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Jan 17 2014

Cinematic Appraisals gets appraised

Ashley Miller is getting legal threats from a company called Cinematic Appraisals, because she found their claims laughable, and publicly laughed at them. I have to join in the laughing.

They claim to be a scientific script review company — for a fee, they’ll take a look at your movie script proposal, run it through some scientific tests, and tell you whether it will connect with an audience (I wonder if that’s how movies like Transformers end up getting made?) I wondered how they do scientific script appraisal, so I visited their pseudoscience page. It’s illustrated with this:

sciencey

They put your script under a microscope, and use molecular models to do something or other? What? If only they’d included some beakers of colored water with some dry ice to make them bubble, then I might believe this is a real photo of science in action!

But no, this is what they say they do:

The Mind Science Method has been lab tested and is proven to correlate with the actual psychophysiological responses of a subject to the screenplay. Testing measured neurobiological activity with a variety of electrodermal equipment including galvanic skin monitor, electromyrograms [sic], a zygomaticaus [sic?], a corrogator [sic?], an EEG and EKG (MP150WSW with Tel100C remote monitoring module data acquisition system).

The galvanic skin monitor is pretty much the same thing as the e-meter Scientology uses — it’s basically measuring how much you’re sweating. Electromyograms are recordings of muscle activity; I presume that’s what they doing with the zygomaticus (a muscle in your face involved in smiling) and the corrugator muscles (which are used to wrinkle up your forehead). Then they’re measuring general brain activity and heart rate.

If you want to get a strong response from a person strapped into such a setup, tell them a detailed story about sexual activity, or about lots of violent action with graphic descriptions. Suddenly, a great deal of the American movie industry is explained!

Otherwise, though, it’s a silly sciencey description of some really basic physiological apparatus, with misspellings and awkward grammar, that isn’t going to be able to do what they claim it will do, even with their pretense of a magic algorithm.

I can understand why they’d rely on lawsuits to protect their reputation. It’s too flimsy and compromised to be able to stand on its own.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Francisco Bacopa

    How much do they pay to get hooked up to the machines? Sounds safer than the medical testing I’ve been doing to make extra money.

  2. 2
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I was just reading about some new algorithm to analyze faces. [current Technology Review]They did an experiment where it monitored an audience watching the M&M animated (the talking M&M’s) commercial and based on the audience’s facial responses, predicted the sales of the candy after showings of the commercial. And the algorithm predicted with 75% accuracy the sales figures (while simple polling of the same audience produced only 70% accuracy).
    While this software is too new to be in the employ of this “science” group. It seems to me (without knowing all the details of their method), they are trying to do the same thing a little more crudely. Determine instant responses to cinematic scenes by measuring facial responses, rather than then less accurate questionnaires after the experience. It is well known that forcing a facial expression can change one’s mood because the reverse is an automatic mechanism (the face automatically reflects one’s mood).
    Why they are litigating over simple criticism is beyond comprehension, but I disagree they are just doing “pseudoscience”.

  3. 3
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    They wrote “myro” instead of “myo”? Ha!

  4. 4
    John Small Berries

    Their pseudoscience page can’t seem to decide whether their methods are “patent-pending” or “patented”. A search of the USPTO only turns up one thing registered to them, and it’s a service mark for the name “Mind Science Method”, no actual patents.

    But perhaps they took out the patents in the name of an individual; that’s certainly possible. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to provide the patent numbers, to quell any doubts about their honesty regarding the claim of “unique patented neurobiological algorithms”. (Surely they wouldn’t make fraudulent claims about that, would they?)

  5. 5
    moarscienceplz

    I think a corrugator is one of those weird elevators inside that pyramid in Las Vegas. Either that, or it’s a corrugated alligator. And an electromyrogram is to test how much your movie is like Myra Breckinridge, obviously.

  6. 6
    Al Dente

    Silly moarscienceplz, a corrugator is used to make corrugated cardboard.

  7. 7
    Inaji

    stevem @ 2:

    Why they are litigating over simple criticism is beyond comprehension, but I disagree they are just doing “pseudoscience”.

