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  • Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting by Daniel Steinhart
  • Kallan Benjamin
Steinhart, Daniel. Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019.

In Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting, Daniel Steinhart historicizes Hollywood’s current globalized filmmaking practices by offering a detailed historical study of post–World War II Hollywood’s overseas production. Focusing on the late 1940s to early 1960s, Steinhart combines archival research with formal visual analysis to argue that multiple and multifaceted issues—political, economic, geographical, logistical, stylistic, technical, and interpersonal—shaped postwar overseas (that is, “runaway”) production. Any readers who assume that exploitative economic aims alone can account for Hollywood’s shift into overseas production will come away from Steinhart’s study convinced of the more complicated and intersecting forces at play. He argues that “Hollywood’s global power…was at once accommodating and assertive” and offers persuasive examples of the trade-offs involved in intercultural exchanges of talent and craft. Though firmly rooted in the postwar period, Steinhart frames his study in terms of current production practices, suggesting that “[i]n the end, this is a story that helps provide some perspective on the globalized world of today” (20).

The book is organized into three sections. The first covers the cultural and industrial contexts surrounding postwar production and explores the complex mix of incentives that lured Hollywood filmmakers overseas. In line with other scholarship, Steinhart shows that access to frozen funds, foreign subsidies, and inexpensive labor enticed Hollywood filmmakers to shoot their films abroad. However, he takes his analysis beyond economic factors to explore filmmakers’ creative motives, particularly their desire to achieve greater realism through authentic foreign location shoots as postwar audiences grew savvier about recognizing Hollywood backlot versions of foreign locales. Steinhart also presents a case study in each section; he first looks at Moby Dick (1956) and unearths the intertwined creative, political, and economic incentives that lead director John Huston to shoot the film in several foreign countries and out at sea. “There’s nothing that compares with the fury of a real storm at sea,” said Huston, as quoted by Steinhart, but he was also taking advantage of a tax exemption for Americans working abroad and avoiding domestic red-baiting hysteria (58).

After establishing the industrial, cultural, and economic contexts surrounding Hollywood’s expansion of overseas production, Steinhart uses the book’s second section to describe the actual experience of shooting in a foreign country for filmmakers and below-the-line crew. Anecdotes about American filmmakers adjusting to European production cultures are a highlight; for example, director Vincent Sherman was bewildered by the union-sanctioned twice daily tea breaks he encountered in the UK: “He wrote to studio head Jack Warner in Burbank: ‘Just as we were ready to shoot—came a tea break. This meant that everybody, from the electricians way up high on down—had to stop to get tea!!’” (114). In addition to British teatime (and leisurely Italian morning coffees), runaway productions faced challenges related to infrastructure, equipment, technology, and, importantly for Steinhart, personnel. He writes: “the interchange of people and practices was itself a new production challenge” (94). This exchange of methods between Hollywood filmmakers and local crews is central to Steinhart’s argument. “In going abroad to shoot motion pictures in these countries, Hollywood filmmakers encountered some production practices that resonated with the industry’s way of making movies and other diverging methods. I contend that this encounter wasn’t so much transnational as it was transcultural.” While he allows that scholarship on transnationalism in film studies [End Page 84] “has generated rich insights into the migration of filmmakers, the distribution patterns of films, and the contested identity of national cinemas,” Steinhart's own transcultural approach suggests that Hollywood norms, rather than national identity, most influenced filmmakers’ work abroad (15). At the same time, Hollywood crews absorbed local production cultures, and foreign settings guided filmmaking choices. Runaway productions thus involved a constant give-and-take between opposing forces—between imposing Hollywood methods and adapting to local norms, but also between condescending to “‘native’ casts and crews” and appreciating the skills of local craftspeople, taking advantage...


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pp. 84-85
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