Production Culture

Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television

Production Culture

Console-ing Passions: Television and Cultural Power

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Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 85 photographs, 5 tables Published: March 2008

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Media Technologies

In Production Culture, John Thornton Caldwell investigates the cultural practices and belief systems of Los Angeles–based film and video production workers: not only those in prestigious positions such as producers and directors but also many “below-the-line” laborers, including gaffers, editors, and camera operators. Caldwell analyzes the narratives and rituals through which workers make sense of their labor and critique the film and TV industry as well as the culture writ large. As a self-reflexive industry, Hollywood constantly exposes itself and its production processes to the public; workers’ ideas about the industry are embedded in their daily practices and the media they create. Caldwell suggests ways that scholars might learn from the industry’s habitual self-scrutiny.

Drawing on interviews, observations of sets and workplaces, and analyses of TV shows, industry documents, economic data, and promotional materials, Caldwell shows how film and video workers function in a transformed, post-network industry. He chronicles how workers have responded to changes including media convergence, labor outsourcing, increasingly unstable labor and business relations, new production technologies, corporate conglomeration, and the proliferation of user-generated content. He explores new struggles over “authorship” within collective creative endeavors, the way that branding and syndication have become central business strategies for networks, and the “viral” use of industrial self-reflexivity to motivate consumers through DVD bonus tracks, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and “making-ofs.” A significant, on-the-ground analysis of an industry in flux, Production Culture offers new ways of thinking about media production as a cultural activity.


“[T]his exploration into the underbelly of film and television work provides a valuable addition to the literature exploring creative work. Production Culture is an impressive and complex research effort that represents over a decade of industry research and observation. Given its harrowing glimpse into an underworld of sweatshops, career burnout and workplace insecurities, it should be placed on every film school/creative industries curriculum.” — Susan Ward, Media International Australia

“By seeking to get beyond corporate reflexivity, Caldwell delves deep into unseen practices through which professional artefacts of cultural production are circulated and consumed. . . . [H]is study provides insight into a long-standing co-existence of post-Fordist control (i.e. flexible, technology-driven, reliant upon heterogeneous identities) and Fordist production (e.g. unionised workforce, rationalised system of entitlements and spatial agglomeration).” — Andrew Greenman, Work, Employment and Society

Production Culture offers a unified and thought-provoking interpretation of Hollywood’s cultural residues while also interfacing with the discourses reproduced by its workers and the processes of production in which these workers engage. What is more, this work calls attention to the fact that one need not be an anthropologist, or even an academic, to ‘do ethnography.’” — Sasha David, American Ethnologist

Production Culture treats the film and television industries as important sites of cultural meaning that can enrich investigations of film and television texts, their production, and their reception. . . . Production Culture is ground-breaking in scope and ambition. . . .” — Travis Vogan, Journal of Popular Culture

“[T]he research itself is very insightful and there is much of value in the book. Caldwell skillfully negotiates the complications of studying an industrial culture that already invests significant efforts in producing analysis and critical knowledge about itself. He also rightly stresses the importance of this type of work in the field of film studies, noting ‘the need to reconsider how we study and understand cultures of production’ (342). As such, his work provides important tools for film scholars who would use industry materials as secondary sources in their analyses of individual films.” — Heather Macdougall, Scope

“For anyone interested in real 'behind the scenes' information regarding film and television production, Production Culture will prove invaluable. It should also encourage an overdue reality check tilting critical attention away from over-hyped auteur analysis, and help give credit where credit is due in terms of who and what goes into increasingly complex media production.” — Sean Maher, M/C Reviews

“The strengths of Production Culture are numerous and Caldwell provides a compelling study of an industry in flux. . . . Production Culture is a valuable addition to the growing literature exploring creative work and, in some senses, has opened a can of worms by exposing the potential for future work in this area. Many of the insights and conclusions drawn could be applied to the contemporary workplace more broadly, therefore its value moves beyond media and film studies to the sociology of work, industrial practices and management studies.” — Maggie Magor, Media, Culture & Society

Production Culture is a stunningly original contribution to film and television studies. John Thornton Caldwell’s argument—that we can learn a lot about the production of culture by looking at the cultures of production—is borne out in an analysis that ranges across texts, populations, and institutional and physical spaces. This is a superb book.” — Anna McCarthy, author of Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space

“John Thornton Caldwell’s study of ‘production cultures’ adds enormously to our knowledge of a larger media culture. Descriptions of proper ‘uniforms’ for ‘pitch meetings,’ executive autobiographical narratives, trade press accounts—such details, large and small, become sites for rich analysis. The result is a distinct perspective on how television and film are created and, more significantly, on how the creators understand and explain their work.” — Horace Newcomb, Director of the Peabody Awards and Professor of Telecommunications, University of Georgia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Thornton Caldwell is Professor and Chair of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television; editor of Electronic Media and Technoculture; and coeditor of New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality. He is the producer and director of the award-winning documentaries Rancho California (por favor) and Freak Street to Goa: Immigrants on the Rajpath.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Industry Reflexivity and Common Sense 1

Chapter 1: Trade Stories and Career Capital 37

Chapter 2: Trade Rituals and Turf Marking 69

Chapter 3: Trade Images and Imagined Communities (Below the Line) 110

Chapter 4: Trade Machines and Manufactured Identities (Below the Line) 150

Chapter 5: Industrial Auteur Theory (Above the Line/Creative) 197

Chapter 6: Industrial Identity Theory (Above the Line/Business) 232

Chapter 7: Industrial Reflexivity as Viral Marketing 274

Conclusion: Shoot-Outs, Bake-Offs, and Speed Dating (Manic Disclosure/Non-Disclosure 316

Appendix 1: Method: Artifacts and Cultural Practices in Production Studies 345

Appendix 2: A Taxonomy of DVD Bonus Track Strategies and Functions 362

Appendix 3: Practitioner Avowal/Disavowal (Industrial Doublespeak) 368

Appendix 4: Corporate Reflexivity vs. Worker Reflexivity (The Two Warring Flipsides of Industrial Self-Disclosure) 370

Notes 373

Works Cited 433

Index 445
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4111-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4092-8
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