Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
From Film Practice to Data ProcessProduction Aesthetics and Representational Practices of a Film Industry in Transition$

Sarah Atkinson

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780748693580

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748693580.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 14 June 2021

Digital Film Production Studies

Digital Film Production Studies

(p.1) Chapter 1 Digital Film Production Studies
From Film Practice to Data Process

Sarah Atkinson

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter provides a state-of-the field picture in 2012 – a moment where industry discourse was rife with representations and images of the impacts of digital technologies upon film production. The chapter outlines the approach of the book – the undertaking of a ‘Digital Film Production Study’ – a theoretical and conceptual framework synthesizing Production Studies, Film Studies and Digital Humanities, in order to be able to grapple with this complex industry at a critical moment of transition. The chapter outlines the methodology of the book - an examination of the people and processes involved in the entire lifecycle of one film – released under the title of Ginger & Rosa (Directed by Sally Potter) in October 2012. The chapter explains how it is emblematic of the transitional film-to-data period. The chapter also provides an overview of Sally Potter’s work and her own interest in how digital innovations in filmmaking a definition of digital film. It includes a review of production studies literature and an overview of the fields methods as well as outlines of the content and arguments of the books following six chapters.

Keywords:   Digital Film, Independent Film, Production Studies, Film Studies, Digital Humanities, Methods, Sally Potter, 2012, Digital dilemma

Book overview

From Film Practice to Data Process explicitly interrogates what is happening at the frontiers of contemporary ‘digital film’ production at a key transitional moment in 2012, when both the film industry and film-production practices were situated between the two distinct medium polarities of film and digital.

Evidence of this transition can be found across a swathe of institutional sites. Industry discourse at this particular moment was rife with representations and images of the impacts of digital technologies upon film production. Chris Kenneally’s documentary Side by Side, which examined Hollywood’s response to the digital transition of cinematographic practice, captures the coexistence of film and data in both the title and the content. In a similar vein, Tacita Dean’s FILM installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, which ran from October 2011 to March 2012, simultaneously expressed the threat to film in that current moment whilst also celebrating its unique aesthetic qualities. The emergence and visibility of the new labour conditions of the digital film economy were evident in a crisis in the special effects (VFX) industry as it adjusted to exponential international growth and global competition. Significant changes to the UK’s film funding regime were signalled by the closure of the UK Film Council (UKFC) and the transfer of its responsibilities to the British Film Institute (BFI). Publications proliferated during this time as the academic community and the film industry responded to this period of intense change. The transitional moment is exemplified in Andrew Utterson’s From IBM to MGM (2011), while the threat to industry stability is captured in the title of the USA Science and Technology Council’s second ‘Digital Dilemma’ report (2012). The Hollywood Costume exhibition at London’s V&A Museum in 2012 manifested what I will analyse as a temporally-specific and distinctive hybridised-aesthetic. In this case, the juxtaposition of material and digital is made manifest through augmenting the physical display of the costume by means of projected images of the performers’ heads on screens which (p.2) were mounted on the shoulders of the mannequins. To frame the work of the book, I have deliberately chosen to give emphasis to the terms – ‘film’ and ‘data’ – as opposed to analogue and digital although I do still use these when referring to a ‘signal’ transmission process and medium specificity. The fundamental questions underpinning and driving the research for this book are, what are the continuities and discontinuities of the film-to-data transitional moment?

What are the transformational characteristics which frame this transitional epoch where there is this shift between film practice and data process? As we shall see, these tensions are not unique to the intervention of the digital, indeed there has always been a constant friction between ‘practice’ (as it relates to creativity) and ‘process’ (as it relates to the logistical aspects of film production) since the birth of cinema. In some of the discussions that follow, we see that these tensions are first made most explicit during the period of industrialisation, Fordism and what were referred to as the ‘factory-like conditions of film-making …’ (Perkins 1972:158).

Through a close examination of 2012, this pivotal year for an industry where ‘films have become files’ (Bordwell 2012: 8), the book reveals the impacts and effects of this transition on the practices of film production, and the implications for practitioners working within the British film industry, and examines the various causative forces behind their adoptions and resistances. Importantly, in showing how this transmogrification was made manifest in film-production materials, processes and practices, it explains why film in its material form continued to persist in the digital.

I critically examine the entire film production process and its attendant representations through the case study of a single film made in this significant year. This approach allows me to explore industrial film production practice1 in terms of the day-to-day experiences of its practitioners – how they work, how they communicate with one another, how they negotiate networks of operations and how they employ representational practices in order to communicate their work to wider audiences.

First, I lay bare the various ‘aesthetics of production’ – a phrase which I use to refer to a set of practices, behaviours and their attendant manifestations (in spoken nomenclature, written documentation, software, hardware, etc.). The identification of these in turn leads to the establishment of a specific ‘Production Aesthetic’ which is used to characterise a specific film production. In the example under examination here (Ginger & Rosa, Dir. Sally Potter, 2012), the resultant Production Aesthetic is specific to an independent location-based film – these would clearly be different to the Production Aesthetic for a different type of film or mode of production such as a Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) film or a studio-based film.

(p.3) The emphasis on and elaboration of a ‘Production Aesthetic’ makes legible and accessible the ways in which a film production is made visible and visualised through its own tools, processes and ritualistic practices. Through an understanding of these, we can begin to gain full insights into what ‘film practice’ and ‘data process’ and all that is in between, looks, sounds and feels like.

