Velikovsky’s 42 Domain Problems in Screenwriting (or: “Consilient PhDs We’d Like To See”)

So – if you’ve read the thoroughly-excellent book Creativity (1996), a study of 91 eminent creatives in various disciplines and creative domains, (writing, music, science, painting, philosophy, etc!)  you’ll know that, in the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, 2014) there are three sub-systems…

These are:

(1) The Domain (i.e. the knowledge),

(2) the Field (or, the experts, and audience, in that cultural domain), and

(3) the Individual (i.e. – say, maybe, You!)

Here is a diagram of the 3 subsystems, and thus, when all 3 are considered as a whole, the meta-system of: the cultural domain known as Film. Or, Movies. Or, Motion Pictures. Or `flicks’!.

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi, 1996)

This diagram (above) is a bit simplified – as Film has many overlaps with other screen media domains, such as: television series, television commercials, web videos, videogames, and so on.

This is to say that if a creative meme (idea, process, or product) pops up in advertising, say, (in a TV commercial, maybe) then somebody in the domain of cinema, or `movies’ might steal (or, appropriate? copy? imitate? pay homage to?) that idea, process or product.

A random example is bullet-time in the The Matrix movies, which was a technique being used in TVCs (TV commercials) for years before the Wachowskis swiped it. But – many filmmakers (e.g. David Fincher, Ridley Scott, etc!) often work in TVCs anyway, in between making movies. So – it’s likely the coolest `schemas’ (as Bordwell 1997 or 2008, or Gombrich might say) or `memes’ (styles, ideas, processes, products) that will translate between TVCs and movies.

Anyway. Danger Will Robinson…

Warning. Warning:

…I’m Now, Briefly, Going To Talk About – MATHEMATICS.

Another cultural domain. In fact one a lot of other domains rest upon.In fact [possibly all domains rest upon Maths – as if it’s real, (like a planet, a person, a picture) you can count it? …Right?

Vertical Hierarchy of the Sciences V3

Vertical Integration of the Sciences (Velikovsky 2015)

So, the very first International Congress of Mathematicians was in Zurich in 1897.

Interestingly, in 1900, at the Second International Conference on Mathematics (held in Paris, the one in France), David Hilbert presented a list of 23 Domain Problems in Mathematics. Here’s some more on all that, including a neat table that shows just how many of those Problems have been solved by the Field of Mathematics (and, when they were solved). (For more, Google: “Hilbert’s 23 Problems“).

Okay, so, I have stopped talking about Maths now; everyone can relax.

Meantime in reading academic and scholarly publications on Screenwriting, and also having worked in the domain as a screenwriter for over 20 years, I have collected a list of 40 Domain Problems in Screenwriting.

(Please see The Big List, below)

And, perhaps, you maybe won’t fully understand this blog-post (and The List, and Why It’s Important), unless you perhaps read this excellent book, first: Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

Then again, you just might…?  Either way, I’m now going to cite some relevant sections from that (amazing) 1996 book:

`…usually insights tend to come to prepared minds, that is, to those who have thought long and hard about a given set of problematic issues.

There are three main sources from which problems typically arise: personal experiences, requirements of the domain, and social pressures.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 83)

I found some of these problems in the Screenwriting Domain (listed below; see The Big List) via personal experiences, some via the requirements of the domain, and some via social pressures.

And, another salient quote from Csikszentmihalyi (1996):

`Artists find inspiration in real life – emotions like love and anxiety, events like birth and death, the horrors of war, and a peaceful afternoon in the country.

We shall see in a little while that artists are also influenced in the choice of their problems by the domain and the field.

It has been said that every painting is a response to all previous paintings, every poem reflects the history of poetry. Yet paintings and poems are also very clearly inspired by the artist’s experiences.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 85)


And, another quote: (I love quoting quotable quotes)

‘The other main source of problems is the domain itself.

Just as personal experiences produce tensions that cannot be resolved in terms of ordinary solutions, so does working within a symbolic system.

