Matthew Freeman

Earlier this month I presented at New Directions in Film and Television Production Studies, an international conference held at the Watershed Cultural Cinema and Digital Creativity Centre in Bristol. An exciting, timely and stimulating event, the conference reflected on where we are right now with production studies research whilst also aiming to look ahead at its possible new directions.

The conference very much reflected the strong resurgence in media industry studies that has taken place over the past five years or so, and its keynote panels both acknowledged and explored the influences of impact-driven research and employment-rooted teaching practices in driving this particular resurgence. Philip Drake (Edge Hill University) opened the conference by outlining the key trends within media production studies, highlighting issues to do with labour conditions and relations, ethnic diversity, policy analysis, media clustering, regional competition and digital distribution as particular areas of importance. In between the closing keynote by UCLA’s John T. Caldwell, who dealt with the relationships between industry and academia and asked whether media production studies should think of itself as a separate field of inquiry altogether, many panels tackled a variety of issues to do with histories, methodologies, technologies, and the agency of media workers. But it was the theme of change that pervaded most strongly through the entire conference, with many speakers – including myself – dealing with the importance of studying the changing forms, impacts, practices, consumptions and indeed roles of the media industries.

My own paper, titled ‘Deciphering Models of Transmedia Production: History, Funding, and Technological Change,’ was part of a larger panel on ‘Changing Technologies and Practices’. The paper situated itself within a critical context that acknowledged how in the age of media convergence, transmedia has become a buzzword of the new that both scholars and industry alike have come to perceive as the media production strategy of the future. Throughout the world, people of course now engage with stories across multiple media platforms, following the adventures of Doctor Who from television to the Web, exploring the Batman universe across cinema, television, comics, and so on. And yet when considered from a media production studies perspective, the cracks and limitations of today’s transmedia production models are apparent. My paper therefore considered how technological change has informed models of transmedia production, but also showed how these models came from the very different historical influences and technological determinants of the past. In that sense, the paper had two strands: first, I pinpointed what media production studies can learn about today’s models of transmedia production by looking to the past; and second, I also considered how history can provide us with a better understanding of some of the limitations of today’s transmedia production models, showing how today’s industry configurations may need to change in the future, touching here on factors to do with convergence, advertising, authorship, and independence.

In bringing together academic and industry practitioners, the conference successfully presented itself as a key milestone in the development of film and television production studies, and indeed media industry research more broadly. This sub-field is likely to become only more important and buoyant in the development of media studies, and the final plenary’s promise to develop this sub-field further by exploring new methodological approaches to actually doing film and television production studies – harvesting new collaborations across the academia/industry threshold, fostering new analysis tools, and garnering expanded new roles for the field more generally – is a welcome one.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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