Mike Baxter, Nick Redfern, Barry Salt, Yuri Tsivian: Three Hard Questions, Back and Forth
This conversation brings together statistical scientists and scholars that study film. What gathers us are two things. First, we are driven by mutual curiosity about cinemetrics as a field. What can numbers tell us about films and how do films fit in with what we know about numbers? Another thing we hope to find out has to do with Cinemetrics as a site. What variables should Cinemetrics make available to its users and which statistical tools need to be added to Cinemetrics labs? We plan to tackle these questions in a series of notes posted here starting from now through spring 2013.
Let me start off by introducing the team. My name is Yuri Tsivian, I study film, teach it at the University of Chicago and, in tandem with computer scientist Gunars Civjans, run the site that hosts this conversation. Beside me are two film scholars, Barry Salt of London Film School who pioneered the discipline of film statistics in 1974 and whose personal database and multiple essays are found elsewhere on this website, and Nick Redfern whose own website features over 50 cinemetrics studies and reflections. On the other side are two academic statisticians, Mike Baxter of Nottingham Trent University who has been publishing in statistical archaeology and quantitative geography since late 1970s and whose more recent interest in film statistics resulted in 3 essays on the subject, and Vanja Dukic of the University of Colorado at Boulder who happened to be around when Cinemetrics was born in 2005 and to whose expertise this site owes its first statistical steps.
The way I would like this conversation to evolve is round by round. To give it a sense (or semblance) of direction I will start each round by posing a question about this or that aspect of statistical films studies which our four experts might use as a starting point. Here is an approximate plot which is quite likely to change as new questions arise in the course of the conversation. My first question (of which more later) is about the role of ASLs, medians and outliers. This subject may well lead us to questions about log-normality tests which will ring in the second round. We may go on from there to the 3rd question which would relate to whether parametric or non-parametric statistics works better for films. The 4rth question might be about autocorrelation or other possible methods to establish cases in which shots tend to cluster, and if there is periodicity to this. We may then want to discuss the uses of descriptive, inferential and experimental statistics in film studies; I would also be interested in learning more about best ways to establish possible correlations between different variables of film style. We might then go on to the question of how to visualize data, for instance, whether old good bar plots work well enough to represent the shot scale profile of a motion picture. Again, all this is just a scheme which we may either flesh out or send the way of all flesh.