From The Inside – Movie Moneyball … or the Sabremetrics of Cinema

It’s hard to commit to writing a regular column for many writers who love (and write about) cinema. But occasionally members of the Inside Pulse Movies Staff have long form thoughts on film they want to share with you, our valued readers. Thus comes a new project from Inside Pulse Movies, “From the Inside,” where members of the movies staff sporadically share their thoughts on anything and everything related to film.

This week One of Inside Pulse’s Many Editors Who Pull Double Duty On The Site, Movies Content Editor and Inside Fights News Editor Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz, has opted to join the fray.

One of the things that genuinely intrigues me is this week’s Moneyball, the story of how Sabremetrics came to change the way we look at baseball. And it’s something I planned on writing about earlier in the week but couldn’t quite finish this up in time, hence taking up the From the Inside column for a piece on my own.

A sometimes long-form mental exercise, which is what this ultimately is, warrants its own piece for discussion, dissection and perhaps dissertation of its core concepts. The more I kept writing this, and this has been a piece I’ve been working on for a couple months now, the more it just felt wrong to be just another column.

One of the things we always discuss en masse is who is and who isn’t a movie star. I remember reading something on Grantland.com about it, even, with the argument being that it’s getting harder and harder to actually call someone a movie star because of the ups and downs of an actor’s career can be much more pronounced than ever before. Plus with the advent of the indie scene as being something an actor can work on and make a good living at for years, outside the Hollywood studio system, our definition of a star has to change with it.

And it usually is more of a subjective debate than an objective one. Like you can scream about a guy like Jim Carrey being a movie star but his resume is fairly flat as of late. Compare this to Will Smith, who always makes big films with big budgets; too often we conflate being a popular actor with being a movie star when in reality they’re two different things. And so I decided to sit down a couple months ago and try to actually devise a system where we could objectively measure who is and who isn’t a movie based on a variety of factors outside of the usual “sniff test” that we use in most cases like this. And thus a concept was born.

Movie Moneyball –
The Sabremetrics of Cinema

It all came down to a massive attempt by myself to think of a way we could measure out who is, and who isn’t, a movie star by using the numbers and some classifications to give us an objective analysis on this. If we can trade out our biases in this scenario, and replace it with objective criteria with which we can accurately compare actors to one another, I think we can create something by which we can more accurately measure.

I think we can if we take it down to its base essentials which I’ve broken down into three categories: Star Power, Greatness and Credibility. They also are broken down into sub-categories as well.

— Each category is worth five points based on where an actor falls in, with the last five films determining where you stand currently. We have to look at five and five only, because a career can wildly fluctuate in five films. Ten can be too many, especially for a handful of actors just on the scene, and less than five isn’t a big enough category to determine it.

— Each of your last five films gets rated per the category on a 1-5 scale, five being the highest.

The key to this is not to penalize someone who takes a smaller role in a bigger film or a bigger role in a smaller film, but to try and accurately gauge someone as a movie star because a Hollywood star can have a variance in their last handful of films that needs to be accounted for. It’s an attempt to accurately gauge their status while evening out the significance of a summer blockbuster and a prestigious indie.

Star Power – The ability to draw crowds in terms of money against your role in a film

One of the things that immediately determines on the sniff test of whether or not you’re a star is the ability to pull in crowds. But it needs to be balanced off with the size of the film as well as your role in it. An actor like Kevin McNally may be in a lot of films that draw money in but he’s in smaller roles in them; thus we have to take into account that he’s not the one drawing in crowds by downgrading him for a smaller part while also rewarding him for being in a big film. Minor roles in a blockbuster can count for helping an actor feel like a movie star whereas a lead role in a small indie doesn’t; there needs to be a way to account for both possibilities as well as all points between.

Scope – Part of being a movie star is being in films that open wide. You have to be in films that open wide regularly to have any sort of shot at it; anything else and you’re Paul Dano, who is a lead actor in a lot of indie films that never see the light of day.

