Scene Specific Emissions: Ewww!

Apparently there was some secret-laboratory-stuff happening at Cinestar Cinema complex in Mainz, Germany between December 1st, 2013 and January 14th, 2014.

At the behest of some movie-mad researchers (Jonathan Williams, Christof Stönner, Jörg Wicker, Nicolas Krauter, Bettina Derstroff, Efstratios Bourtsoukidis, Thomas Klüpfel and Stefan Kramer), high tech filters were attached to the auditoriums airducts so that "a study of ambient air and the chemical changes within it" could be made during various movie screenings.

Wait. What?

Some enterprising scientists (with unsettling personality traits and world domination ambitions?) apparently got funding and then convinced a credulous theater owner to allow them to test a (kinda creepy?) research question: 

Will chemicals exhaled (and emitted from other parts of the audience's bodies?) change in response to different films - and perhaps even different scenes?



What did the scientists find?

"[M]any airborne chemicals in cinema air varied distinctively and reproducibly with time for a particular film, even in different screenings to different audiences."

Fascinating. But ewwww...

And "[a]pplication of scene labels and advanced data mining methods revealed that specific film events, namely “suspense” or “comedy” caused audiences to change their emission of specific chemicals."


Wait. What?

"In order to assess the data for relationships between film scene content and trace gas behavior [over one hundred volatile organic compounds were measured - but isoprene seems like a good candidate for further research] it was necessary to annotate the film scene content at high time resolution, from a set of preselected labels. Although several approaches to film scene annotation have been reported, including scene change frequency and both audio and visual cues as yet no standardized procedure exists. Suitable independently derived time resolved annotations were also not available from film censor boards nor from the subsequently published film DVDs. Instead, ten volunteers individually viewed the films and allocated descriptor annotations as a function of the film duration using a custom made interface. Each film was labelled at least five separate times. Three different types of scene labels were used. The first set was general in nature and described the film genre using terms from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). These included terms such as “comedy”, “suspense” or “romantic.” The second set was more specific and referred directly to the scene content such as “chase”, “laughter” or “kiss”, “house pet” or “injury”. These terms were kept deliberately objective to minimize potential labelling differences between individuals caused by personal perception."

And apparently isoprene production did vary in ways that coincided with certain onscreen events - especially scenes that the researchers had tagged as "suspense” and “comedy.” 


The researchers hypothesize that humans are spraying out chemicals in response to certain emotional experiences in trace amounts that are detectable by other humans, especially scenes that are about imminent mayhem or relief "as an evolutionarily advantageous alert/stand-down signal."

Is it time to start making more thrillers and comedies for theatrical release (into intentionally poorly-ventilated theaters?) - or to invest in making a 21st century mobile device that offers "nose-buds" and a re-imagined smell-o-vision for viewers watching by themselves on the MRT or at home?

If you want to read more go to: Williams, J. et al. Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath. Sci. Rep. 6, 25464; doi: 10.1038/srep25464 (2016).

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