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The formula for Hollywood movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2010

After analyzing dozens of Hollywood films, a team of researchers has found evidence that the visual rhythm of movies at the shot level matches a pattern called the 1/f fluctuation, the same pattern that is found in dozens of natually occurring phenomena, including the length of the human attention span.

These results suggest that Hollywood film has become increasingly clustered in packets of shots of similar length. For example, action sequences are typically a cluster of relatively short shots, whereas dialogue sequences (with alternating shots and reverse-shots focused sequentially on the speakers) are likely to be a cluster of longer shots. In this manner and others, film editors and directors have incrementally increased their control over the visual momentum of their narratives, making the relations among shot lengths more coherent over a 70-year span.

Modern action movies are particularly adept at matching the audience’s attention span in this manner. The full paper is available here.

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