CineMetrics So, Gunars Civjans (and Yuri Tsivian) created CineMetrics, a software tool for tabulating and analyzing ASL (or: Average Shot Length) in Movies.
Visit the CineMetrics site to find out much more, including Barry Salt’s database. See also the CineMetrics database of collated films to date. Barry Salt, and David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson – and many others – have also examined ASLs (Average Shot Lengths) in cinema, to aim to determine how trends and styles in cinema production (shots, shot lengths, shot types, camera angles, editing) have evolved over time.
In Poetics of Cinema, Bordwell (2008) writes:
`Foreign Correspondent (1940), Saboteur (1942), Lifeboat (1944) and Notorious (1946) all have ASLs falling between 6 and 7 seconds. Hitchcock’s producer, David O. Selznick thought that his films tended to be “cutty” and sometimes tried to slow the editing pace by replacing Hitchcock’s single close-ups with more sedate two-shots. In 1947, The Paradine Case (1947), which Selznick recut, averaged 7.3 seconds per shot. The following year, Rope‘s shots averaged 7.3 minutes. So again, why did Hitchcock change his style so radically?’
(Bordwell 2008, p. 36)
See also Barry Salt’s legendary 1974 paper which launched the modern era of the domain of Cinemetrics!
Bordwell also writes on Average Scene Lengths, in The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006):
`…from 1930 to 1960, most films averaged 2 to 4 minutes per scene, and many scenes ran 4 minutes or more…
In films made after 1961 most scenes run between 1.5 and 3 minutes.
This practice reflects the contemporary screenwriter’s rule of thumb that a scene should consume no more than two or three pages (with a page counting as a minute of screen time).
The average two-hour script, many manuals suggest, should contain forty to sixty scenes.
[BUT – See my PhD for the actual way-better recommendation; more like: 90 scenes, in a 90 minute movie, for a high-RoI movie! …And, that’s the only kind of movie a working, successful screenwriter wants; am I right-? – JTV]
In more recent years, the tempo has become even faster. All the Pretty Horses (2000) averages 76 seconds per scene, while Singles (1992) averages a mere 66 seconds. One reason for this acceleration would seem to be the new habit of getting into and out of the scenes quickly.’
(Bordwell 2006, pp. 57-8)
Now; don’t get me wrong:
Bordwell is a genius; I love his work. (See, just how often I cite him favourably in my PhD! i.e., …A LOT!)
…BUT – if you’re a screenwriter, you may want to note this next point carefully –
As for the Top 20 RoI Movies… (which my 2016 PhD study examined in great detail):
Rather than focus on Average Shot Length, I too analyzed average Scene length in the Top 20 RoI Movies. (Why am I the only one who thinks this way? LOL)
So – a summary of Averages – and Medians – of the Scene Lengths of the Top 20 RoI Films:
(to nearest 1/8th)
|Average Scene Length||
6/8ths of a page
|Average Longest Scene:||
4 and 5/8ths pages
|Average Shortest Scene:||
One Scene Heading
and one line of action
|Median Scene Length||
1 and 1/8ths of a page
|*Mode Scene Length*(most frequently occurring)||
3/8ths of a page
Note also that: If we take the average, of both: the average scene length (49 secs) and also the median scene length of the Top 20 RoI films (1 min and 12 sec), we arrive at: 1 minute per scene. (i.e. 1min 12s + 49s / 2 = 60 secs, or: 1 minute – or, 1 screenplay page, in Courier 12-point font, using standard screenplay format).
This can be a useful metric for screenwriters and filmmakers (and film editors!)
Mainly given that, as a rule of thumb, a screenplay page equals around a minute of screentime. (Depending on many variables of course!)
Meantime – please visit the CIneMetrics site! There is much there to enjoy.
And for more info (and metrics) on the Top 20 RoI films, see:
…Comments, always welcome
PS – Also, this is interesting: just as Average Shot Lengths are getting shorter in movies, so are sentences in novels. And yes, I blame Twitter.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is more or less, (mostly) an Adapted Excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”.
It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers.
For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/