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The Duplication of Anderson, Burton, Fincher, Howard, and Spielberg

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One of the main things that sustain me in enjoying my work in research is a sense of curiosity. Steve Jobs famously said, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” – and Isaac Asimov is attributed to this wonderful quote which reflects the enjoyment of discoveries: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’”.

One of the analysis that we do for companies all around the world at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is looking at market competition: seeing how much more intensely products, brands, and product categories compete against each another. The analysis is based on a law-like principle called the Duplication of Purchase Law – which states that brands share buyers in line with their size in the market. So, if you are a mid-sized brand, you’re more likely to have buyers who buy the bigger brands, than those who buy the smaller ones. This law is one of the fundamental principles formulated by Goodhardt, Ehrenberg, and Chatfield in 1984. I’ve managed and conducted many of the analysis from confectionery to lipstick brands – and I always have a sense of enjoyment when I saw some familiar or interesting patterns. (Coincidentally, if you’re curious how this applies to the brands that you manage, get in touch with the folks at work).

So, with that in mind – I thought, how much duplication of casting occurs for some of the well-known movie directors. We know that certain directors like Wes Anderson or Tim Burton likes to cast the same actors (I will use this term regardless of genders) – but what is the extent of this preferrence? Duplication of Purchase analysis gives the approach to see this – which is one step above mere co-occurrence analysis, as the approach also gives the benchmark which the sharing or duplication can be compared against.

The Research Process

The analysis for this post is just for fun – as I want to close off the blog posts for this year with a fun piece of ‘research’. The next step for me is to collect a shortlist of directors, whose movies I like. I settled with the five directors: Wes Anderson (because I love his quirkiness and his sense of style), Tim Burton (Big Fish is one of my all-time favourites), David Fincher (because Seven is such a memorable film), Ron Howard, and Steven Spielberg. This where the datasets from IMDB.com came in handy. I tried the geeky process of working with the raw datasets that they provide publicly, but then I realised that the files only contain a selection of main actors for each movie. I want to get all credited actors for each particular movie – so I scraped the data from the pages instead.

The next step is to also include other roles that are crucial for film-making: Cinematography / Director of Photography, Film Editor, and the composer in charge of the music. I want to include this as I am a big fan of movie soundtracks.

Another arbitrary filter that I set is to only include those who have worked three times with the director. So I scraped the movies that are directed by Anderson, Burton, Fincher, Howard, and Spielberg – excluding short films, TV episodes, documentaries, and music clips (I didn’t know that David Fincher directed so many music clips!). Future release movies are also included, if it is already in post-production stage.

Before I present the results, here’s the layout of the land. There’s an n by n matrix of names for each director, which will be colour coded whether the level of duplication across movies are below, above, or within the expected range for the number of movies that they were part of. Each name is colour coded for their role: actors, cinematography / film editing, and music. The Penetration column is the percentage of the movies that each name worked in.

So here are the results …

Wes Anderson

Of the 821 names that are linked to Wes Anderson films (as actors, cinematographers / directors of photography, film editors, or composers), 31 names (3.8%) have worked with Anderson for three times or more across 11 movies. Pretty impressive. Bill Murray is Anderson’s favourite – having appeared in all of his movies except for Bottle Rocket, Anderson’s first feature film. The next person on the list is Robert D. Yeoman, who has worked on nine of Anderson’s films as his cinematographer. There are three key groupings that I could spot that are likely to the vintage of the movies.

Tim Burton

Tim Burton is often considered to another director with strong preference towards certain actors. The list, however, also reveals that he predominantly worked with key cinematographers and film editors, and pretty much stayed loyal to Danny Elfman‘s composition in 16 out of the 19 movies he directed. The 19 names are also remarkable, as they only represent 2% of the list of names that are linked to Burton’s movies in the roles set for this little study. In terms of casting, Helena Bonham Carter is Burton’s actor of choice, having starred in seven of his films.

David Fincher

Although the number of movies that David Fincher is comparable to Wes Anderson’s, he directed many music clips along the years, including Madonna’s iconic Vogue and Express Yourself. There are ‘only’ 12 personnel who have worked with Fincher across three movies (2.0% of the total list of names attached to Fincher’s movies within the scope of this study). Half of them worked with him in the background, with Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter editing Fincher’s movies more than others. Among all actors, Richmond Arquette worked with Fincher in five of his films. There are three main groupings that can be seen, which revolve around the films that he is mostly known for.

Ron Howard

Across the 26 movies directed by Ron Howard from 1977, 27 names have worked with him on three films or more. These 27 names represent only 1.8% of the total names attached to his films in the roles that fit the scope of this study. There are several groupings that can be observed, that are roughly correspond to the earlier part of Howard’s career as well as certain key films, such as Apollo 13, Ransom, or EDtv. His frequent collaborators are not actors, with the top ones being his preferred film editors, Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. Of all the actors, he worked the most with his brother, Clint Howard on 17 films and his father, Rance Howard on 15 films.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg has worked with many industry professionals across his illustrious career. There are ‘only’ 20 names who worked with him in three films or more from the 35 that he directed. This list is highly exclusive, as the names only represent 0.9% of the total names attached to the movies he directed (within the scope of this study). Similar to the other directors, his preferred collaborators are actually those who worked with him behind the scene, the chefs in the kitchen. The names include John Williams, his composer of choice and Michael Kahn, his preferred film editor / cinematographer. Among the actors, some appared more often than others, which include Tom Hanks and Ted Grossman. Although Ted Grossman may not sound familiar, as well as being a regular stuntman in films, he has also listed as actors in five of Spielberg’s films.


So, there you have it – it seems like directors are more likely to work with behind-the-scene professionals who they prefer rather than returning to the same actors. Wes Anderson is a notable exception, and to a certain degree, Tim Burton. This application may not be in the minds of Goodhardt, Ehrenberg, and Chatfield when they came up with the Duplication of Purchase Law. However, it shows the versatility of the approach – as it has been applied across many countries, product categories, and segments. I have not put any particular sharing figures or the exact rate of how much they overshare or undershare, as they are less relevant for this fun study.

In its proper application, the law does enable us to see products, brands, and categories that share buyers more or less than the expected level. The results are helpful for brands for strategies which include market entry, brand extension, and portfolio rationalisation (if sibling products happen to cannibalise each other more than expected). What I love about the approach is the lack of black-box, secret complicated formulas that are prevalent in the industry.

Now that I’m satisfied with the results, I’ll just wait until the next moment of curiosity and inspiration strikes – which is certainly the beauty of research!

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