“Neurocinema” uses Brainwaves to Improve Movies

One thing you aren’t likely to hear Sunday night from the Oscar-winning producer after accepting the trophy for Best Picture: “I’d like to thank my neuroscience partners who helped us enhance the film’s script, characters, and scenes.”

It’s not that far-fetched, though.

A sizable number of neuromarketing companies already brain test movie trailers for the major studios through fMRI, EEG, galvanic skin response, eye-tracking and other biometric approaches. For now, the test data helps the studios and distributors better market the movie.

But what about using brain feedback to help make the movie?

A trailblazing few firms and studios have delved into the upstart practice of “neurocinema,” the method of using neurofeedback to help moviemakers vet and refine film elements such as scripts, characters, plots, scenes, and effects. Princeton University psychology professor Uri Hasson coined the term “neurocinematics” based on an fMRI study, in which he concluded that certain types of films (e.g. horror, action, sci-fi) produced high activation scores in the amygdala region of viewer subjects’ brains, the part that controls disgust, anger, lust, and fear. Hasson asserted that horror filmmakers can potentially control viewers’ brains by precisely editing their films to maximize amygdalic excitement and thus “control for” buzz and success at the theater.

Stephen Susco, who wrote the $187 million grossing horror movie Grudge, is not a practitioner of neurocinema. But he tells Fast Company that he sees its growth as part of the “natural evolution of studios trying to maximize profit while making the upstream development process more scientific, less based on just experience and instinct.”

Other filmmakers seem divided.

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