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.

How valuable is experience when producing movies?

In much of human life, we equate the length of time someone has been performing a task with their level of skill.  Businesses proudly state how long ago they were founded, a lawyer with “30 years’ experience” can charge more than one fresh out of college and ‘time served’ often denotes seniority.

But is this true of the film industry?

Put more directly, does the number of films a producer has made indicate how likely their next project is to succeed?

To answer this, I teamed up with Bruce Nash from The Numbers.  We focused on 2,911 narrative (i.e. non-documentary) feature films released (either theatrically, direct-to-video or VOD) between 1999 and 2018.  For each film, we have detailed estimates of their financial performance, …

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Are we experiencing a renaissance of music-based movies?

Over the past few weeks and months, we have seen an increase in press articles covering music–based feature films.

Only last week, The Guardian stated, “We are in an uncommonly busy period, if not a flat-out golden age“, the BBC declared that “2019 has been the year of the music film” and The Independent claimed that “we may be in for a new musical renaissance“.  (The Indie gets points for at least being cautious in their language when declaring the new dawn of dance).

This has led to a few readers contacting me to ask if this is true.

Are we in a boom of music-based movies, or are over-enthusiastic journalists turning a couple of movies into a trend?

Let’s zoom out and look …

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Do directors direct both fiction and documentaries?

I am working on a long-term research project looking at gender among documentarians. Previously, I’ve studied the gender split among directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, composers and sales professionals – but always focusing on fictional feature films.

As I branch out to study factual films, I wanted to do a couple of micro-research projects to learn just how similar the worlds of factual and fictional filmmaking are.

First up: do documentary directors also direct fictional films?  And vice versa?

I started by building a database of all feature films made around the world in the past two decades (1999-2018 inclusive), both factual and fiction.  See the Note section at the end of this piece for more details.

How many people have directed a feature film?

Over …

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Is it better to have one producer or a team of producers?

I have produced films alone and I have produced in partnership with other producers.  Personally, I prefer the latter.

Producing a movie is a big undertaking and so it’s good to have people to share the load and journey with.  Plus the film gets to benefit from multiple people’s strengths, passion and contacts.

Recently, I was chatting to a producer who has the opposite view. They prefer to have the sole producing responsibilities rest on their shoulders as it allows them to keep the film on track: one vision with one leader.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at what the data reveals.  We can’t objectively test ‘which is best’, but we can look at one facet of the question …

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Is hiring a first-time director a risk?

Of all the creative jobs involved in the making of a feature film, the role of director is perhaps the most important.

It’s also the one which most clearly identifies a film. We talk about Spielberg films and Tarantino films more than we do Streep or Hanks films, even though all of these creatives are at the top of their field.

Some reasons for selecting one director over another are artistic (their skill, their ‘voice’, their connection to the script, etc) while others are pragmatic. When it comes to picking the perfect person to helm a film, producers and financiers want to do all they can to ensure the film will be a financial success.

There is a perception in some quarters that …

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Is a movie’s box office gross connected to its budget?

In the last couple of weeks, I have looked at a number of topics around movie budgets.

To complete this trilogy, I am turning to the connection between a movie’s budget and the amount of money it collects at the box office.  Specifically, I’ll be looking at the “Domestic” gross, i.e. all the money spent on movie tickets in US and Canadian cinemas.

I’ll be using my dataset of 5,713 feature films released domestically for which I could find a public budget figure.  See the Notes section for details and caveats of budget information. To measure the extent to which the budget and box office gross are correlated, I’ll be using the Pearson correlation coefficient.

A coefficient of minus one means they’re perfectly negatively …

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How has the cost of making a movie changed over the past twenty years?

According to news reports, Netflix boss Ted Sarandos has privately been telling producers that his company will be more cost-conscious going forward.

This comes on the heels of Netflix’s Triple Frontier (a movie which reportedly cost $115 million but which has gone down poorly with audiences and critics alike) and their up-coming blockbuster Red Notice (which is likely to cost upwards of $200 million, including unusually large pay-cheques for its stars, The Rock, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds).

Netflix’s journey towards bigger and bigger budgets, only to then start lowering them again, is a story Hollywood knows well.  Over the past century, most of the major studios have had moments of budget inflation and belt-tightening.

Last week, I shared my research into how much the average …

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How much does the average movie cost to make?

Among the most frequent questions I’m asked by those new to the film industry is “How much does the average movie cost to make?”

The short answer is “it depends”.  It’s similar to asking “How much does the average meal cost to make?” It depends where you are, who’s making it, for whom and whether Robert Downey Jr. is involved (ok, so maybe this last one only applies to movies).

This would make for rather a short blog article, so instead I thought I’d take a deeper look at whether there are useful ballparks which can give a sense of scale on movie budgets.

I built up a dataset of 5,713 feature films released domestically (i.e. in US & Canadian cinemas) for which I …

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How do actors compare to the general population?

Acting is a strange profession, with many contradictions.

  • The job officially requires no qualifications but actors are expected to train to a high level in a wide variety of skills.
  • Good actors convince audiences that they are the character (rather than an actor pretending) and yet top actors have loyal fanbases keen to see the specific actor who’s doing the pretending.
  • It’s nominally a meritocratic industry but most successful actors are coincidentally thin and attractive with great hair.

As regular readers will know, I have recently built a dataset of all working actors in the UK using data these performers have published about themselves in their professional profiles. Today, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the pool of professional UK actors compares …

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Is a delayed release a sign that a movie will be bad?

X-Men: Dark Phoenix opened in cinemas a few weeks ago – a release date which is significantly later than first intended.

The film’s director, Simon Kinberg, blamed the delayed release on a few factors, including the complexity of the film’s visual effects.  Said Kinberg:

When we felt like we weren’t going to be able to complete the movie to the level we wanted to complete it from a visual effects standpoint, we considered moving it from November [2018] to February [2019]. Then, because of the way the international calendar was for us and how fast we could get materials to other territories, we felt like February became not just challenging, but not necessarily the best window internationally for the film.

Dark Phoenix started shooting …

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