Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cinema by the Numbers: Who is the Greatest Director in the World? (Part 2)


In this Part 2 in the search for the World's Greatest Director (read Part One before continuing), the idea is to look at just how prolific the 50 directors at the tip of the sword are, and whether their relative "prolificity" has an impact on average scores. You may have noticed from the last post that I am not exactly a statistics whizz, and for that reason I have engaged some experts in the field to help me with the data processing going forward. Perhaps some fundamental truths will be revealed, but what's more likely is a bunch of mildly interesting facts. Hit the jump.


Prolificity, in my model, is measured in years-per-film. I realise this is a misnomer, but who cares, you get the drift. Here are some of the stats:

Average Years Per Film: 2.4, which sounds about right. In fact, the graph below indicates that by far the majority of directors are around the 2 years per film mark...



Top 5 Most Prolific Directors (and years per film)
  1. Steven Soderbergh (1.05): yowzer, no wonder he has been threatening retirement for so long! Since kicking off with the awesome Sex, Lies & Videotape in 1989, Soderbergh has directed a whopping 22 movies, taking just over a year for each one. 
  2. Woody Allen (1.1): I actually thought Woody Allen would come out tops. At the age of about 77, the man has directed 41 movies! That is crazy stuff. To make matters even more impressive, he writes all of his films as well. Okay, they are mostly small comedic pieces, but it's an impressive feat nevertheless.  I mean, the last time a year went by when a Woody Allen movie didn't come out was the year in which I was born: 1981. And 2012 will see Allen again, with To Rome With Love (previously Nero Fiddled, and before that Bop Decameron).
  3. Clint Eastwood (1.25): the man with no name is hardcore. Not only is he 82 years old, he also directs pretty big movies. He directed 7 movies between 2006 and 2011, while in his late 70's / early 80's! Personally, I think that slowing down would do Mr Eastwood good.
  4. Spike Lee (1.29): this one is a surprise, but Lee was extremely prolific when he started out in the 1980s and 1990s. I'm not a big fan though, and 25th Hour is the only Spike Lee Joint I really liked.
  5. Richard Linklater (1.31): another surprise. However, if I measured prolificity from today's date backwards, his ranking would drop quite a bit since his last film was Me and Orson Welles in 2008. 
Top 5 Least Prolific Directors (and years per film)
  1. Terrence Malick (7.6): hardly a surprise, since the reclusive director took a whopping 20 years off between his second film (Days of Heaven) and The Thin Red Line. He now seems to have gone in the exact opposite direction, with no less than 4 projects on his plate: Voyage of Time (an examination of the birth and death of the universe narrated by Brad Pitt - more of a documentary than a movie), The Burial (starring every actor in the world, including Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz), Lawless (which is no longer called that, and has probably the best EVER cast: Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett) and Knight of Cups (with Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett). Knowing Terry Malick, don't be surprised if the above movies only come out in 2020, or if they are all actually one movie.
  2. George Lucas (5.67): since he has done basically fuck all for the last 30 years apart from tinkering with his Star Wars films, I am not surprised here either.
  3. James L Brooks (4.5): I don't think his comedic fare takes all that long to do, but I do think that he spends more time working in television than other directors. 
  4. Milos Forman (3.73): not much to say here actually. The man takes his time.
  5. James Cameron (3.5): an interesting addition, because all though he is always busy and in the press, he still makes the top 5 least prolific directors. The reason? Well, James Cameron has his fingers in all sorts of cinematic pies, but the main reason is that his films are HUGE and take forever to prep and make. He also crossed over to "big" films quite early in his career, so the long lead time started then already. Someone like Peter Jackson started with a string of small films which were made quickly, and only later tackled behemoths like The Lord of the Rings.
Does Prolificity have an Impact on Film Ratings?

I have done a scatter plot of all the data, and it would appears that yes, the average score attributable to a director does increase as he becomes less prolific. In other words, taking your time on a movie pays off. It's just that I couldn't figure out if Terrence Malick's 20 year holiday ruins all the data. Thankfully, I repeated the exercise after deleting him and the result is almost identical. It's so random though that I'm not placing much reliance on this one...


What if I look at the average rank of the most and least prolific directors listed above? Well, the average rank of the most prolific directors is about 35th out of 50, whereas the average rank of the least prolific directors is about 19th out of 50. So it does seem that making movies too quickly does have a negative impact on ratings. It seems obvious now, but I honestly did not expect that result. 

This is a bit of a boring category, and I don't want to reveal who the top performing directors are until later, but I promise that more interesting categories will follow soon...

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