Mellichamp Global Studies Conference: Precarious Creativity

Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor brought together an international group of scholars at UC Santa Barbara to examine the increasingly globalized and interconnected nature of screen media labor. We organized the conference as a series of roundtable discussions that concluded with a keynote session featuring leading advocates from the VFX community in Southern California.

You can find a brief writeup on the conference proceedings here. Additional information is available below. 

Precarious Creativity is a Mellichamp Global Studies Conference co-sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center's Media Industries Project. The event was organized by Dr. Michael Curtin and Dr. Kevin Sanson.

 


Keynote Session

Mellichamp Global Studies Conference: Precarious Creativity from Carsey-Wolf Center on Vimeo

Despite the growing importance of visual effects across the media industries, VFX companies and their employees have been in turmoil for over a decade due to the increasing pressures of globalized production. Long hours, short deadlines, and low profit margins have become characteristic of an industry that was once considered a shining example of the elite knowledge economy. Reflecting on both artistry and activism, this keynote session brings together leading advocates of the VFX community in Southern California to discuss practical strategies for dealing with the challenges they confront.

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Conference Description

Over the past thirty years major media companies have grown into vast multiplatform global conglomerates that are more closely attuned to the imperatives of financial markets than they are to the subtleties of creative endeavor. These corporations doggedly pursue cost economies throughout the production process, engendering a relentless search for government subsidies, cheap labor, and compliant partners at creative facilities and shooting locations around the world. Moreover, new technologies have made it possible for leading producers to knit together transnational production teams so that workers often find themselves collaborating or competing with counterparts in distant locales. This has fueled competition between such cities as London, Vancouver, Beijing, and Dubai, each aspiring to become renowned for its creative capacity. Many offer subsidized facilities, tax incentives, and labor concessions, all of it designed to lure international producers and nurture local infrastructure. Indeed while Hollywood is expanding its global reach, so too are some locations emerging as media capitals in their own right, growing more prolific, more influential, and more formalized in their modes of operation and financing. On the one hand, this generates new opportunities in diverse locales, while on the other hand it sets in place a production system that ultimately undermines the bargaining power of workers, making their conditions of employment ever more mercurial and precarious.

Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor examines the growing mobility of major producers while also drilling down into the workplace dynamics and plays of power within and across creative locales. It furthermore considers the impact these trends are having on creativity and creative labor in studios and post-production facilities around the globe. Panelists will discuss both the opportunities and challenges of the global era, paying particular attention to strategies that might temper or even reverse what some critics perceive as a race to the bottom.  

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Conference Schedule

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Annenberg Conference Room, SSMS 4315

Welcome 4:00 pm

Session 1: Globality  4:15—6:00  pm

  • Toby Miller, University of Cardiff / Murdoch University  
  • Nitin Govil, University of Southern California  
  • Juan Piñon, New York University
  • Jade Miller, Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Michael Keane, Queensland University of Technology              

Friday, April 25, 2014

Annenberg Conference Room, SSMS 4315

Session 2: Locality  10:15—11:45 am

  • Petr Szczepanik, Masaryk University
  • Anthony Fung, Chinese University Hong Kong
  • Vicki Mayer, Tulane University
  • Shanti Kumar, University of Texas at Austin    

Lunch Break

Session 3: Boundaries  1:15—2:45 pm

  • Kristen Warner, University of Alabama
  • John Caldwell, University of California, Los Angeles          
  • Tejaswini Ganti, New York University          
  • David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds             

Session 4: Politics  3:00—4:30 pm

  • Marwan Kraidy, University of Pennsylvania    
  • Miranda Banks, Emerson College   
  • Allison Perlman, University of California, Irvine        
  • Matt Sienkiewicz, Boston College      

Keynote: VFX  5:00—7:00 pm [Location: Pollock Theater]

  • Mariana Acuña Acosta, VFX Artist 
  • Steven Kaplan, Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
  • Daniel Lay, VFX Artist 
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Panel Descriptions

Globality: The globalization of media has profoundly affected the structural forms and everyday practices of creative labor. Panelists will reflect on the spatial exploitation of film and television labor as well as strategies for addressing these challenges. They will also consider novel opportunities that have arisen through new forms of collaboration and knowledge exchange via co-productions, transnational labor networks, and newly emerging sites of creative endeavor. Return to conference schedule

Locality: As configurations of creative production have grown more mobile and flexible, localities increasingly strive to distinguish themselves in a global context. Public officials, entrepreneurs, and workers hope such gestures will attract investment and foster a generative ensemble of local media institutions. In this panel, scholars assess the trade-offs that localities experience as they mobilize their distinctive capacities in order to grow their creative workforces. Return to conference schedule

Boundaries: The intensification of work routines and the erosion of boundaries in the media workplace are signature characteristics of the past thirty years. Despite these trends, official and informal constraints remain tangible aspects of the social relations of production. Panelists will discuss the ways in which job categories, opportunities, and recognition are subject to enduring cultural hierarchies and power relations that are often inflected by race, gender, class, and other markers of difference. Return to conference schedule

Politics: Politics and media intertwine throughout the production process, shaped by local power struggles and geopolitical maneuvers that alter the possibilities and parameters of media creativity. Panelists will reflect on the ways that politics permeate the conditions of screen media labor, both shaping and being shaped by the commercial imperatives of film and television production. Return to conference schedule

VFX: Despite the growing importance of visual effects across the media industries, VFX companies and their employees have been in turmoil for over a decade due to the increasing pressures of globalized production. Long hours, short deadlines, and low profit margins have become characteristic of an industry that was once considered a shining example of the elite knowledge economy. Reflecting on both artistry and activism, this keynote session brings together leading advocates of the VFX community in Southern California to discuss practical strategies for dealing with the challenges they confront. Return to conference schedule

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