5 – Wide Release
4 – Platform Release That Ends Up Wide
3 – Platform that Never Expands
2 – Limited Release
1 – DTV
0 – Never Released

Domestic Box Office Power – U.S box offices don’t count for as much as they used to in terms of Hollywood success, mainly because foreign grosses comprise 70% of profits, and every year less people see films on the whole. So the ability to pack in crowds in the U.S is a much tougher proposition than ever. Usually a dozen to two dozen films cross $100 million domestically, and each $100 million grosser winds up with a smaller number as you add it up, so if you can regularly bring in $300 million more that counts for something significant.

5 – $300 million and up
4 – $200mm
3 – $100mm
2 – Up to $100mm
1 – Under $50mm
0 – Never in Theatres / DTV

Foreign Box Office Power – It’s what plenty of actors who don’t draw as much in the States do worldwide that makes them much more significant commodities than others. Johnny Depp is a prime example of this; he might only really pack in the numbers in Pirates of the Caribbean films but no matter what foreigners LOVE the man and pack any film he’s in. That counts a lot and has to be taken into consideration opposite someone like Will Ferrell, who is much more of an American box office draw than an international one.

5 – $500 million and up
4 – $300mm
3 – $100 million
2 – Up to $100mm
1 – Under $50mm
0 – Never in Theatres / DTV

Opening Weekend – The other part of box office grosses that has become indicative of star power so far is the ability to bring in audiences that opening weekend. It’s that crucial “strong word of mouth” buzz that has become synonymous with a film crushing it at the box office. Most films also tend to gross about 2.5 to 4 times their opening weekend when all is said and done, thus giving you an idea to what a film will gross over the long run. There usually are outliers on either side of that equation but it generally tends to hold up over the long run. And a movie star will pack in the crowds; the minimum, as defined by Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood, seems to be about $20 million so that’s our midway point. $20 million is our starting point and tough to pull off; $50 million is tougher and reserved for the rare air of guys like Will Smith, thus it’s the highest value to do so.

5 – $50 million plus
4 – $30 million plus
3 – $20 million plus
2 – $10 million Plus
1 – Less than $10 million
0 – Direct to video

Role – This is the ultimate equalizer. Being in the lead of a film counts a lot; if you’re a good actor who can only get indie roles in the lead, and has to take a seat to others for big blockbusters, that says something we have to take into consideration as well.

5 – Lead
4 – Substantive Supporting Role / Secondary Lead
3 – Small Supporting Role
2 – Stunt Cast / Bit Part
1 – Extended Cameo
0 – Cameo

Greatness – How Good Are Your Supporting Writers/Directors?

One of the things that drives a popular actor into being a movie star is working with good people. You can’t discount Leonardo DiCaprio’s career push from being the kid from Titanic into Will Smith category because he started working with tons of remarkably good people. Greatness from directors and writers tends to rub off in performances; there’s a reason why great directors tend to get good to great performances out of a wide variety of actors on a regular basis.

Director Level – The director is the ultimate fall guy for a film’s quality; how good the film is lies usually in the hands of a director. It was one of the big discrepancies in last year’s Oscar race: Tom Hooper couldn’t have made The Social Network but David Fincher could’ve crafted The King’s Speech. It’s a valid argument that last year’s Best Director went to the wrong director. A good director can make or break an actor and how they’re perceived.

5 – Oscar winner/nominee or Crossed $300 million domestically
4 – Golden Globe winner/nominee or Crossed $150 million domestically
3 – Foreign award winner or crossed $100 million
2 – Directed own film
1 – Anyone else / studio hack
0 – Had at least two flops / First time director

Writer Level – A director, though, can usually be hamstrung with a weak script. It happens regularly enough that a lot of directors either write their own scripts or contribute heavily; someone else’s voice is hard to transfer into your own as a director and one imagines that a well-written character makes for an easier time as an actor. And all the best movie stars have iconic characters that are written strongly.

