Why Is Movie Screenwriting So Tricky?

(I got the idea for that Title, from this great article:  Why Are Good Writers So Rare? (Dunbar 2005) (…Good writers borrow, great ones steal, yadda-yadda, yoda-yoda – LOL)


(Almost as rare as unicorns.)

– As it happens I also cited (Dunbar 2005) in my 2017 PhD thesis on Movie RoI..!

Okay – and so here’s some random facts… (you don’t have to like them… I certainly don’t!)

Humans are information-processors.

Thinker 2

(See: the computer, inside your head ! )


98% of screenplays presented to producers – go unmade

Up in smoke

and of the 2% of scripts that actually do get made, into movies:

7 out of 10 movies lose money!


…How will you solve that problem…?

The “Less-Than-1%” Problem – in Screenplays and in Movies (Velikovsky PhD 2017)

…Anyway, read my PhD if you want to solve both of those problems, at once.

(It’s a free PDF ! )

Hope it helps you !

(I’m also a volunteer firefighter too. Your friendly-helpful-neighbourhood-hero typa-guy, etc.)

Namely –

Just, DO, what the 1% (who succeed) DO…!!!

e.g. …Write a great screenplay –

and then – have it make, over 71 x times its budget, as a Movie. 

(Like: the top 20 RoI movies all did ! )

Hey here comes my PhD thesis. All free, and stuff.

…Information wants to be free.

(Though a lot of it isn’t, for various complex reasons. See copyright, and also, copyleft.)

CCCC title page

And, also – since I also have a new chapter, in The Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology (2017)…


Here’s also, another reason why: Writing (good) screenplays is so tricky.

They (movie screenplays) actually have quite a lot of information in them…

Here’s an example (a page from, one of mine…)

A film screenplay is sort of like, a recipe for a cake. But – the chef can still burn – or even undercook – the cake.

This is why the scientific study of Creativity is also important, in examining movie success and (epic) failure.

e.g.: How did all of the top 20 RoI movie writers/directors/producers/cast and crew, all do, what they did? Make the highest-RoI movies, ever? This becomes important when you think about Communication, and the Information [the story, the plot, characters, themes, etc]…

As a creative, You want your information [your, movie – your UNIT OF CULTURE that you are creating and which contains the story – kinda like a Trojan Horse] to become a viral meme.) …What’s not to like about: that? In fact – that’s why we do it, right?


Screenplay page

…and – so, all the information in the screenplay (the “recipe” for the movie) has to be: right.

And also: has to be, not-wrong.

(Which, two things, are NOT, ACTUALLY, quite the same thing…!! )

If this seems odd, please also see the Anna Karenina Principle in movie-RoI.

And – if you haven’t read my PhD, then perhaps see, just some of the key, high-RoI movie characteristics, right here, on this very PhD-blog:

  1. StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist
  2. StoryAlity #54 – StoryAlity Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI Films

And – now also, check out, this pretty-neat, Information Comparison:

(…Did somebody mention: Information Science…? 🙂

Information object How many bytes ?
A binary decision (0 or 1; On or Off) 1 bit
A single text-character 1 byte (8 bits)
A typical text word (5 letters) 5 bytes
A typewritten page 1.5 kilobytes (KBs)
A low-resolution photograph 500 kilobytes
A novella (30,000 words x 5 bytes each) 150 kilobytes (300kB)
Average screenplay (20,000 words x 5b ea) 100 kilobytes (100kB)
A high-resolution photograph 2 megabytes (or even, 60 MB, depending)
The complete works of Shakespeare (884,647 words x 5 bytes each) 4.43 megabytes
A minute of high-fidelity sound 10 megabytes
Contents of the human genome About 1.6 GB (i.e., 6 x10^9 bits)
The contents of a Blu-Ray disk

The contents of a CD-ROM disk

47 GB

737 megabytes

The contents of a DVD disk 4.7 gigabytes
The books in the Library of Congress 10 terabytes
And… a Movie = about, 2 GigaBytes of information, per hour...
(on average…)
For, the viewer (…the audience).
…it depends on: the exact movie –
and on exactly what happens, onscreen
and also, on the soundtrack!
So – there are around about, 3 GB (gigabytes) of info – in a movie ….(!)
(…that is, actually quite a lot of information for a human to process! And… we all – usually – tend to take it for granted. – After all, we’ve all seen movies (on TV, digital devices, etc), ever since we were a kid… right? We’re saturated in information.)
Can you guess how much information (data) is in a movie trailer?
…so, anyway, 3 gig of data… That’s a whole lot of information, to get: right.
(As a screenwriter, story dev exec, a script doctor, a producer, a director, etc.)
Also a quote from Life 3.0 (Tegmark 2017):

“So far, the smallest memory device known to be evolved and used in the wild is the genome of the bacterium Candidatus Carsonella ruddii, storing about 40 kilobytes, whereas our human DNA stores about 1.6 gigabytes, comparable to a downloaded movie.

