Robots Aren't Scripting Your Movies

A blog about business and economics.
May 6 2013 9:00 AM

At $20,000 a Pop, Hollywood Doesn't Seem to Be Taking Script Doctor Algorithms Very Seriously

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Actor Robert Downey Jr. speaks at Marvel Studios' panel for "Iron Man 3" during Comic-Con International 2012 on July 14, 2012 in San Diego, California.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Brooks Barnes' New York Times article about efforts to subject Hollywood scripts to algorithmic analysis to maximize audience appeal seems well-calculated to push everyone's buttons regarding anxiety about technology and automation. Even without the specific help of algorithms, we can see here that it's perfectly possible to generate formulaic content about the clash between efficiency-minded automatons and the artistic soul. But the real news here is that algorithmic analylsis pioneer Vinny Bruzzese charges "as much as $20,000 per script." That's nothing. By the standards of a Hollywood feature film, it's a joke.

Consider a movie that hasn't done particularly well, like The Last Stand. It opened to $6.2 million in box office revenue and earned a total of $12 million before closing. For an extra investment of $20,000 in production costs, it would have needed to generate less than a 0.2 percent in revenue. And that was a flop. The latest Die Hard sequel made over $67 million. Iron Man 3 pulled in over $175 million over the weekend (I haven't even had a chance to see it yet since I was traveling).

The whole nature of the movie business is that you make big multimillion dollar investments in products that are expected to earn millions in revenue, all in the hopes of generating a few mega-hits that earn hundreds of millions. If you really strike gold, you get an enduring hit that generates DVD sales and sequels. Spending money to get even a tiny edge makes sense. Spending $20,000 to try to get an edge just shows that you don't actually take the technology seriously or rely on it in any way.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.