5 – Oscar winner/nominee or Crossed $300 million domestically
4 – Golden Globe winner/nominee or Crossed $150 million domestically
3 – Foreign award winner or crossed $100 million
2 – Directed own film
1 – Anyone else / studio hack
0 – Had at least two flops

Material Level – A good writer and a good director can only do so much when the material is crap. An original concept gives you new territory to cover and is a bit tougher because you don’t have anything to model off of. The lower you go down on adapting material the lesser you are in being a movie star.

5 – Original concept
4 – Adapted from a book, first time
3 – Remake of a foreign film / 2nd or more time adapted from a novel
2 – Remake of a U.S film / Comic book film
1 – Remake of a film made with last 10 years / Sequel, prequel or reboot
0 – Adaptation of a TV series

Credibility – Where’s Your Career Aimed At?

It’s one thing to chase Oscars; it’s another to tackle challenging material as well. Thus there needs to be a balance for those going for Oscars and those taking less challenging material. The test of a movie star is their ability take challenging material regularly while also at least garnering a low level award for it.

Award Wins/Nominations – Let’s face it: Having “Academy Award Winner” or “Academy Award Nominee” in front of your name in an advertisement just looks better than “Winner of MTV’s Best Kiss In Non-Consecutive Years.” This also helps to even out the playing field for actors who are pursuing Oscar-worthy material much more often than they are box office grosses; a guy like Sean Penn may not burn up the box office but he does do enough challenging material to help even out the playing field.

5 – Oscar
4 – BAFTA
3 – Saturn
2 – People’s Choice
1 – Golden Globe
0 – Nothing

Genre – A good movie star takes engaging and tough material regularly. And I think we can arrange that by genres; it’s tough taking a drama, which comprises a lot of films that aren’t designed to gross massively at the box office and is much tougher on the acting wheelhouse. Thus it needs to be rewarded more than someone taking generic action films that generally gross more or star in a comic book film that’s almost guaranteed to make decent coin at the box office. That and let’s be honest; some genres don’t lend themselves true bonafides when it comes to being a movie star.

Think of it like this: you don’t see George Clooney immediately after winning an Oscar for Syriana in discussions for a Saw sequel or to be Batman again.

5 – Drama
4 – Thriller
3 – Comedy
2 – Action / Animation
1 – Comic book
0 – Horror

Now the question remains: how do we evaluate all of this. Easy, actually, it’s just more of a math problem once you start evaluating an actor’s last five roles. Take all five, add them up by category and you have your base number. And with 10 categories of five points apiece, with five films in total, you’ve got a total of 250 points in total to deal with.

Breaking them up into categories, once you crunch the math here you go:

230-250 – The Will and Leo Zone

If you’re consistently at the top of the food chain in both quality and quantity then you’re a movie star. No questions asked. It’s really tough to do so, however, thus only a handful of actors can really get in this category. My only arguments at this point would be Will Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio for being the only real movie stars left in Hollywood.

150-229 – The Shia Territory

Shia LaBeouf is in a lot of hit movies but no one really respects him. Why? Because he’s always working with garbage material like being in a Transformers film. He never works with anyone who’s all that respected and he never really ends up being nominated for anything but MTV awards. Yet he still is bankable and gets cast with tons of massive franchises. He’s in a unique territory in that regard.

100-149 – The Paul Dano Pass-through

I love Paul Dano. He’s a great actor always picking challenging roles and working with good people. It’s just that he stays outside the studio system in small indies that rarely get seen that no one really recognizes how good he can be.

50-99 – The Character Actor Zone

You’re the type of actor that plays small roles in big films and big roles in small films.

0-49 –The Region where you ask “Are you Sid Haig?” to everyone on set

You’re in small roles in small films or negligible roles in larger ones. Many actors who tend to be in big roles in lesser films usually fall into this category.

Final Summation:

If anything this is a start to the discussion. Let me know below what you think, etc.

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