Second, by extension, the book examines ‘representational practices’ – when the film’s Production Aesthetic is mobilised and translated for wider audiences. Representational practices are the modes by which the film industry and its constituent practitioners present what they do, by drawing on this recognisable and iconographic visual palette of the codes and conventions of film production, and how these are then subject to further interpretation, extension, remediation and commodification by other (third-party) individuals, organisations and media.

Work such as this, which examines any temporally-specific transitional moment becomes increasingly important, as we might advance towards an era of total transformation, before the chance is lost to capture its aesthetics and impacts. As Slavoj Žižek cautions:

One should adopt towards cyberspace a ‘conservative’ attitude, like that of Chaplin vis-a-vis sound in cinema: Chaplin was far more than usually aware of the traumatic impact of the voice as a foreign intruder on our perception of cinema. In the same way, today’s process of transition allows us to perceive what we are losing and what we are gaining – this perception will become impossible the moment we fully embrace, and feel fully at home in, the new technologies. In short, we have the privilege of occupying the place of ‘vanishing mediators.’ (1997: 130–1)

A study focused on this ‘digital film’ moment is particularly significant, where understandings of the history of film production and key moments in its evolution can only be tracked and understood in the vestiges of celluloid material practice which, in 2012 continued to resonate and reside in the emergent digital terminology, iconography, practice and process. It is therefore essential for students and scholars of film to become attuned to this increasingly embedded and occluded system of signification in order to ensure and sustain their film production literacy.

Towards a Digital Film Production Study

A ‘Digital Film Production Study’ theoretical and conceptual framework is proposed through the unique synthesis of Production Studies, Film Studies and Digital Humanities, in order to be able to grapple with this complex industry at a critical moment of transition. I deploy this range of (p.4) methodologies across the different Chapters as appropriate; in Chapter 2 (Digital Film Production People) and Chapter 3 (Digital Film Production Time) I use an augmented production studies approach, described below. In its proposition of collaborative auteurship, Chapter 2 also continues a film studies approach. In Chapter 4, I extend this use of a Film Studies approach, adopting textual analysis, digital film studies, new media and software studies, and visual media analysis to examine Digital Film Production Space. In its consideration of representation, and my use of in-depth textual analysis, Chapter 5 builds on Film Studies’ work in an examination of the complexities of self-representational practices within and about the film industry. Chapter 6 – in its focus on digital archives, draws on and extends existing work within the wider Digital Humanities field.

Much has been written about the impact of the digital upon all other aspects of the film industry including: the aesthetics of mainstream and commercial film (McClean, 2008; Manovich, 2011; Christian 2011; and Purse 2013); digital performance practices (North 2008 and Desjardins, 2016); the (economic) impact of the digital upon film industry structures, operations, markets, changing distribution models (Wasser 2009, Knight, 2007; Hagener et al., 2016); alternate distribution and exhibition models (Lohmann, 2007; Lobato, 2009; Reiss, 2010; Bordwell, 2012; Tryon, 2013, Perren, 2013; Crisp, 2015); audience cultures (Rose, 2011; Atkinson, 2014); the new ‘spaces’ of digital cinema (Shaw and Weibel, 2003; Taylor and Hsu, 2003; Snickars and Vonderau, 2009; Atkinson, 2014); and new digital funding models (Sorensen, 2012); however, little attention has been afforded to the impact of the digital upon industrial film production practice, and the day-to-day experiences of the practitioners, how they work, how they communicate with one another, their networks of communication and crucially their representational practices.

I undertake this study through an examination of the people and processes involved in the entire lifecycle of one film – released under the title of Ginger & Rosa in October 2012. Through access to the people, the agglomeration of materials of production throughout the pre-production, production, post-production, distribution and reception of the film, I was able to make set visits, conduct interviews, attend test screenings, and undertake post-production observation in Denmark. I was also directly involved in the production process through the creation of a featurette for the Blu-ray release of the film, and through the design and delivery of a public-facing workshop as part of a Sally Potter Retrospective at Bradford International Film Festival 2013 (see Prescott, 2015). I then went on to develop an archival strategy and ontology through the AHRC-funded Deep Film Access Project (DFAP)2. Drawing on the methodological traditions of embedded (p.5) ethnographic approaches and thick description (Geertz, 1973), I was particularly fortunate to truly ‘get amongst’ my field of study and through this could draw on the insights of the cultural anthropological tradition underpinning Geertz’s approach to vivid detailed, and ultimately analytically significant, description. This method was further augmented by the use of virtual and textual ethnographic approaches (Hine, 2015).

Ginger & Rosa is emblematic of the transitional film-to-data period in many ways. It was one release in the context of the many independent films of 2012, many directed by British directors, and filmed in the UK, which included – The Angels Share (Dir. Ken Loach), Sightseers (Dir. Ben Wheatley), Papadopoulos & Sons (Dir. Marcus Markou), Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan), Everyday (Dir. Michael Winterbottom), Broken (Dir. Rufus Norris), I, Anna (Dir. Barnaby Southcombe), Suspension of Disbelief (Dir. Mike Figgis), Berberian Sound Studio (Dir. Peter Strickland), My Brother the Devil (Dir. Sally El Hosaini), Good Vibrations (Dir. Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn) and Holy Motors (Dir. Leos Carax). All were in the context of a seemingly burgeoning UK film industry which was responsible for ‘directly generating 43,900 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs and contributing £1.6 billion to national GDP’ (Oxford Economics, 2012: 6).

