More data on scene rhythms
by Jason Mittell — Middlebury College
June 07, 2012 – 08:17
A couple of quick updates. First, my article that I published previously to the blog, “Playing for Plot in the Lost and Portal Franchises” has been published in a revised version in the journal Eludamus: Journal for Computer Game Culture.
Second, I’ve been playing with the metrics I discussed in my post earlier this week about “scenic rhythms,” and added a number of other episodes to my list. After much tinkering with various spreadsheets and finally finding success with Open Office, I figured out how to put those data into a chart to visualize the different patterns. Again, the two variables are Scenes per Hour and Foci (essentially meaning how many storylines are threaded throughout the episode). Here’s the chart:
My choice of programs was very much based on whatever was handy for me to tabulate. I added a few single camera sitcoms to see how they compare—not surprisingly, the shorter 20-25 minute length and quick comic pacing leads to high SpH. Cougar Town was highest, with a scene per minute, a number boosted by the comic device of the smash cut to another time and/or place for a joke. I also think it’s interesting what a gap there is in number of foci between The Wire / Game of Thrones at 12, and everything else that falls in the 3-7 range. That might be selection bias, so I need to think of other programs that are likely to have more than 7 foci (beyond Treme) – maybe Deadwood?
Do people have ideas for other programs or episodes to include here? I don’t know if I’m ready to launch a full-fledged database of SpH yet like Cinemetrics, but a bit of crowd-sourced brainstorming could be helpful, as I’m thinking of writing an essay on this topic. Some thoughts I have are: to look at some pilot episodes to see how their rhythms might differ from typical episodes; to look at more network dramas, including serialized shows (Revenge and Good Wife are soon to come) and procedurals; to consider multicamera sitcoms in the mix; and maybe spanning back into other eras. There are also some data variables that I need to think about, including defining foci a bit more clearly and also being able to account for the variability of the counts – in some instances, a “focal thread” might only consist of one scene (a serialized “runner”) while another might take up more than half the episode, and likewise a single scene of 10 minutes might skew an episode’s measurement quite a bit – thus Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones have similar SpH, but Breaking Bad features a wider range of scene lengths, while GoT is much more consistently paced throughout.
It feels like this is potentially an interesting tool to provide a clear basis for comparison across genres and production modes, but like any measure it is only useful for particular questions and parameters. So any feedback is much appreciated!