Speaking of memetics. And why some memes (ideas, processes, products – e.g. movies, and novels) are more viral than others, in culture.,,

Maybe first, see this book chapter:

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

Okay – so – recently, my friend and colleague, the screenwriter/actor Steve Worland published a great new action-thriller novel, Combustion (2013), the latest in the series, following Velocity (2012):

It’s a great novel. Rush out and buy – and read it! It’s like: Matthew Reilly meets Michael Crichton. (In fact even that is combining two memes… (Though Steve of course brings his own inimitable voice to the tale.)

As it happens, Steve and I were actually at film school together (AFTRS) back in the mid-90’s, and Steve’s a fantastic writer. Some of his screen credits are here.

The whole novel (Combustion) is terrific, but I wanted to point out an extract where Steve does a brilliant job of illustrating just how Memetics works, in terms of combining two memes (ideas), in creating a movie pitch.

Or – in other words, Boden’s (2004) idea of `combinatorial creativity’ (i.e.: combine two ideas to get a great new idea), or Koestler’s idea of bisociation (same thing – from his amazing 1964 book The Act of Creation).

– This is of course: How all creativity works..(!)

Here’s an excerpt from the novel Combustion (which is great, by the way… did I mention that?):

[And – just to set it up: Corey and Lola are driving at sunset, in a BMW. Corey tells Lola he has an idea for a movie pitch…]

[Corey] `So I’ve been working on a pitch – a movie pitch.’

[Lola] `Really?’

[Corey] `Now let me ask you a very important question – which do you prefer, vampires or zombies?’


`Ba-baum. Family Feud sound for wrong answer. The correct choice is both.’


`Exactly. You mash them together and get Zompire, the first movie to feature a vampire as the main character. He’s undead, twice. People have always loved vampires and now they love zombies so it only makes sense to combine them in an irresistible combination of blood-sucking flesh-eating. That’s all I’ve got so far.’

Lola nods. `Not bad. “He’s undead – twice” is a good tag line.’

`Great.’ He nods happily, then `What’s a tag line?’

`You know, the slogan on a movie poster.’

`Oh. Of course. Right. So the idea’s not a complete shocker?’

`It’s good but if you want to take it to a studio you’ll need to think up an exciting plot that you can explain in twenty-five words or less, create vivid characters who grow and change over the course of that story, and create a compelling mythology about how and why Zompires exist. Also, consider what the subtext of the story is.’

`I’ve never really understood what subtext is.’

`It’s the underlying meaning of the film. Also, is there a love story? Where is it set? And when? Who’s the bad guy? You always need an interesting bad guy with a believable motivation. Is it a comedy or a drama? The title Zompire almost makes it sound like a comedy, bit if, for example, it’s called VZ, shorthand for the vampire-zombie hybrid, suddenly it seems more serious. On a poster I can see the V in blood-red and the Z in raggedy grey. It’s intriguing, and graphically they’re strong letters.’

Corey studies her. `Now I know why you’ve got such a big house: you’re good at this.’

`Well, yeah, it’s my business and I’ve had a lot of practise and I love movies. So the takeaway is this: if you want people to take it seriously you’ve got to flesh it out, no pun. Even little things like, is there a hero car of some kind?’

`Hero car?’

`You know, like the tumbler from Batman Begins, or the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, or the Minis in The Italian Job. It doesn’t have to be a car, just some sort of groovy transportation.’

It makes perfect sense to him. ‘Of course.’

`And think about who could be in it. Makes it easier when you’re pitching a studio if they have an actor in mind for the lead role.’ (pp 27-9)

Combustion by Steve Worland, Penguin, New York, 2013.

This is a perfect example of how creativity (and especially – ideas for movie stories) works.

