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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Previous Issues > Writing in Practice - Vol. 2 > The Academic Screenplay: Approaching Screenwriting as a Research Practice
The Academic Screenplay: Approaching Screenwriting as a Research Practice
Author: Craig Batty and Alec McAulay
Craig Batty and Alec McAulay explore the implications of writing a screenplay as part of a creative practice research degree, from the perspective of both a candidate and a supervisor.


Screenwriting is an emerging research practice within the academy, whereby the act of writing a screenplay is understood as a form of research. The resulting "academic screenplay" or associated screenplay work functions as both a method of research enquiry and also a research artefact, valuing screenwriting as a way to generate and disseminate new knowledge and – crucially – new ways of practising.

In this article we explore the implications of writing a screenplay as part of a creative practice research degree, from the perspective both of a candidate and a supervisor. We do this by discussing an approach to a PhD currently being undertaken in an international context: it is registered and primarily supervised in the UK; the candidate is conducting research in Japan; and it is remotely supervised in Australia. In this PhD, the candidate is writing a romantic comedy screenplay that is in dialogue with notions of transnational cinema and orientalist representations, and is exploring his own sense of self with regard to authorship and creative practice.

By providing a commentary on this emerging site of knowledge production, the article contributes to the increasing scholarship on screenwriting as a research practice and the "academic screenplay". It also contributes to the wider disciplines of creative writing and screen production through its considerations of how research incubation influences and changes the work of a practitioner. Furthermore, with its collaborative and reflective voice of candidate and supervisor, it also contributes to ongoing debates about the purpose and nature of research degree supervision in the creative and professional arts.


Keywords: screenwriting, screenplay, creative practice research, research degree supervision, romantic comedy, transnational cinema



As noted by Baker et al. (2015), screenwriting is an emerging research practice within the academy. This is to say, that the act of writing a screenplay is increasingly valued as a form of research, one in which the screenplay functions as both a method of research enquiry and also a research artefact. Through practice-led research (e.g. Nelson 2013) or research-led practice (e.g. Smith and Dean 2009), screenwriting becomes a way of generating and disseminating new knowledge; and, crucially, a way of generating new ways of practising, usually evidenced by reflections on the process of writing the screenplay and/or by the screenplay itself. Reflective practice enables research to become explicit and communicable to an audience outside of the practitioner’s own domain (i.e. the self). Where a screenplay embodies or "performs" research (see Haseman 2006), research and knowledge may be implicit, and so what becomes a significant issue for the academy is how that knowledge can be explicated for a wider community of scholars and/or practitioners (see Gibson 2010).

Note that with this distinction regarding where new knowledge is located, we seem to be suggesting that it can be in the reflection and not necessarily in the screenplay. Although some might argue that this should not be the outcome of creative practice research – that the critical work describes the research found within the creative work, and therefore the creative work is the research – this is not always the case. From our combined experiences of undertaking, supervising and examining PhDs, the conditions of creative practice research often fall into two categories. Firstly, there are those who use the research environment to better understand their practice, and explicate what they know tacitly about the work they create. Secondly, there are those who undertake research to generate new ideas and concepts that either change the way in which they practise (process), or that change the fabric of their practice (content). Although not mutually exclusive, we see these as having different agendas and different methodologies, and it is for this reason that Smith and Dean’s (2009) book, Practice-led research, research-led practice in the creative arts, becomes a vital addition to this discourse. In short, their book asks: where does the research begin? For us, when does a screenplay become a research screenplay? When is the quest for knowledge declared? When practice is given a critical frame, does the giving of the critical frame itself become the start of the research journey? In this way, is it always research-led practice?

