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26 SEPTEMBER 2012

The mathematics of Hollywood blockbuster

HOLLYWOOD'S golden age may have ended in the 1950s, but it is only recently that Tinseltown appears to have hit upon a mathematical way to capitalise on our fickle attention spans.

"Film–makers have got better and better at constructing shots so that their lengths grab our attention," says James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He analysed 150 Hollywood movies and found that the more recent they were, the more closely their shot lengths tended to follow a mathematical pattern that also describes human attention spans.

In the 1990s, a team at the University of Texas, Austin, measured the attention spans of volunteers as they performed hundreds of consecutive trials. When they turned these measurements into a series of waves using a mathematical trick called a Fourier transform, the waves increased in magnitude as their frequency decreased.

(Ewen Callaway, 18 February 2010, New Scientist)

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1/f law1950s • a series of waves • algorithmalgorithmic filters • attention spans • consecutive trials • constructing shots • Cornell University • decreased frequency • filmmaker • Fourier transform • golden agegrab our attentionHollywoodHollywood movies • human attention spans • increased magnitude • James Cutting • mathematical algorithm • mathematical patternmeasurementneurocinematicsNew Scientist • our fickle attention spans • psychological analysispsychological perceptionpsychological sciencepsychology • shot lengths • Tinseltown • University of Texas

CONTRIBUTOR

Tessa Szwarnowska
12 MARCH 2011

Drew's Script-O-Rama: free film and TV screenplays since 1995

"It was eons before I discovered that 'lauded' was a good thing.

Anyway, I'm more like that slack–assed buddy who doesn't return your phone calls, has owed you twenty bucks for the last 14 years and flirts with your wife when it comes to updating the site at times. For that I feel shame. Shame, I feel. But hey, it's 2010 now, and I'm a changed man. Besides, don't I get some slack since I've had this site up since 1995? Val Kilmer used to be Batman back then! And Mr. Showbiz left you high and dry, but your friend Drew, he sticks with you while simultaneously referring to himself in the third person!"

(Drew, 2010)

[Note that this site includes a large number of inelegant ads.]

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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