New Directions in Film and Television Production Studies

The New Directions in Film and Television Production Studies Conference last week put the focus firmly on collaborations between academics and media industry workers and addressed some of the questions that arise from such research. These include questions about confidentiality and ownership, about who funds the research and whose interests it serves. In a particularly interesting panel about research methodologies, Hanne Bruun examined some of the  issues faced by researchers using qualitative interviews in their research. She raised questions of access and power and also the difficulties involved in researching problems and failures in media industries. Since people are understandably more willing to be interviewed about successes than problems or failures, the range of research that a researcher might carry out using this method is potentially threatened. Eva van Passel discussed some of the challenges involved in a project in Flanders to analyse remuneration for screenwriters, directors and actors, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. What existing data is useful and how can it best be used to establish such a variable and context dependent measure as what constitutes ‘fair’ remuneration? Van Passel suggested that the best way to proceed might be to start from establishing what is definitely ‘not fair’.

In another panel on Changing Technologies and Practices, discussion centred on the breaking down of boundaries between marketing and core content, focussing on Channel 4 as a case study.

In an industry panel discussion on research, Kate Ogborn of Fly Films said that she would be most interested in  research into what makes an independent production company successful. Laura Marshall of Icon Films agreed.

Final Keynote John Caldwell returned to the themes of concealment and disclosure, official, informal and unauthorised (such as the Sony hack) and their role within production studies research.  He explained how he has examined both the information exposed by the Sony hack and the reaction to the hack, as well as social media presence and other data sources and what they might reveal about the media industries. He pointed out that academia was part of, not separate to, the same corporate culture and neoliberal political economy in which media industries exist and stressed the importance of academic researchers clearly defining their relationship with media industry workers and organisations within any research project.  Are they discussants, investigators, collaborators or co-authors? However he also gave examples of ways that these roles can in fact shift and collapse and highlighted the number of researchers in this area whose personal background and identity straddle the boundaries between academia and production.

Caldwell also elaborated on his concept of para-industries (the ‘subterranean levels’ of media production that go into producing pitches and other development and promotional materials, such as ‘look books’ and ‘pre-script novels’, in order to get a project into production). He pointed out that it was important to recognise what is not being researched and aspects of production that remain invisible. He said he was particular interested in the way that every media production was a link in various chains of individual and organisation brand production and how creative labour on any particular production, rather than being supplied simply in exchange for financial compensation, was therefore often part of complicated deals and exchanges that exceeded the context of that particular production. Caldwell proposed collective creativity and consensus building and opposing forces such as dissensus, downsizing and outsourcing, as fertile areas of research, suggesting that studies of incoherence, as well as coherence, are potentially of great use to media organisations, as well as of interest to academics.

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