Such debates are beyond the scope and purpose of this paper, though they underpin a key point we wish to make: that screenwriting as a research practice – however it may be methodologically framed – is becoming increasingly visible within the academy, and in many ways provides a useful bridge between the relatively more established research discipline of creative writing, and the emerging research discipline of screen production (see Kerrigan and Batty 2015). For our purposes here, we identify screenwriting as research in the following way:

a practice in which the screenwriter makes use of the intellectual space offered by the academy and those within it to incubate and experiment with ideas, with the intention that their processes or their screenplays – or both – change as a result.[i]

In this article we explore the implications of writing a screenplay as part of a creative practice research degree, from the perspective both of a candidate and a supervisor. We do this by discussing an approach to a PhD currently being undertaken in an international context, whereby it is registered and primarily supervised in the UK, is being researched by the candidate in Japan, and is remotely supervised in Australia. In this PhD, the candidate is writing a romantic comedy screenplay that is in dialogue with notions of transnational cinema and orientalist representations, and is exploring his own sense of self with regard to authorship and creative practice.[ii]

By providing a commentary on this emerging and oftentimes contentious site of knowledge production, one which Paltridge et al. state is “beset by institutional vagueness” (2011: 246), this article contributes to the increasing scholarship on screenwriting as a research practice and the "academic screenplay". It also contributes to the wider disciplines of creative writing and screen production through its considerations of how research incubation influences and changes the work of the practitioner. Furthermore, with its collaborative and reflective voice of candidate and supervisor, it contributes to ongoing debates about the purpose and nature of research degree supervision in the creative and professional arts.


Screenwriting as a Research Practice

Let us begin by offering a brief overview of the academic landscape within which screenwriting as a research practice sits. Firstly, there are a growing number of research degree candidates undertaking projects by screenwriting practice internationally, for Masters by Research and Doctorates. Historically, many of these research degrees have been completed in Australia, namely at institutions in the Australian Technology Network of universities such as Queensland University of Technology, RMIT University and University of Technology Sydney.[iii] A recent survey of the National Library of Australia’s thesis archive, through its Trove facility (Trove n.d.), reveals there are approximately 30 screenwriting practice research degree completions in Australia, dating back to 1996 for what can be seen as the first Masters by Research at the University of Western Sydney (Finnane 1996), and to 2003 for the first Doctorate at Queensland University of Technology (Armanno 2003). The majority of the subsequent completions are at the Masters level, but with a noticeable rise in Doctoral completions since 2009.

These Australian figures represent a large proportion of the number of international completions, which although at the time of writing are not precise figures – and there are screenwriting research degrees under examination as we write – amount to fewer than 50. For example, from the information we have to draw from, the UK has fewer than 12 completions, with Germany, South Africa and the USA having one known completion each.[iv] There are, however, many candidates currently undertaking research degrees by screenwriting practice, and at the time of writing we know there to be at least ten in Australia and five in the UK.

The screenwriting practice research degree has historically included the writing of an original or adapted feature film alongside a critical thesis/dissertation, but in more recent times has expanded to include television series, cross-platform fiction, script portfolios, and fictocritical work that interweaves screenplay, prototype film and reflections on the creative process. Candidates undertake screenwriting research degrees for a variety of reasons, not least to work in a supported space that enables their practice to take place. Considering current literature in the fields of screenwriting, creative writing and screen production, and the various papers presented at conferences organized through the Screenwriting Research Network, National Association of Writers in Education, Australasian Association of Writing and Writing Programs and the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association, we posit in a crude but useful way three types of candidate.

First, there are those who are seasoned or emerging industry practitioners making forays into the academy to enhance their screenwriting for professional development reasons, which might include frustrations with industry and/or their own practice methodologies. Second, there are those who start from a firmer foothold in the academy, as researchers in the conventional sense who wish to conduct screenwriting as a form of research fieldwork to better understand what it is they teach or wish to teach. A third type is a kind of hybrid, now common in creative writing and screen production departments: the commercially published or produced practitioner who teaches from experience and undertakes a research degree to complement that experience with theoretical knowledge.

In our case, the candidate would describe himself as belonging to the third category. He has written three award-winning short films, two of which he directed. He is a partner in a Tokyo-based independent production company that has four internationally released feature films in its catalogue, and is currently developing a slate of projects, many of which are transnational in nature. In addition, he teaches screenwriting at tertiary level to undergraduates in Japan, and has advised on screenplay issues with UniJapan. He has chosen to develop his romantic comedy project within the PhD for two reasons: firstly, because the process enriches the activity of traditional industry script development; secondly, it allows the candidate to enhance his position within the academy by contributing to knowledge.

