Howard Hawks famously said that all a good movie needs is three great scenes and no bad ones. Well, according to James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, they also need to conform to a special mathematical formula. In a forthcoming paper, Cutting reveals that most modern Hollywood blockbusters conform to a mathematical model for attention span called the 1/f fluctuation.
In his research, Cutting measured the shot length of the 150 highest-grossing movies between 1935 and 2005. He then graphed the varying shot lengths of each movie as a wave. For modern blockbusters, those waves correlated with the 1/f fluctuation attention span waves produced by the University of Texas, Austin, during the 1990s. And the more recent the movie, the closer the movie's editing schemes matched the 1/f fluctuation.
Cutting doesn't believe that this increasing conformity to the 1/f fluctuation resulted from a conscious decision on the part of the directors. Rather, he theorizes that films which fall into people's viewing sweet spot better hold their attention, and thus seem more gripping, and make more money. Then the other directors naturally copy the pace of the more exciting, more profitable movies, and the 1/f fluctuation trend spreads.
However, this formula seems a better predictor of box office than quality. For instance, Cutting found that the Star Wars prequels all conformed nearly perfectly to the 1/f fluctuation. Sure, all three of those movies made a ton of money, but man, did they suck.
That's funny, it seems that cutting edge special effects tied directly to strong social themes of the current generation get the big bucks. Yet, these mega-million productions are often less profitable (as investments - % return on production costs) than many cheaper films in established genres.
What does Avatar have that Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai did not? Cutting edge effects and a measage of environmentalism that resonates with the current social bias for green.
What does Star Wars have that, say, Dune didn't? A message that resonated with the current cold war tensions in a post lunar race world.
While a mathmatical measurement of scene length and intensity has long been a staple of the horror/jump genre, even movies that drastically break away from those ratio (Lord of the Ring, particularly the first one) often have great success.
In other words, it takes more than the math. Engaging structure is important to maintain pacing, but story, effects, and cultural climate are more than equal partners in the equasion.
It would be interesting to see if the formula applied equally to the least successful movies (based on production costs - so not counting indy loosers) as culture has shifted to a more uniform cinnima media.
You, Oakspar77777, said that Star Wars was a better film then Dune. Let us just make it clear that as a book, Dune, is THE best selling SciFi novel of all time, and that is fact. Dune was made a couple times, too, so when you say that Star Wars was better grossing then Dune, well, that may be true, but you can't say it was a better film. When the SYFY channel (when they made it they were still called "SciFi") made their Dune, they weren't in it for the money, and if they were then that was a bad decision. Dune has been made many times as an Arts film, by that I mean it was made for the people to appreciate, not to so the developers to make money, 'cause hey, who's going to watch a five hour movie on any place other than their TV? Over all, anyone who read Dune and understood it probably likes it much much more.
WAY WAY more, and I'm an avid Star Wars fan too. However, the article was about the films, not the book, and most people still think of the craptacular original Dune film rather than the rather good rendition done by SciFi, whose lousy new name I refuse to acknowledge.
I presume the marketing industry has known about 1f fluctuation for a long time already? Simone, www.tendances-de-mode.com
Avatar blooooows. I'd watch any of the Star Wars prequels before that garbage.
So is this guy a mathematician or a psychologist? The headline says mathematician; the article says psychologist.
The article, and my discussion, were clearly about the movies, not the books. Yes, Dune is a great work of literature, but the movie was not. Also, the article and my discussion were about feature films, not made-for-TV films, so Dune, the movie, clearly refers to the earlier Patrick Stewart-Sting fiasco.
Get the chip off your shoulder and read for the contextual content of the English language, please.
Also, considering your preference for the SyFy made for TV version over the original Star Wars triology, I can only assume that you were too young to remember the originals as they were released (if you don't recall the Carter administration, then you are too young). Since my point was the connection between current cultural climate and thematic elements were key to movie success, understanding the cultural climate of the Carter-Regan years is key to to point.
Hey Stuart, you suck. How's that. I can't believe that you would have the nerve to say that about one of the highest grossing movie series of all time. The original Star-wars trilogy wasn't great because it followed some '1/f fluctuation' it did so well because it was a great story, told by a master filmmaker and storyteller. It followed the ancient and traditional format of the 'hero's journey' which has been used for thousands of years, to capture the attention of audiences. I could sit here all day and type out all of the contributions made to everything from pop-culture to entertainment technology, that were brought about solely by SW. Did I mention that you suck... at life. Get a clue.