Ginger & Rosa exemplifies all aspects of the film production process which are applicable within the traditional and conventional film industries transnationally.

The case study of Ginger & Rosa reveals the complex social, cultural, financial, political and ethical influences which are at play, and how they can affect the creative and artistic decisions that are made. Ginger & Rosa was one of the first films shot in the UK to use the digital Arri Alexa camera. As a location-based feature film, set and filmed in London, it is (almost) entirely digital in all aspects of its production and output. It simultaneously embraced and eschewed digital technologies.

It embraced digital post-production in its removal of digital traces in the post-production process (cables, wires and satellite dishes were meticulously removed in order to sustain an authentic 1950s’ verisimilitude of post-war Britain), and in its addition of very minor digital visual effects. The Director also embraced social media as a form of casting. It eschewed these digital technologies in the Director of Photography’s use of rear netting across the cameras lens in order to restrain the camera’s digital high definition. Furthermore, as an international co-production with Denmark, it was one of the last films to be processed through the soon-to-be-closed Short Cut Copenhagen film laboratory.

Ginger & Rosa involved the work of a diversity of film practitioners including many renowned and experienced film-production practitioners (p.6) in the UK and International film industry, whose experience spans several decades, not least of which is Director Sally Potter herself. Potter’s work is a common feature of the curriculum and syllabi of university courses both in the UK and abroad within the film, media and literature subject areas (see Sophie Mayer, 2008 and 2009; Fowler, 2009; Giuliana, 2008; McKim, 2006 and Fischer, 2004). Potter has been notable for her engagement with digital developments including her 2009 film Rage, the first feature film to be launched and distributed on mobile phones, and her SP-ARK archival website, which hosts 3,000 assets of Orlando (1992) (and will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 6). But whilst Potter is considered to be an auteur in her creative style and output, her working practices are notably highly collaborative and inclusive, the extent to which I will give fuller considerations within Chapter 2. Ginger & Rosa involved some new collaborations such as Robbie Ryan (Director of Photography, who has worked with Andrea Arnold, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears), and Anders Refn (Editor, and long time collaborator of Lars von Trier) whilst also extending a number of enduring partnerships including with Irene Lamb (Casting Director, who has worked extensively with Terry Gilliam). These latter partnerships have since extended further – at the time of writing both Lamb and Refn were working on Potter’s new film (The Party, 2017). Interviews with these key collaborators and others, provided further insights into the broader context of the international film industry. A full illustrative filmography of each of the people interviewed is included as an appendix.

Although the creative and technical production team of this single film – Ginger & Rosa – provided the locus of my research, I approached the interviewees from the perspective that these were practitioners working within a wider professional field and able to draw from a diversity of affiliations and a heterogeneous range of experiences. The professionals and practitioners that I interviewed are a representative slice taken from a cross-section of their own ‘project network.’ The interviewees spoke about their own particular material practices on a micro-level, with regard to their immediate surroundings within this particular production, and also with reference to the macro context of their place within the film industry ecosystem. The interviews took place while they worked on the production of Ginger & Rosa, since it would be almost impossible to gain access to them once they had moved on to their next jobs. This set of interviews was augmented by interviews with other film practitioners from different films (mainly Digital Imaging Technicians) as they are at the forefront of implementing the changes of the film-to-digital transition.

(p.7) Ginger & Rosa was an international co-production between the UK and Denmark and therefore allowed for the examination of distinctive processes such as an international cast and crew, and funding by multiple partners. The interviews were supplemented by the content and discourse analysis of the materials and tools of the production process which I undertook retrospectively after the production was completed. I worked with the collection of materials generated by Ginger & Rosa which include the film itself, rushes, stills photographs, director’s notes, scripts, contracts, call sheets, production designs, sketches and schedules.

Digital film definition

I need to define what I mean when I use the term ‘digital film’, by tracing its etymology since many agree with Thomas Elsaesser on the ‘oxymoronic nature of ‘digital cinema’ ’ (2014a:32). Others who have discredited the use of ‘digital film’ as doublespeak, usually do so upon the basis of a specific hermeneutic assumption – that the term ‘film’ exclusively pertains to the material form of the medium. These protestations are located in discourses of imperilment, and are propounded by those seeking to protect film’s medium specificity, purity and integrity.

Rather than ‘film’ implying the material condition, I use film in the phrase ‘digital film’ to refer to it as a cultural object in the way that the many terms across different cultures have referred to it: i.e. Motion Pictures, Movies, ‘The’ Pictures, Cinema. I would agree with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s observation, that ‘The term “digital film” may seem contradictory, but almost immediately everyone understood it. Just as audio books and e-books were still called books, digital films counted as films, even though they never involved light hitting celluloid’ (2013: 13), and would support Thomas Elsaesser’s assertion that (‘digital cinema’) ‘suggests a smooth transition between the traditional film experience and its digitally reworked successor’ (2014a: 25).

However, even if one disputes this position and we return to the original ‘material’ definition of film – I would still maintain that ‘digital film’ is an exceptionally useful phrase since it is endemic in the hybridity of the transitional moment in which the film industry was caught in 2012, and which I also capture through the book’s title – ‘From Film Practice to Data Process’. It is a provocative juxtaposition of terms that appear to be in continual dialogue and tension. So I would argue that the ‘digital film’ locution, on the one hand, is most useful since it provides an accurate description of the current cultural object, a film made digitally, and on the other, it is a transitional term which communicates the instability of the 2012 film production moment.

