Castings increasingly built on social intelligence

Hollywood just beginning to mine wealth of data offered by firms

The wave of social intelligence that’s transforming the marketing of Hollywood movies has yet to spill much into the creative process — with the exception of casting, which right now has better access to relevant, applicable data than any other filmmaking discipline.

Unlike other creative decisionmakers, who often still minimize the value of social-media data, the casting community is actively using social listening and sentiment analytics to help determine who gets a role. And they’re doing it a lot.

In its infancy, the science of social casting was practiced discreetly, part of the studios’ quiet consultations with one or more of the firms swiftly establishing themselves as sources of reliable social data. But somewhere along the way, the data gatherers muscled their way into marketing, while marketers are playing a more prominent role in the greenlighting of movies.

Now social casting is out there more widely — so much so that Fizziology, the social-media research and consulting firm and one of Hollywood’s go-to Twitter Whisperers since 2009, is announcing CastTyper, a full-service social sentiment engine that gathers and analyzes data from several platforms, then turns it into custom insight and recommendations for studios.

Fizziology is first to pin a brand name on what has been going on elsewhere in degrees: Rival firms like Crimson Hexagon, the social data department at the Cimarron Group and countless boutique firms that have emerged from the digital ooze are equipped to report on what the social-media world is saying about any given thesp at any given time. There are also whisperings that the major agencies are conducting internal, proprietary social sentiment analysis, though they’d never admit it. (Also a factor in this new dynamic are industry news outlets including Variety and Deadline Hollywood. Studios will sometimes leak actors’ names, often in a list of two or three presumed finalists, for the sole purpose of taking Twitter’s temperature. Editors and reporters have to remain constantly vigilant to ensure that the news is genuine, not just some exec “floating a balloon.”)

With CastTyper, Fizziology is attempting to set itself apart through deeper segmentation. Instead of measuring volume (number of mentions) and sentiment (positive and negative), CastTyper slots all opinions into four categories: physical appearance, emotional resonance, intellectual prowess and power of personality. “We can create a unique social fingerprint or DNA for every celebrity,” the company says. “Looking at averages across genre and over time, we can get a more fine-tuned sense for how audiences are feeling about a particular actor — even figuring out whether a role or sponsorship is appropriate.”

Fizziology showed four such examples to Variety, perhaps the most telling of which focused on Jonah Hill. The “21 Jump Street” actor has been in transition since breaking out in 2007 with “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” not only through weight loss but also by crossing over into adult drama with an Oscar-nommed turn in “Moneyball.” That’s changed the public’s opinion of Hill in some surprising ways.

Fizziology found that as auds focused on Hill’s weight loss and dramatic acting chops, they lost sight of his lovable personality (this was corroborated by analysis conducted by a rival firm, which was also approached by a studio to analyze Hill. That firm concurred that while positive sentiment about Hill’s appearance rose, his perception as being “funny” slightly decreased).

Some fans even openly complained about Hill’s weight loss, saying it would make him less funny and lovable; others felt offput by watching a skinny Hill promote “Moneyball,” in which he was still seen as overweight.

(More juicy bits: George Clooney gets slightly more positive buzz for looks than Ryan Gosling overall — but the tables turned dramatically when they appeared together in “The Ides of March”; comedy is the only genre where femmes’ physical attractiveness isn’t the most talked-about positive attribute; and Rebel Wilson received significantly more positive buzz about her emotional appeal in “Pitch Perfect” than the average female comedian.)

If all this makes you want to go out and run your sentiment analysis like a credit score, well, you can, young thesp — each of these services ranges from major, long-term retainer relationships with studios down to individualized, one-off reports. They can also be tweaked to match brands to spokesperson talent or to understand the impact of publicity appearances and more. Just be ready to lay off the beer and donuts when that thing comes back. The truth can hurt.