Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and twenty-sixth, is of sci-fi satire novelist, screenwriter, games designer, poet and interviewee Joe Velikovsky. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
JT Velikovsky an award-winning produced professional transmedia film, game and television screenwriter with over 20 years of industry experience. He is also: a filmmaker, script editor, million-selling transmedia writer, a judge and script assessor for the national Writers Guild, and a judge for the national Directors Guild.
JT has also been a professional story and script analyst for major film studios (Fox Studios, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, etc.), independent film production companies and government film funding bodies for 15 years. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Film / Screenwriting / Transmedia at the University of Western Sydney.
JT’s credits include the multi-award-winning thriller feature film CAUGHT INSIDE (2010), the million-selling videogame LOONEY TUNES: ACME ARSENAL (2007), over 30 short films and various videogames, and a satirical transmedia novel about videogame culture, A Meaningless Sequence of Arbitrary Symbols (2012), pictured below.
His first book was The Feature Screenwriters Workbook (1995 & 2011), a summary of the 100 most popular texts on film screenwriting. Used as a study-guide in many universities and film schools worldwide, and with an estimated 1 million copies of the Workbook downloaded, it is considered by many as the leading overview of Feature Film Screenwriting Manuals.
JT’s most recent book is The StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual (2013), the result of an ongoing doctoral study of the Top 20 Return-on-Investment Feature Films of all time.
And now from the author himself:
Filmmaking is so enjoyable because it’s so fascinating. In my experience, feature film writing – and filmmaking – is also one of the most rewarding activities that there is. Speaking from experience, there are few more exciting places than to be than on a film set, and watching (or actively involved with) a group of talented creatives (cast and crew) who are engaged in realizing a screen idea / screen story.
And yet – successful screenwriting and filmmaking is also one of the most difficult creative endeavours there is. To clarify, it’s not actually difficult to write a feature film screenplay; anyone who can read (and, write) can: learn all the `rules’ and conventions, and then do it.
But – having completed a screenplay there are then 3 key problems that each and every screenwriter must face:
(1) 98% of screenplays presented to producers, go unmade (Macdonald 2004)
(2) Of those 2% of screenplays actually financed, and then produced, and released as a film: on average, 7 out of every 10 films lose money. (Vogel 2011)
(3) Almost all of the existing books on screenwriting (screenwriting manuals by McKee, Field, Seger, Hauge, Snyder, Vogler, Klick, etc.) do not integrate the proven scientific research (since 1988) on Creativity – namely: What it is, How it works, and, How you can do it better. As a result – sadly – most screenwriters are unaware that they are `feeling their way in the dark’, when it comes to unlocking their own Creativity. (Ask the next 3 people you meet, to `define Creativity’, and: see if their answers match…)
So – in 1995, while studying Screenwriting fulltime at film school – I read over 100 books on screenwriting, including all those by the screenplay `gurus’. I aimed to absorb all the knowledge that I could possibly discover about screenwriting. Fortunately it worked, as 2 years later I had a film screenplay optioned by Robert Watts, the producer of the first 3 Star Wars and Indiana Jones films – and who was at the time (as a result of those 6 films), the most successful film producer in the world. I was then fortunate to enjoy a further 20 years as a professional screenwriter, game designer, director, producer, screenwriting and filmmaking teacher, and various other creative roles.
And yet – over that 20 years of working in film, it became more obvious (to me, and clearly many others) that these `3 key problems’ in the domain of screenwriting have never gone away: So How do new screenwriters `get their start’? – How might anyone make it more likely to get their first feature film produced – when, only 2% of scripts, get made? Most importantly of all – How can they avoid being involved in one of the 7 in 10 films that loses money – which then potentially means that – they may not get to make another film-? (The key point being: You’re “only as good as your last film”, and, all film investors are risk-averse. – If your first film makes money; your next screenplay is easier to finance, as a film. You may even be hired to write on commission.)
So – with these 3 key problems in the domain of Film in mind, after 20 years of working in the field, I decided to go back to university – and do a doctoral research study on the Top 20 Return-On-Investment (RoI) Feature Films. I had been (impatiently) waiting for someone else to do such a study for at least 20 years, but – it hadn’t happened…
So I did the study – examining 30 elements (in: the story, screenplay, film, and the filmmaking process) of the Top 20 RoI Films, and comparing and contrasting those elements to the Bottom 20 RoI Films (or: the `biggest money-losing’ films).
Out of that ongoing doctoral study, I recently published many of the results, in The StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual (2013). Some of the key findings of the research include: (and I should note – the first point below is obvious, and yet – still nobody in the film industry seems to know, which 30 elements of any given Story matter the most. This is also why film studios use `portfolio theory’ and fund a `slate’ of around 10 films at once in the hope that at least one of them will be profitable and cover the costs of all 10 films.)