(p.8) I would not frame this as an intermedial moment – which would imply a clear transitional shift from one medium to the other – rather it is characterised by the coterminous existence of film and data, and the persistent aesthetic presence of celluloid.

This instability and the tension felt by people in the film industry in 2012 was profound and is communicated most clearly in this claim made by film director Christopher Nolan: ‘A transition starts with people offering a new choice, but it finishes with taking the old choice away, and I don’t think technically we’re ready to do that yet’ (2012 in Side by Side, Dir. Chris Kenneally). ‘This transitional situation is manifest in the text of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, where the physical mechanical effects (of the infamous rotating corridor scene) coexist alongside the ground-breaking kaleidoscopic VFX of folding and morphing cityscapes.

Beyond my assertion that the term ‘digital film’ is itself both very clear and critically coherent, the implications for the ‘digital film’ form of production and its conditions of production are not so clearly understood. They are highly complex and subject to much debate. As Erin Hill has stated: ‘Texts are created through an interlocking series of soft systems, developed over a century of massive technological and social change, and are held together by multiple, contradictory industrial mythologies, resulting in production processes that are often as messy, disconnected, and chaotic as their most successful products are clean, harmonious, and balanced.’ (Hill, 2014: 142, emphasis added).

It is the messy, disconnected and chaotic production processes of ‘digital film’, that are the focus of this book. I have explored these in detail through the consideration and analysis of the entire production process of one ‘digital film’. Ginger & Rosa3 is a digital film in both senses of the phrase as I have defined it. Firstly, it is a film (as cultural object) that has been shot on a digital camera. Secondly, it is a film that is characteristic of the transitional moment within the 2012 temporal framing of this study, as we shall see, in its reliance upon film-based technologies, processes, practitioners, principles and politics.

This case study enabled a unique interrogation of the conditions film production in the present moment. It contributes to the growing attention given to the working practices and procedural aspects of all members of the crew and their respective input and impact on the film production process and the resultant film.

Before continuing with the main work of the book, it would be useful to contextualise the contribution that it is making to the wider academic fields of study.

(p.9) Drawing together production studies, film studies, digital humanities and elements of computer science into a unified ‘Digital Film Production Study’, my research process also included moments of collaboration and co-research with film production professionals and film archivists. During these encounters, I inhabited a complex and amorphous researcher subjectivity in which I became both exegete and expositor in the navigation and translation between these diverse spheres of professional practice in film production and film archiving, translating the sometimes arcane and very often oblique terms to practitioners within both these two domains.

Production Studies

Production Studies, which frames and consolidates these various strands of enquiry and sharpens the research agenda, is considered to be ‘a subfield of Media Industry Studies (MIS)’ (McDonald, 2013: 149). Studies of the media industries normally tend to adopt a macro, political economy approach, examining the overall shape, dynamics and trends within the industry and often the industry organisation on a global scale (Miller et al., 2005; Miller 2011 and Jin 2012). But as Havens et al. propose, these studies provide an ‘… incomplete explanation of the role of human agents’ (Havens et al., 2009: 236). Instead they propose a ‘Critical Media Industry Studies’ approach defined by Havens as ‘midlevel fieldwork’ (2009: 234) and an emphasis on more ‘microlevel industrial practices’ (2009: 235). Then there are those who look below the line – looking at exploitative factors, or technical roles, for example (Banks, 2009; Mayer, 2011).

Haven and Lotz contend that: ‘By analysing how media industries operate, we can better appreciate how and why the texts we interact with come to be created’ (Havens and Lotz, 2012: 2). I would propose that the production studies approach that I have adopted reverses this claim – by analysing how and why texts interact and come to be created, we can better appreciate how media industries operate.

‘Production Studies’4 is a multi and inter-disciplinary area. Studies of production have been undertaken by scholars within sociology, management studies, business studies, organisational studies, economics, cultural policy and arts management studies, and cultural studies, but it has only very recently been acknowledged as a significant, legitimate and growing field of enquiry in film and media studies, and its attendant methods have been validated. John Caldwell has stated that: ‘I have always imagined that “production studies” or “production culture research” might become useful and productive institutional “contact zones” – not necessarily “fields” or “disciplines” in the traditional sense of intellectual (p.10) activities that have clear and discrete borderlines’ (Caldwell quoted in Vonderau, 2013: 22).

Whilst a production studies approach did not explicitly contribute to the original shaping of my thinking and my research design, it has certainly proved useful in being able to retrospectively frame my methodological approaches and theoretical positions. I place my work, and my Digital Film Production Study on a production studies continuum, despite the fact that the production studies field was not so established when I was undertaking field work in 2012.

There is clearly a need for studies into film production method, as noted by Jean-Pierre Geuens: ‘Renewed attention therefore should be brought on the nub of film production for the methods used to make films are far from neutral. The “invisible hand” of the market in fact guides the entire production process’ (Geuens, 2007: 411, emphasis added).

Methods in Production Studies

The business of conventional feature-film production assembles a huge company of people from multiple-disciplines on a temporary basis to engage in the collaborative endeavour of producing a unique, one-off output. The study of this phenomena is replete with significant methodological challenges. As Caldwell has suggested:

We need to augment the traditional tools used in textual analysis and archival research with ethnographic and cultural-economic frameworks that allow us to see and account for the institutional logic […] if we are to fully understand today’s complex systems of film and television.

