-Partons and Holarchies (and: How Holarchies Work) | StoryAlity

  24. Pingback: StoryAlity #3B – Trailers of the Top 20 RoI Movies | StoryAlity

  25. Pingback: StoryAlity #1 – About my Doctoral Research on Film / Screenwriting / Transmedia | StoryAlity

  26. Pingback: StoryAlity #5B – Almost Everything You Know About Movie Screenwriting is Wrong | StoryAlity

  27. Pingback: StoryAlity #3C – Trailers of the Bottom 20 RoI Movies | StoryAlity

  28. Pingback: StoryAlity #17: On Movie Blockbusters and RoI | StoryAlity

  29. Pingback: StoryAlity #50 – The StoryAlity Screenplay Syntagm | StoryAlity

  30. Pingback: StoryAlity #54 – Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI Films | StoryAlity

  31. Pingback: StoryAlity #4B – On Mindbender Movies | StoryAlity

  32. Pingback: StoryAlity #133 – On the giallo genre | StoryAlity

  33. Pingback: StoryAlity #26 – “3 Acts”? Did Aristotle ever say that? | StoryAlity

  34. I read your close to 500 page thesis paper and it was simply fantastic. Thank you for such an enlightening paper

  35. Pingback: StoryAlity#148 – Why’s movie screenwriting so tricky? | StoryAlity

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