How Can Neuroscience Contribute to the Film Industry?

We asked Vadim Levin who is filming the first horror movie in the world based on neuroscience, why he believes that technology can contribute a lot to art and his answer was quite a creative one:

“Technology is an art because creativity is rooted in its nature, and art is a technology of how artists can affect people’s emotions. Not trying to create something beautiful in between is a big mistake.”

Last year during 4 months Vadim and his team from Neuro Movies (NeMo) conducted an extensive study to find out how neuroscience can make horror movies scarier (what else could be a better criterion of their quality?).

For this purpose, NeMo showed study participants from China, Russia and USA 17 scenes (from 1.5 to 8.5 minutes long) taken from the best horror movies the film industry produced over the past 60 years. Among the study materials were both latest top movies at the box office (like Sinister and Paranormal Activity) and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic masterpieces.

It turned out that nationality played a huge role in how a person percepted the movie: scenes that could scary an American had no effect on a Chinese, and vice versa. Besides, the research revealed that all these movies shared similar patterns of inducing fear in the viewer.

The study conducted by NeMo in progress.

The aim of this study was not only to prove that this pattern exists but, more importantly, to dissect each movie into separate scenes and find the recipe for the ‘perfect horror’.

There had been precedent studies that centred on the use of neuroscience in filmmaking such as the one conducted at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in which 122 moviegoers watched trailers while the researchers recorded their brain activity. It turned out that whenever the viewers showed a good deal of similar brain patterns, the film had higher ticket sales upon release. Besides, what added to the box office was the simplicity of the language used in the trailer.

Moreover, the researchers at Northwestern were able to see when the engagement level reached its highest point and how it correlated with memorability of the trailers. The collected data showed that the trailers of the movies that had highest ticket sales reached a peak moment of engagement within first 16–21 seconds [1].

Another study performed by Professor Maarten A.S. Boksem at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University looked into brain response of viewers to cinematic trailers with the purpose of predicting individual purchase decisions as well as overall performance of the movies at the box office. The study demonstrated that oscilations registered with an EEG (that stands for electroencephalogram) can serve as a neural marker for the commercial success of a movie [2].

Yet another study at Dolby Labs used biosensors to record how humans react to various sounds, shapes, colours and other visual stimuli. This laboratory has accumulated a set of neuromarketing tools they offer to big filmmaking companies such as Disney.

The problem behind neuroscience research is that it lacks implementation in real film projects. There is already enough scientific data for a revolution in the film industry, however, there are only a few examples of how it has been used in practice. For example, research at Dolby Labs was employed in Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out” but its application was very limited: only a few scenes that depicted the inside thoughts of the main characters got a makeover with the use of the Dolby Vision technology in a special version of this animated film [3]. And this is a drop in the ocean.

When he saw the results of the research in the horror genre, Vadim Levin was eager to implement these recommendations producing a horror film and thus proving that technology could make it scarier.

His first step toward this goal was the Vanity Fear short film, winner of Best Short Horror Film at Chandler International Film Festival and Hollywood Moving Pictures Film Festival.

To apply the findings of NeMo’s research on a larger scale, Vadim started developing a longer version of his project, the feature film Vanity Fear, which will serve as a demonstration of how the film industry can progress thanks to neuroscience.

Apart from it, Vadim promotes the Decentralized Entertainment Platform AndAction! that will make neuromarketing technologies more accessible for filmmakers and as a result, will boost their evolution.

AndAction! will become a cosy web space where filmmakers will have a chance to connect with viewers and investors with the purpose of creating high-quality content and ensuring that their product will win general applause. Find out more: andaction.io

Filmmaking is a risky business, and the chances are that neuroscience is what will help filmmakers manage the risks. If you agree, put a cap below.

Literature:

[1] Barnett SB, Cerf M. A Ticket for Your Thoughts: Method for Predicting Content Recall and Sales Using Neural Similarity of Moviegoers (2014). Journal of Consumer Research.

[2] Boksem, M.A.S., Smidts, A. Brain responses to movie-trailers predict individual preferences for movies and their population-wide commercial success (2015). Journal of Marketing Research.

[3] Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision Help Creators of Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out Work Magic. Article at dolby.com.

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