Not Signed-In
Which clippings match 'Scene' keyword pg.1 of 1

In reply to Barry Salt on attention and the evolution of Hollywood film

"In our recent paper (Cutting, DeLong, & Nothelfer, 'Attention and the evolution of Hollywood film', Psychological Science, 2010, 21, 440–447; henceforth AEHF), we were interested in the shot structure in a reasonable sample of films across 70 years and in how that structure has changed. Our main conclusion was that the pattern of shots in more contemporary movies has come to match better the large–scale structure of human attention. In particular, a cut between shots forces the reallocation of attentional resources to the new scene or to the new vantage point, and the pattern of the length of those shots reflects natural tendencies of how attention ebbs and flows over as much as an hour and more. The structure of both attention and, more and more often, contemporary film appears to follow a 1/f pattern, sometimes called pink noise.

The 1/f pattern can be thought of as a simultaneous combination of many transverse, nonsynchronous waves whose up and down–ness, or amplitude (power is proportional to the square of the amplitude), is fixed by their wavelength (or the reciprocal of frequency, hence 1/f). Thus, the big (up and down) waves are also long waves (in time); smaller waves are shorter waves and proportionately so. For example, a relatively big wave might be exemplified by 60 consecutive shots that are relatively long followed by 60 shots that are relatively short, and with that pattern repeating; shorter and longer waves would also occur overlapping and within this original wave.

Blogged science reporting vs. science

Popular representations of science often skew things, and occasionally they simply get things wrong. Indeed, there were a number of howlers that appeared in the blogosphere about our research. As evidence, all one need do is to check out the title of the first popular piece on our work (–solved–the–mathematics–of–the–hollywood–blockbuster.html). Fortunately, the article's content was more reasonable and more accurately reflected what we found.

Now Barry Salt has joined the mix, and we are quite happy with his comment on AEHF. Among all possible responses, one can ask for nothing better than to be 'usefully provocative.' Against the misrepresentation by others, Salt ( rightly notes that we did not try to account for the box office success of movies. We didn't even focus on the highest grossing movies, or attempt to use low grossing movies as a control group. Nor did we try to discern what makes a good film. In fact, we specifically reported that our results did not correlate with IMDb ratings of films in our sample. Salt also noted that our cut–finding process was more time consuming than perhaps necessary. Wary of errors often made in typical cinemetric–style cut finding (see Smith & Henderson, 2008, 'Edit blindness,' Journal of Eye Movement Research, 2, 1–17), we deliberately sacrificed efficiency for accuracy, with multiple checks (digital and ocular) throughout the process. But in trying to account for our results Salt also raises two other issues to which we thought it important to respond. He calls them basic (about scene structure) and historical (concerning changes in ASL and shot length distributions). Let me consider them in reverse order.

Historical near parallels: Changes in ASL and in power spectra

Clearly, shot lengths have become shorter over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st. Salt updates his past data with an elegant graph in his commentary. In AEHF, we found that, since about 1950 or so, films have increasingly adopted a shot structure that approaches a 1/f pattern (pink noise). One might think these two are related–and indeed they are correlated. But there is no causal link between them.

Salt (Moving into Pictures, 2006) was first to note that the shot distributions of most films tend to follow a lognormal distribution and generalizing this he produced two new graphs in his commentary, one for Catherine the Great (1934) and one for Derailed (2002). In showing these graphs Salt is concerned about is what psychologists call a floor effect. That is, the average duration of shots may have decreased to a point where they can decrease no further without failing to give the viewer sufficient time to perceive shot content. When plotting and analyzing shot duration data linearly, as Salt and many others have done, this seems like a genuine possibility. However, plotted logarithmically, no floor exists.

What lognormality means is that if one took the logarithm of every value in the distribution and then replotted the data, the distribution would look normal–like a bell–shaped curve, more or less. Shown below are the log–scaled distributions for four films from our sample, two from 1935 and two from 2005:


Despite 70 years, fairly dramatic differences in ASL, and the great differences in number of shots per film, all four distributions look generally the same. The important point is that log–scaled shot–length distributions for films look normal and that normal distributions have no real floor (the logarithm of zero is undefined). Likely, as shot lengths in films get shorter, shots measured in fractions of seconds (not just seconds) will continue to be lognormal.

Our analysis in AEHF started by normalizing the shot distribution of each film. That is, the mean is set to zero (subtracting the ASL from each shot length) and the standard deviation is set to one (dividing the value above by the standard deviation of the shots in the whole film). This creates what is called a unit normal distribution, and it is a standard statistical procedure when comparing the shapes of distributions. This procedure alone would likely nullify the differences shown by Salt for Catherine the Great and Derailed, and it was on such unit–normal data that we first ran our Fourier and power analyses. But just to be certain, in AEHF we also performed that same normalizing analysis after log scaling shot lengths for each film. Results were the same in either case.

