News Stories

The Science of Show Biz

Mathematicians dissect movies & TV shows - Hollywood's "golden age" seems to have ended in the 1950s. Up until that time, everyone went to the latest blockbuster and discussed it afterwards, but today, with so many choices at home (such as video games, the internet and cable TV), people are choosy about what they pay money for a ticket to see. But some mathematicians think it has to do more with the WAY films are made today than their content.

There is something about the rhythm and texture of early cinema that has a very different "feel" than modern films. Cognitive psychologist James Cutting analyzed 70 years of film, shot by shot, to try to figure out what this is, measuring the duration of every shot in every scene of 150 of the most popular films released from 1935 to 2005. The films represented five major genres: action, adventure, animation, comedy and drama.

He found that in older films, each shot was about the same length and these followed one another in a regular pattern throughout the film: A steady rhythm that was not only relaxing but also piqued interest in the viewer about what would happen next.

This year, for the first time, a film by a female director, "The Hurt Locker," may win the Oscar. This will be a big change: A recent study of the 100 top-grossing films of 2007 by a major film school found that females continue to be a large minority both on the screen and behind the camera. However, when women are decision-makers behind the scenes, the number of female characters in a film increases (which is NOT the case in Hurt Locker!)

Communications expert Stacy L. Smith found that less than 30% of the 4,379 speaking characters identified in the films of 3 years ago were female, while 83% of all directors, writers and producers were male. Smith says that Hollywood has been male-dominated for decades, and the recent data show not much has changed, and says, "Our findings show a representational roadblock for females in film. There is a dearth of females working in the movie industry no matter which way you look at the data."

OK, well what about the voting on the TV show American Idol? Mathematician Jason Gershman has figured out that the geography of the voters (AND the contestants) and the order in which the contestants sing both have a lot to do with who wins.

Gershman says, "Geography is one element of unfairness in American Idol. The audience has two hours to vote at the conclusion of the show when it has aired in their time zone. 78% of the country (the Eastern and Central Time Zones) can vote immediately after the show from 10-11 p.m. EST. A fan in Florida is competing with everyone on the East Coast and may call for a contestant 1,000 times, but the phone line is at a 50% busy signal. Only 500 votes get counted for her favorite. But a fan in Salt Lake City who calls 1,000 times for a contestant may only experience a 5% busy signal. That means 950 votes get recorded for that contestant." The winner is not only based on where the voters live, but also on where the SINGER is from:

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