On The (Recent) Long Take

Popular conversations around prestige films often orbit around their well-rounded achievements, in which excellence in performance and excellence in filmmaking go hand-in-hand. If the annual Academy Awards serves as any kind of metric, recent nominated works demonstrate that top-tier nominations (for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay) are typically accompanied by nominations in various performance categories. Among other nominated works, the stylish aesthetic of American Hustle, the purposeful excesses of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the understated dramatic momentums of Philomena and Nebraska all succeed in large part because of strong performances that compliment each film’s achievements in writing and directing.

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‘Ramona’ Resurrected: Long Lost 1928 Film Adaptation Resurfaces in L.A.

Among its myriad trans-media permutations—plays, songs, pageants, pinball games—four major American films were made of Helen Hunt Jackson’s famed 1884 novel Ramona. An international bestseller published one year before Jackson’s death, the epic saga, set in Southern California in the early American period, tells of a tragic romance between the half-Indian Ramona and the full-blooded Indian Alessandro, who is murdered by a white man at the end. Intended as a brief for the beleaguered American Indian, Jackson’s lavish description of the region’s Spanish Catholic past instead was used to promote Los Angles as an Anglo Protestant mecca and helped propel the city’s phenomenal population growth—from circa 15,000 at the time of Ramona’s publication to 324,000 by 1910. Continue reading “‘Ramona’ Resurrected: Long Lost 1928 Film Adaptation Resurfaces in L.A.” »

‘Sight & Sound’ Poll Writes Screenwriters Out of the Movies

When the latest edition of the Sight & Sound poll was published last year, commentators were abuzz over the results. “Hitchcock knocks Welles off top of ‘greatest film’ poll,”1 announced one headline. “Hitchcock dethrones Welles,”2 proclaimed another. Again and again, the ascendancy of Vertigo to the top spot on the critics’ list was dramatized as one auteur vanquishing another. Taking this rhetoric to the limit, one blogger used the poll to decide on “the greatest auteur in cinema.”3 Even some critics who refused to participate in the Sight & Sound poll, such as Peter Bogdanovich, only did so on the grounds that it was impossible to narrow down the list of movies made by favorite directors to such a manageable number.4

If all the talk about directors and auteurs didn’t make the point clear: screenwriters, once again, were left out in the cold. Indeed, coverage of the results might lead one to assume that Vertigo emerged from the mind of Alfred Hitchcock fully formed, rather than from a screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, itself adapted from a novel (The Living and the Dead) written by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. To be fair, this oversight isn’t entirely the fault of bloggers and journalists. Directors are so feted by Sight & Sound that they have been invited by the magazine to vote in their own poll since 1992. Screenwriters aren’t afforded the same opportunity (nor is anyone else involved in the filmmaking process, for that matter). Worse, screenwriters aren’t even credited on the Sight & Sound website, which has an entry for every film to place on both the critics’ and directors’ polls but only indicates the films’ directors and most prominent actors. Continue reading “‘Sight & Sound’ Poll Writes Screenwriters Out of the Movies” »

Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry

The importance of script clearance and research to film and television production—from the classic Hollywood era to the present day—has long been uncharted territory for media scholars. Fortunately, UCLA alumnus Michael Kmet has begun thoroughly examining not only the everyday realities of this type of work but also the greater importance that firms such as de Forest Research have had on the overall structure of creative content both past and present. The scope of this project, including a substantial amount of primary research at archives around Los Angeles, requires more than just one researcher, and I am very pleased to state that I will be assisting Michael in the expansion of his already impressive research.

This blog post is an overview of the research Michael has already conducted as well as a discussion of the project’s future trajectory.  I am looking forward to assisting Michael with his fascinating and exciting project, and I will be posting updates to the Mediascape Blog as our research progresses.  —Jessica Fowler

Historically, the world of primetime commercial fictional television has been described as “the producer’s medium.” Since the mid-2000s, for example, television producers of programs as diverse as Gossip Girl (2007–2013), Battlestar Galactica (2003–2009), and Eureka (2006–2012) have recorded online podcasts in which they assume creative responsibility (as well as creative credit) for the television programs they produce.1 However, as many subscribers to the auteur theory of motion picture authorship (especially the kind popularized by the late film critic Andrew Sarris) have discovered, such individualistic conceptions of authorship are problematic when it comes to the collaborative nature of the film and television industry.

To date, little attention has been given to the critical (and, as I will argue, creative) role performed by script clearance and research departments working in both film and television production. Script clearance and research has been the subject of only a handful of newspaper and magazine articles, has been marginalized or totally ignored by popular “making of” books, and has never, as far as I’ve been able to determine, been the subject of a dissertation or an academic essay. The purpose of my project is twofold. First, I want to begin to map out the history of script clearance and research in the film and television industry, focusing on de Forest Research, the most dominant research firm. Second, I want to argue that script clearance and research is an act of fundamentally creative labor, and it should be recognized as such by media scholars. Continue reading “Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry” »