Over and over, both in the arts and sciences, the inspiration for a creative solution comes from conflict suggested by the “state of the art”.

Every domain has its own internal logic, its pattern of development, and those who work within it must respond to this logic.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 87)


Here is a smaller horizontal diagram than the vertical one above.

Overlaps in Scientific Domains

Overlaps in Scientific Domains

Just because: I love diagrams. Do you love diagrams? It’s to do with multi-model learning (see VARK theory). Click that VARK link and you can take the quiz. I love taking quizzes.

I also love Feynman diagrams. I also love his parton theory (1975) which is the same thing as holon theory (Koestler 1967), and it’s all just systems theory, and thus, I combined them into: the holon/parton theory of the unit of culture, but that’s a whole other story.

This next quote, points to the value of being interdisciplinary, (or, consilient):

“Your research project gets defined partly by some internal fascination for which one cannot account in any detail, preparation that is unique because of the life history of that person, luck, and something to work against. That is, something that you are dissatisfied with, that other people are doing.’

An intellectual problem is not restricted to a particular domain.

Indeed, some of the most creative breakthroughs occur when an idea that works well in one domain gets grafted to another and revitalizes it.

This was certainly the case with the widespread applications of  physics’ quantum theory to neighbouring disciplines like chemistry and astronomy.

Creative people are ever alert to what people over the fence are doing…

A large majority of our respondents were inspired by a tension in their domain that became obvious when looked at from the perspective of another domain.

Even though they do not think of themselves as interdisciplinary, their best work bridges realms of ideas. Their histories tend to cast doubts on the wisdom of overspecialization, where bright young people are trained to become exclusive experts in one field and shun breadth like the plague.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 88-9)


So doing consilience tends to make you more creative. As, you can discover cool ideas in one domain, (e.g. maths, physics, chemistry, music, cooking, or whatever) and apply them in your main domain (e.g. cinema, or transmedia, or whatevs) and sometimes it works really well. (i.e. is: creative. It’s new, and it works. See the standard definition of creativity for more.)

And another killer quote:

`You cannot transform a domain unless you first thoroughly understand how it works.

Which means that one has to acquire the tools of [the domain], learn the basic principles of [the domain], and become aware of the current state of knowledge.

But the old Italian saying seems to apply: Impara l’arte,e mattila da parte (learn the craft and then set it aside).

One cannot be creative without learning what others know, but then one cannot be creative without becoming dissatisfied with that knowledge and rejecting it (or some of it) for a better way.’

`The third source of ideas and problems is the field one works in.

All through life, a creative person is exposed to the influence of teachers, mentors, fellow students and coworkers, and later in life to the ideas of one’s own students and followers.

Moreover, the institutions one works for and the events of the wider society in which one lives provide powerful influences that can redirect one’s career and channel a person’s thinking in new directions.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 90)


And – hooboy, yet another:

`The creative process starts with a sense that there is a puzzle somewhere, or a task to be accomplished. Perhaps something is not right, somewhere there is a conflict, a tension, a need to be satisfied.

The problematic issue can be triggered by a personal experience, by a lack of fit in the symbolic system, by the stimulation of colleagues, or by public needs.

In any case, without such a felt tension that attracts the psychic energy of the person, there is no need for a new response.

Therefore, without a stimulus of this sort, the creative process is unlikely to start.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 95)

I would suggest: the public (i.e. me and you) needs to be presented with better movies, if 70% of movies lose money…? That means, cinema audiences don’t want to see them, enough. (Who wants to see a movie nobody wants to see?)

Anyway we can compare the top 20 RoI (biggest audience-reach, but smallest-budget) to the bottom 20 RoI (Return-on-Investment) movies. Their stories tend to be different. It’s all about the story. If you like the story in the movie, you like the movie. And vice versa, if you don’t like the story, you don’t like the movie, pretty much.

StoryAlity Theory - Comparing the Top and Bottom 20 RoI Films (Velikovsky 2014)

StoryAlity Theory – Comparing the Top and Bottom 20 RoI Films (Velikovsky 2014)

Also if less than 1% of screenplays break even as a movie, the Screenwriting field needs help.