Whatever type the candidate, completing a research degree by screenwriting practice can lead to a multitude of opportunities, such as teaching and researching in the academy, "returning" to industry and producing "better" work, or a combination of the two. For those who return to industry, the fact that they have a research degree may be relevant to them and their practice, but may indeed be irrelevant to those around them. To use a screenwriting cliché, in this case the industry may well ask the practitioner to "show" what they have learnt rather than "tell" them. For those who choose to situate themselves in the academy, either full time or part time, completion of the research degree is likely to be entirely relevant to the people with whom they work. This can be seen, for example, in annual statistics that declare how many of a university’s staff has a PhD. More critically, increasing expectations of producing research outputs – traditional and non-traditional – are a reality for those at universities serious about attracting research funding and climbing international league tables. One issue specific to screenwriting is finding outlets for publication or dissemination of non-traditional, creative practice works. While most screenwriters want their works to be made, the reality is that it can take many years and a lot of money for this to happen – if it is to happen at all. In the meantime, finding ways to negotiate the academy becomes a concern.


The Academic Screenplay

The academy has responded to the desire for screenplays to be recognized as a valid form of research by developing opportunities for the publication of screenplays as research artefacts. For example, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing is a scholarly outlet that routinely publishes creative works as research, and although these works tend to be in the form of prose or poetry, in 2007 the journal published a short comedy screenplay called Tom, Dick and Harry (Batty 2007). Specifically in relation to the Australian context and its system for evaluating university research – Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) – the creative and professional writing journal TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses has devised a space in which creative research works can be published and recognized. Celebrating the potential of ERA to “provide creative writing academics the opportunity to write in innovative ways that add new knowledge to their art form and the discipline” and “subtly [change] the position writing academics can hold within the research framework” (Krauth et al. 2010: 3), several special issues have been published since 2010, including two specifically on scriptwriting (Baker and Beattie 2013; Baker, Batty, Beattie and Davis 2015). From a total of 18 scripts across the two special issues, there are 12 screenplays and a hybrid prose-screenplay, the television novel. These published academic screenplays highlight both the presence of and potential for screenwriting as a research practice within the academy, in Australia specifically but also more broadly.

Screenplays that have been produced as films can also function as research artefacts, and the lead author of this article has experience of turning both his and others’ produced screen works into research outputs for institutional evaluation. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss examples of these produced screenplays, but we do note that where they exist, it is the writer’s contribution to the produced work (story, content, form, etc.) that is usually the assessable output – not the film itself, which often makes salient the contribution of other "authors" and may well serve a different research agenda.[v] To this end, it is important to outline that each screenplay published in TEXT has a 2000-character statement that explicates the research background, contribution and significance of the work, as one would be expected to provide for research evaluation purposes in Australia (ERA). As Krauth et al. (2010: 5) note about all creative research works published in TEXT:

Refereed papers will draw on a sound framework of methodology and scholarship relevant to the paper’s topic, although this may include personal experience and/or anecdotal evidence where relevant to the argument, and where this is supported by scholarly literature.

Creative work will be accepted for refereeing if it makes a distinctive contribution to knowledge that extends the current scholarly literature in the field and is accompanied by a 250-word exegetical statement for publication that makes this case. The statement will indicate the research significance of the creative piece and will follow the ERA guidelines on this element.

In the context of the research degree, then, we feel it important to approach screenwriting as a research practice rather than a professional practice in order that the domain of the work is clearly established. In short, though the screenplay work may find a place in "the industry" at some stage, during candidature it should only be understood as existing in the academy. Its purpose for a research degree is to enable, embody and/or explicate research, and even if that research is about the industry, the screenplay is conceived, developed and examined under academic (research) conditions.