As mentioned in the last chapter, our brains store much more information than our genes: in the ballpark of 10 gigabytes electrically (specifying which of your 100 billion neurons are firing at any one time) and 100 terabytes chemically / biologically (specifying how strongly different neurons are linked by synapses).”

(Tegmark 2017, pp. 59-60)

By the way – you only need about 2 gigabytes, to specify a person’s DNA (Tegmark 2017 p 225). But a movie is about 3 gB. So in a way, a movie is more complex than a person. Yikes.
So anyway – the key takeaways, for this post:
Movies (as in: Cinema) are: a complex cultural domain.
And, so is human nature… (…it’s actually, a complex system!)
So… a question:
How are you going to compete?
…Information Science is: incredibly useful…!
(Much better than guesswork, intuition, and superstition. Science wins, hands down.)
Also, robots are much much smarter, and quicker, than: we (puny) humans are.
And, Big Data (and computer-algorithms) now make way better decisions,
than any human can…
(This info wants to be FREE!!!)
See – just as one example of Big Data doing a better job than humans can: Epagogix
And see also this great (2017) article in New Scientist about AlphaGo
And now – if you really want to be up-to-date – go ahead and read, my PhD thesis.!
(And I suggest, especially, if you are also in: the movie business!
In fact… maybe, You actually can’t afford not to know, all this…?
As: Information is power.)
It goes: Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom.
Hierarchy of Info
Here also is some wisdom from the PhD… (a side note: I also have spent over 20 years in the screen industries, as a story analyst and as a successful creative… in movies, TV, games, etc!)

A 15-min Summary-PPT of the PhD study on Movie RoI: Story, Screenplay, Movie
And – thus, another reason screenwriting is tricky, is – you’re also competing with robots, that are smarter and faster than any human…(!)
Like, say – this one that I made recently:
…Anyway, all some good “food for thought” !
And – hope the PhD helps understand: Why.
Like: Why some movies succeed, and why seven in every ten of them, don’t.
Also another issue is this: the way units of culture emerge in different forms.
FRBR Model - Work Expression Item etc
The above diagram is from the great book:
Bawden, D & Robinson, L (2012), Introduction to Information Science, Facet Publishing, London.
i.e., The key issue there (for a movie, at any rate) is, if there’s lots of money involved in making the movie, then probably a corporate body is involved, so, you’ll be doing Group Creativity in getting that movie story onscreen.
But – that also means, there’s more variables to go wrong
Unless you also produce and direct it too; and have complete creative control, like Kubrick used to do.
So, in short, it’s tricky.
Bawden & Robinson (2012) also includes a great diagram, summarizing Hjørland, (2002) on Eleven aspects of domain analysis, from Domain analysis in information science: Eleven approaches – traditional as well as innovative (Hjørland 2002). That also gets complex.
Aspects of Domain Analysis
~ Comments and feedback, always welcome.
Side Note: As a result of the Ph.D, I also now do: High-RoI Movie Consulting.
(If you’re a PhD, you are the world expert in: that specific topic. …e.g. …Movie RoI)

JT Velikovsky, PhD – High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie & Transmedia Researcher

& Human & Computer Creativity Researcher

& Evolutionary Systems Analyst

See the research in my 2017 doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is reproduced here for the benefit of fellow bio-cultural scholars, and screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see also https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is a million-selling Transmedia writer-director-producer and game designer & writer. He has also been a professional Story Analyst for major movie studios, film funding organizations, and also for the national writer’s guild. He is also a judge for the writers guild and the director’s guild. 

For more, see also the Transmedia-Writing weblog: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


See: How Many Bytes For…? and Stanford Maths – Information Comparisons

Bawden, D & Robinson, L (2012), Introduction to Information Science, Facet Publishing, London.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2017). `Chapter 405: The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or, The Unit Of Culture’, in: The Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth EditionM. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.) (pp. 4666-4678). New York: IGI Global.



5 thoughts on “StoryAlity#148 – Why’s movie screenwriting so tricky?

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity#150 – Key Findings from the StoryAlity PhD on High-RoI Movies | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #153 – Film Production Courses vs. (so-called) `Film Theory’ | StoryAlity

  3. Pingback: StoryAlity#165 – The HOLON/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of (bio)-culture – (book chapters) | StoryAlity

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