(Caldwell, 2013: 163)

Through direct access to the film and all of its collaborators, in-depth filmed interviews with every person involved have been undertaken, from the runners right up to the producer: the crew involved with camera, lighting, sound, stunts, production coordination, editing, art, costume and make-up, as well as the financiers, lawyers, publicists and distributors. This testimony has been augmented in my own study through the close analysis of the by-products of production, as well as the equipment, hardware and software of production and is founded in empiricism (semistructured interviews with practitioners) which is combined with a textual analysis approach and addresses the lacunae identified in the studies above.

Production Studies validates a number of methodological approaches traditionally employed in social science disciplines. Take, for example, (p.11) early studies such as Hollywood: The Movie Colony (Rosten, 1941) and Hollywood: The Dream Factory (Powdermaker, 1951) which both used interviews as their main evidence base. Butler (1971) shapes his study of the making of feature films around the first-person testimonies of key workers (these are mostly above-the-line creative workers, but he does also include considerations of ‘the continuity girl,’ the distributor, the censor and the cinema). Many more recent studies are built solely upon practitioner interviews and industry testimony (Petrie, 1996b; Singer, 1998; Duchovnay, 2004; Perkins and Stollery, 2004). McKinlay and Smith propose a ‘labour process perspective’ (McKinlay and Smith, 2009: 5) which examines the processes and procedures of production. This, they argue, ‘looks inside the experience or actuality of production processes and reveals how inputs of human labour, machinery and ‘raw materials’ are transformed into finished products’ (McKinlay and Smith, 2009: 5).

Meehan and Wasko argue that ‘… research must address not only media corporations and markets but also the people whose collective labour creates media artifacts, the artifacts themselves, and the people who engage with or are exposed to those artifacts’ (2013: 153). I will be doing so through an analysis of the objects, ephemera and tools of film production, the impacts of the digital and the imbrication of the digital as it manifests in craft-based location film production5, the last bastion for the digital to fully penetrate in the film production industry overall.

A holistic consideration of the entire digital film production process in the context of the independent British film industry is an inherently inter-disciplinary endeavour. In order to gain insights of all elements of the production process – the people, networks and materials of production, different frameworks of analysis and subfields of academic studies were required.

In its investigations of the people and their working conditions, the book works within a production studies framework or a critical media industries framework (as defined by Havens et al., 2009) deploying textual, content and discourse analyses of the various texts and aesthetics of production throughout the creation, processing, release, exhibition and reception of the film. As such, it could be considered an ‘integrated cultural-industrial study’ as defined by John Caldwell through its use of ‘ethnographic, sociological, critical, and industrial methodologies’ (Caldwell, 2009b: 200).

Whereas Curtin and Sanson would suggest that: ‘production studies […] tend to stop short of linking their analysis to a global political economy, preferring instead to offer specific claims about the internal dynamics of media industries and workplaces’ (2016: 9), the study of Ginger & Rosa (p.12) builds on the widely held belief that all film productions have been acknowledged to follow the same pattern of work:

The business or the art (or both) of producing, distributing and exhibiting films follows a pattern largely similar, in warp and woof, around the civilised world. Because of the established and irrefutable superiority of the American product, and the business technique created around that product, it is understandable how and why the Hollywood impress has made itself felt wherever the motion picture finds an outlet.

(Kann, 1938: 185)

This has always been considered to be the case but now with such a global workforce and, as many of the interviewees of my study attest, international distinctions between film production practices at a local, departmental level are very limited. Just as an established (yet contested) notion of ‘Film Language’ (Metz, 1974) and ‘Film Grammar’ (Spottiswoode, 1950; Nichols, 1975; Thompson 2002; Thompson and Bowen, 2009) exists in relation to narrative film, so, too, a universal language of film production process has emerged. As one of the Producers of Ginger & Rosa stated, upon reflecting on the impacts of the film’s status as an international co-production, and the potential challenges of spoken-language issues: ‘The good thing about film is there’s a film language which is film, which is different to English, French, Danish.’6

The film industry has been examined through many different thematic and critical lenses. Looking back through the annals of film production studies and the studies of production contexts and conditions, the different traditions fall into at least seven thematic approaches – coinciding with key paradigm shifts in the film industry. These are: Film Industry studies; Studio as space/location studies; Studio as organisation studies; Labour studies; Filmmaking (production) studies; Specific (professional) disciplinary studies and Individual film/author studies.

Broad Film Industry Studies were first initiated in the US in the 1930s and 1940s (Hampton, 1931; Lewis, 1933 and Huettig, 1944), and reemerged as a focus in the 1960s (Jobes, 1966) with studies which focused on specific aspects of the film industry including legal analyses (Conant, 1960) and an entire study dedicated to the Hollywood system (Powder-maker, 1963). The British film industry received critical attention, from an early study in 1921 (Boughey, 1921) to the British film industry in the sixties (Walker, 1974), with more contemporary studies including British cinema as a canon (Fitzgerald, 2010) and British Cinema (Murphy, 2010). Additionally, Hollywood filmmaking (Kapsis, 1986) and the Hollywood film industry (McDonald and Wasko, 2008; Schatz 2009a and 2009b) have continued to be the source of ongoing academic enquiry. The film (p.13) industry has been approached from a number of different dimensions: as industry (Barrow, 2011); as its status as a business (Lees and Berkowitz, 1981; Baillieu and Goodchild 2002); and through the examination of women’s involvement and representation (Cook and Dodd, 1993; Bell and Williams, 2010). The film industry has also been interrogated through economic perspectives including studies focused on specific national film economies including Switzerland (Cucco, 2010), Austria (Sperlich, 2011) and Spain (Kogen, 2005), through to interrogations of co-productions (Hoskins, McFayden, Finn and Jackel, 1995; Neumann and Appelgren, 2007) and comparative film production regimes (Mathieu and Strandvad, 2008).