For this reason, Brabazon and Dagli (2010) suggest we should always talk about a research artefact, never art, because the conditions of creation and dissemination are different. Unlike art, a research artefact is not open to interpretation because it is created from and as research. Writing collaboratively as supervisor and candidate, they argue that undertaking creative practice doctoral work is “to be able to create a dialogue between theory and practice, to raise questions that cannot be raised within practice, to probe the applications within the theory and/or to follow the process of thought in order to identify the intellectual pathway in/to the creation of visual [or other] propositions” (Brabazon and Dagli 2010: 36-37).


The Screenplay as Research Artefact

For Brabazon and Dagli:

A film is not a PhD. If the student would like to make a film, then walk away from the campus. Make a film. Do not assume that a film is inevitably and intrinsically research. It may be, but the scholar must make the case. Making a film is not the same as constructing a doctorate. A film may be great and important, but it will not necessarily be relevant to a PhD programme. This premise is as true for words as for vision. Because a student can write does not mean they can write a doctorate. The problem emerges when discussions of art and creativity overwrite recognitions of research. (2010: 31)

This may read as contentious, but it does raise an important question about creative practice in the academy, specifically in the context of the research degree: how is the work research? Harper’s notion of "capability" and "knowledgeability" (Harper 2007: 20) in creative writing research is useful here, because it helps us to understand the research-practice nexus. In short, this is the idea that research into a subject enables a better practice of that subject (capability), and at the same time a greater awareness of what we know about the subject (knowledgeability) is developed. Concerned then with both practical application and a scholarly contribution to knowledge, this nexus culminates in a “responsive critical understanding” (Harper 2007: 21): a process of moving beyond mere reflection and instead towards application. Knowledge (research) is thus put into practice, and as a result, practice (creative work) is understood as containing knowledge.

Gibson’s work on "knowing" is useful here in the way that it describes creative practice containing research. For Gibson, knowing is “a state of being imbued with some illumination, blessed with the ability to see into a mystery, to dispel the ignorance” and is always “an after-effect of understanding” (Gibson 2010: 4). In relation to creative practice research, knowing occurs when the practitioner has experienced something through its production and is then in a position to reflect on that experience, for the benefit of not only the self but also others: “it is the shift in common sense and the fresh ability to account for that shift that ensures the occurrence is research” (Gibson 2010: 5).

For us, this is about what a screenplay inherently "knows" in the sense that the way it is written (e.g. form, content, aesthetics) is achieved on the basis of the knowledge that the practitioner-researcher has discovered. The screenplay thus embodies knowledge because of the way it is written; if the knowledge were not there to assist its creation (e.g. craft, context, theory), it would not have been written in this way. In relation to research-led practice (see Hazel and Dean 2009), it could not have been written in this way because it would have no way of knowing. It would therefore not be a research artefact.


The Knowing Screenplay; The Knowing Practitioner

As a writer working within an academic environment developing a screenplay research artefact, what we label here "The Knowing Screenplay", key questions for the candidate are: What does the screenplay know? What does the screenwriter come to know?

We can tease out the answers to these questions by way of comparison with a previous project that took place outside of the academy. Welcome to Prime-time is the PhD artefact, a Japanese-language screenplay with a clear genre stamp (Parker 1999). It explores current societal concerns regarding family fragmentation, particularly masculinity in crisis, an issue often considered historically within Japanese cinema with regard to “the breakdown of family relationships between men and women due to the demand of a rapidly changing economic environment” (Standish 2000: 56). These issues have evolved in conjunction with changing perceptions of the female in Japan, another salient concern of Welcome to Prime-time. The project is the candidate’s second Japanese-language romantic comedy feature: the first, Whisky & Sake, having been developed though a Tokyo-based production company.

