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Supernatural Face Time Meta

Analysis of Face Time as a way to determine whether Kripke favors one Winchester brother
over the other.

Back in late January or early February of 2008, a dear friend who had been trying to get me to watch Supernatural for over two years had finally convinced me to sit down and watch the series. It took me to the sixth episode Skin to fall in love with the series by the end of the Second Season, 5 days later, I was a true fan-girl with all the plusses and minuses that entails. I haven’t been this crazy about a series since I first saw Star Trek TOS as reruns when I was 14. Star Trek is the reason I am an engineer today, which should give you an idea of how obsessive I can get.

It was after finishing the Second Season that I began to explore the Bulletin Boards and LJs and encounter the Great Sam versus Dean debate. I admit to being puzzled because I couldn’t understand why the Dean fan’s felt that Dean was being neglected when I (also a Dean fan) felt that he was the heart of the series and felt even a little sorry for Jared. But before I went on and voiced my opinion I wanted to check out my assumption and I was surprised to find that the Winchester Boys were very closely matched. I made my post about the results and then promptly forgot about it until I had the opportunity to read bowtrunckle’s marvelous meta: “Tension, Conflict, Motivation, and Plot: Why the Story is About Dean and We Do Know Sam”. I told her about the research I had done and she encouraged me to post my findings.

The measurement I used to determine which Winchester was the focus of the series was Face Time. Webster’s defines Face Time as the amount of time one spends appearing on television. Face Time is a continuous versus discrete measurement, so the measuring tools and rules I set reflect this. I also took into account that there were over 2000 minutes to view and though I am insane, I do have a real life that I enjoy participating in.

The Measurement tool used was an electronic stop watch, the Bell Sport Timer.
Video source was Apple iTunes down loads of the three seasons as this gave me greater control over the video than what I was able to accomplish with a DVD.

1) Face time will only be measured when either Dean or Sam is not sharing the
screen with their brother.
a) Sharing the screen includes telephone conversations
b) Conversations between doors and rooms
c) As well as voice-overs such as the exorcism in “Jus in Bello”
d) Or the brother is present in the room but invisible as in "My Time of Dying"

2) Exceptions to these Face time rules which would allow additional time to be counted include:
a) If the brother is unconscious or dead
b) If the brother is in their immediate death throws
c) If the camera is obviously pulling away to isolate the actor from the rest of the
surrounding events rather than panning to the other characters for their reaction as
occurred in “Dead in the Water”.
d) The final exception is if one of the Winchester’s is taking the opportunity of
being alone, although talking to their brother to engage in an activity that they
don’t want their brother to know about as in “Hell House”

3) Additional factors that apply to Face time:
a) Young Dean and young Sam count toward Face time as it is the brother’s time on the
screen rather than the actor’s time that I am counting.
b) Shape shifters count toward face time as they channel the character’s personality.
c) Possession counts towards face time as the character is present though ridden by a
demon against their will.
d) Initial recaps are not counted
e) Where ever possible commercial break blackouts (metal teeth chomp) are not counted.
These tend to be inconsistent in length sometimes less than a second other times a full

Despite the rules given anyone trying to recreate the measurements taken will have difficultly, do to the fact that I did not record my exact stop and start points. This is especially true where the time difference between brothers is under 2 minutes. In addition, the time measurements taken are impacted by both by tool error and operator error. The Bell Sport timer is finicky in its response to button pressure and I as operator found myself having to retake measurements when I was distracted by the story. To reduce or at least determine the measurement error, the normal method is to take multiple measurements (32 is a standard statistical sample) to determine the capability of the process and its variability; by determining the mean, median, statistical deviation, Cp & Cpk. As, I said, I may be insane but I am not ready for the men in the white coats yet, so I did not spend time determining measurement error.

Even knowing the limitations of the data, any conclusions I make should still have validity. Errors that may sway the result one particular episode should smooth out some what over the 58 episodes reviewed, as timing errors should have a normal distribution and occur for both Sam and Dean both equally and randomly. In Season 1 out of 22 episodes Sam took the lead in 11 out of which 7 were conclusive. Dean took the lead in 10 of which 7 again were definitive. Though Sam is nominally the winner when the season is looked at as a whole I consider it to be a tie as Dean is slightly ahead in actual time on the screen. In Season 2, Dean leads in twelve of the 22 episodes and has decisive wins in ten of them; so Dean is the clear winner of Season 2. Season 3 is not over yet and the results are so close that the season could go either way. I believe that had not Sam’s plot been pushed out into Season 4 due to the writer’s strike, Sam would have been in the lead. As it stands the brothers are with in 3 minutes of each other and 1 episode for the season and so it is too early to really call.