Thus, diminished ASLs cannot cause our power spectra results; ASL is factored out before the analysis is done. Also, we found no evidence in the changes in film distributions in our film sample as ASL diminishes, and we also renormalized the distributions before our analysis. Moreover, as counterexamples, consider The 39 Steps (1935) with an ASL of 10.8 s and a slope of .93 (1.0 is the slope for a 1/f pattern) and GoldenEye (1995) with an ASL of 3.6 s and a slope of .96; or consider Annie Get Your Gun (1950) with an ASL of 14.9 s and a slope of 1.18 and the Revenge of the Sith (2005) with an ASL of 3.57 s and a slope of 1.14.

Nonetheless, Salt rightly notes our power spectra results are still correlated with ASLs for our sample of films. It is just that neither has caused the other. One should then ask: What has caused the change in power spectra over the last 50 years or so? Our guess in AEHF was that there has been a kind of cultural transmission among filmmakers about what seems to work in shot composition and that this was at the root of the process. In other words, the increasingly 1/f–like pattern emerged from what would be collectively regarded by filmmakers as good film construction, but without anyone needing to know what 1/f is or really means. Another possible cause, one we hadn't considered, emerged in my correspondence with Hollywood film editors after AEHF appeared. Editors now have much more film footage to draw upon than they did 50 and more years ago. Thus, they have many more choices they can make in composing shots in and across scenes. It seems possible, then, that the ability to make better choices has also contributed to the development of a 1/f structure in contemporary film.

Also, in discussion of the differences between Catherine the Great and Derailed, Salt also reported the Lag–1 autocorrelations for the two films (about .12 and .20, respectively) and suggested these would make a difference, perhaps contributing to what we found in our power spectra. These lag correlations map the length relations between Shots 1 & 2, 2 & 3, 3 & 4, and so forth along the length of the film. This is a good beginning but Lag–1 data alone can be misleading. The Lag–1 correlations for Goodfellas (1990) and Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines (1965) are .33 and .30, respectively; but their modified autoregression indices (mARs) as we calculated them (autoregression looks at part of the partial autocorrelation function, which we smoothed), using data from Lags 1 through Lags 20 (Shots 1 & 21, 2 & 22, 3 & 23, etc., out to the end of the film) are 2.13 and 4.0. This means that the statistically reliable, local correlational structure across shots in Goodfellas is only about half that of Flying Machines, although their Lag–1 data were about the same. More simply, significant shot–length relations extend to only about 2 shots across the former film (aggregated across Shots 1 to 3, 2 to 4, etc.), compared to 4 shots in the latter (aggregated across Shots 1 to 5, 2 to 6, etc.). The complete autocorrelation function (Lag 1 to Lag n, where n is as much as half the value of the number of shots in a film) gives the record of shot relations across a whole film. The power spectrum, which we calculated for all films to derive our 1/f approximations, is the Fourier twin of the complete autocorrelation function.

Basic film units: Shots, scenes, and beyond

In AEHF we looked at shot structure across films without regard to scene structure. In his essay 'Speeding up and slowing down' (, Salt performed a moving average analysis of ASLs in several films, particularly Ride Lonesome (1959). He found, not surprisingly, that different scenes in a given film have different ASLs. In a moving average window this creates a wavy pattern on a larger scale than that for shots. Salt also describes this in his comment on AEHF as a ''tension–release' pattern' often found elsewhere, as in music. We wholeheartedly endorse this idea. More importantly, however, Salt's moving average result exactly reflects part of what we found in the power spectra analyses.

That is, the Fourier and power analysis that we performed (doggedly and mechanically) looked for waves in the shot–length sequences of each film, where those waves could be of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 shots long and sometimes longer. Notice that these numbers form a progression in powers of 2. They do so in order that the measured waves be completely independent. These waves are assessed within windows that move along the complete length of the shot vector (the list of consecutive shot lengths in a film). Thus, size–2 wave is fit serially to Shots 1–2, 2–3, 3–4, etc, out to the end of the film; the size–8 wave is fit serially to Shots 1 through 8, 2–9, 3–10, etc; and the size–512 wave is fit serially to Shots 1 through 512, 2–513, 3–514, etc. This can begin to look like a moving average analysis, which Salt endorses, but it is different. It looks at different independent window sizes and it does not average, but finds the best fitting sine wave within each moving window. Salt's scene analysis of Ride Lonesome shows between about 5 and as much as 100 shots per scene, and with a moving average window he generates loopy waves that correspond to them. By our analysis, any wave with lengths in this range will contribute to the measured power in the size–4 through size–128 shot–length waves of the Fourier and power analysis. In particular, a 100–shot scene that contrasts with prior and subsequent scenes in ASL will contribute to both the size–64 and size–128 wave. In this way, the different–length scenes contribute power to the mid–range of the 1/f pattern.

