Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Operations Research & Movie Scripts

What has OR got to do with movie scripts? What has the geek world got to do with the Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood hills? Well on.

Warning to studio readers — two marketing professors at the Wharton School could very well put you out of a job.

Actually, Z. John Zhang and Jehoshua Eliashberg (plus a bevy of co-authors) claim that their goal is merely to augment your special talents, not replace them. But the paper they published in Management Science magazine in June called 'From Story Line to Box Office: A New Approach for Green-Lighting Movie Scripts' establishes a statistical model for analyzing screenplays and predicting whether a resulting movie will be successful at the box office. Which, if accurate, would render your silly personal judgments obsolete.

Greenlighting, or putting a screenplay into active production, relies mostly on the subjective intuition of readers and executives (plus a studio calculus derived from the budget and the past record of the film's genre and potential cast). It's a system that can produce, shall we say, spotty results. Zhang and Eliashberg hope to take some of the guesswork out of it. Their model combines textual analysis (paragraph construction, frequency and distribution of words, etc.) with structural analysis (a clear premise, a surprise ending, and the like) using 22 yes-or-no queries that are posed and then cross-referenced.

— Los Angeles Times

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