A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film

A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film

I have been following up my last blog on spiritual themes in film by reading  Paolo Pasolini’s paper “The “Cinema of Poetry” (1965), in which he talks about a literary device called ‘free indirect speech’, which, he claims, can add a subjective dimension to film by creating ambiguity around whose cinematic perspective a film is depicting.

Pasolini describes ‘free indirect speech’ as being – “the immersion of the filmmaker in the mind of the character and then the adoption on the part of the filmmaker, not only of the psychology of his character, but also of his language” (2005: 175).

What Pasolini seems to be suggesting here is that the subjectivity of the character in a film is not just given priority, as it is by the use of  ‘voice-over’ –  but that by using ‘free indirect discourse’ the character’s psychology is allowed to extend beyond what he/she says until the images – and ultimately the film itself -has become an extension of the mental projections of the character’s own thinking.

In his analysis of Pasolini’s paper , Heinemann (2012) makes the following observation about the destabilising nature these shifts in perspective can have – “by constantly shifting relationship with the narrative, at one moment encouraging an immersion in the illusionistic unfolding of the plot, the next forcing an awareness of its formal properties, including the partiality and artifice inherent in narrative activity itself.” He goes on to say that, “It is a function of the free indirect speech-act to problematise viewer identification, dividing the impulse between the film’s narration and the character’s narration through generating ambiguity regarding the narrative point of view. Free indirect speech reinforces this ambiguity through the formal opposition it gives rise to – between picture and sound, image and voice – contributing to a polyphonic, multivalent cinema.”

Pasolini talks about this development of a new cinematic language in semiotic terms stating that a  new “technico-stylistic tradition is in the process of being formed: that is, a cinema language of poetry. This language tends to appear henceforth as diachronical in relation to narrative cinema language: a diachronism which is destined to be emphasized increasingly, as happens in literary systems.”

Heinemann describes the way this deliberately disorientating effect is used cinematically  by citing a voice-over narration taken from Rohmer’s film, “Claire’s Knee” (1970) in which the filmmaker uses voiceover to privilege the complexity of the inner life of the film’s character over the certitude of ocular proof provided by the footage. This contrast between twhat the film shows us,  as the protagonist Jerome touches the knee of the girl he desires, and the lengthy account of Jerome’s inner observations, creates a strangely ambiguous mood as the narrator’s subjectivity starts to colour the neutrality of the formerly objective camera’s gaze.

Here is the text from the movie –

She sat facing me, one leg outstretched, the other bent. Her knee was sharp, narrow, smooth, delicate, within reach. Within reach of my hand. My arm was positioned in such a way that I only had to extend it to touch her knee. Touching her knee was the most extravagant thing, the one thing not to do, and at the same time the easiest. Even as I realised how easy, how simple the gesture was, I also felt it was impossible. As if you’re on the edge of a cliff, only one step away, but even if you want to jump, you can’t.

Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. in their journal aritcle,  “A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film (2013) go on to state that “where objectivity and subjectivity or narration / external focalisation and internal focalization merge together and the narrative becomes ambiguous from this viewpoint”, that such moments in a film’s construction can best be considered moments of free indirect discourse. They then go on to list devices such as “voice-over narration, sound perspective, sound bridge, music, POV structure, eye-line match, shot / reverse shot, flash frames, freeze or still frames, slow motion, repetition of particular images, flashback, camera movement, superimposition, matte shot, snorri-cam, and double exposure” that can be used as tools to create such ambiguities. By so saying underscoring Pasolini’s notion of free indirect discourse as a tool of cinematic poetry.

Anyway, I am still processing what I have read but have lots of ideas for possible film scenarios popping into my head as a result of reading this interesting paper.