What we think is more striking about our AEHF results, however, is that there are such waves in film that are considerably larger than mean scene length. That is, for a 1/f pattern to emerge, there have to be waves of similar–length shots coursing through an entire film that are in the range of 256, 512, out to even 1024 shots apart. In contemporary films this can be in a range from 10 to as much as 60 minutes. This places these waves well beyond scene length and roughly puts them at the scale of film acts, endorsed in different ways by Syd Field (1979, Screenplay) and by Kristin Thompson (1999, Storytelling in the new Hollywood). Remember, we introduced our results above in terms of allocating attention to film over as much as an hour and more; this involves 'tension and release' at very different scales.

In addition, Salt and others have highlighted our result that action films tend to approach a 1/f structure more than the other genres we explored (adventure, animation, comedy, drama films). It is by no means the case, however, that action films always have close to a 1/f shot–length profile. We recently analyzed the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008). Despite its 1.71 ASL (trimming out the glossy credit sequence after the opening scenes), it doesn't approach a 1/f structure. It fails to produce this structure precisely because it has few long–range similarities in shot–length patterns across the range of 512 to 1024 shots.

In summary and in response to Salt, (1) our power analysis is causally unrelated to ASL even though the two have developed more or less in parallel over the last 50 years or so, (2) we find no evidence for the change in shot distributions in popular films in our sample across time; they are all lognormal to reasonable approximation, and (3) the ASL differences he found in scene–length structure are contained within the 1/f–like patterns that we found, but we also found evidence for longer act–length structure as well. So, do we want to talk about the structure of film units–shots, scenes, and acts–or do we want to talk about 1/f structure? I would hope that there is room to talk about, and to learn from, both. I think that we can all endorse the idea that cinemetrics can be done in many ways."

(James Cutting,


1/f law • AEHF • ASL • attentionattention span • attentional resources • average shot length • Barry Salt • blockbuster • blogged science • blogospherecinema • cinemetrics • consecutive shots • contemporary film • contemporary movies • cut finding • cut-finding process • cuts between shots • data abstraction • ebbs and flows • evolution of Hollywood film • film • film cuts • film ratings • film structure • floor effect • highest grossing movies • highest-grossing films • Hollywood • human attention • IMDb • James Cutting • linearly • lognormal distribution • low grossing movies • lowest-grossing films • metricsneurocinematics • nonsynchronous waves • pattern • pattern of shots • pink noise • popular representations • popular representations of science • psychological sciencescenescene compositionscene designscience • shot distributions • shot duration • shot length • shot structure • simultaneous combination • up-and-downness • vantage point • what makes a good film


Tessa Szwarnowska
06 MARCH 2012


Majestic Micro Movies: Lloyd Fonvielle, James Lester, Kendra Elliot, Joe Griffin and Jae Song.



a girl and a gunAndre Bazin • big depth of field • black and whitecameracinemacinematic conventionscinematic languagecinematic visual languagecinematographyclapperboardcoherent spacecompositioncontinuity editingdeep focusdepth of fielddepth of the screen spacedesign formalismDOF • establishing shot • figures in spacefilmfilm language • film take • film technique • filmlook • filmmaking • focus of attention • Manny Farber • master shot • medium is the messagemise-en-scenenarrative scenesproductionscenescreen spaceselective focusshallow depth of fieldshallow focus • shot countershot • shot reverse shottracking cameratracking shot • two shot • video essayvisual depictionvisual languagevisual literacyvisual style • wide lens


Simon Perkins
02 OCTOBER 2011

Rabbits: three rabbits live with a fearful mystery

"In a nameless city, deluged by a continuous rain, three rabbits live with a fearful mystery. Rabbits is a 9 episode sitcom featuring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, and Scott Coffey."




2002anthropomorphism • anti-realist aesthetics • apartmentbizarre • continuous rain • daily lifeDavid Lynchdehumanisationdistanced viewpointdistanciation • episodic • hare • humanoid rabbits • in and out • independent cinemaironing • Laura Elena Harring • mise-en-scenemystery • nameless city • Naomi Wattsotherworldlinessplacenessproscenium archrabbit • Rabbits (2002) • scene • Scott Coffey • series of episodes • sitcom • sitting on a couch • solo singing • strangestrangenesssurrealist filmmakertheatrical space • three rabbits • unnatural roomvisual designweird


