A Statistical Analysis That Reveals Why Aspiring Screenwriters Fail

Illustration for article titled A Statistical Analysis That Reveals Why Aspiring Screenwriters Fail

The data-crunching fiends over at Five Thirty Eight examined the data from thousands of script evaluations of screenplays by newbie writers, submitted to the Black List of unproduced screenplays. And they found that science fiction and comedies have the worst ratings of all — as well as the reasons why these scripts often crash and burn.


The above chart shows the most common reasons why all amateur screenplays (not just the science fiction ones) are prone to failure. At the same time, since science fiction had the lowest ratings of any broad genre in their analysis, that chart does give some pretty good indications as to why those science fiction screenplays, in particular, are getting low marks.

Given that people who's work is featured in the Black List often go on to become professional Hollywood screenwriters within a few years, the data in Five Thirty Eight's analysis is giving us a glimpse into the next wave of writers. [Update: MadFerris points out that this isn't the same thing as the Black List of the year's best unproduced screenplays, but rather a separate program to which anybody can submit a script and get a review. Sorry for the confusion.]

Five Thirty Eight writes:

First-time writers tend to go one of two ways, said Kate Hagen, a former reader who now oversees the hundred or so readers at The Black List. They write a deeply personal, pseudo-autobiographical screenplay about nothing in particular. "Everybody basically writes that script at first," Hagen said. "You have to get it out of your system." Or they swing for the fences and go in the opposite direction, thinking, "I'm going to write a $200 million science fiction movie," and plan an entire universe and mythology. Those scripts, Hagen said, tend to fail for entirely different reasons.

As it turns out, science-fiction scripts — those for alien invasion films, sci-fi/fantasy comedies and superhero movies — are some of the lowest-performing genres in our data set, and the general category of science fiction and fantasy does worse than the general set in most elements.

Newbie writers don't particularly know how to do science fiction, and it's easy to screw up. (Also common, and easily screwed up: comedy in general.) Science fiction film scripts in this program have the highest "standard deviation," meaning the biggest variation in comedy from terrible to great. Tons more slightly depressing information at the link. [Five Thirty Eight]


This kind of looks like a list of why any movie fails!