Brown Bag Seminar with Ronny Behrens

Tuesday, 6. July 2021 - 12:30 to 14:00, Zoom

Narrative Arcs & Film Success: A three decade investigation of the influence of narrative arcs on audience reactions and managerial decision making


Abstract: The question of how to craft a successful story is at the heart of the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry and has attracted great minds, from ancient philosopher Aristotle to modern script guru Syd Field, since time immemorial. Although different in focus and granularity, most of these approaches share a common denominator to which their authors prescribe inherent success-value: a story’s overarching structure, or so-called narrative arcs. Historically, scholars have based their arguments for the existence of generalizable narrative arcs and their link to success on inductive reasoning from personal experience and small samples, which limits their reliability. Yet, due to their simplicity and face validity, they have become commonplace in the $100 billion dollar film industry, where they are used by various decision-makers to complement their gut-feeling when supporting or opposing film scripts with large production, distribution, and exhibition resources. This paper aims at overcoming the issue of small samples by combining natural language processing and clustering methods to identify generalizable narrative arcs and utilizing instrumental variable methods to combat endogeneity challenges when linking them to success metrics and managerial decision making. Our sample spans three decades of film history from 1985 to 2014 and covers 4344 individual stories. Results suggest two important aspects with respect to this relation: (1) Although we identify specific narrative arcs, there is no persistent inherent success-value attached to them. Related success is almost exclusively created by resource allocation decisions of managers created due to success expectations. (2) Despite there being no persistent relation to success, we showcase clear ebb-and-flow patterns in the success of narrative arcs and related managerial decisions across time periods. Based on these findings, we urge managers to refrain from the notion that success is baked into certain narrative arcs – and to instead play close attention to underlying trends in their appeal in order to make successful managerial decisions.

Bio: Ronny Behrens is a PhD student at the Chair for Marketing & Media since 2016. Before he studied Business Administration (Marketing) at the University of Muenster. 

Zoom-Link (Code: 729005)