Now it may seem that since Dean wins Season 2 that he is really the lead character in the show, but I believe that the show focus of "Supernatural" is more evenly distributed. Of the 2414 minutes, Dean has only 37 minutes more than Sam or 1.5%, of the total air time. On average that amounts approx to 38.6 seconds per episode. Hardly a conclusive case for Dean dominating the series, my expectation would have been too see one character ahead by minutes per episode if they dominated. In Summary, it is my opinion the Face Time results indicate that Sam and Dean share series focus equally.

Data can be found by clicking on the chart below:


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
You posted it! :D Let me just say I love how you outlined your methodology, and your color coded tables with adding made me grin. *is a huge science nerd*.

b) If the brother is in their immediate death throws

Only a SPN meta would take into consideration the Face Time of the Show's principle characters repeatedly dying XD!

the time measurements are impacted by both by tool error and operator error.

I first read that as: "impacted by both drool error and operator error." *points to icon*

the Face Time results indicate that Sam and Dean share series focus equally.

It looks like the Sam vs Dean debate has one less leg to stand on now. Thank you for this! I enjoyed reading it. It's going on my meta rec list.
May. 7th, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
Its should have been drool.....
That is exactly what caused the operator errors, drooling over the pretties. Or at least angsting along with them.

Thanks so much for commenting

May. 9th, 2008 06:42 am (UTC)
We are all the geekiest geeks that evar geeked.

*puts on Geek hat*

*fist of victory*

I am so glad that this analysis is so scientific, no amount of pathetic silly Dean!girls and Sam!girls that hate each other and bitch and whine can say "No" to this, coupled with bowtrunkle's meta.

Word. Thanks for supplying weapondry to the Bibro Army.
May. 10th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
Ooo I like that
Bibro what a wonderful way to say you appreciate each brother and their role. I like it a lot. That's definitely me, though I did start out a Dean-girl, Sammy really grew on me when I was doing the study.

Thanks so much for commenting

May. 9th, 2008 07:45 am (UTC)
OMG! It has charts!!! ::twirls in joy::

Love the brain power in this fandom, man. It's a thing of beauty, really. Odes should be written to it, sculptures carved, fairs themed after it.

::puts geek cap on::
May. 10th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed

May. 9th, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
This is awesome.
May. 10th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)

May. 10th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
It really fascinates me that the disparities in screen time are so great in the first two seasons and yet are so close in this season when it seems like they've been separated more often.
May. 10th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
I think that is probably a function of the story, there is an ebb and flow in the pattern both with in a season and with in the entire 5 year arc.

Thanks for reading

May. 10th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
Fabulous, but I couldn't tell from the far right column, where you have the winner of a particular episode indicated by a "D" or an "S", even though Dean's averaging 38.6 seconds more per episode, are the number of winning episodes even, or does one brother win significantly more in the episode tally?

I clicked, but it was too small for me to read.

You are totally the bomb, btw. I also took into account that there were over 2000 minutes to view and though I am insane, I do have a real life that I enjoy participating in.

May. 10th, 2008 04:47 am (UTC)
I have found you have to click once and then when you have the size click again. It is the second click that will give you the chart full size. Not sure why live journal does it that way. Otherwise you can tell the winner by the color. If its green the brother wins by a large margin, if its yellow the brother wins by a narrow margin. By Episode tally Sam wins Season 1 by one episode. Dean wins Season 2 by 2 episodes. And we will just have to wait for season 3 to end before we know.

Thanks for reading

(Deleted comment)
May. 10th, 2008 04:48 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it

May. 10th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Here from spnnewsletter. I kind of sorta love you for this. I mean, the amount of effort you've put in, and the major amounts of fannish, geeky love. Just, awesome.
May. 10th, 2008 04:49 am (UTC)
Oh yeah I am addicted - the plot is just so heartbreaking.

Glad you enjoyed

May. 10th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)
It's nice and wow, that's alot of work. And it is useful.

I don't think that works, in terms helping the Dean vs Sam. For one thing I don't think Shapeshifters should count. They are not the brother, even if they are using the brother's memories to make themselves convincing. Nor should possessions. The shapeshifter in Skin was not Dean and while Sam was possessed he was not Sam. If Sam or Dean was possessed for half a season I sure wouldn't consider that as "facetime" for their character. I'd be fuming mad that one of them was gone for so long. :) Jensen or Jared playing a different character on the same show.

