Artistic and Creative `Problem-Situations’ for Screenwriters and Filmmakers: Career Sustainability

So, 98% of screenplays presented to producers go unmade (Macdonald 2004, 2013).

And, only 30% of movies made, break even (Vogel 2011, De Vany 2004).

This is: The Less Than 1% Problem in Movies (and in Movie Screenwriting).

So, the professional creative domain of cinema is highly competitive, for both creatives – and for their works.

So, Fellini pretty much nailed it, in: (1963).

8½ (Fellini et al, 1963)

8½ (Fellini et al, 1963)

Do you have a good box office record? (Fellini 1963)

“Do you have a good box office record?” (Fellini 1963)

Losing money is part of a producers job (Fellini 1963)

“Losing money is part of a producer’s job…” (Fellini 1963)

A bad film is simply a money problem for him... (Fellini 1963)

“A bad film is simply a money problem for him…” (Fellini 1963)

But for you it could have been the end (Fellini 1963)

“But for you – it could have been The End” (Fellini 1963)

In Sociology of the Arts: Exploring Fine and Popular Forms, Alexander (2003) surveys prior studies of careers in Hollywood and also the British film industry, stating:

‘The riskiness, high stakes and uncertainty in the film industry set the stage for careers there, epitomized by the industry saying “you’re only as good as your last credit”

The risky nature of film careers is heightened by competition.

As Faulkner and Anderson put it, there are “armies” of talented people who hope to break into the industry. These include not just actors, but screenwriters, composers, directors, and people working in such technical occupations as photography, sound, lighting and computers to name a few…

Thus, any type of failure on the part of individuals can be catastrophic for their personal careers, as there are many people waiting in the wings to take their place

Thus, the industry works on a model of cumulative advantage in which the rich, as it were, get richer… Failures, however, are treated harshly, and a single failure can end the careers of those seen as responsible. The majority of producers and directors, for instance, make only one film in their lives (Faulkner and Anderson, p. 894-5).

As Faulkner and Anderson put it, “money `seeks’ money and avoids low earners in this system of contracting… Performance `seeks’ performance. Those with low performance revenues appear to be avoided (or passed over) by those with high cumulative earnings.” (p. 901).

(Alexander 2003, pp. 153-4 – bold emphasis mine)

Noting David Bordwell (1997, 2008), Brian Boyd (2009, 2010) and Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels (1976) on creative `problem situations’, one key problem-situation for both screenwriters and filmmakers is, therefore, career sustainability.

The general research problem under investigation might be reformulated, thus:

How might one aim to conceive, write and make – and, thus, co-create – a movie that may have a greater probability of succeeding in reaching its intended audience?

This line of enquiry inevitably and inescapably reverts to the question:

`Why do some movies succeed, while others fail?’

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/




Alexander, V 2003, Sociology of the Arts: Exploring Fine and Popular Forms, Blackwell, Malden, MA.

Bordwell, D 1997, On the History of Film Style, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

—— 2008, Poetics of Cinema, Routledge, New York.

—— 2011, Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?, http://www.davidbordwell.net/, viewed 27th February 2014, <http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/commonsense.php#_edn23>.

—— 2012, The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film, http://www.davidbordwell.net/, viewed 27th February 2014, <http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/viewersshare.php>.

Bordwell, D & Carroll, N 1996, Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, Wisconsin studies in film, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

See: Boyd’s chapter on `The Narrative Corpse’ in – Boyd, B, Carroll, J & Gottschall, J 2010, Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader, Columbia University Press, New York.

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

Csikszentmihalyi, M & Getzels, JW 1976, The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in Art, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

De Vany, A. S. (2004). Hollywood Economics: How Extreme Uncertainty Shapes The Film Industry. London ; New York: Routledge.

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

Macdonald, I. W. (2013). Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Popper, K, 1999, All Life is Problem Solving, Routledge, London; 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 the references above, see: StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities



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