We Analyzed Over 12,000 Screenplays. Here’s What We Found.

By January 29, 2019Blog, Featured

As featured in IndieWire, we partnered with industry analyst Stephen Follows to analyze data from over 12,000 feature film screenplays together with their evaluations by our professional script readers to uncover some interesting observations. The screenplays that we analyzed are an interesting mix of professional and amateur. Some of the scripts are already produced and winning awards as feature films. Some of the scripts are written by first-time amateurs.

All of these scripts were submitted to ScreenCraft over the past few years and received evaluations by our professional readers, all of whom have at least 2 years of industry experience reading for major studios and production companies. Thanks to Coverfly, our tech partner, we were able to organize the data and find some fascinating correlations across such categories as gender, genre, vocabulary, and even screenwriting software.

Stephen Follows and his talented team of data scientists, with the help of the ScreenCraft team, spent nearly a year combing through over 12,000 screenplays and their corresponding evaluation data, building algorithms and teasing out the most interesting correlations. This was a labor of love fueled by all of our curiosity about what makes a reader like a script. Nobody was paid nor received compensation for this study.

Questions we had:

  • What matters most to script readers?
  • Do readers respond better to scripts that are full of positive and happy language, or to scripts that use sad and/or negative language?
  • Does profanity matter? Does the amount of swearing affect how a reader responds to the story?
  • Is voiceover good or bad?

The full 65-page report is free to download at StephenFollows.com. Below is an excerpt from the report.

What we found:

1. Know thy genre. Your priorities should rest on the particular nature of your chosen genre. For example, Family films place the highest premium on catharsis, while for Action films it’s plot.

2. Some stories work better than others. The vast majority of scripts can be summarized using just six basic emotional plot arcs – and some perform better than others.

3. If you’re happy and you know it, rewrite your script. Film is about conflict and drama and for almost all genres, the happier the scripts were, the worse they performed. The one notable exception was comedy, where the reverse is true.

4. Swearing is big and it is clever. There is a positive correlation between the level of swearing in a script and how well it scored, for all but the sweariest screenplays.

5. It’s not about length, it’s what you do with it. The exact length doesn’t matter too much, so long as your script is between 90 and 130 pages. Outside of those approximate boundaries scores drop precipitously.

6. Don’t rush your script for a competition. The closer to the deadline a script was finished, the worse it performed.

7. Use flashbacks responsibly. Scripts with more than fifteen flashbacks perform worse than those with few to no flashbacks.

8. VO is A-OK. Some in the industry believe that frequent use of voiceover is an indicator of a bad movie, however we found no such correlation. We suggest that any complaints on the topic should be sent to editors, rather than writers.

9. Don’t worry if you’re underrepresented within your genre – it’s your superpower. Female writers outperform male writers in male-dominated genres (such as Action) and the reverse is true in female-dominated genres (such as Family).

There’s tons more in the report, so if you’re interested, we highly recommending diving into it! Some of our discoveries are simply “oh that’s interesting” observations. And some of the discoveries actually go against conventional wisdom.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this report – and if you have any comments, we’d love to hear from you on Facebook and Twitter.  And be sure to follow Stephen Follows on Twitter too!