About this Project

2013 – 2015

It was only with the 2005 launch of the digital tool Cinemetrics that scholars began to realize the potential of a new approach to film studies made possible through the analysis of rate changes within films. Conceived by Yuri Tsivian and housed at the University of Chicago, Cinemetrics is an open-access, interactive website that collects, stores, and processes data about film editing. It has already emerged as an important forum for the world’s leading film scholars, enabling them to share data and ideas about the statistical analysis of cinema.

Scholars interested in the history and aesthetics of film editing have been analyzing average shot lengths for many years. By dividing the total running time of a film by the total number of shots, they have gleaned useful information about the impact of new film technologies, the evolution of directors’ styles, the range of experimentation across geographies and historical periods, and more. But average shot length reveals nothing about a film’s internal dynamics. This is where the project’s collaboration among specialists in film, movement, and statistical technologies has broken new ground, positioning film as a key narrative form for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The Cinemetrics Across Boundaries project (2013–2015) began by bringing two Visiting Fellows to campus to collaborate with Tsivian. Daria Khitrova brought the perspective from other similarly meter-driven arts—music, poetry, and dance—to discussion of film, thinking through with Tsivian the shared features of narrative structure and editing techniques and their implications. Michael Baxter, a statistician and quantitative archaeologist, applied statistical methods to early cinema masters D. W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Charlie Chaplin. In this way the project added a critical analytical tool for understanding film’s unique capacity to capture qualities of meter and motion, and reveal the editorial choices that shaped film’s early narratives.

Tsivian, Khitrova, and Baxter coordinated closely as their research progressed, comparing discipline-specific methods and results. This collaboration has borne fruit in multiple forms that continue to progress, including work on a co-authored book. An early conference organized by project leaders historicized the idea behind quantitative measures of film. As part of the project’s goal to share broadly its findings it held a capstone conference in Chicago, bringing together fifteen international leaders for the first-ever international conference of Cinemetrics scholars. (Supplementary support was provided by the Film Studies Center, the Cinema and Media Studies program, and the Franke Institute for the Humanities.) Conference participants included the world’s most expert Cinemetrics users. Renowned film editor Sandra Adair described in her keynote address the unique continuity challenges she faced while editing twelve continuous years of footage for the critically acclaimed film Boyhood (2014), then recently released. Adair’s participation at this key event in the project not only brought together the worlds of scholarship and artistic practice; she also shared her insights with the next generation of film experts. As part of her master class for undergraduates Adair demonstrated the value of Cinemetrics and other analytical tools that can help young filmmakers improve their editing skills in relation to tempo.

In addition to generating new ideas for the film- making process, the project also explored the role of film in revising our historical understanding of human psychology and the senses. Cornell University psychologist James Cutting gave a talk in which he used Cinemetrics analysis to show how Hollywood films have evolved to align better with human perception and cognition. Cutting looked at factors like motion, cutting rate, and color contrast—all of which correlate with increased attention and all of which, according to his research, have increased in popular movies over time.

In the process of examining film editing and its measure from the larger perspective of human history, the Cinemetrics project formed a new community of inquiry. The project brought together for the first time a large and growing international cohort of scholars and practitioners interested in exploring how this analytical tool can lead to a new understanding of film’s relationship to social change. As the impact of the project’s multiple intensive partnerships continues to unfold, we expect to see the emergence of new practices in filmmaking, and deeper understanding of the ways film reflects and shapes the processes of the human mind.

View videos from the 2015 Cinemetrics Across Borders Conference >>


Exploring Cutting Structure in Film

August 31, 2015

with Applications to the Films of D. W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Charlie Chaplin.

Authored by Neubauer Collegium Fellows Mike Baxter, Daria Khitrova, and Yuri Tsivian.

Cinemetrics quantifies creativity in film

May 26, 2015

Films are many things: They are works of art, historical documents, and commercial products. But for scholars like film historian Yuri Tsivian, they are also a treasure trove of data.

The Humanities, Rebooted

April 14, 2014

Neubauer Collegium Catalyzes Digital Humanities Innovation at University of Chicago


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