Toni Roig: Towards collaborative filmmaking
UPDATE, 16 Aug 2009: See also draft JRAI review article on this work and other recent Internet studies.
This has been a PhD examining year for me, and on Thursday I had the good fortune of examining in Barcelona a thesis by Antoni Roig Telo (aka Toni Roig*) entitled, in Catalan, Cap al cinema col.laboratiu: pràctiques culturals i formes de producció participatives (Towards collaborative filmmaking: cultural practices and forms of participant production). The candidate defended his work with admirable clarity and vigour – especially if we bear in mind that a large audience of friends, family, colleagues and others had gathered at the main hall of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya – and was awarded the maximum degree of cum laude.
This thesis examines the changes and continuities in film-making in the digital era, with special reference to how relationships between professional and amateur film-making – as well as film ‘producers’ and their ‘audiences’ – may be changing. The study explores the question of to what extent we may be moving towards more collaborative models of film-making linked to sociotechnological developments such as the free/open source movement and the thriving field of digital fan cinema. The first half of the thesis is a comprehensive critical review of a range of theoretical literatures pertinent to the question, including practice theory (and media studies), fan cultures, cultural production, the creative industries, digital cinema, media convergence, and new media and society. The second half builds on this theoretical critique to present a number of case studies and arrive at some conclusions and suggestions for further research.
The thesis’ claim to originality lies in its novel use of a still emerging practice-theoretical approach to media to analyse three country-specific case studies of collaborative film-making (X-ILE Pictures in the USA, Energia Productions in Finland, and A Swarm of Angels in Britain) – the first two examples of ‘fan films’, the third inspired by the free/open source movement. This claim is wholly justified, for this a substantial and innovative contribution to both our present understanding of collaborative film-making and to the emerging theorisation of media as practice (Couldry, Bird, Ardevol et al, etc). The case studies are very well chosen, thoroughly researched through qualitative methods (primarily web content analysis and interviews) and skilfully compared from a practice-theoretical perspective in the second half of the thesis. Roig proposes an original typology – one potentially very useful for further comparative work – of the ‘families of practices’ found in the three digital projects studied, e.g. practices of production, distribution, organisation, self-promotion, etc, and their interrelations.
One undoubted merit of this study is how it carefully traverses the conceptual minefields at the centre of contemporary media and cultural studies. The candidate undertakes a rigorous examination of key, but often muddled, notions such as ‘new media’, ‘cultural producers’, ‘digital films’ or ‘audiences’. He successfully manages to develop a set of working definitions of key terms in the first half of the thesis that he then applies to the empirical materials in the second half. Of particular centrality is the notion of ‘producers’ which Roig wishes to free from its current association with the media/cultural industries yet without falling into a utopian celebration of film fans as nomadic ‘textual poachers’ (Jenkins, De Certeau). Another great merit is the thesis’ constant attention to both continuities and changes in the study of collaborative film-making – and ‘new media’ in general – through an approach that, with Silverstone, asks ‘what is new about ‘new’ media’?
As always with studies written in a regional language, it would be great to see a series of English-language publications arising from this groundbreaking work in the near future.
*Not to be confused with the Mallorcan blogger Toni Roig.