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How Big Data Is Rewriting Hollywood Scripts

Ever wonder why all movies seem to look the same? Yeah, there’s a reason.

I honestly can’t tell horror movies apart. From set and costume design to the trailers that all seem to have the same…tempo…of…HE’S RIGHT THERE, OMG!!—novelty has clearly given way to successful tropes and generic market testing. But how bad have things gotten, really?

Today, box office analytics are being applied all the way to the screenplay level—that’s right, the very core of the film. The New York Times profiled former stats professor Vinny Bruzzese, who is apparently the guy for data-driven script evaluation. From the story:

For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?

'Demons in horror movies can target people or be summoned,' Mr. Bruzzese said in a gravelly voice, by way of example. 'If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned. So get rid of that Ouija Board scene.'

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. 'A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero,' one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.

Now, one way to analyze this is that it’s nauseatingly unartistic. That’s totally true. But the traditional Hollywood film operates on a strict formula for a reason: We emotionally harmonize with the objectively trite Syd Field approach to storytelling. And if there are means to make that formula more perfect—by adding a dog sidekick or ditching the protagonist’s fedora—then why not? Because nobody shows up to Iron Man 3 for the bowling scene.

Read more here.

[IMAGE: Village of the Damned, Chris Vaughan via Flickr]

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