The natural – and artificial – selection of movies that happens in Culture is: incredibly competitive…!

Namely. “each film selected by a movie-goer comes at the expense of another.”

That’s how Evolution works. i.e. Differential selection.

Which is why some memes (including, some movies) in culture are: more viral than others. They spread, via word-of-mouth.


Somewhat importantly:

Csikszentmihalyi (1996) also notes there is a difference in `presented’ and `discovered’ problems in any given creative domain (e.g. in, say, science, or maths, or the arts, or movies, or painting, or music, etc).


Problems are not all alike in the way they come to a person’s attention.

Most problems are already formulated; everybody knows what is to be done and only the solution is missing. The person is expected by employers, patrons, or some other external pressure to apply his or her mind to the solution of the puzzle.  These are “presented” problems.

But there are also situations in which nobody has asked the question yet, nobody even knows that there is a problem.

In this case the creative person identifies both the problem and the solution. Here we have a “discovered” problem.

Einstein, among others, believed that the really important breakthroughs in science come as a result of reformulating old problems or discovering new ones, rather than by just solving existing problems…

The theory of evolution answered a great number of questions, ranging from why do animals look so different from each other from where do men and women come from.

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of Darwin’s accomplishment was that these questions had not been stated in an answerable form before, and he had to formulate the problem as well as propose a solution to it.

Most great changes in a domain share this feature of Darwin’s work: They tend to fall towards the discovered rather than the presented end on the continuum of problematic situations.’

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 95-8)


With all of that in mind – here, is a big List I’ve collated: (…drum roll…)


`Velikovsky’s 42 Domain Problems in Screenwriting’ (2016).


Epistemology - How do we know what we know?

Some Unsolved Domain Problems – in: Movie Screenwriting


This List, is essentially, a list of Consilient PhD’s I’d Like To See.

Basically, these Domain Problems all need to be solved. (And, Creativity is just: Problem-solving.)*

So – If you know a Masters or a PhD student looking for a thesis topic / research question / real-world problem to solve in the domain of Screenwriting / Film/Movies, then maybe point them to: this Big List!

(I don’t need any credit for `finding’ these Problems, I just really want to see them be solved. So that Life is much easier, for all Filmmakers!)

These are listed in no particular order; some of these Domain Problems are more important and more `pressing’ than others.

(And – it is, of course, up to the Screenwriting and Film and Movie Fields, and not me personally, to decide the individual importance of: each of them.)

Many of these problems are also related to others. Some are also `wicked’ problems. Most of them come from Dr Ian W. Macdonald’s (excellent) 2004 PhD Dissertation on Screenwriting.

Here is `The Big List’: 42 Domain Problems in Movie Screenwriting

1. Problem: Women screenwriters have been – and still are being – under-represented/obstructed/held-back, in industry – and also in academia (media / screenwriting). See also: “Gender In The International Film Business” Report (Follows 2014), by independent researcher Stephen Follows, at: http://stephenfollows.com/research/

(Though I would note – Jill Nelmes & Jule Selbo are making great strides in partly-solving this urgent problem, with the forthcoming: “Women Screenwriters: An International Guide”; and see also, as Kerstin Stutterheim so rightly noted, the excellent work: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9111041-the-woman-in-the-story and see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_eZAtVJxVk )

(Update: 2016) And see the excellent: Women Screenwriters: An International Guide (2015)

2. Problem: There is a gap, between some (or: even, much?) of the discourse on screenwriting in “academia/theory” and, in “the industry/practice”. (see: SRN email-list comments 2014; see also, Maras 2009, etc)

3. Problem: Less than 2% of scripts – and, proposals for screen ideas – received by producers go into production. (see: Ian W Macdonald, 2004 PhD dissertation)

4. Problem: Of the <2% of screen ideas (screenplays) that do get produced (Macdonald 2004) – 70% of narrative fiction feature films lose money (see: Vogel 1990, & 2011, Entertainment Industry Economics; see DeVany (2004) Hollywood Economics; see, A Literature review on The Economics of Movies (McKenzie 2012), etc)

(Note that Problems #3 and #4 above, when combined, result in the `Less-Than-1% Problem’ in the Domain of Film: https://storyality.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/storyality-115-the-less-than-one-percent-problem-in-the-domain-of-movies/)

5.      Problem: The dominance of US screenwork discourse, in non-US cultures (eg the UK, Europe, Australia, Asia, South America, Africa, India, Nigeria, etc) (see: Macdonald PhD 2004) [In short, America is good at producing viral memes.]

