It was inevitable, data crunching has reached the lofty art of screenwriting. For a mere $20,000 you can have World Wide Motion Picture Group analyze a script; giving you the chances it’s a hit and advice on how to increase those chances. Of course screenwriters are no fans of the new service, many in Hollywood ashamed to admit they might use the service.
Script analysis is new enough to remain a bit of a Hollywood taboo. Major film financiers and advisers like Houlihan Lokey confirmed that they had used the service, but declined to speak on the record about it. The six major Hollywood movie studios declined to comment.
Being an aspiring screenwriter myself and having spent the last few years of my career working in the games industry I can certainly understand the conflict between art and data analysis. It’s something I still see the social games industry struggle with even though data crunching is what separated it from console games – gather live data from millions of users, analyze, and quickly make adjustments. Though being thought of as an artist is way more appealing, if you’re going to make decisions based on data you might as well be a “Product Manager”. Additionally data analysis is work. Mostly though we got into entertainment because we’re dreamers and data has a way of crushing dreams. But what happened to, “you’ve got to kill your darlings”?
Nobody knows anything
As William Goldman‘s famous line goes, ”Nobody knows anything”. He was referring to how no one in Hollywood actually knows if a movie is going to be a hit or not until it opens. But is that really true anymore? Goldman’s line gained popularity in the 1980′s when the only hard data was box-office receipts. Then came focus groups and now cold hard data analysis, soon big data.
Screenwriters, artists must adapt
Data analysis is just another tool in an artists toolbox. Like any tool you must learn how and when to use it. Sure data can be used to give a producer false confidence in their opinion and completely wreck your script. Screenwriters will just have to fight back, which is something they’re not known for. I once saw Shane Black go on a tirade about how when producers and executives meet to discuss a script it’s the screenwriter who’s in the corner not saying a word. But afterwards the screenwriter will complain incessantly about how they wrecked their script. Screenwriters are going to have to learn how to argue, fight, convince others.
Increasingly art is becoming collaborative, or has always been – just look at the group that wrote Casablanca. That was writing by comity – a group of staff writers. If you can’t work with a team and/or argue your point of view you’re going to lose out. If World Wide Motion Picture Group evaluate a script and say it will bomb, the screenwriter should be able to dig up some data or present a convincing argument that casts some doubt. If they can’t, the screenwriter might be wrong and the producer, analyst, etc. might be right. This is how it’s been in the tech industry for years. Granted the tech industry didn’t have the cloud of “Art” hanging over it, but both industries are trying to do the same thing in the end – figure out what the audience wants.
I’m all for data crunching to come to screenwriting and would love to get a hold of the data the World Wide Motion Picture Group has gathered. I don’t kid myself, I’m trying to write a screenplay that audiences will love. The more data I can get and earlier the better. It can’t rely on the data alone, but that’s a balance I’ve developed over the years working in the tech industry.