Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 5)

This week we continue with part five 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 I’d like to continue this series of guest posts for The Story Department with a reference to something that really struck me as stunningly and mind-splitting, profoundly-true– when I first read Dancyger & Rush’s ) Alternative Scriptwriting (2013).

(Ironically – I’m not specifically recommending that particular Screenwriting Manual over all of the 2500+ that currently exist…- It’s great, but – you sort of need to just read them all.)

And, if I knew of a shortcut around all that – then I would suggest it…

But (as I mentioned before) if you’re a screenwriter – as Creatology/Creativity expert Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and others have repeatedly found – you sort of need to spend about 10 years, absorbing/internalizing the domain of Screenwriting.

And even: Filmmaking. i.e. Read as many film and screenwriting books, as you possibly can. Write as many scripts as you can.

(Practise, practise and then, practise, some more.)

But – one point from that Dancyger and Rush book I’d raise is: about the inescapability of irony, for screenwriters.

Sooner or later – as a screenwriter – either: the Irony of Everything In Life hits you – or, if not, then – you start looking for the irony in everything, anyway.

(It’s gotta be in there, right..?)

One film where examples of irony leap out everywhere, is the film American Beauty:

I can’t actually think of anything to say about this picture. My mind is a blank.
American Beauty© 1999 Dreamworks Pictures.
Written by Alan Ball.

… Almost everything- and every character – in that film is deeply ironic, right?

*Multiple Spoilers Alert: Re: American Beauty (1999) *

1) The alluring `worldly’ girl that everyone assumes to be a sex goddess is- in fact: a virgin. Irony.

2) Lester Burnham – the man that we assume is going to be murdered by Ricky Fitts (see opening voice-over) is killed in another way, entirely. (Neatly-avoided spoiler there.)

3) The `happy’American wife – with the rose garden, the white-picket-fence, and The Suburban American Dream is: deeply unfulfilled. Again with the irony.

4) The super-macho badass-tough military by-the-rules `Structure and discipline!” guy is actually gay. More irony.

5) Ricky Fitts, a drug dealer, is oddly: a man of integrity in many ways. Ironic.

6) A rose (like the `American Beauty’ species) is beautiful – but also: has thorns.

I could go on –but, I am sure you get the idea…

So – I’m going to say other stuff in this post, and then: point out the irony.

Also – Some Other Backstory Stuff About Me:

So, I’m a produced feature screenwriter, a High-ROI-Film Story/Screenplay Consultant – and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had 10 feature screenplays either optioned, sold, or made. – I’m not boasting; quite the opposite…

Ironically – Given the amount of feature film screenplays I’ve actually written (over 30) – my track record/`hit rate’ with spec screenplays is kinda: the opposite of impressive.

But – it’s also very typical: 98% of screenplays written go unmade…(!)


So – in my view, Possibly The Biggest QuestionFor a Spec Screenwriter is: How exactly do you actually manage to get your screenplay out of the `98% Unmade’ script pile – and over there,into the `2% That Get Made Into Movies’ pile?

(Getting a screenplay optioned is great; sold, even better; but made is actually `the goal’, right?)

Well, some more backstory – before I try and answer that `Big Question’ – in the 15 years I’ve been writing feature screenplays (and, as I say, I’ve written over 30 – and just on that – I kind of think there is something wrong with me…) I’ve learned a few things that aren’t really taught, or even mentioned very often (if at all) in most of `the 2500 screenwriting manuals’.

I know this, since, as a research project –one year, (1995) I once read over 100 screenwriting books – and I summarized each of them, into one page.

The PDF of that Screenwriting Literature Survey I did at film school is here, and, is actually free.


So – If you ever decide to sit down, and read 100 screenwriting manuals in a year, then: I can relate, (and also – I feel your pain. I mean – Why would any ever do something like that?)

Well, the answer, in my own case is:

I wanted to try and get all the knowledge ever written on screenwriting that I could find, into my head (at the time, there were only around 100 Screenwriting books, and it has since grown to become over 2500…) – and then,maybe see if, my head would maybe do something interesting – like – inflate, and allow me to levitate or something. (It didn’t work, but I still feel it was worth it, just to see.)

(Everyone secretly wants to be able to fly, right? Seriously. Deep down, I mean.)

Anyway – once I had the knowledge from those 100 books `inside my mind’ – a whole bunch of odd things emerged for me.

Some parts of the knowledge in the screenwriting domain didn’t quite add up.

And also – some deeply interesting patterns emerged…

Next month’s post:

Part 6: `I’ll explain what they were.’

– 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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