Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 11)

This week we continue with part eleven in a twelve part series of JT Velikovsky’s doctoral thesis: “Understanding And Exploring The Relationship Between: Creativity; Theories Of Narratology; Screenwriting; And Narrative Fiction Feature Film-Making Practices.”

By JT Velikovsky

So – arguably, (if not: scientifically and empirically) what is another `pattern’ that can be seen in the Top 20 ROI Films?

Arguably, they’re all utterly-awesome movies:


Seriously! (Have you seen them all? Rush out and get ahold of copies now… Run, don’t walk-!)

Most people see this list, and think: “Wait – They look like a bunch of mindless Hollywood horror slasher movies to me. What could I ever really learn about screenwriting/filmmaking from these schlocky films?”

Irony alert: “mindless Hollywood horror slasher movies..?”

1) These are not at all `mindless’ films. As philosopher (and comedian) Chris Rock once said:

“If only smart people like your sh*t – it ain’t that smart.”(http://www.avclub.com/articles/chris-rock,13903/ )

2) These are not even `Hollywood’films. Only 2 of the 20 are actually Hollywood films: Star Wars and ET (the rest are all independent productions).

3) And – even if there are some `slasher’ films in the list, it’s actually highly likely (understandable) that, you may think of thesefilms as dumb and clichéd- as- you may perhaps actually be thinking of the: (usually: mindless, Hollywood) sequels to them.

But – have you watched `the originals’ in the Top 20 list, lately? Halloween, Friday The 13th, SAW, etc – i.e. Thesuper-viral films that meant: they then went and made lots of sequels..?

In most cases, the sequels to these films are not a patch on the original (Star Wars and Rocky excepted, but – the writer-hyphenates i.e. George Lucas, and Sylvester Stallone stayed creatively involved in all of them, right..?)

So – for what it’s worth (maybe: not much) – here’s my own personal opinion on them…

(i.e. Not that, my personal opinion about these films actually changes anything at all; they were indeed the Top 20 ROI films – so obviously, the International Movie-Going Audience: Loved Them).

As a screenwriter seeking to reach a wide audience with your film story – I believeit pays to watch them over and over – and be reminded, exactly why.

Note though: the Critics didn’t, necessarily regard them as very good..(!)SAW,for example,only scores 46% on Metacritic.

Yet, critical regard – and commercial success – are often very separate. (Spoiler alerts follow, by the way…)

Here are just some reasons I personally find these 20 films to be utterly-amazing works of cinema storytelling:

1) Paranormal Activity – This movie can actually make your hair stand on end. (Given the suspense generated up to that point – the scene where something drags Katie out of bed? – Really scary..!)Also – wonderful chemistry and charisma (and – humour!) between the two leads. And, amazingly: all set in one location – the house.Incredible.

2) Mad Max – one of the most kinetic action-horror films – either of its time, or now. All those low-angle shots of the road, for one thing; and the incredible stunts, for another (and all well before the age of CGI). Also: a deeply satisfying `Revenge’ tale. Though – it isn’t exactly pretty at times. (But – a “bloody revenge”tale can be like that…)

3) The Blair Witch Project – Also, arguably one of the scariest films ever. Given the hype, (and – that I was incredibly-sceptical about it being a `true story’) I found the film as boring as hell, up till about the last 3 minutes.  Yet that last scene made my hair stand on end, and the lingering feeling of dread stayed with me, for several days afterwards… Sometimes, a `great/shocking end twist’ is all it takes, to create an instant classic.

4) El Mariachi – again, incredibly kinetic filmmaking.So much great hand-held camera action. The dream sequences `work’… And the ECU shots, and sped-up sequences all give this film a unique rawness, and texture.

5) Night Of The Living Dead – of its time – it popularized the zombie film genre, which clearly has enormous currency to this day. And – as with the other low-budget films on the list – with a `rawness’ and shock-value power that still works.

6) Rocky – an exhilarating feel-good “underdog triumphs” story. Stallone’s charisma and performance was compared at the time to De Niro and Brando. (His acting salary since has also outweighed theirs…)

7) Halloween – a masterpiece of Hitchcockian suspense. Right from the opening sequence (inspired by Orson Welles’ A Touch Of Evil) we’re gripped… Also – and amazing synergy between the (John Carpenter!) soundtrack/music score, and the images. Also – started a trend in `slasher’horror films – that Scream later parodied. The first – and possibly still, the greatest – of the classic `psycho-sexual serial killer’ films.

