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.

Analysing half a million reviews of British cinemas

As I write this, we’re in turbulent times due to the outbreak of COVID-19.  It’s far from clear what the outcome will be on the overall film economy, but already we can see one area which is being hit hard – cinemas.

A mix of fear of infection and government mandates mean that projector lights are going out all over Europe and beyond.

In the short-term, the situation looks pretty bleak for many high street cinema chains.  They hold masses of perishable concessions, have rent owing and a workforce to pay or let go (both in the sites and back-offices).

However, once the current crisis is over it seems reasonable to assume that cinema-going will pick back up, fuelled by a desire to …

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Does one page of a film script really equal one minute of screentime?

A few weeks ago, John August dropped me an email which included a simple question: “How accurate is the page-per-minute rule of thumb?”

The rule John is referring to is that a film based on a (properly formatted) 90-page screenplay will be roughly 90 minutes long. This is useful to a number of people, including;

  • Screenwriters who can estimate how long each scene will be for the audience,
  • Directors who can ensure the film unfolds at their desired pace,
  • Producers and Studios who can check if the film is within the boundaries of commercial exploitation,
  • Actors who can get a sense of their character’s screen time,
  • Post-production staff who can estimate how much work they may have to do on the final edit.

This isn’t a comprehensive …

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What percentage of screenwriters write a second movie?

Last week, I looked at the average number of credited screenwriters on movies.  This gave me an insight into how many scripts were written by just one person, and how many were written as part of a team or chain of writers.

The same data on screenwriting credits can reveal other aspects of what it’s like to be a professional screenwriter.

Today we’re going to look at how many scripts professional screenwriters write during their film career.

What percentage of screenwriters write a second movie?

I’m using a dataset of all live-action fiction feature films made over the past seventy years, covering 280,000 movies and 145,000 people.

It seems that the majority of screenwriting careers could be described as ‘one and done’.  66% of writers …

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How many screenwriters does it take to write a movie?

Over the next few weeks, I am aiming to answer a number of readers’ questions around screenwriting.

To do so, I have built a dataset of all live-action feature film movie credits over the past seventy years, covering over 280,000 movies and 145,000 people. We’re going to start with a straightforward question and in the later weeks look at more complicated topics.

First up, let’s look at how many people are credited as being a full writer of feature films.

How many writers work on a movie?

In Hollywood, screenwriting credits are strictly regulated by the Writers Guild of America (WGA).  Only three parties are allowed to be credited as the writer (with a ‘party’ being either a single writer or writing teams of …

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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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