I will sign off with a list of effects that can be achieved by using FREE INDIRECT DISCOURSE which might be useful in my future film (taken from Ghaffary & Nojoumian’s paper – (2013))

8 functions of free indirect discourse in film:

1) it is a device for controlling the degree of distance between the FCD and the character:

2) it can either raise empathy in the reader / FCD for the character or lead to the ironic repudiation of the character by the FCD

3) Dramatic irony –

4) it can cause “irony of register” (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 208) (the association of the objective or formal style of the total narrative and the semi-subjective style of the FID sequences);

5) it represents internal focalization (focus) or the presentation of the focalized from within;

6) it is a good technique for representating stream of consciousness (Banfield 29; McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 209 & “Speech Representation” 437; Rimmon-Kenan 115; Jahn, Narratology N8.9.) (Pasolini sees FID as a useful technique for rendering a character’s stream of consciousness in film, though he does not mention the term “stream of consciousness” [554]);

7) it suggests polyvocality or polyphony (the FCD’s and the character’s voices directly interact with each other, without either of them being dominant) (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 212; Rimmon-Kenan 117);

8) it enhances a film’s power of defamiliarization; FID adds to “the semantic density” of the cinematic narrative (Rimmon-Kenan 115).

Here is an example of how free indirect discourse relates to the more typical – direct and indirect literary devices. (see more on FIS here)

Examples of direct, indirect, and free indirect speech:

Quoted or direct speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.

• Reported or normal indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.

• Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

The following is a quotation cribbed from James Joyce’s,  “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.”

The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy. It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.


Pasolini, P.P. (1965)  ‘The “Cinema of Poetry.”’ Heretical Empiricism. Trans. BenLawton and Louise K. Barnett. Washington: New Academia, 2005. 167-186.

JOYCE, J. (1964). A portrait of the artist as a young man. New York, Viking Press.

Heinemann, D. (2012) ‘The creative voice: Free indirect speech in the cinema of Rohmer and Bresson’, The New Soundtrack, 2(1), pp. 39–49. doi: 10.3366/sound.2012.0024.

Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. (2013). A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film. Special Issue on Performance Studies, 269.

“Film Is A Dream – But Whose?”

“Film Is A Dream – But Whose?”

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Two fascinating books which I have been reading, and which have been helping me define new approaches to the kind of films I want to make are – P. Schrader’s (the screenwriter of ‘Taxi Driver’ 1976) “Transcendental Style” (1972) and B. Kawin’s “Mindscreen” (1978). Both books inhabit similar areas of film theory, namely the place where subjectivity and objectivity are blurred – where film  moves from being a third person, objective ‘viewer of events’ – to being something much more opaque and ambiguous; existing somewhere between these inner and outer worlds.

Both writers build their theories around their ‘close reading’ of the work of famous directors, with Kawin focusing on the work of Bergman & Godard – and Schrader on Japanese filmmaker Ozu, as well as Bresson and Dreyer.

Besides being extremely interesting books (which I fully intend to discuss in later blogs) what really interests about their shared notion of ‘first-person’ film (something similar to the human mind),  has been how these  concepts have helped me gain a better understanding of one of my own films called “Naked Flame”, which  I posted in my 2nd blog entry back in October 2015.

As I describe in my earlier blog (see here), ‘Naked Flame’ was a piece of work of which I was particularly proud, but which had become something of an enigma. I say this, as after making the film I could never fully understand how I had created it, or even what it was about the film that was so interesting to me. After reading the aforementioned books, however, especially  Kawin’s (1976) analysis of Bergman’s “Persona”  (P. 103-172), I now see that “Naked Flame” creates a ‘dream-space’ something akin to the one in Bergman’s “Persona”. This dream-like, poetically-structured style of film  being nicely summarised by Kawin in a quote taken from the introduction to  “Mindscreen” (1978) (p-3)  in which he says,  “Film is a dream – but whose?”.

I won’t attempt a full analysis of the books here (will be writing more about them later) and instead am going to sit “Naked Flame” and Bergman’s “Persona” alongside each other in the hope that by cross referring between the two I can gain a clearer understanding of cinema as ‘dream-space’, or,  as Kawin describes it – “Mindscreen”.


Schrader, P. (1972). Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. Da Capo Press.

Kawin, B. F. (1978). Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and first-person film. Princeton Paperback.

