restricted access Two-Way Mirrors: Looking at the Future of Academic-Industry Engagement
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Two-Way Mirrors:
Looking at the Future of Academic-Industry Engagement

As the study of screen industries evolves, so do our modes of engagement, potential points of access, and collaborative experiences with this dynamic object of study. Interactions between the industry (in its various forms) and the academy are a source of new opportunities and information, often serving as inspiration for future dimensions of the knowledge circulated by the field. They also have a flip side in the methodological, discursive, and even ethical challenges that they present for Film and Media Studies scholars. It is the opportunities embedded in these complications, and the new terrain they present for industry researchers, that I am interested in, for what they might teach us as we look toward the future of this discipline. Going forward, our job will be to strike the right balance between being critical and being engaged with our object of study as we cultivate more terrain for collaboration. I believe we can, and should, create more research projects that involve the industry in some form. Further, we can embrace these projects as potential funding models, sources of rich information and untapped archives, and occasions for disciplinary self-reflection.

Interviews have always provided academics with a certain measure of industry interaction. There is an extensive literature in the field that has utilized ethnographic approaches and journalistic tactics to glean information from primary sources; John Caldwell’s Production Culture, Todd Gitlin’s Inside Prime Time, and Vicki Mayer’s Below the Line stand as just a few excellent examples.1 Academics have also long been aware of the hazards associated with the industry interview: the need to sift through “spin” and promotion, to filter interpersonal and institutional agendas, to balance the desire for rapport and an ongoing relationship with the desire to ask tough questions, to translate scholarly concerns for a business-oriented subject, and to navigate the myriad other dimensions and dynamics that can mitigate the value of [End Page 183] these encounters. Indeed, an excellent Cinema Journal In Focus section has already been devoted to the practitioner interview and its attendant challenges.2

In addition to the one-on-one interview, there is an expanding list of options offering varying degrees of industry engagement. Some of these formalized interactions are hosted for academics by industry constituents. For example, in the United States, there are a small number of established “faculty fellowships,” such as the weeklong Faculty Seminar put on by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation, the Faculty Fellowship to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference, and the Visiting Professor Program at the Advertising Education Foundation. These events provide valuable immersive experiences for faculty, and they create space for dialogue with industry professionals, offer exposure to different discursive constructions of industry trends, and often lead participants to recalibrate their understanding of certain industry dynamics (and how they are skillfully spun by public relations machines).

There is also a wide variety of less cultivated but equally productive arenas for screen studies scholars to interact with industry professionals. Dr. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard was recently named chairman of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Advisory Committee.3 While it is the rarest of academics who is appointed to lead federal policy commissions, many have testified at congressional hearings, in legal cases involving industry matters, and in front of regulatory bodies. Others have attended events such as the “upfronts” and the Television Critics Association Press Tour, as well as annual conventions held by MIPCOM, MIP-TV, NATPE, and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Examples of scholarly work that has grown out of such interactions include Amanda Lotz’s exploration of the upfronts and Tim Havens’s analysis of the global television trade.4

Still more academics have participated in industry-focused forums such as those at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festival and conference, the Produced By conference, the Media That Matters conference organized by the Center for Social Media, the annual congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), and the Adult Video News (AVN) Adult Entertainment Expo, among many others. Increasingly...