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James E. Cutting and Ayse Candan

This article investigates historical trends of mean shot durations in 9,400 English-language and 1,550 non-English-language movies released between 1912 and 2013. For the sound-era movies of both sets there is little evidence indicating anything other than a linear decline plotted on a logarithmic scale, with the English-language set providing stronger results. In a subsample of 24 English-language movies from 1940 to 2010 the decline in shot duration is uniform across 15 shot classes, a result that supports a broad “evolutionary” account of film change. The article also explores the proportions of these shot classes across years and genres, with the results showing that 25 percent of the decline in shot duration is due to a shift away from shot classes with longer-than-average shot durations towards those with shorter-than-average durations, and 8 percent of the decline is due to the increased use of shot scales in which characters appear larger.

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Ted Nannicelli

Welcome to the first issue of our first three-issue volume of Projections. We begin this issue with a truly exciting collaboration between a filmmaker (and scholar), Karen Pearlman, and a psychologist, James E. Cutting. Cutting and Pearlman analyze a number of formal features, including shot duration, across successive cuts of Pearlman’s 2016 short film, Woman with an Editing Bench. They find that the intuitive revisions that Pearlman made actually track a progression toward fractal structures – complex patterns that also happen to mark three central pulses of human existence (heartbeat, breathing, walking).

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Shaping Edits, Creating Fractals

A Cinematic Case Study

James E. Cutting and Karen Pearlman

We investigated physical changes over three versions in the production of the short historical drama, Woman with an Editing Bench (2016, The Physical TV Company). Pearlman, the film’s director and editor, had also written about the work that editors do to create rhythms in film (Pearlman 2016), and, through the use of computational techniques employed previously (Cutting et al. 2018), we found that those descriptions of the editing process had parallels in the physical changes of the film as it progressed from its first assembled form, through a fine cut, to the released film. Basically, the rhythms of the released film are not unlike the rhythms of heartbeats, breathing, and footfalls—they share the property of “fractality.” That is, as Pearlman shaped a story and its emotional dynamics over successive revisions, she also (without consciously intending to do so) fashioned several dimensions of the film— shot duration, motion, luminance, chroma, and clutter—so as to make them more fractal.