Bakhtin’s Polyphony – A Carnival Of Voices

Bakhtin’s Polyphony – A Carnival Of Voices
Just been reading an extremely interesting book by G. Morson, entitled  Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a prosaic. (1990) which  I feel to be somehow related to my previous blogs about cinema’s delimiting influence. Here are   a few thoughts regarding the book – 
Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) was a Russian formalist/phenomenologist philosopher who lived in the USSR through the bolshevik revolution and saw the rise of the totalitarian state machine with all its repressive functions. The experience of seeing the positive aspects of a communist revolution and all the accompanying hopes for a better future replaced by Stalinism and a single monolithic structure of power, rather like a huge one-way conversation barking out orders through a tannoy, greatly effected Bakhtin who  started to develop philosophies about the nature these hegemonic power structures.
Bakhtin called this move towards a single dominant narrative, voice or discourse, “monologism” – and thought, quite rightly, that in a closed, one dimensional world, that people must become objectified and that human consciousness would be reduced to nothing. For to MB, a true society should be made up of a multitude of voices and narratives – and he spoke of how each of the unique human subjectivities contributed equally to a vast, carnival of interaction, in which could be glimpsed a truth; not a singular solitary truth, but a messed-up and vibrant discourse eternally searching for meaning in relationship with each other. He called this notion – the ‘dialogic’.

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.110).

In an way it’s possible to say that Bakhtin was at the same time, both, a phenomenologist and a structuralist. For to him ‘things’ (people, art, words) didn’t exist ‘in themselves’, in isolation, but only in their relations to all other elements within the structure they shared. Yet, unlike other structuralists,  Bakhtin wasn’t satisfied to build cold organisational frameworks of binary oppositions to  objectify and know the world. He was theorising freedom – his own utopian vision – a place that would allow for coexistence of differences, free from the overarching regulation of the monocular world view where people could become their uniqueness, self actualising themselves into their full being. Bakhtin’s utopia then is a state of civilisation he refers to as the ‘carnivalesque’ where all the individual human subjectivities are allowed to come together in a chaos of dialogic voices.

“Life by its very nature is dialogic. To live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree, and so forth. In this dialogue a person participates wholly and throughout his whole life: with his eyes, lips, hands, soul, spirit, with his whole body and deeds. He invests his entire self in discourse, and this discourse enters into the dialogic fabric of human life, into the world symposium” (1984, p.293).

Interesting stuff I am sure you will agree, but written during a different time and  of little or no relevance to us? For don’t we live in a culture that promotes diverse voices and multiple view points? Political theorist and writer, Andrew Robinson, is a little less sure, though, seeing our present cultural situation  falling  far short of Bakhtin’s dialogic vision. Here he is discussing the continued relevance of Bakhtin’s concepts in Ceasefire Magazine (2011) 

“The emphasis on non-negotiable demands and compliance enforcement in policing, the emphasis on fixed boundaries and ‘consequences’ in parental and classroom management, the corrosion of union negotiation in the workplace, and the closure of public space to protest and dissent are symptoms of this stance.” He goes on to say, “the only way to create spaces for dialogue today is through radical gestures of dissensus or interruption of the monologue, usually as insurrectionary acts. But the space for such acts is itself ‘cramped’ by the techniques of preemptive counterinsurgency.”

He has a point. Especially when you stop to consider some of the incredible statistics that describe our age. Here’s one for you. (Not sure where I heard this so forgive me if it’s BS) There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people. Even if that is remotely true – it’s still pretty shocking and hardly sounds like the kind of place to host Bakhtin’s carnival of equality. Why are we so scrutinised? or so controlled? And by whom? And why is the gaze so unequal – why can’t we look back?

Anyway, Bakhtin was ultimately optimistic and did not think monoglossical dominance could last for long. He saw it as being doomed to failure, predicting that the dominant discourse would soon be interrupted by other voices.

“Because language always ultimately orients to the other, it is primordially dialogical. There is ultimately no unified literary medium, but rather, a plenitude of local social languages.”