Both projects feature young Japanese female protagonists with high-profile careers, coming up against deep-rooted patriarchy in Japan. Whisky & Sake was conceived very much as a commercial, mainstream project, utilizing a traditional three-act structure with inciting incidents and turning points and “a developing connection between the acts” (Dancyger and Rush 2007: 16). The commercial nature of the project was partly devised in order to diversify the catalogue of the Tokyo production company, who were looking to break out of their art-house niche. In crude terms, it is fair to state that industry players privilege the commercial over the critical, while for academics the reverse is more important. However, marrying commercial and critical concerns is arguably the ideal of all filmmakers, and is certainly one aim of the creative practice research being undertaken by the candidate.

Working within the romantic comedy genre does not preclude an exploration of significant social issues while also reaching a mainstream audience. For example, Garrett convincingly argues that Nora Ephron’s screenplays “contribute to an ongoing post-feminist debate on gender, power and culture” (2012: 195). Whisky & Sake did not make it into production, and a small but significant motivation for developing Welcome to Prime-time within an academic context was to explore whether that contextualization could enable Welcome to Prime-time to "succeed" in ways that Whisky & Sake did not.

The storyline for Whisky & Sake involves a protagonist who works for a large Japanese beverage conglomerate. She is dispatched to a small Scottish island where her task is to turn the whisky distillery into a sake brewery. The character was researched in fairly typical film industry terms. For example, a young female executive at an extant Japanese drinks firm with considerable holdings in Scotland was contacted and interviewed. Visits to Scottish distilleries with Japanese owners took place and key personnel were interviewed. The script developed through treatment and draft re-writes, with discussions between writer and producers focusing on character motivations and arcs, three-act structure, key story beats, inciting incidents and scene-by-scene readings, during which the question most often asked was, "Does this work?" Crucially, work in terms of what remained the great intangible.

For Welcome to Prime-time, a similar process of industry-style research took place. The main arena is a TV station. Interviews were carried out with two female TV directors and a male producer. However, in early discussions with the supervisor one key element that was continually referred to and became salient was theme. The idea of female self-empowerment in a patriarchal setting became, for the candidate, a guiding light in the writing process. The film is dual protagonist, with the romantic interest for the female protagonist being a widowed "salaryman". Struggling to bring up two young daughters on his own, his representation as a primary caregiver affords a complex gendered characterization whereby the male carrying out roles usually ascribed to females problematizes gender roles in contemporary Japan. This is flagged in the opening scene, which takes place at the lunchtime break during Sports Day in a Japanese primary school. One element of these highly organized events is the elaborate lunchboxes cooked by mothers,[vi] who usually wake very early in the day to complete this considerable culinary task. The scene showcases the beauty and variety of lunchboxes, but then throws into contrast the single father who has failed to make one, and has delivery pizza brought to the school instead. In this evocation of "gender hybridity", which Darling-Wolf states can “help destabilize the system of oppression by exposing the structured nature of gender” (2008: 67), the scene visually foregrounds the absence of the mother (and gendered rigidity of the father) through utilization of culturally familiar practices, while at the same time interrogating the gendered assumptions implicit in those practices.

What this example evidences is that the writing of the academic screenplay allows for a more considered, articulate, informed reply to the question, "Does this work?" On Whisky & Sake, discussion of thematic issues were rare, with considerations of current market mores and making characters attractive for casting targets more often prevailing. In Welcome to Prime-time, the sports day scene "works" in practitioner terms because it visually depicts character (the male protagonist’s failure to replace the mother), creates drama (the children are excruciatingly aware of their classmates’ gaze), poses an active question (where is the mother?), and also plants a pay-off in the third act. In academic terms, this scene also "works" because it combines all of the preceding with a thematic dissection of current social concerns, imbibing them with a commentary intended to make explicit – first and foremost to the supervisor, and secondly to other readers of the PhD within the academy – the imbrication of theoretical considerations with screenwriting craft.

