Movie Shot Lengths and Attention Deficit Disorder?

Paul Kedrosky has a fascinating post up entitled Open Source Attention Deficit Disorder Measurement. He writes:

There are stories making the rounds about people becoming nauseated while watching the popular new movie The Bourne Ultimatum. Not because they movie is so bad, but because the shot lengths are so short, averaging (apparently) something like two seconds. In some people that sort of thing — alongside fast camera moves — seemingly induces vomiting. Fascinating.

That, however, got me thinking. Many people, myself included, think movie shot lengths are getting shorter and edits closer together. It is, to one way of thinking, a reflection of our collective attention deficit disorder….

So, is it true? Have shots gotten shorter over the years? Until recently that wasn’t something on which you could readily find data, but now you can at least begin to, courtesy of a growing database of public movie shot-length data at Cinemetrics.

This is indeed fascinating, and indicates how collective intelligence is spreading into ever more obscure areas. People are cooperating to measure shot lengths in movies, through the bionic software combination of a computer tracking program that watches the movie with you, and the volunteer clicking each time a scene changes.

This is fascinating. You learn something every day. From the cinemetrics site:

In verse studies, scholars count syllables, feet and stresses; in film studies, we time shots.
“If I use one word, I would have to say timing,” Chuck Norris said in a recent interview to ABC’s Nightline answering what attribute won him six karate world titles. “Timing I think was my key thing. I was able to figure out the timing to close the gap between my opponent and myself and move back, and that was I think the key.” Much like martial arts, or like poetry and music, cinema is the art of timing. This explains why, early on, filmmakers as Abel Gance or Dziga Vertov in the 1920s, or as Peter Kubelka or Kurt Kren in the 1960s not only counted frames when editing, but also drew elaborate diagrams and color charts in order to visualize the rhythm of their future film. This also explains why a number of scholars interested in the history of film style (as Barry Salt in England, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson in the US or Charles O’Brien in Canada) count shots and time film lengths to calculate the average shot lengths of the films and/or use these data in their study.

But I digress. My real topic is collective intelligence. There are many different kinds:

  • Perhaps the most important, the discovery of meaning in activity that people are already doing — for example, in Google’s discovery of PageRank, the idea that link activity can be useful in providing better search results.

  • Explicit volunteering to build a collective work, as in open source software, or more radically, in the collective editing environment of Wikipedia.

  • Automatic monitoring of user activity, as when watches your music listening habits to make recommendations for music you might like, or when Amazon watches your buying habits to recommend other purchases you might like to make.

  • Some hybrid of the two, as at Cinematics.

And obviously, all these areas bleed into one another. When your camera starts automatically geocoding, it’s moving the geotagging of photos from a conscious user activity to an autonomic, computer mediated one.

We’d love to hear more examples of hidden data pools being created or brought to light. We’re interested in this because of the Money:Tech conference (of which Paul is the program chair), but even in areas like movie scene timing, which is obviously not related to the subject of that conference, we’re fascinated by the phenomenon.

Where else do you see new forms of meaning being discovered in data that is already being collected, or new, meaningful collections of data being created, either by new devices, or by people collaborating with each other or with their machines? What has made you sit up and say, “Wow! We really are on the threshhold of something very new and different?”