The StoryAlity Theory – applied to some truly Great Flicks
In the excellent (mainly as it is: scientific, and empirical work – which is extremely rare in the study of cinema narratology) Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (2011), legendary creativity researcher, Distinguished Professor Dean Keith Simonton makes a number of excellent points, regarding a specific set of five-movie-guide 5-star rated – and also – `Best Picture’ Oscar-winning films:
`Ponder the following films:
All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), Gone With The Wind (1939), Rebecca(1940), Casablanca (1942), The Lost Weekend (1945), The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946), On The Waterfront (1954), The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), A Man For All Seasons (1966), The Godfather Part II (1974), Annie Hall (1974) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
What do the scripts have in common – besides all representing English-language, feature-length narrative films? Do the protagonists all share the same core values? Are the storylines all similar in some central manner? If so, what is the crucial common denominator? …It’s a list that satisfied two conditions.
First, all received the highest possible evaluation from five distinct movie guides….
Second, all earned the Oscar for best picture. All were considered by the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be the single best film released that year…
In short, all satisfied the highest possible standards in cinematic creativity and aesthetics.’
(Simonton 2011: 110-11 – emphasis mine)
I happen to completely agree with this assessment of these masterful works of cinema.
Although, with specific regard to the excellent philosophical question raised in the above extract:
“Are the storylines all similar in some central manner?”
– It occurred to me, as I read this section of Great Flicks, that (if only, out of intellectual curiosity) it might perhaps be an interesting exercise, to compare this specific set of films – astutely identified by Simonton as exemplifying cinematic excellence in terms of artistic and aesthetic creativity – with some, or even all, of the StoryAlity Theory `High-Return-On-Investment Film Story Criteria’.
That is to say, the StoryAlity Theory High-ROI-Film-Story criteria, of:
A Side Note, on the ROI (or alternately: Loss-On-Investment) of the award-winning films above
Importantly – it should be noted, this set of films listed above (though obviously critically regarded as excellent films) are in fact not necessarily high return-on-investment films.
For example, Casablanca (1942) was made for $950,000, and grossed $3.7m (Francisco 1980 p. 192) not including the 1992 theatrical re-release* – which means an ROI of just 389%, which in fact is just barely past the break-even point, when we consider that the average film needs a 373% ROI to be profitable).
Likewise, All Quiet On The Western Front (1930) with a budget of $1.4 m and a US domestic box office return estimated at $3m (IMDb.com, accessed 2012) in fact most likely made a loss-on-investment in its US release (i.e. these figures mean a 207% ROI), although it may well have broken even (i.e. made over 373% ROI) in international release.
A Common Story Element: `Villain Triumphant’..?
When we examine StoryAlity Criteria #3, we in fact note that, these films are (arguably) all Villain Triumphant film stories:
It is perhaps an interesting point to consider.
So; notably, these films, although they are indeed `Best Picture’ Academy Award-winners, are not necessarily High Return-On-Investment films – or, at least not when their average ROI is compared to the Top 20 ROI Feature Films.
Either way – to both scholars and practitioners of screenwriting (and narrative filmmaking in general) – I cannot recommend Simonton’s work in Great Flicks (2011) highly enough; it appears to me to be the exact sort of approach, methodology and thinking that Film Narratology currently – and, in fact urgently – requires, so that the domain of narrative feature film screenwriting may evolve out of its current pre-scientific paradigm state.
…Thoughts, feedback, comments?
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/
* I don’t currently believe that it makes sense to include the 1992 Casablanca re-release box office figure in the ROI figure here, primarily as the focus of this doctoral research (and, Blog) is to assist screenwriters and filmmakers to succeed in creating a film story that will reach a wide audience (go viral), thus enabling the filmmaker to (more easily) make their next movie. (Film investors/financiers are notoriously – and understandably – highly risk-averse, and it can be extremely difficult to obtain finance for a subsequent film project, if the creative talent’s previous film did not turn a profit). So – to include it, would be to perhaps suggest that writers and filmmakers might benefit in their lifetime from films that may take considerable time (e.g. 50 years) to achieve a moderate, or even high return on investment.
Francisco, Charles (1980). You Must Remember This: The Filming of Casablanca. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall)
Simonton, Dean Keith (2011), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press).