The spaces of film production, their geographic locations and local film ecologies have historically received much attention (Johns, 2010). In the UK, studies of British film studios include: Shepperton (1932– present) (Sweet, 2005 and Threadgall, 1994); J. Arthur Rank (established Pinewood Studios) (Macnab, 1993); Goldcrest Films 1977–86 (Eberts and Ilott, 1990), Forever Ealing (1902– present) (Perry, 1981), Studies of Ealing Studios (Barr, 1998), Mitchell and Kenyon (Toulmin et al., 2004). Such studies are relatively straightforward to undertake, since all of the resources are contained under one roof. The dispersal of production across networks, which characterises contemporary film productions, creates an additional challenge for researchers seeking to capture and study them. A focus on particular movie studios in the organisational sense have included Warner Brothers (Gomery, 1985), Columbia Pictures Organisation (Buscombe, 1985) and Nordisk Film (Larsen and Nissen, 2006).

Labour Studies emerged in the 1970s, when the studio model in the US and UK became less influential and new organisational structures emerged. Michael Chanan’s ‘Labour Power in the British Film Industry’ criticised the trend ‘towards cumbersome intellectual systems of analysis, purporting to reveal the ideological superstructure of the cinema, as if this were possible without first understanding the basic conditions of production’ (Chanan 1976: italic emphasis added). As Siân Reynolds similarly has observed ‘what might be called the “labour history” of the cinema is on the whole a less-prospected territory’ (1998: 66).

There were further labour organisation studies undertaken in the US film industry including Lois Gray and Ronald Seeber’s 1996 historical study into the labour union movement, whilst studies into industry work continued in the UK (Langham, 1996). More than a decade on, the focus is seen to shift to freelance careers in Hollywood (Randle and Culkin, 2009) and Production careers in Europe (Mathieu, 2013). More general labour-based accounts can be found which take broader overviews of the (p.14) digital media industries (Ursell, 2006; Deuze, 2007; Ashton, 2015 and Curtin and Sanson, 2016), and the impact of the digital and convergence upon working cultures and practices (Jenkins, 2006a; Deuze, 2009).

Filmmaking (production) studies were initiated by an early analysis of movie-making – (Gans, 1963). Modes of production and production practices became the focus of later studies, including the Hollywood mode of production (Staiger, 1981), expanded and advanced in Bordwell et al. (1985).

In the project-based mode of film production which relies on a constellation of practitioner networks, studies have started to proliferate which focus on particular groups of professionals within film (and cultural) productions. The focus upon groups of practitioners includes: British and Irish Film Directors (Allon, Cullen and Patterson, 2001), Cinematographers (Cowan, 2012a); Costume Designers (Banks, 2009); Screenwriters (Conor, 2014); Casting Directors (Hill, 2014); Editors (Perkins and Stollery, 2004); and Costume in British Cinema (Cook, 1996).

Women have also been studied as a specific group of professionals through gendered studies of film production, such as Sue Harper’s examination of female Producers, Writers, Directors, Costume Designers, Art Directors and Editors (Harper, 2000); Female film editors (Hatch, 2013); Freelance Hollywood Women (Carman, 2016) and Continuity Girls (Williams, 2013: 603). Melanie Williams’ study marks a departure from the usual studies of ‘above-the-line’ professionals, to below-the-line workers and technical staff. As Paul and Kleingartner state, the ‘line’ has been ‘found in [motion picture, television, and other cultural industry] project budgets. Creative work is accounted for above the line; below-the-line expenses include craft and technical labor, materials and supplies, and so on’ (1996: 161).

In addition to Williams’ work, other studies which have focused on below-the-line professions include Sound (Hilmes, 2013); VFX workers (Curtin & Vanderhoef, 2014; Atkinson, 2015a); the VFX industry (Venkatasawmy, 2013); VFX ‘services industry’ (Mukherjee et al., 2013) and Runners (Szczepanik, 2014).

Above-the-line contributions have been celebrated within literature that draw out the artistic, ‘exciting’ aspects of production, often fetishising production work and certain roles – such as the Directors, Editors and Production Designers, as focused upon by the FilmCraft book series (some of the first were Chang, 2011; Halligan, 2012; Goodridge, 2012, and there have subsequently been more published) reaffirms the hierarchies of production and the creative leads – those that already feature in the paratextual surround of a film. These tend to be aestheticised with glossy (p.15) colour images – interviews taking place with practitioners after, and not during, the process – and are retrospective romanticised accounts.