6.      Problem: A standard Screenwriters’ fee (Australia) is 3% of a feature film budget. In the US, it is 5%. (Either way, if the Story/Screenplay is paramount to the success of a screen work, is 3% – or even 5% – fair? See also: the 2007-8 US Writers’ Guild Strike, re: Ancillary writers rights, eg: DVD, BluRay, TV, Games, etc.)

7.      Problem: Quasi-Aristotelian ideas of screenwork drama (that the dominant discourse is based on Aristotle’s “Poetics”, and not other – more recent – theorists’ work, which may – in some places – contradict some of Aristotle’s theories.) (see: Macdonald 2004)

8.      Problem: The possible myth / misconception of “(Aristotelian) Three-Act Structure”. (i.e. Did Aristotle ever say “3 Acts”?) (see: Truby 2009 “Why 3-Act Will Kill Your Writing”, but, see also: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2014/05/18/caught-in-the-acts-2/)

9.      Problem: That `transformational character arcs’ / emotional `growth’/change is seen as generally obligatory in lead characters in `popular’ movie stories. (see: JJ Murphy 2007)

10.   Problem: The currently-unsolved problem of a universal “screen grammar / language” (Semiotics potentially does not solve the problem, as screen language is not necessarily structured the same as `other’ language/s, see: Metz 1974). (But see also: Bordwell 2008, 2010, and also Thompson, etc)

11.   Problem: The status and interrelationship of the UK film and TV drama industry with the global film economy, particularly in relation to Hollywood (see: Macdonald 2004)

12.   Problem: The US (Hollywood) dominates global media production, and screen industries. (see: Macdonald PhD 2004)

13.   Problem: Screenwork readers (producers, script assessors, directors, actors, etc) say they want “unique and original”, yet they also cannot define, what that means. (see: Macdonald 2004)

14.   Problem: The definition of a “good” screenwork is still contested (ill-defined). (i.e. “Movies are `good’, because they are admired, by someone.” Yet every screenwork is solving different creative problems. See: Bordwell (2008, etc) on the `problem-situation’ model, likewise Brian Boyd (2009) in On The Origin of Stories, and Boyd’s chapter in `Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader’ (Eds: Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall, 2010).)

15.   Problem: Writers feel that screenworks are frequently `dumbed down’ by financiers in a quest for overall audience reach – yet – at the expense of core story values or themes that are/were important to the writer in the first place. This can cause a problem for the writer’s sanity, and/or ethics. (see also: Macdonald PhD dissertation 2004, and also 2009 Journal of Screenwriting, “So it’s Not Surprising I’m Neurotic!”, etc)

16.   Problem: The Field (Screenwriting, Film) still operates under the (incorrect) assumption that other factors – beside the Story alone – contribute significantly to the success or failure of a screenwork (such other comparatively-trivial/irrelevant factors as `Marketing’ or `actor Star-power’, etc).

17.   Problem: Since Aristotle and the screenplay gurus (Syd Field, Seger, McKee, et al) currently dominate the discourse of screenwriting convention, the screen (film) industry apparently does not generally value – or employ – a consilient or empirical method, in the study of screen story.

18.   Problem: Producers (and Financiers / Studios) sometimes overrule screenwriters (change the film story) for illogical or personal reasons, or simply because they can, given the power structures in the film industry (i.e. economic capital, social capital, cultural capital, symbolic capital, and, for more see: Bourdieu 1976-1993).