Simon Perkins

Welles and Toland's use of deep screen space in Citizen Kane

"It begins with young Charles Kane in long shot, playing with his sled in the snow. The camera then pulls back to reveal that it has been shooting through a window. This effect creates a visual metaphor. The boy playing in the snow is not as free as he at first seems. Just as his image is suddenly confined by a window frame, so his life will be circumscribed by a decision that is being made for him inside the house. Kane's mother appears at the window calling out to her son to 'Be careful,' and 'Put your muffler around your neck, Charles.' As the camera tracks back, wards from the window into the space of the house, it reveals Mr. Thatcher standing at the right of the window. He says, 'We'll have to tell him now.' Ignoring this comment, the mother replies, 'I'll sign those papers now, Mr. Thatcher.' From frame left Kane's father appears, saying, 'You people seem to forget that I'm the boy's father.' The camera tracks backwards as Mrs. Kane walks over to a desk in the foreground of the image and sits down to sign the papers, with Thatcher seated next to her. An argument ensues in which the father, who appears in the middle ground of the image, strongly protests the mother's decision to hand his son over to a bank and threatens to take the case to court. The mother is icily adamant in honoring the agreement she has made with Thatcher. In exchange for the bank's full assumption of the management of the gold mine (the Colorado Lode), the bank which Thatcher represents will assume full responsibility for all matters concerning the boy's education and place of residence. Mr. and Mrs. Kane will receive fifty thousand dollars a year as long as they both live. This last bit of information, which Thatcher reads aloud, silences the father, who mutters, 'Well, let's hope it's all for the best.'

Throughout the scene, while all this activity takes place, we can see the boy Charles playing with his sled far in the back of the image, in extreme long shot, framed by the window pane, and totally oblivious to the momentous decision his mother has made about his life. Because of the length of the shot and the careful blocking of the action, our eye is free to focus on whichever player we choose, or our attention can wander from one player to another, as if we were spectators in the theater.

At the same time, the camera places us sufficiently close to the actors in the foreground of the image that we can read their expressions with much greater clarity than would be possible in the theater. We can look for clues in the frozen but somehow anguished expression of Mrs. Kane for why she is so determined to separate herself from her son. We can wonder in observing the slightly exasperated and nervous expression on Thatcher's face what kind of guardian he will make for a young boy. Or we can observe the father's angry, worried expression and wonder why he backs down. The father's position further back in the screen space makes him seem smaller than his wife and Mr. Thatcher, his diminished size somehow appropriate to his lack of power to influence his son's fate. The crowning brilliance of the scene is the tiny image of Charles Kane far in the depth of the screen space. Although the film is about him and in later scenes he will loom large indeed, here he is a tiny speck. On first viewing the film, some may not even notice him. But his understated presence playing outside the window, shouting 'Union forever' as his mother is about to send him off into the world without her, is one of the most poignant moments in film."

(Marilyn Fabe, 2004, p.85–86)

3). Marilyn Fabe (2004). "Chapter 5 Expressive Realism" in "Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique", University of California Press (3 Aug 2004)



1941bank • blocking of the action • boycamera • Charles Kane • cinematography • circumscribed • Citizen Kane • Colorado Lode • composition • confined • deep focusdepth of the screen spacedesign formalism • diminished size • editing through selection • extreme long shot • fatefigures in spacefilmframe • frame-within-a-frame • framed by the windowframingfreedom • gold mine • Gregg Toland • lack of power • length of the shot • long shot • long takesmise-en-sceneOrson Wellesphotographyplayingscene • screen image • screen space • significant actions • sled • snowsnowballtheatrical spacetracking camera • union forever • visual designvisual languagevisual metaphorwindowwindow frame


Simon Perkins
13 MARCH 2011

Extreme frustration: in reality and the Meisner technique

"The Meisner acting technique is a many layered approach that relies heavily on a practice known as emotional preparation. Named after Sanford Meisner, the Meisner technique began as a systematic study of the art of acting for theatre. Based on work done by Russian actor Constantine Stanislovski, Meisner created a hybrid technique that he felt was better suited to the American actor and American theatre. ...

Actors using the Meisner acting technique have the ability to immerse themselves in an emotional 'state' of the character before going onstage. Rather than pretending extreme frustration they must ARE extremely frustrated as they enter the scene. Furthermore, Meisner believed that any actor looking to exploit the Meisner acting technique does their homework by creating and developing a complete set of circumstances and a complete emotional landscape that is in tune with the deeper cravings, needs and emotions that have caused the character to be frustrated."

(Maggie Flanigan Studio)



acting is doing • actoraggression • anger • artistic practicebreakdowncharacter • circumstances • composurecomputercomputer printerconflictConstantin Stanislavskidistressdramaemotion • emotional landscape • emotional preparation • emotional undercurrent • escalation • expressionextreme frustrationfilm acting • forceful • frustrationgesturehate • high emotion • incidentintensity • Maggie Flanigan • Meisner technique • office • outburst • PCperformancepersonal experiencephysical actions • physical task • Prt Sc • ragereactionSanford Meisnerscene • tantrum • temper


Simon Perkins

to Folksonomy

Can't access your account?

New to Folksonomy?

Sign-Up or learn more.