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.
Yes, this is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. It's applying the Nate Silver quant-crunching approach to creativity.
Among the gems unearthed by this crew: movies with bowling scenes in them tend to tank, so don't include them. So much for The Dude, then! And yes, The Big Lebowski did not do well in its original release, but it's been consistently reissued on video multiple times since and has become a cultural touchstone — something which they achieved, I add, with relatively minimal risk given the movie's budget.
Or what about There Will Be Blood, whose final scene took place in — yes — a bowling alley? The absurdity of this approach just stretches on and on.
The other problem with this approach is that it draws on an audience's certainty that it knows what it wants, since it uses focus group survey results as part of its crunching. If you ask someone what they want and then give them nothing but that until they puke, you're not doing them any favors. Nobody knows how to be pleasantly surprised; if they did, it wouldn't come as a pleasant surprise to them in the first place.
Look, I understand the reasons for, and to a degree empathize with, the work being done here. Moviemaking is a risky business, and people want some guarantee that their investments will not disappear. But the mad rush for absolute surety is only contributing all the more to a long-term creative malaise.