19.   Problem: In the dominant discourse of the screenwriting convention (especially in popular `guru’ screenplay manuals), little attention is paid to constraints such as “writing to a budget”.

20.   Problem: Screenwriters are at the bottom of the screenwork hierarchy of personnel in film (see also: Macdonald 2004), despite that the story is the reason a film succeeds or fails to find an audience. (This is a big problem, if you are: a screenwriter.)

21.   Problem: Possibly, a Romantic view (i.e. mystical: Coleridge, Rousseau, Blake) of Creativity – rather than a Rational view of Creativity (scientific, eg. Bourdieu, Csikszentmihalyi, Simonton, Runco, Kaufman & Beghetto, etc) – by readers in screen storytelling means that screenwriters are often speaking a different language to that of financiers, producers, and screenwork readers. (see: Macdonald 2004; Boden 2004; McIntyre 2012, etc)

22.   Problem: Terminological inconsistency in the field (different words/terms may be ambiguous/mean different things). A screenplay structure “paradigm” in Syd Field’s terms may be more correctly called a syntagm. (The opposite to a `paradigm’, and often nothing whatsoever to do with a scientific `paradigm’ in Kuhn 1962 terms)

23.   Problem: The current dominant view of screenwriting theory and practice is a linear, micro, structuralist, reductionist view, which for the most part ignores “the bigger picture” – that the screen industry is a holistic set of overlapping creative systems; and this `linear’ view also largely ignores Bourdieuian concepts of social trajectories, habitus and `agency and structure’. (see: Macdonald 2004)

24.   Problem: As a screenwriter, there are normally just two decisions a writer can make without reference to others: to refuse to sell the screen idea as proposed, or to insist on the removal of his/her name from the credits on the screenwork. (see: Macdonald 2004)

25. Problem: There is currently no Problem #25. (This is itself, a very serious problem.)

26.   Problem: The screenwriting convention generally dictates: Courier 12-point font and a specific screenplay layout. But other formats may well be better suited to conveying an visual-audio medium; “convention” is often the least-worst-functional, rather than the best solution, to any given problem. (see: Macdonald 2004, see Millard (2009) in Journal of Screenwriting, and see Brian Boyd (2009, 2010) on `cost-benefit ratios’ for artists and audiences, etc)

27.   Problem: Screen ideas require scripts (words) whereas, screenworks are primarily visual and audio. (see: Macdonald 2004) (this is related to Problem #26, but is not exactly the same problem.)

28.   Problem: US screenwriter William Goldman (1984) famously said “Nobody knows anything” (suggesting that nobody knows in advance what will make a film successful) and this phrase is invoked when one person wishes to abruptly end a discussion with another about any issue within a screen idea. This viral meme (“Nobody knows anything”) is a huge problem in the domain of screenwriting. See DK Simonton `Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of CInematic Creativity and Aesthetics’ (2011): eg: “What do we know LOTS!”

29.   Problem: There is, as yet, no academic, peer-reviewed `Encyclopedia of Screenwriting’. This means definitions (problematic as they are, see Popper 1999, All Life is Problem Solving) are not even standardized (or, consensus-based) in the academic Domain/Field of screenwriting.
(Though I note that Paolo Russo, of the SRN identified – and, is making great strides – in solving this problem.)

30.   Problem: The standard definition of Creativity, from the scientific study of Creativity in the Domain of Psychology (see: Runco & Jaeger 2012 “The Standard Definition of Creativity”) is not used in Screenwriting discourse on Creativity; most people in the screenwriting Domain make up their own definition of Creativity; this results in great confusion. (Though see Eva Novrup Redvall’s ground-breaking work on this; also Bloore (2013), The Screenplay Business.)

