The New York Times introduced us to Vinny Bruzzese, a "chain-smoking former statistics professor," who is purportedly "the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood" predicting which scripts will succeed and fail based on mathematical analysis. But reporter Brooks Barnes doesn't give us a glimpse at the numbers supposedly backing up his rules (no bowling scenes!) for hit movies.
The feature garnered attention because Bruzzese just seems so ridiculous. His suggestions seem to ignore beloved films in favor of box office glory. For instance he suggests that bowling scenes doom a movie, clearly ignoring the legions of fans who fancy themselves The Dude or the Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning performance set in a bowling alley. Bruzzese doesn't give up the formula that lead him to that conclusion, just, as Barnes puts its, "Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script." (Perhaps it was bowling that did in Mystery Men then?)
But furthermore solving movie problems with math is nothing new. Bruzzese just seems like the most recent hilarious—and nerdy—iteration of the attempts to make movies by numbers. There's a team from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton and NYU who have long been at this. A paper in 2006 raised some eyebrows as did one in 2010 in which they studied how "textual information from movie scripts can help predict revenues." A headline in NPR proclaimed: "Applying Academic Formulae to Scripts Could Weed Out Hollywood Duds," and alas two years later Bruzzese is trying to solve the same problem. (And he's not even getting paid that much Matthew Yglesias points out.) Basically, we're not hinging box office hopes on Vinny Bruzzese, a hilarious character though he may be. Maybe his story would make a good anti-Barton Fink movie?
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