Film Data Blog

Each week I look at a different topic around the film industry, focusing on the data and statistics which reveal what's going on.

What is happening to Second Unit Directors?

Something strange is happening to the role of second unit director… and I don’t know why.

I have crunched the data in a number of different ways and spoken to a fair number of industry insiders but I remain none the wiser as to what’s causing the trend we’ll see today.

I don’t normally publish results I can’t explain, but in this case, I’m stumped.  My hope is that intrepid readers will have theories I can test or insights into what’s shifting within the industry.  (I’ll be sure to update this article if I do ever find a satisfying answer).

Let’s start by familiarising ourselves with the role of second unit director and then we can turn to the mysterious trend.

What is a …
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Are virus-based movies spreading?

Today’s topic was suggested by a number of readers, all of whom asked a variation of “What has been the effect of the Coronavirus on movies featuring viral outbreaks?”

Most had presumably read the news that the 2011 movie Contagion had (albeit briefly) reached number 10 in the iTunes chart.  This is backed up by Google Trends data which shows that interest in the movie is sitting at a five-year high and related searches include: “Coronavirus”, “Wuhan” and “bubonic plague”.

The plot of Contagion is eerily similar to the current Coronavirus outbreak, save for the fact that in the movie Gwyneth Paltrow gets the virus whereas in real life she got a Netflix series.

But what of other virus-based movies?  Which are the …

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How well are women represented among short filmmakers?

Last week, I shared research I have conducted into the number of short films made over the past two decades.  I focused on live-action shorts which had played at least once at any film festival.

While production levels are interesting, they were not the original reason I conducted the project.  I was responding to requests to look at the gender of short filmmakers.

I have studied gender in the film industry a number of times in the past (links at the end of the article) but only briefly with regard to short films.  Shorts are an important data point to track when seeking to build up an accurate picture of gender among filmmakers.

For many filmmakers, short films represent the leap between their …

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How many short films are made each year?

Short films are a medium close to my heart.

They provide emerging filmmakers with an opportunity to practice their craft, explore their ideas, meet peers and showcase their abilities to audiences and the industry.

There’s nothing quite like watching a festival programme of shorts and being transported to a different vision of reality every ten minutes or so.

But they are poorly tracked by researchers and industry watchers.  The nature of short films makes them hard to quantify and there is rarely a commercial drive to invest the time needed to dig deeper.

To go a small way to redress this oversight, I have sought to get a sense of the scale of short filmmaking.

How many short films are made each year?

This is a …

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How often are women hired in key film departments?

In the most recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter, they covered the efforts being made to increase the representation of women in below-the-line roles.

As part of this coverage, I was asked to crunch the data on the number of women working in specific film departments.

So I built a dataset of all feature films released in US cinemas over the past twenty years and sought to calculate the representation of women in below-the-line roles.  There is much more about my methodology in the Notes section at the end of this piece.

The big picture

Let’s start by looking at the big picture for films released in 2018 and then focus in on a few of the departments over time.

Of the fifteen departments I …

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How wide was the theatrical release of ‘The Irishman’?

Martin Scorsese’s new film The Irishman has been ruffling feathers throughout the film industry.  Most notably for its unusual release pattern.

The film was funded by streaming giant Netflix, meaning that it was available on SVOD just 19 days after it first hit cinema screens.

This is a highly unusual ‘collapsing of the theatrical window’.  A film of this size and scope would be expected to have at least four months between first appearing on the big screen and then going into consumer homes (it’s three months in North America).

This has led the Big Three cinema chains in the UK, Vue, Odeon and Cineworld (which also owns Picturehouse), refusing to screen the film.  The Irishman opened on 8th November on the screens …

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After Die Hard, what’s the next most contentious “Christmas” movie?

Last year, I used a variety of data-led indicators to assess the claim that Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

If you don’t want any spoilers as to the result, stop reading this now and head on over to that article.

I used three categories of indicators through which a movie’s “Christmasness” could be judged – artistic, commercial and cultural. The first considers what’s in the movie, the second how it’s sold and the third how it’s perceived.

As time moves on, it’s the final of those three which becomes most crucial.  The artistic nature of the film remains static (well, unless George Lucas gets to it) and the commercial lens is not very reliable, given movie marketers’ penchant for pushing literally anything …

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Which famous actors have a worse career than Al Pacino?

In an interview last week, Al Pacino revealed that he enjoys starring in bad movies as he views it as a challenge to improve them to the point of mediocrity.

As Al put it…

Sometimes they offer you money to do something that’s not adequate. And you talk yourself into it. And somewhere within you, you know that this thing is gonna be a lemon. But then, when it comes full circle, and you see it, you say, “Oh, no. I’m gonna make this better.” And you spend a lot of time and you’re doing all these things, and you say, “If I can just get this to be a mediocre film,” and you get excited by that. It’s an impulse that …

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Can the film industry halt the decline of young audiences in cinemas?

Industry watchers (and regular readers) will know that there is an increasing concern in the film business about the declining cinema attendance among young people.  Teenagers and young adults have always formed the biggest group of cinema attendees and yet we have seen a decline in many countries in the current decade.

Last week, I ran a symposium for senior industry figures in UK cinema, supported by Into Film.  In attendance were representatives from the biggest cinema chains, distributors, public bodies, industry bodies and some big names from film production.  The event was a private forum for executives to share their experiences, ideas and solutions with the aim of increasing cinema attendance among young people.  (Note: We observed the Chatham House …

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Why do cinemas hate long movies?

Last week, I was chatting with a cinema owner who was angrily complaining about Martin Scorsese’s new movie, The Irishman.

The movie has proved controversial on a number of fronts:

  • It has a very short ‘release window’, thanks to it being entirely funded by Netflix.  This means that it will available to stream only 19 days after it first appeared in cinemas.  This has caused much consternation in the exhibition sector, leading to major chains refusing to screen it.
  • Scorsese has made some comments about his dislike for Marvel movies, referring to them as “not cinema” and describing them as “theme parks”.
  • It is a very long movie, coming in at three and a half hours.  This means that it is longer than 99.8% …
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