31.   Problem: The definition of `independent’ feature film is blurry, and problematic (see: JJ Murphy 2007)

32.   Problem: Though the word `interdisciplinary’ gets mentioned a lot, not very many people in the Screenwriting field seem to have read `Creativity’ (Csikszentmihalyi 1996) [from the discipline of Psychology] nor `Great Flicks’ (Simonton 2011) [psychology/sociology], nor `Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’ (Wilson 1998). Though see: http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/viewersshare.php

33. Problem: Screenwriting Departments with 100% male Professors, for 50/50 (male/female) students – or a Production Department with 100% male Profs and few female Lecturers in addition. (Stutterheim 2014, SRN email)

34. Problem: In film history, some very important women are often forgotten/not mentioned, such as: Alice Guy-Blaché, Maya Deren… (to name just the better-known ones). (Stutterheim 2014, SRN email)

35. Problem: The `Possessory Credit’ problem in Film. – Rather than “A FILM BY [Director’s Name]“, the Possessory Credit should read “A FILM BY [Screen-Idea-Writer/s Name] & [Director’s Name].” [Unless it is: a Writer-Director.] – Or else, `Possessory Credits’ should be abolished, as they ignore (and thus, devalue) the contribution of the `initiators’ of the screen: (1) Idea, (2) Story, (3) Screenplay. (Usually, a: Screenwriter) [See Adrian Martin, 2004 “Possessory Credit“]

36. Big Problem: Postmodernist, Deconstructionist and Post-Structuralist texts (say) seem not to have anything in them, that working (or aspiring) a screenwriter (in practice) can use. [Related to Problem #2, above – a perceived Gap between `Theory’ and `Practice’]
(Someone might well solve this Domain Problem in Screenwriting, by reading all of those texts, or even just the most highly-cited ones, and, compiling a really great (and, easily-readable) list of `Things You Can Actually Use, As A Practising Screenwriter, From The Corpus of Academic and Scholarly Writing on Deconstructionism / Postmodernism / Post-Structuralism’). On the other hand, maybe those `Deconstructionist’ texts never were intended as such (in fact maybe they were intended as, the opposite?). (And therefore: Is this why, there is a perceived Gap in `Theory’ and `Practice’ ? And – why, exactly, does this issue make so many people, so angry, and/or defensive? And – does `consilience’ [eg EO Wilson (1998), `Consilience’] go partway, to perhaps, solving this problem? Or – not?)

37. Problem: There are hundreds of definitions of `Culture’ (see Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952) but no consensus across Domains or Disciplines on what `Culture’ is (see van Peer, Hakemulder & Zyngier 2007, 2012), and – Memetics as a Domain is stalled – as, apparently, since 1976, nobody has scientifically defined `the unit of culture’ – aka, the meme (see: Dawkins 1976; Csikszentmihalyi & Massimini 1985, Dennett 1995, Blackmore 1999, etc).

38. Problem: “There is no accepted theory of character within narratology (Frow 1986; Margolin 1990)” (see: p19 of Dr Radha O’Meara’s PhD dissertation, Episodic Poetics: Narrative Fragmentation and Cohesion in Serial Television and Film, 2011).

39. Problem: Despite monumental work by the scholars such as Joseph Carroll (1995-2016), Brian Boyd (2009) and Daniel Dennett (1995) and many others, no theorist has – as yet – united all of the Schools of Thought in the Arts/ Humanities under the umbrella of the Evolutionary paradigm. (As: maybe, it’s impossible. But, maybe not?)

40. Problem: In videogames (narratives), as Henry Jenkins stated: “Player freedom annihilates character” (Jenkins 2001, and see also Ernest W Adams’ excellent 2013 PhD dissertation on Problems in Videogame Storytelling)

41. Problem: How many short films are made annually, worldwide? (See: this very rough estimate I made, on Quora) And – How many shorts go on to win (major) awards, at major film festivals? How many (short) film festivals are there, in the world? What are the major ones? How has this domain (i.e., short film festivals) grown/evolved/changed, over time? (i.e. What – and when – was, the world’s first, short film festival?) And, further to all that – What are the odds of (a) Getting a short film into a major international film festival, and then, (b) winning a major award? (Perhaps, taking the same `evolutionary’ cultural approach as `The Less Than 1% Problem’ in Screenwriting/Movies) Also – what is the list of `great short flicks’, given, the method and results in Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (Simonton 2011)? This PhD would likely be fascinating (and, helpful) for short filmmakers in general.   