Combinatorial Creativity (or bisociation)

Combinatorial Creativity (or: bisociation)

As everyone knows – Vampires are not exactly a `new’ idea: but obviously are one of the most viral and enduring memes (ideas/concepts/holons) in culture (in novels, movies, songs, pop culture, etc). Side note: for example, Sting’s song ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’ was inspired by his reading Anne Rice’s amazing novel Interview With the Vampire (1976) . One of the more notable examples of the meme (most famous/well-known/most widespread memeplex) is of course – the 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897). But even that of course isn’t the beginning… The recognizable classic vampire of `modern fiction’ was also there in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori – and of course the mythology (meme) of vampires goes way back – Vlad the Impaler is involved. Vlad III, the Prince of Wallachia (1431–1477), was (apparently?) a member of the House of Drăculești, a branch of the House of Basarab, also known by his patronymic name: Dracula. (or so it says on Wikipedia, if you can believe that). This isn’t intended as a comprehensive history of the meme of `vampires’ – but I am working up to an important point below…

Before I get to that foreground point – I need some more backgrounding… So – likewise – as (almost?) everybody knows, zombies are an old and very viral, very popular meme. Now Wikipedia isn’t always exactly 100% reliable (you have to usually dig deeper, check further/research more) but here’s an interesting point below from their entry on Zombie; they point out the concept comes from Haitian religion, and the derivation of the word from `Zombi’ which means snake-god. Then they get more general:

`As fictional undead creatures, zombies are regularly encountered in horror and fantasy themed works. They are typically depicted as mindless, reanimated corpses with a hunger for human flesh, and particularly for human brains in some depictions. Although they share their name and some superficial similarities with the zombie from Haitian Vodun, their links to such folklore are unclear. Many consider George A. Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead to be the progenitor of these creatures.[15][16] Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, all drawing on European folklore of the undead. The popularity of zombies in movies has led to them sometimes having been taken out of their usual element of horror and thrown into other genres, for example the comedy film Shaun of the Dead.’

[Zombie – Wikipedia]

Note that Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a top 20 RoI movie. As is top 20 RoI film The Evil Dead (1981) which uses the idea (meme) of zombies… Note that Shaun of the Dead combines the idea of a `slacker sitcom’ with zombies.

The point here is that: by combining two very old, very viral memes you can come up with a new viral meme.

This is how memes work in culture. And cultural evolution.

Note how Steve says you mash them together… see also the short video here on how Everything Is A Mashup: Creativity.

And – you can see how each of the Top 20 RoI Movies combine some very old – and very viral – memes.

At any rate, Steve has written a terrific action-thriller novel in Combustion – and has also given a fantastic example of how combinatorial creativity works. (With `Zompires’ – or the movie pitch for `ZV’ as the case may be.) And in fact the concept reminds me of one of my screenplays, in particular one co-written with JJ Hainsworth: The Empire’s Vampyre. (Vampires and zombies together. What’s not to love?)

Please note also that – as in the diagram below – any movie story is a meme (and, a holon); a movie trailer is also a meme (and a holon); a movie poster itself is also a meme (and – a memeplex , as it contains many memes); also the Tagline (of any film) is a meme; the film Title itself is a meme; and – in the hypothetical case of `ZV’  above – even the font of the title is a (visual) meme…

Some of the Memes, of any Movie: (note that: some of these memes are more viral than others)

A Film Story Memeplex Holarchy (Velikovsky 2012)

A Film Story Memeplex Holarchy (Velikovsky 2012)

And, so – within the Combustion story, with this dramatized example he provides in the novel itself – Steve brilliantly illustrates how – and why…

This is also an example of why – he’s a truly fantastic screenwriting teacher. Steve is a master at this stuff (at: creating hybrid viral memes): In the mid-90’s, I remember back to when he famously sold a movie pitch to Mel Gibson’s company, Icon Films – a pitch called `Decathlon’ – which was in essence, `Die Hard at the Olympics’. In other words: combining the memes of Die Hard, and `the Olympics’… (What an awesome concept…? Who wouldn’t want to see that?)

As a side note, back at AFTRS Adrian Van de Velde and I also combined two memes in the concept (story) of: “the serial killer who saved the world” in ROCKET MAN. (10 Mins, Rated R.)

So anyway – Writers – happy meme-making…!

As Goethe once said “Connect… always, connect…

(e.g. Connect two viral memes, together. The resulting hybrid-meme will probably be more viral! i.e. What Charles Darwin referred to as: “hybrid vigour”…! And, what the brilliant Arthur Koestler (The Act of Creation, 1964) called “bisociation”…)

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.


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/



Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.


2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #106 – Movie Pitches, Hybrid Memes and Worland’s `Combustion’

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #109 – Memetics and Film | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) | StoryAlity

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