Individual Film/Author Studies

Given that a film ‘… manifests thousands of parameters, from acting and body language to lighting, cutting and cinematography, and each of these parameters exists in, and is developed in connection with, artistic traditions that for each parameter may have its own relative autonomous history’ (Grodal et al., 2004: 9), there has been a historic lack of attention given to the collaborative and collective film production process within film studies scholarship. This lack, and the subsequent invisibility of agents in the film production process has been compounded by the dominant critical paradigm of auteur theory within film studies. As Dai Vaughan has noted in his study of film editors:

The auteurists have created a criticism in which no one but the director may be discussed; and this, while not even satisfying the desiderata of critical purity, sets the seal of academic approval upon the exclusion of ‘technicians’ from all other discourses: and film, the most collaborative of the arts, is stuck with a literature which cannot at any level handle the idea of collaboration. (1983: 13)

In comparison to the innumerable studies that focus upon individual directors, there is a notable dearth of studies which focus on non-directorial, although highly influential industry figures. There is the autobiography of Michael Balcon, the Ealing Film Producer (Balcon, 1969) and, more recently, a study into Michael Klinger, the British film producer (Spicer and McKenna. 2013). Similarly, there have been limited academic studies that focus upon the production of singular films (Robert Carringer’s study of Citizen Kane in 1985 being a notable exception).

Compared to the attention bestowed upon finished films and macro-level industry study in its assessment of the impacts of the digital – limited consideration has been afforded to the actual impacts this has upon day-to-day working practices, as McKinlay and Smith note ‘… how work is structured and what people do when they make creative products remains relatively under-researched’ (2009: 5).

There are a number of notable exceptions where process and people are the locus of the research in film studies – although limited to Hollywood models of production – (Lovell and Sergi, 2005; Caldwell, 2008a; Corrigan and White, 2012). There is even less consideration given in terms of what effect these working practices have upon production aesthetics and the end product. There have been some studies that examine the intersection and (p.16) influence between industrial factors and film style (as summarised by Holt and Perren, 2009, including Bordwell et al., 1985 and Wyatt, 1994), and more recently there have been studies focused upon the impacts of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and stereoscopic style (including Wood, 2013 and Ross, 2015).

What is unique in my approach is that I have selected one film; a close analysis of this enables novel insights which touch all aspects of those domains: Film Industry, Studio as space/location, Studio as organisation, Labour, Filmmaking (production), Specific (professional) disciplinary and Individual film/author studies. Implicated throughout my study are the insights now being enabled through the engagement with Digital Humanities approaches. The implicit influence of this field comes in to a more explicit relationship with the material under examination when I turn my attention to digital archives in Chapter 6. This situates this analysis of the archive within this wider Digital Humanities field and brings to bear these distinctive approaches (Berry 2012) where they can most usefully apply to film studies and the media industries (Acland and Hoyt, 2016). The recent intervention of digital methodologies in film studies is captured in a special issue of The Frames Cinema Journal – ‘Re-Born Digital’ (Grant 2012).

Data approaches towards film analytics include Barry Salt’s ‘Cinemetrics’ project (Salt, 1985) in which he examines emergent patterns of editing and increased cutting rates and rhythms. Other digital film studies approaches such as Kuhn et al.’s (2012) large-scale video analytics study; the videographic approach to film criticism (Ferguson, 2015); the automated analysis of archive film material (Zeppelzauer et al., 2012), and the visualisation of data in Digital Cinema Studies (Verhoeven, 2016), are all informed by these Digital Humanities perspectives. These approaches have yet to be applied to a (digital) film production context which will be the major contribution of this volume.

Overview of Chapters

What follows in Chapter 2 is a critical examination of the wider context of the film industry taking Ginger & Rosa as a lens through which to examine the three main professional working frameworks that film industry professionals operate within. These are the network, the department and the project itself, the film. Drawing on the interviews with established film professionals who are both adept at and successful in the navigation and negotiation of temporary project-based working, I will examine these three distinctive, yet overlapping spheres, their intersections, their (p.17) challenges and their moments of contradiction. I will extrapolate the organisational structure as specific to the Ginger & Rosa ‘project’ and examine in detail the structures and working relationships of a number of departments – Camera/Electrical, Assistant Director (AD), Production and Post-production. I pay particular attention to the challenges of cross-departmental communications within these structures and point to some of the conflicting tensions that emerge in the pervading discourses of ‘flexibility.’ I examine the complex interplay between, on the one side, a highly craft-based production, in which established film practitioners are engaged with the craft process of traditional classical narrative film production, and, on the other, the practices associated with the new digital technologies and how these may lead to lacunas in the training and development needs of the workforce and interstitial roles and work specific to the film-to-data moment. Through the mapping of a Personnel Structure and Working Relations model, as they pertained to Ginger & Rosa, I examine how Potter manages to nurture innovation and experimentalism within these seemingly inflexible structures through ‘collaborative and transitional auteurism.’

In Chapter 3, I explore the notion of digital film production ‘Time’ and the various different temporalities of film production. Again, by drawing primarily upon the case-study materials of Ginger & Rosa, the Chapter maps the 2012 moment of transition from working with film to working with data, and the hybrid practices and protocols that manifested as a result. I examine how the introduction of new technologies and digital processes challenged the orthodoxies of long-established film industry production practice. I also explore how workflow patterns were effected with the advent of the digital in film production. These technologies have radically increased the speed and volume at which film data and metadata can be generated during the film production workflow. For instance, where once there were naturally appearing gaps in the photochemical process, to enable film reels to be changed between takes, and to give time for the processing to take place (overnight) which all enabled a space for contemplation and consideration by the Director and other key creative members of the crew. These have been compressed by the synchronous (through multiple monitors on set) and instantaneous (through playback) access to the material which is being shot that is enabled within the digital film production process. I propose a ‘Creative Core’ Structure of Production model with which to understand the determinants and impacts of on-set workflow. I propose the emergence of a specific aesthetic of production which I term ‘workflow-warp’ – which is temporally bending the traditional film structure and pace out of shape. I then conceptualise (p.18) the interstitial and transitional practices noted in the previous Chapter as workflow-weft – the process of weaving together a complex blend of the film and the digital into an inextricable tapestry – which metaphorically meshes processes and their representation.