42. A curious question: Do more popular movies tend to have 50 to 200 people in them? As:

`Over the course of evolutionary history, humans most likely evolved in small groups containing perhaps fifty to two hundred individuals (Dunbar 1993).’ (Buss 2012, p. 161)

[And, insert – many more Unsolved Problems in the Domain, as identified and/or contributed – by anyone else at all – here, or, anywhere…]

Also, it’s entirely possible, that some of these have been solved…? (And nobody has told me yet.)

– If you know of someone who’s solved any of these Domain Problems, then please Comment below, in the Comments(!)

(As- we all need to know.)

And if you perhaps want to get super-depressed, check out these Surveys I created on Domain Problems in Screenwriting! 

Actually, I’m kidding. It’s not depressing, it’s hugely exciting. Screenwriting – as a Creative Domain – is clearly about 100 years behind Mathematics, as a Domain… (given that Hilbert’s 23 Problems was in 1900 – and it’s now 2016.) There is so much work to be done in the Domain of Screenwriting.

If we work fast, we might even catch up to Maths by the turn of the next century – if the Technological Singularity hasn’t happened by then.

But what is amazing to me is – the Academic field of Screenwriting only formed – as a cohesive Field with a critical mass of around 200 individuals – around the Year 2012. Seriously…!

So – if you perhaps should want to vote on which are the most important Domain Problems in Screenwriting (or suggest some more), see those 2 Surveys:


(3) Identifying Unsolved Domain Problems in Screenwriting (JT Velikovsky) [this survey is quite long]


(4) Key Domain Problems in Film/Screenwriting (JT Velikovsky) [this survey is quite short. But you may just want to add a Domain Problem as a Comment here on this blog page, so that everyone can see it.]

Although – I haven’t gotten Ethics Clearance to do those surveys – so, most likely, I won’t ever be able to post `the results’ anywhere but, here on my blog. This is just a project of personal interest to me. (And possibly the entire Field of Screenwriting / Film, but – who knows. I still think there are some great PhDs waiting to be done, from: This Big List, above.)

So – If you do manage to solve any of these (or – any other major) Domain Problems in Screenwriting, you’ll probably get respected – and maybe even, famous and highly-cited – in academic circles. (If, you like that sort of thing.)

But please also note: Some of these problems aren’t “solvable” in a permanent sense.

For example, all biological individuals have the recurring problems of survival and reproduction, mating, parenting, maintaining kin and social networks, etc. The problems are: eternal. But the good news is, some of the above problems *are* indeed solvable.

Yet each problem-situation can be different.


If it further helps to explain what I mean – here (for example) is a `General’ Problem:

General Problem – “Nobody will finance my film screenplay as a movie” (I understand that, 98% of the screenwriting Field at any given time, has this Problem.)

A more specific (individual) Problem:

Specific Problem – “I am a woman, and nobody will finance my film screenplay” (probably about 49% of the Field, has this problem, since 98% of screenplays go unmade, and probably around half of them are written by women, I’d guess.)

A much-more specific Problem:

Very Specific Problem – “I am a [specific nationality] woman, living in [specific location], and currently nobody will finance my [sci-fi horror-comedy genre] film screenplay, about [2 mud-wrestling zombie-vampires in the Andes who accidentally discover a cure for cancer and bring about world peace and solve global climate change.]

(I would guess that around 0% of the screenwriting Field has, that last very-specific problem. Though, I would probably find that film very intriguing on some level… if it actually managed to attract production finance, and then secured an international theatrical cinema release. ie. That must be some screenplay/story; How on Earth did it ever survive all the stages of the `selection’ process? – On the surface, it sounds like an unlikely premise for a movie. But who can say. The Execution of a story can certainly take an unlikely Conception, a long way.)

Creativity. It's not what you think!

Creativity. It’s not what you think.

– Comments always most welcome.

