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The Formula for a Hollywood Blockbuster

No bowling alleys, no summoning demons, and no troubled superheroes.


There is a relatively uninteresting story in The New York Times today. Or, at least, it's a story that's been told before. Long-standing people in an industry are getting annoyed by an outsider who's trying to change the way they do things with a scary new tool: statistics. It's seemingly happening everywhere, and that it's now happening in Hollywood—a place where "making money" is pretty high on the list of priorities—isn't all that surprising.

This is how it works:

A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese—“the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,” in the words of one studio customer—has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?

As Matt Yglesias pointed out at Slate, $20,000 is almost nothing in terms of production costs for a movie. So, the story's kind of predicated on this "mad scientist" who's toiling away in his lab, rather than actually causing any legitimate outside waves. If it's "as much as $20,000," studio heads aren't really taking Bruzzese all that seriously. And, beyond that, the idea of using statistics to build the perfect movie script isn't necessarily something new. For now, then, Bruzzese is a funny character—the manifestation of Long Island, basically: "'All screenwriters think their babies are beautiful,' he said, taking a chug of Diet Dr Pepper followed by a gulp of Diet Coke and a drag on a Camel. 'I’m here to tell it like it is: Some babies are ugly.'"—without all that much sway, but that doesn't mean his ideas are totally uninteresting.

While Bruzzese doesn't get any deeper into his methodology than what's mentioned above, he does reveal a couple indicators of box office success:

“Demons in horror movies can target people or be summoned,” Mr. Bruzzese said in a gravelly voice, by way of example. “If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned. So get rid of that Ouija Board scene.”

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. “A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero,” one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.

So—ignoring The AvengersThere Will Be Blood, The Big Lebowski, Lord of the Rings, and etc.—the ideal movie contains, among other things, no bowling alleys and is a targeting-demon fighting against a guardian superhero, which means Blade is the perfect Hollywood movie. I realize that vampires are not necessarily demons and I'm not even totally sure there isn't a bowling alley at some point, but those are minor details. How much did it earn? $131,183,530.