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Movie Mom

Movies by the Numbers — A Formula for Editing Film

posted by Nell Minow

New Scientist Magazine reports on a study by a psychologist of 150 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.” Based on a 1990’s study that turned the attention span data of hundreds of volunteers into “a series of waves using a mathematical trick called a Fourier transform,” this paper applied that formula to the edits of popular movies. The scientist, too-perfectly named Professor James Cutting, found that having shots of similar length recur in a regular pattern throughout the film correlates with box office success. However, it does not necessarily correlate to quality.
I wonder if, as many theorists suggest, the attention spans of high consumers of media are decreasing, and we will see those formulas speed up over time.

  • James

    This is really timely as I was discussing a phenomenon with a friend the other day. I’ve been going back and watching films I remember as being really entertaining from my youth (80’s). When I watch those same movies now, they seem REALLY slow and take forever for something to actually happen. Not sure if this is a trick of memory or a loss of attention span on my part!

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