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 1 bit
A single text-character 1 byte
A typical text word 10 bytes
A typewritten page 2 kilobytes (KBs)
A low-resolution photograph 100 kilobytes
A short novel 1 megabyte (MB)
Average screenplay 1 megabyte
A high-resolution photograph 2 megabytes
The complete works of Shakespeare 5 megabytes
A minute of high-fidelity sound 10 megabytes
One meter (or close to a yard) of shelved books 100 megabytes
The contents of a CD-ROM 500 megabytes
A pickup truck, filled with books 1 gigabyte (GB)
The contents of a DVD 4.7 gigabytes
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.)
So – 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.
~ 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

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.



3 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

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