erik lundegaard

Saturday May 13, 2017

IMDb Needs to Fix Its ‘Known For’ Algorithm

I know. Not exactly high on the list of things the world needs to fix. Even so.

As you probably know, on each of its pages for any movie/TV person (star, cameraman, casting, set decoration, best boy, doesn't matter), lists four movies he/she is “known for.” Robert Redford, for example, is known for, in this order, “The Sting,” “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” “All the President's Men,” and “Out of Africa.” Seems about right. For Audrey Hepburn, it's “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s,” “My Fair Lady,” “Roman Holiday” and “Sabrina.” Again: Yep.

But there are a few bugs in the system. Here’s Steven Spielberg:

Steven Spielberg: Known for on IMDb

Right. Not “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.” or “Jurassic Park.” Not “Lincoln.”

I get the first two. But “Catch Me If You Can” and “A.I.”? Really?

Then you notice the role they‘ve assigned to him for each of these movies: producer. And it all begins to make sense.

According to IMDb, its algorithm assigns a “weight” to every credit in someone’s CV. These include, among others:

  • “The job performed on the title (a credit as director will have more weight than a credit as production assistant).”
  • “The frequency of credits for a particular job in the context of the person's filmography (writing credits may have more weight for someone who is more frequently credited as a writer than as a producer)”

It's this second that's the problem with Spielberg. He currently has 162 credits as a producer. He has 56 as a director. Apparently this means that IMDb, the most popular repository of movie information we have, sees Spielberg, the most popular movie director of all time, as primarily a producer. And since Spielberg didn't become a producer until the late ‘70s and early ’80s, that eliminates movies such as “Jaws” and “Raiders” from “Known For” contention. (Oddly, he was a producer for “E.T.” so I'm not sure why “Catch Me” and “A.I.” trump that.)

The same is true on IMDb with other great directors who produce. In this universe, Martin Scorsese is “known for” being: 1) producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” 2) director of “Goodfellas,” 3) producer of “Shutter Island” and 4) director of “The Departed.” “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”? Whatevs.

Actors who produce? Tom Hanks is primarily known for ... “The Da Vinci Code.” Drew Barrymore is primarily known for ... “Donnie Darko.”

Algorithms are tough, and IMDb's gets a lot right. But there are still a few bugs in the system.

Posted at 07:36 AM on Saturday May 13, 2017 in category Technology  
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