8) American Graffiti – Lucas’s first film entry into the top 20 ROI list. A nostalgic cinema love-letter to the American teenage social/dating scene of `cruising in cars’, based loosely on Lucas’s own childhood in rural smalltown Modesto USA; and – a homage to classic popular rock n’ roll, and even the legendary radio DJ Wolfman Jack – who even acts in the film.

Also – without this film,Pulp Fiction would not have happened when it did; Lucas has noted in interviews, that `ensemble cast/character films’ – showing `different characters stories intercut’ were unthinkable at the time,as popular films. Lucas also had a very hard time getting this made, and even once made, the studio had little faith in it.(Irony.)

9) Clerks – a hilariously-perverse cast of comedic characters in a convenience store. Gritty, raw, energetic, anarchic.Arguably, spawned the entire `stoner film’ genre: giving us,among others, the classic characters of: Jay, and Silent Bob.

10) Once – an incredible insight into the world of indie musicians; a tragic love story; an amazing soundtrack (also, won the Oscar, for Best Original Song).

110 Napoleon Dynamite – a hilarious small-town deadpan comedy exploration of filmmaker Jared Hess’ own childhood – and also perhaps one of the best and most ironic `feelgooddance-scene endings’ ever.

12) Open Water – an emotionally-gripping – and devastating – suspense-horror-thriller, the JAWS of the indie film scene. Also, incredibly and tragically – based on a true story.

13) Friday The 13th – incredibly, the result of consciously wanting to emulate the success of horror box-office smash, Halloweenand it worked…(!) Yet also with a brilliant story twist, involving the `real’ killer…

14) SAW – one of the most original and profound `spins’ on a serial-killer character yet – (spoiler) a sadisticterminal cancer victim – who wants his victims to appreciate their own lives all the more.

15) Primer – arguably both the most intelligent – and realistic– time-travel movie ever made, and also,the most accurate and realistic cinematic`character’ portrayal to date of: `scientist/engineer’ characters – and:how scientific discovery actually happens, in the real world.

16) The Evil Dead – arguably still one of the most genuinely terrifying horror films ever made. A kinetic camera and editing style, that still influences the genre even today. Loads of memes – that are still viral, now.

17) ET- The Extra-Terrestrial – a classic `boy and his dog’ (okay, alien) coming-of-age tale with a sci-fi spin that adds awe, wonder and magic to a heart-warming fantasy.

18) The Full Monty – a hilarious and deeply moving tale of `down-and-outers’ who face their own fears, bond – and find short-lived success together.

19) Star Wars – the classic space-opera that redefined both the sci-fi film genre (inspired by 2001, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordonamong others) and with Jawsalso ushered in the era of `blockbusters’, the hero’s journey – and transmedia storytelling – in popular film culture.

20) My Big Fat Greek Wedding – a heart-warming rom-com that crossed cultural lines by using Greek culture as a metaphor for allcross-cultural relationships. At the time – film executives wanted to change all the Greek characters to Italian, as they felt nobody had (successfully) shown Greek culture in a rom-com in this way. Thankfully, Vardalos stuck to her guns.

Anyway –so that’s just `my own personal take’ on the observable `pattern’ that:

i.e. These are all utterly-awesome films.

(None of that, actually `matters’, or affects their empirical ROI.)

Note: So I guess, I’m not a film snob. But – at the same time as loving these super-viral films, I also love films like Tokyo Story, The Conformist, and everything by Stanley Kubrick – arguably the filmmaker with the strongest social conscience ever… (Look at how anti-war Kubrick’s war films are. Anyway don’t get me started on what a God of Cinema Kubrick is – or you’ll be trapped forever, while I rave endlessly about his films.)

So- my advice to any aspiring (or even, working) Screenwriter:

Watch all 20 of these Top 20 ROI films –over and over;

I predict,you’ll see something new – and brilliant – in every one of them, every time you do…


PS – And also – take all of Karel’s screenwriting advice. (It also all applies to all these films!)

Okay – one more post – and then I’m outta here for now.


Next month’s post:

Part 12:

Some weird `film philosophy stuff’: On Holons and holarchies.

(i.e. …Huh?)

– JT Velikovsky


image020JT Velikovsky is a million-selling transmedia writer and consultant (films, games, TV, comix, novels) and produced feature film writer.

His doctoral thesis research on Film/Story/Screenplays of The Top 20 ROI Films can be found here.

Photo Credits: JT Velikovsky

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