Chapter 4 picks up on this phenomenon, and addresses the challenge of disentangling deeply ingrained celluloid practices, from processes, practices and the tools of film production. In its close textual examination of Digital Film Production Space, this Chapter includes detailed considerations of the attendant ‘production apparatus’ of Ginger & Rosa (which is the same apparatus used by the film industry in a diversity of national contexts) and the manifestation of the film in digital and virtual representations. Through a process of abstraction, I expound how film/analogue motifs and nomenclature are inscribed and sustained in the digital film production process, in the professional practices and in the physical and digital manifestations of film production. Through the examination of embodied practices, onset processes and protocols, including the minutiae of hardware design, software and interface aesthetics, I trace the origins of the often perplexing film and celluloid skeuomorphs. The chapter goes on to consider the reasons for the persistence of these practices which conversely seek to simultaneously erase the analogue whilst at the same time mask the use of the digital medium. I consider the notion of ‘Celluloid Pedagogies’, and how the various practitioners on Ginger & Rosa learned their crafts, describing them through material practices and tactile experience. I examine the attendant politics of loss, erasure, absence and invisibility in the wider industry discourses of 2012. I conclude by identifying and defining the Production Aesthetic specific to Ginger & Rosa.

In Chapter 5, I proceed to expound how the industry appropriates and mobilises the Production Aesthetic, through an exploration of the various modes, tools and types of film industry representation, whereby film is the conduit through which we see film production, and is subject to its own representational modes, aesthetics and practices. I present a genealogy of different types of mediated films and their making, that have commercialised these aesthetics. As part of this more holistic overview, I detail how Ginger & Rosa communicated and embedded its Production Aesthetic in a number of different ways. I draw on the inherent paradox which is innate to these modes of representation where the film production attempts to make itself visible whilst simultaneously rendering itself invisible. This leads to a conflicting aesthetic of ‘pseudo-visibility’ and ‘hyper-invisibility’ – the simultaneous openness and foreclosure of film production practice obscuring people, histories and practices. Drawing on themes of invisible labour, invisible economies, politics of invisibility (p.19) and aesthetics of erasure, I then turn to considerations where aesthetics of production are made manifest in modes of resistance – where the tools and aesthetics of production are subverted for moments of protest by film industry practitioners.

In Chapter 6, I examine how the history of digital cinema will be curated, compressed and encoded through an investigation into digital film production preservation and access in the moment of the ‘Digital Dilemma’ (2012). This Chapter focuses on the preservation, organisation and representation of digital film and the attendant challenges to the archiving of digital film which I summarise as Reliability, Vulnerability, Volume and Data Complexity. I consider different archival paradigms including film, born digital and hybrid, and the resultant archival aesthetics which emerge, drawing from various branches of enquiry within archival studies. I consider how archival structures support and replicate auteurism leading to omissions and occlusions. The Chapter includes considerations of Sally Potter’s own online, interactive archive SP-ARK – whereby all film/analogue was digitised – and the archival structure developed by the Deep Film Access Project (DFAP) – designed to accommodate both film, data and hybrid assets, for a transitional moment. I provide evidence that the way in which an archive is conceived, shaped and organised captures the various ‘aesthetics of production’ and ‘Production Aesthetics’ of a moment in time, as well as its concomitant ‘production legacy aesthetics’, ‘archival legacy aesthetics’ and embedded paradoxes of representation.

The epilogue closes the book with a look back at 2012 through the contemporary moment of 2017.

I now turn to the generation of new insights and understandings of an ‘aesthetics of production’ related to people, the employment infrastructures and the labour organisation of film production.


(1.) Note that I make a keen distinction between the genre of ‘industrial film’ – as explored by Vinzenz Hediger and Patrick Vonderau (2009) which refers to documentary films of different industrial processes. Rather I use the term industrial film to refer to the outputs and processes associated with the ‘film industry’ as ‘an economic system, a way (or ways) of organising the structure of production, distribution and consumption’ (Buscombe 1985: 94). Hence I will tend to use the term film production as opposed to filmmaking throughout the book.

(2.) AHRC project reference AH/L010305/1. This project will be examined in more detail in Chapters 3 and 6.

(p.20) (3.) It is important to note (since many of the interviewees refer to its original title) that during production the film was known as BOMB, but this was later changed for reasons that will be detailed in Chapter 2.

(4.) Production Studies is gaining traction as a significant field of study evidenced through a number of publications and events including: a special ‘In Focus’ section in the 2013 Cinema Journal dedicated to the consideration of the field of Media Industries Studies; a dedicated Media Industries Journal; and in the UK in April 2014 a ‘New Directions in Film & Television Production Studies’ conference was held. The most recent volume about this field is Production Studies, The Sequel (Banks, Conor and Mayer, 2016) following on from the original Production Studies volume (Mayer et al., 2009).

(5.) I use the term craft-based to imply a film that uses traditional, physical and practical techniques wherever possible, in its creation of scenery, props, effects etc. Craft-based films are always location-based where the use of digital VFX are kept to an absolute minimum. Craft-based films are normally those which pertain to realist drama conventions.

(6.) In an interview with the author, 22 August 2012.