Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 9)

This week we continue with part nine 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 here is the list, again:



And –maybe the first thing we notice about the Top 20 ROI Films is that – they occur (actually, they: emerge – from the feature film system) almost exactly every 2 years on average, and – with a remarkable regularity:




Note the `10-year gap’ – in 1983-93… This era was dominated by `big-budget blockbusters’, that didn’t necessarily make a high ROI, due to their very high production budgets.

But, note also – the remarkable `the market correction’ of four Top-20-ROI films emerging all at once, in 2004 in the graph: when digital filmmaking (i.e. digital cameras, and editing equipment) became widely affordable…

(The four 2004 films were: Primer, Open Water, SAW and Napoleon Dynamite.)

Also – The Devil Inside (2012) was the film that proved the `frequency’ prediction correct… All very clear evidence of a system in operation.

i.e. Such as:


The film industry – viewed as: the systems model of creativity

And – if you also want to see this system as a real-time online computer model in action, go here.


Creative Practice Theory Narratology:
the agent-based model online computer simulation
Source: the author (Velikovsky 2012)


What About: Genre Patterns?

Genre patterns in The Top 20 ROI Films are as follows:



Note that `DRAMA’ -as a genre – is absent from the Top 20 ROI Films list…

Dramas are – arguably – the least-commercial genre, as almost a third of the bottom 20 ROI films are in the Drama genre.

Dramas usually win most of the Oscars, because – in fact – they are the hardest thing to do, well.

See: Best Picture Oscars list, at Box Office Mojo.



So – Does this all mean that `Horror’ is the only Genre that you should write, if you want a high ROI (ie high audience-reach, compared to production-budget) film?

Not at all… In theory – any Genre could work just as well as a high-ROI film, but given the evidence: Drama would arguably be – the most difficult/least probable to succeed.

Horror is already well-known to be highly commercial – but by no means is the only Genre in the list… Rom-coms, musicals, sci-fi and other genres all can clearly go extremely viral.

The Bottom 20 ROI Films



Patterns In the Bottom-20-ROI Films

`Bottom 20 ROI Films’ emerge much more frequently (one every 6 months, on average):



This finding fits with the prevailing situation where 7 in 10 films lose money:



And – has been the case – for at least 20 years… (see: Entertainment Industry Economics, Harold L Vogel, 1988-2011)

This is also remarkable when we consider that: 98% of screenplays go unmade



So returning to a key point, from Post #1 of `Writing The High ROI Film’:

How do you get your spec screenplay into `the pile’ of:

The 2% that actually get made?

And then:

Is there anything we could arguably do in the screenplay – to try and ensure,

thefilm / story goes viral?

Yes, we could look at the patterns common to the stories/films in the Top 20 ROI.

Noting also that – these 20 films have an average budget of $1.9 million: and, a lower-budget screenplay always has a greater chance of being financed/made.

So – If I had any `general screenwriting advice’, it would be: always be writing 2 screenplays (or – write them alternately):

1) One `expensive’ one – i.e. where `money is no object’…

2) One screenplay that is very low-budget, and `realistic’.

The low-budget one will be more likely to get made, enabling you to perhaps then present the high(er) budget one, once you have: `a run on the board’…)


Next month’s post:

Part 10: `Story Patterns’ In the Top 20 ROI Films/Screenplays.

– 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

2 thoughts on “Writing the High ROI Screenplay (Part 9)”

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