Also, for example, a sidekick might be on screen as much as a lead, that doesn't mean their importance to the story is the same. I've never once seen the argument put in terms of "facetime". I don't know anyone who doesn't believe the brothers are on screen virtually equally. It's about how the plot and story are formulated, how and why they are driven forward and those can't be counted in mere minutes.
May. 10th, 2008 05:44 am (UTC)
Ok, I will grant not everyone would judge the the Shifter and the Possesion the same way so if I count those two episodes differently. Dean takes Born under a Bad Sign and Sammy has a definitive win in Skin. They cancel each other out and the number of seconds Dean has per episode more than Sam increase by about 4 second. Still under a minute difference per episode.

Its true no one has ever said that the boys are not on screen equally, but those who complain usually do say is that one brother or the other is being neglected in one aspect of the story. Tackling the question of whether the Demon Myth Determinism Arc is more important than Free Will Humanism Arc which each brother represents is an exercise in futility, because what the problem really is that the fans who are complaining want their favorite to dominate both arcs or at least the arc which they perceive to be more interesting or more important. I personally think that Kripke is playing the concept in both arcs against each other and that each have a critical role in the push pull of the plot. But that is not an easy concept to get across.

However Face Time which measures the time the character is on the screen alone and taking action by themselves is often a telling way of determining of whether one character is supporting actor or if the are co-leads. And if the character is tco-lead then by definition they own a important component of the story and are just as important to it as their co-star . Plus its a hard measurable number, which sooths my engineering soul ^_^ LoL.

Thanks for reading and discussing - I enjoyed your comments

May. 10th, 2008 08:17 am (UTC)
Wow. I think this conclusively shuts the debate about whether the show is more about Dean or Sam. Unless they begin to dissect the episode storylines. That's where we need research to support this as well. (May I refer to this if I do make something of the sort? :D)
May. 12th, 2008 03:33 am (UTC)
Sure if you like - I also recommend Bowtrunkle's Meta. Sounds like what you are describing would fit between

May. 10th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)
Whoo hoo!! (hi stranger! ;D)

Nice meta. The whole concept of a fan war between Dean fans and Sam fans is absurd (oh I get it that there is, but fercryinoutloud!). Silly fannish people. ;-)

I guess factionalism is just human nature. :P

Awesome work on this, quite inspiring! :D
May. 12th, 2008 03:41 am (UTC)
Hi there

Oh its so nice to hear from old friends. Especially since when they say such nice things - quite makes my day. Glad you enjoyed it. Just fell into an emotional black hole the last couple years and its been a struggle to climb out - still scrabbling the walls but at least I am moving. Nice to know when I do peek out old friends remember me

Say hello for V me and tell her I hope she is feeling better


May. 12th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)

Will do! :-)

I'm more or less quiet these days myself, dull with work and not very social. Glad I saw the link to your post on spnnewsletter and recognized a familar name! ;-)
May. 10th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
Very interesting, I had considered doing something very similar to prove a point when the argument gets stupid sometimes, but I was planning to use screencaps, which are taken at regular intervals and seem to be a reasonable sampling of the episode as you can get up to 1200 caps or so per episode, and would be an objective measure, avoiding operator error. I decided against the full analysis when my first quick estimates from a few episodes showed there was no statistically significant difference.
May. 12th, 2008 03:43 am (UTC)
Wow and I thought I was crazy. That is an incredible jaw dropping amount of work even for the first few episodes. Wow I stunned my hat's off to you.

Thanks fro commenting

May. 10th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
Wow, just wow. To take the time to do all of this is just amazing. Thanks for posting!
May. 12th, 2008 03:43 am (UTC)

May. 11th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)
Statistical analysis rules!

I love it. And yes, it can "feel" skewed, but really it isn't.

I did a meta analysis of Dean's Physical Contact and as a side project, because someone had asked a random question, I also noted how many episodes ended with a close-up shot on Dean's face. Turned out only 1 episode in Season 1 features a CU of Dean as the very final image - but 12 episodes in Season 2 did. That was mostly because they were showing how Dean was reacting to *Sam's* predicament, much as this season, we've seen a fair amount of both of them reacting to *Dean's* trouble.

But in general, the world needs more hard data analysis (YAY) in addition to the feely-thinky stuff. w00t.

And I have to say that although I'm a die-hard Dean girl, Sam's definitely growing on me. So it's good to know that Show loves them equally.
May. 12th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)

Wave Wave. Thanks for the nice comments. I saw your Physical Contact meta on a rec page - Haven't worked my way down to it yet but I plan to.

Thanks so much for your comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )