Caldwell and some concerns about the transition from television to film

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Ogonoski, Matthew


Caldwell's intriguing presentation of the quasi-anthropological concerns of television and film was thoroughly engaging. It is difficult for me to find an entrance into his work because I found it so compelling and convincing. So this entry is not so much a voicing of negative criticism, but instead is a brief exploration of some of the issues surrounding this analytical approach.
First of all, Caldwell mentioned that television-spots for Hollywood films  were by far the most successful and utilized form of promotion. It was unclear however if this was meant in regard to the totality of tv-spots historically, or whether this remains the case in the contemporary industry. I would be surprised if the television-spot is still the dominant promotional tool today. I'm aware of the cultural clout placed upon things such as the Super Bowl spot and how this is very much so a phenomenon that penetrates the popular consciousness (and I use this term loosely). However, the current computer-literate culture of North America - and particularly the demographic groups with the affluence to both own or have access to a computer and to attend public screenings - are constantly barraged with pop-up ads and other types of online marketing. The declaration of the power of the tv spot as a superior form of promotion (if the declaration was understood correctly) immediately invites this justifiable skepticism. If Dr. Caldwell is indeed pointing towards any particular research in this vein, I would greatly appreciate a reply to this blog post, either to provide a reference or to elaborate on the statement. I also wonder how the success is measured.
I concur that an examination of a "filmmaker" (as Caldwell tentatively put it) and their formal training and transition from television to film could prove interesting. However, something that must be accounted for is how the less complicated and budgetary limited aesthetics of television must be contextualized when applied to such an analysis. For instance, much television today - particularly the high production value shows such as HBO series - are visually rich and unique. However, there are limitations of the form that do not translate well to the cinema. In fact, I have often seen this  in much cinema of the last decade, and particularly in situations where the new television auteur (directors such as Brian Singer and J.J. Abrams), do indeed use their formal television training without utilizing the potential of the cinema's formal capabilities. We end up in a situation where, though we have narratively interesting films produced, they are essentially television movies with larger production budgets. This is of course a result and necessity of convergence, but I simply want to point out the detrimental result of not utilizing that formal potential. Conversely, I would draw attention to the fantastically constructed recent episode of AMC's Breaking Bad titled "Fly",  which was directed by aspiring filmmaker Rian Johnson. It is a fantastic example of someone utilizing the full potential of the medium. And no, I do not work for AMC, though you have to wonder after Caldwell exposed the hidden motivation behind so many promotional meta-texts.
This draws me to my next point: the difference between promotions strictly interested in monetary success, and the satisfaction of contributing to a well developed creative project. Caldwell made it very clear that all meta-textual production surrounding a popular property is heavily scripted, and therefore it veils the real interest: making money. However, I think this reveals two potential problems for Caldwell's exploration. First of all, it pre-supposes that the end result of these textual and meta-textual comparisons between television and film -particularly in relation to how the formal structures of the two mediums influence each other - will be a continual affirmation of the primary interest, that being money making. Though I find it easy to believe Caldwell when he warns of these veiled interests in meta-texts, it is problematic to assume that any sort of creative commentary that could possibly be provided is mutually exclusive. In other words, I see no problem accepting the possibility that these meta-texts are promotionally-scripted while simultaneously able to convey a sense of pride in creative development. Caldwell drew attention specifically to the producers' commentaries of the television series Lost. But it is faulty to think that these producers are simply concerned with monetary return. They invest in these productions because they believe the productions have some element of importance or interest for the viewing audiences. Yes, scripted promotions of the like can build hype for the properties, regardless of whether that hype is warranted or not. However, if the show is good (in terms of audience response) then the hype confirms the creative value of the product. Viewers may be duped by hype at times, but hype can only support so much weight: if the property sucks, viewers will realize it sucks. In the contemporary sphere of media proliferation it is reductive and a misstep to ignore consumer intelligence and agency. Of course, for Caldwell, the benefit  to performing this type of formal comparative analyses is in determining the nuances of both mediums. But if the presupposition of monetary ends is accepted, then any results of the analysis can only be attributed to that monetary goal. For example, how does the close-up in television work differently from the close-up in film? The "what" of this question can avoid the presupposition, but the "why" will simply result in the answer "because the production team thought it would make a lot of money."
Regardless of the content of this exploration I would like to thank Dr. Caldwell for his contribution to the Arthemis conference. I have seen few presentations in my academic career that were so compelling and thoroughly enjoyable. 

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