An artist must be judged by how he handles the great problems of his day. He doesn’t have to write about them, you understand, just be conversant and allude to them in a consistent way. And it is obligatory that he break with the past in order to comprehend the now. (Runco 1993: 23)

Welcome to Prime-time responds to this by placing patriarchy front and centre as a concern for the film, in a space that the female protagonist will enter and be compelled to engage with. Her own domestic circumstances as a “parasite single” (see Atoh 2008), a term devised for young women who work full-time and conduct lives of conspicuous consumption while living with their parents, actively disclaiming any aspirations towards marriage and motherhood, provides a contrast with the single-father male lead. It also addresses societal concerns that are at crisis level in Japan, the world’s frontline in terms of declining birthrate and aging society (see Coulmas 2007).

By writing the screenplay within a reflexive practice research context, we argue that the candidate has also developed into a more knowing practitioner. Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology offers a solution to the paradox of the socially situated observer, “included in the very object he or she wishes to objectivize” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 32). It opposes a complete rejection of agency, while also recognizing the slippages inherent in stated intentions. This is Bourdieu’s “theory of practice as the product of a practical sense, of a socially constituted ‘sense of the game’” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 42, emphasis in original). If we define the game in this particular discourse as stating that one is a screenwriter, that avowed position is not simply a given, but is problematized and examined. We must demarcate how, as Giddens notes, such self-identifications are “routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual” (1991: 52).

In other words, by embracing the process of creative practice research, the knowing screenwriter is self-aware moment-to-moment as he creates. That is to say, previously taken-for-granted notions or unthinkingly asserted concepts are polemicized in the screenwriting process. For example, the candidate in this discussion speaks of his intentions regarding the screenplay and as such aligns himself with Grodal in asserting that “Agency is one of the most powerful mental models, and […] it is also a source of vital insight” (2004: 34). Simultaneously, he is keenly aware of the tenuous nature of agency, a concept given added complexity by virtue of the ontological fragility of the screenplay as literature (Price 2010).

Similarly, the academic context allows for a consideration by the candidate of his transnational positioning. Until the end of the 20th century, Japanese cinema was in industrial terms almost exclusively populated by Japanese practitioners. However, early 21st century Japanese-language productions have included a flurry of films by non-Japanese screenwriters, including Like Someone in Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami), Sado Tempest (2012, John Williams), Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2010, Hans Canosa), Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (2009, Isabel Coixet), Rain Fall (2009, Max Mannix), Tokyo Sonata (2008, Max Mannix), Best Wishes for Tomorrow, (2007, Roger Pulvers), Babel (2006, Guillermo Arriaga), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Paul Haggis), Starfish Hotel (2006, John Williams), and Kamataki (2005, Claude Gagnon). This emerging discursive site within Japanese national cinema is emblematic of questions regarding the nature, viability and sustainability of various "national cinemas", a concept whose certainty is currently being interrogated (e.g. Vitali and Willemen 2006). As a British screenwriter writing within Japanese cinema, the candidate evokes the work of Naficy by writing as a self-aware practitioner in an accented cinema, comprised of filmmakers who Naficy believes “exist in a state of tension and dissolution with both their original and their current homes” (2001: 10).

Furthermore, by engaging with orientalist depictions of Japanese subjects, the candidate states his intention to counter both essentialist national cinema discourses and "othering" by Western filmmakers with what he sees as more authentic representations of Japan and the Japanese. Authenticity is invoked not as something possessing fixity or rigidness, but rather as Vannini and Williams describe it, as something situated and arising from process and interaction: “reflective authenticity” and a “dialectic of self and society” (2009: 46), which allows one to not so much define authenticity, as to make it meaningful. In this sense, the argument is not whether or not the British candidate is authentically Japanese, but how his own sense of self as a Japan-based screenwriter writing for Japanese-language cinema emerges in his screenwriting practice. Within that dialectic of self and society, the supervisor-candidate relationship becomes a catalyst to enhance precision of meaning and richness of depiction in the process, and facilitate an overall social, historical and theoretical resonance to be imprinted on the work in a way that would arguably be absent had the screenplay been developed in a non-academic context.