(1) The only thing that actually matters is: The Story. This is also the main thing that the screenwriter and filmmakers: can actually control. Screenwriters and even Directors can rarely control: all of the other factors involved in a film’s casting, production, marketing, distribution, release, and critical reception. But – having said that the only thing that matters is The Story, there are also certain key elements about the story that are more important – namely, elements that are shared among the top 20 RoI films, and yet – are not in all the Bottom-20 RoI Films (i.e. the biggest money-losing films.)
(2) Most films have to make over 3 times their production budget, just to actually “break even”. i.e. – Before they even go into profit(!). This, at first, may seem odd; doesn’t a film made for $1m just have to make $1m back, to `break even’..? Unfortunately: No. The reason is – usually – around the same amount is spent on advertising a film, as is spent on production. So: a $1m film usually, automatically, costs $2m. Then when you add in other costs (e.g. distribution) and interest, it ends up at around 300% RoI before the film actually breaks even. Also – the studio / distributor usually takes around 55% of the box office. The logical result of all this? The lower the production budget – the more likely the film might make back its budget and make a profit. Write your screenplay to be inexpensive to produce, as a film. Notably, Drama is also the riskiest genre; Horror is the least risky, and Sci-Fi and Comedy are equiprobable as the next `most-likely to go viral’.
(3) Marketing actually has no effect on the virality (the RoI) of a film. As De Vany (Hollywood Economics, 2004) found, you can spend millions on advertising a film, yet – if the Story itself is not viral to begin with, then the film itself will not then go viral in the culture.
(4) Casting `stars’ actually usually makes a movie lose money. This also comes out of De Vany’s research, in the excellent book, Hollywood Economics (2004).
There are also, other equally counter-intuitive findings, many of which are contained in the StoryAlity Manual. The aim of the book then is, to provide screenwriters with some key guidelines that should make it easier to get their film story idea produced, and should also increase the probability of the resulting film going viral. And if the film itself goes viral in the culture, (due to word-of-mouth), then: it will become a high-RoI film.
But what about Creativity itself? Surprisingly – to quote the creativity expert Dr Phillip McIntyre (2012) – “Creativity is not what most people think it is.” (http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Cultural-Production-Issues-Practice/dp/0230272282)
In the course of the doctoral study on film viral success, since films are a `creative art’, I needed to research Creativity deeply: How exactly did the top 20 RoI Filmmakers actually “do” their own creativity? Why were those 20 films so creative, and therefore so successful?
As a result, I studied various key works on Creativity. I also found that there are in fact, many books on Creativity – and yet most of them are actually: empirically wrong. Yet there are a select few that – I believe – are a great help to all screenwriters, filmmakers – and indeed, anyone in the film industry who may be interested to know: How all film creativity actually works, in practice. Some of those key Creativity books include:
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1996) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Flow-Psychology-Discovery-Invention/dp/0060928204)
Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (2011) by Dean Keith Simonton (http://www.amazon.com/Great-Flicks-Scientific-Creativity-Aesthetics/dp/B00AZ8XAMC)
The Screenplay Business: Managing Creativity and Script Development in the Film Industry (2013) by Peter Bloore (http://www.amazon.com/Screenplay-Business-Managing-Creativity-Development/dp/0415613337)
The last book here (by Bloore) is perhaps the most remarkable: it integrates the existing, proven Creativity research, by the above two researchers (Csikszentmihalyi and Simonton, among others). Bloore’s book also represents a true paradigm change in screenwriting and filmmaking – whereby, Creativity (and – How it really works) is integrated into the process of screenwriting – and, into `film development’ in general.
I would strongly commend all these three books above to any screenwriter, whether they be aspiring – or even experienced – given how competitive the actual film screenwriting field, is. (i.e.: Since 2% of film projects compete for limited production resources – i.e. film funding!)
At any rate, if you happen to read it, I hope that you enjoy the StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual – and, that it helps you realize all your goals as a screenwriter, and / or filmmaker. And if it is of further interest, I have blogged about many key aspects of the StoryAlity research, at: http://StoryAlity.wordpress.com.
You can find more about Joe and his writing via…
- The StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual (2013): http://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/Storyality-67-the-Storyality-Screenwriting-Manual-out-now-on-Kindle.
- JT Velikovsky’s Transmedia Writing Blog: http://on-writering.blogspot.com.
- JT’s Academia.edu site: http://uws.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky. (This Academia.edu link also includes the free PDF of JT’s: The Screenwriter’s Workbook, 2011)
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, various short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post a spotlight or interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. If there’s anything you’d like to take part in, take a look at Opportunities on this blog.
I welcome items for critique directly (see Editing & Critique) or for posting on the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.