PS – By way of a random comparison, maybe also see, The 400 Project, in the Domain of Games. Though I would note: those are not Domain Problems; those are `Rules of Thumb’ in Game Design. (So in fact, they are General solutions to Problems). So – I am just guessing (maybe, call it a bold conjecture) but I am also pretty sure, there are over 1,000 Rules of Screenwriting.So – I am going to start a similar List, in Screenwriting, called The 1000 Project. (Wish me luck…)

PPS – Also, very randomly – `Theory of Mind’ in Cognitive Psychology shows that Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With. Strange, but apparently, true.

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/



Boyd, B 2009, On The Origin Of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Boyd, B, Carroll, J & Gottschall, J 2010, Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader, Columbia University Press, New York.

Buss, D. M. (2012). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Butler-Bowdon, T. (2007). 50 Psychology Classics: Who we are, How we think, What we do: Insight and Inspiration from 50 key books. London: Nicholas Brealey.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1988, ‘Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity’, in RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 325–39

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1996, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 1st edn, HarperCollins, New York.

In fact as noted in 50 Psychology Classics (2007):

Studying the creative
At the beginning of Creativity, Csikszentmihalyi provides information on what
he claims was the first systematic study of living creative people, involving
interviews with 91 people considered to have had an outstanding impact on
their domain, whether that was the arts, business, law, government, medicine, or science (the scientists encompassed 14 Nobel Prize winners).

The names included Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher; John Bardeen, physicist; Kenneth Boulding, economist; Margaret Butler, mathematician; Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, astrophysicist; Barry Commoner, biologist; Natalie Davis, historian; Gyorgy Faludy, poet; Nadine Gordimer, writer; Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist; Hazel Henderson, economist; Ellen Lanyon, artist; Ernst Mayr, zoologist; Brenda Milner, psychologist; Ilya Prigogine, chemist; John Reed, banker; Jonas Salk, biologist; Ravi Shankar, musician; Benjamin Spock, pediatrician; and Eva Zeisel, ceramic designer.

It is worth getting Creativity (1996) just to read about these people, some of whom are outright famous and others who are known mainly within their own field. Nearly all the subjects were over 60, allowing Csikszentmihalyi a better chance to survey fully developed careers and elicit insights into the secrets of mature creative success.

(Butler-Bowden, 2007, pp. 69-70)

Csikszentmihalyi, M & Massimini, F 1985, ‘On The Psychological Selection Of Bio-Cultural Information’, New Ideas in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 115-38.

Dawkins, R 1976, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

De Vany, AS 2004, Hollywood Economics: How Extreme Uncertainty Shapes The Film Industry, Contemporary political economy series, Routledge, London ; New York.

Kroeber, AL & Kluckhohn, C 1952, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archæology and Ethnology, Harvard University, v 47, no 1, The Museum, Cambridge, Mass.,.

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

Maras, S 2009, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice, Wallflower Press, London; New York.

McKenzie, J 2012, ‘The Economics of Movies: A Literature Survey’, Journal of Economic Surveys, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 42-70.

Murphy, JJ 2007, Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work, Continuum, New York.

Peer, W van, Hakemulder, J & Zyngier, S 2007, Muses and Measures: Empirical Research Methods for the Humanities, Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle, U.K.

Peer, W v, Hakemulder, J & Zyngier, S 2012, Scientific Methods for the Humanities, Linguistic approaches to Literature, John Benjamins Pub. Co., Amsterdam; Philadelphia.

Popper, KR 1999, All Life is Problem Solving, Routledge, London; New York.

Simonton, DK 2011, Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, New York; Oxford.

Simonton, DK 2004, Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ; New York.

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.

Vogel, HL 2011, Entertainment Industry Economics – A Guide For Financial Analysis, 8th edn, Cambridge University Press, New York.


*For more on this, see: Karl Popper’s All Life Is Problem Solving (1999).


8 thoughts on “StoryAlity #117 – Velikovsky’s 40 Domain Problems in Screenwriting (or: Consilient PhDs We’d Like To See)

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