Put simply, the supervisor-candidate relationship is in one sense a richer, more complex iteration of the industrial script development process. The candidate’s own experiences of the frustrations and bitter compromises – and occasional exhilarations – so often encountered in the commercial setting are a matter of record (see McAulay 2014). As we have illustrated above, through the supervisor-candidate relationship within a screenwriting practice PhD, the screenwriter is required to consider not only what he wants to say, but also to make explicit why he wants to say it, and how he intends to go about it. It is this process that makes the screenwriter a "knowing screenwriter", which when coupled with the creation of a "knowing screenplay" contributes to a growing body of knowledge for other scholars and creative practitioners.



In this article we have discussed both the emergence and the nature of screenwriting as a research practice within the academy. It is a phenomenon that is rapidly gaining traction, in Australia in particular but also internationally. As has happened with creative writing in the last ten or so years, further analysis of the work being undertaken in this discipline and the publication of more case studies from those engaged in it will give rise to what can be seen as a field with great potential, not just for the academy but also for the wider screen and media industries.

One key aspect required to make this possible, and especially to build bridges between the academy and industry, is the creation of knowledge that speaks directly about practice, and which can be valued by those outside of the academy as well as inside it. This is described in some way by Gibson (2010: 10), who calls for written explications of research that can be read, understood and – ideally – put into action by their relevant communities: 

when you have been in the studio, you have a story to tell. You have journeyed into experience and you have an account to offer about how the heuristic processes of acknowledgement proceeded through action and repercussion. This story of what happened in the making of the artwork is additional to the work that you can exhibit. Think of this account as a research report. It is the explication of what has been learned and earned as you survived the experience; it is the means whereby a scholarly community can be formed and all the tacit know-how that has been accrued in the creative process can be made somewhat communicable through language.

As we have outlined in this article, through supervision the creative-critical nexus is continually negotiated. In relation to the aforementioned notion of capability and knowledgeability in creative writing (Harper 2007), the supervisor of a screenwriting practice research degree must ensure the candidate creates a screenplay that will hopefully work its way towards production, but that at the very least is a "knowing screenplay" that is worthy of a research degree. Additionally, both candidate and supervisor must agree that through the undertaking of research, the candidate’s practice as a screenwriter will have advanced in ways that were previously either not considered or/and unattainable, resulting in the development of the "knowing practitioner".

[i] For more on this notion of research-incubated creative practice, see Grierson and Brearley (2009) and Cherry and Higgs (2011).

[ii] The screenplay is in English, but will be a Japanese-language film. The academic focus is the creative act of bringing the screenplay into being. Therefore, language issues which may arrive later in production regarding translation, subtitling etc., are not a central concern of the academic focus.

[iii] A full search of research degree theses can be found by searching databases such the National Library of Australia’s ‘Trove’ facility and the British Library’s ‘EthOS’ archive.

[iv] These figures are derived from a combination of database searches and personal knowledge, which includes invitations to examine screenwriting research degrees and candidates known through academic networks.

[v] As an example, a screenplay that challenges representations of a particular demographic might be shot by a cinematographer experimenting with the latest photographic technology, thus resulting in two individual research interests.

[vi] See, for example, the BBC News Online feature, ‘Japan’s amazing lunchboxes’, available at:



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Dr Craig Batty is Associate Professor of Screenwriting at RMIT University, Australia. He is author, co-author and editor of eight books, including Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into Context (2014), The Creative Screenwriter: Exercises to Expand Your Craft (2012), Screenplays: How to Write and Sell Them and Movies that Move Us: Screenwriting and the Power of the Protagonist’s Journey (2011). He has published many articles, reviews and book chapters on screenwriting and media writing. Craig is also a writer, script editor and script consultant, specialising in short film, feature film and online drama.


Alec McAulay lectures in screenwriting at Yokohama National University, Japan. His research interests include transnational cinema in the Japanese context. His short films The Errand (2006) and Three Days in Kamakura (2012) have screened and won awards at various international film festivals. As a writer and script consultant, he was involved in J-Pitch, a Ministry of Trade and Industry project that advised Japanese filmmakers on attracting international co-financing. He is in the final stages of a screenwriting PhD at Bournemouth University in the UK.