    Psssssssssssst, hey, over here! I have this lovely magic water for sale…

  8. 8
    brucemartin

    If they wanted to avoid ridicule, they should have done their work in a secluded location. Internet science shows they should have rented a coastline house from Barbara Streissand. That would have the desired Effect.

  9. 9
    gillt

    At first I thought this was a company who would “science proof” your movie, so we wouldn’t have actors dressed in lab coats abusing pipettes or misrepresenting evolution or behaving with childlike idiocy (e.g., biologist in Prometheus). But Cinematic Appraisals is involved in a whole other level hucksterism.

  10. 10
    Inaji

    gillt:

    At first I thought this was a company who would “science proof” your movie, so we wouldn’t have actors dressed in lab coats abusing pipettes or misrepresenting evolution or behaving with childlike idiocy

    So did I, and I thought what a great idea that was, too. Pity it turned out to be idiocy.

  11. 11
    woozy

    ..They did an experiment where it monitored an audience watching the M&M animated (the talking M&M’s) commercial and based on the audience’s facial responses, predicted the sales of the candy after showings of the commercial. …
    It seems to me (without knowing all the details of their method), they are trying to do the same thing a little more crudely. Determine instant responses to cinematic scenes by measuring facial responses, rather than then less accurate questionnaires after the experience. …
    Why they are litigating over simple criticism is beyond comprehension, but I disagree they are just doing “pseudoscience”.

    To play devils advocate, there is a hell of a difference between the immediate emotional response of visually watching a finished product and reading a script proposal and anticipating a final product.
    Like you, I’m disinclined to call it quackery outright but I’m okay with presuming pseudoscience until proven legit. Definitely caveat emptor and don’t fall for pan flashes. But if you do, well, you and not Cinematic Appraisal who is the fool with the parted money.

    Suing for simple criticism is utterly preposterous though.

  12. 12
    ChasCPeterson

    re ##9 & 10:
    When I was in grad school, a friend of mine who studied snake behavior was contacted by representatives of a company that was making a movie about Giant Snakes, asking if he’d like to serve as a paid advisor. Being a grad student he said yes. Turned out all they wanted to know was what kind of stuff to put in the biologists’s-office set–they were entirely uninterested in any advice about real snake behavior.

    the algorithm predicted with 75% accuracy the sales figures

    dude. What does that even mean?

  13. 13
    jnorris

    They failed the first, and most important, pseudoscience test: they did not use the word quantum anywhere in their description. It cannot be real pseudoscience unless it’s quantumized!

  14. 14
    nich

    @2

    They did an experiment where it monitored an audience watching the M&M animated (the talking M&M’s) commercial…

    How many people, here in the States at least, know exactly what they are though? You could play a commercial of the M&Ms reciting bits of Shakespeare and the thought of stuffing their little mouths with yummy chocolate dots in a crisp candy shell would probably register a positive response with my children. I think we’re a long way from doing the same with a script. And to paraphrase Ebert, it’s not so much what a movie is about but HOW it is about it that makes it good. A script could give me a great big erection, but if it ends up involving Shia Labeouf and Michael Bay, I’m going to be flaccid as a windsock on a calm day.

  15. 15
    kaleberg

    Isn’t science proofing like water proofing or fire proofing? It’s supposed to keep all the science out.

  16. 16
    alexanderz

    PZ, please don’t be too harsh to the people in “Royalty Free Stock Photo #14565546 (scientists working at the laboratory)”: http://www.fotolia.com/id/14565546

    One would assume that such a serious scientific organization would put at least some pictures of their actual equipment or staff on their site. But no, all they have is artist renditions of synapses and erythrocytes.

  17. 17
    mykroft

    Steamy sex scene? High score. CGI enhanced multi-party violence? High score. A plot that will actually make the audience think, and makes the movie memorable? Low score.

    See? Very easy. No lab coats required.

  18. 18
    Sili

    . And the algorithm predicted with 75% accuracy the sales figures (while simple polling of the same audience produced only 70% accuracy).

    Unless they tested on the order of a thousand people that “only” is not gonna be statistically significant.

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