Bakhtin saw the artist and the writer as being in a position to encouraging this transformation by making art works that reflect this multiple subjective really.

Relationship of Bakhtin’s work to filmmaking…

I find this idea of multiple voiced realities – or the dialogic – extremely interesting especially as this concept helps me to articulate what it is about hollywood and mainstream movies that bothers me. For, to me, even though mainstream films are made by a multitude of different artists they do not reflect a polyphony of voices. I think this is something to do with the hegemonic, totalitarian structures that stand behind film production and the assumptions and methods that have grown up under these specific industrial, social and market forces. For under such top-down power structures  the possibilities inherent within filmmaking are restricted. All roles are demarcated – writers write – actors act – directors imagine and direct. I am struggling to say exactly what is wrong with what I am describing but it is somehow as if all these enforced conventions and methods produce only work, which to use Bakhtin’s terminology, suffers from a terrible and tiresome monologism; as if every film we see these days speaks with the same limited set of tired language conventions – the same characterisations (maverick cop), the same story tropes, the same cartoon like motivations for bad guys and good guys, the same dispensable non-characters who can dispatched and killed off without a care to the audience… the list goes on.

There are films that do reflect the dialogic, though.  Films by Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows or Andrea Arnold which somehow manage to capture something of the richness of human subjectivity.  In which the characters utterances are not there only to advance the plot but have within them something of the magic and mystery of real human beings. Anyway, with this rich tapestry of voices in mind, here is a scene from Mike Leigh’s “Naked” which I am pretty sure Mikhail Bakhtin would have approved of.


Morson, G. S., & Emerson, C. (1990). Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a prosaics. Stanford University Press.

Brecht on Theatre, Ostlund on Film…

Brecht on Theatre, Ostlund on Film…

So, still no major breakthroughs in terms of subject matter for the film I need to make next year as the major project for my MA in TV and Film and instead I have been reflecting on broader notions of  ‘what exactly cinema/film is?’, and more importantly, how,  if taken at face value, an unreflective approach to filmmaking can seriously limit originality.

I also mention in my last blog reading F.Jameson’s book  ‘The Political Unconscious: Narrative As A Socially Symbolic Act’  which has helped me further develop concepts of an unconscious aspect to film production. While reading the book, however, I was interested to see that my ideas about hidden ideological limitations buried in modes of production are not new and that other creator/theorists have made similar connections. One such creator/theorist being Marxist playwright and theatre director, Bertolt Brecht. With this in mind I have been reading “Brecht on Theatre; The Development of an Aesthetic” which gives a first person account of how Brecht, as a revolutionary marxist  sought to circumvent the ideological limitations of theatrical production with a view to using theatre as tool for bringing about ‘class consciousness‘ and the overthrow of the capitalist system of production.

After reading through this fascinating book it is clear that one of Brecht’s main concerns seems to be his desire to challenge the notion that theatre (early 20th century) existed as a form of ‘entertainment’. He is also very critical of the way theatre engages the audience at an ’emotional level’ and how this level of engagement renders the audience intellectually passive. He goes on to describe how in his approach to theatre he actively works to keep his audience emotionally disengaged so that they still have the capacity to reason and think about what they are seeing on the stage.  The term he uses for this disengagement  is ‘alienation’ which he sees as an essential ingredient if the theatre is to work as a dialectical relationship between audience and players, and not as a one-way conversation. He also makes it clear that he is not interested in realism – stating that he never  wants his audience to forget that they are watching a play! (Or a film??)

It is very clear from his writings that Brecht saw the theatre of his day as an extremely corrupting force, and like Jameson, puts forward the idea that although the theatre (the apparatus) seems to offer the writer unlimited means of expression that, in fact, this is an illusion and that any writer who doesn’t see how ideologically loaded the game is will inevitably lose it. (here is a long but very relevant quote from BB)


“….This muddled thinking which overtakes musicians, writers and critics as soon as they consider their own situation has tremendous consequences to which far too little attention is paid. For by imagining that they have got hold of an apparatus (THE THEATRE) which in fact has got hold of them they are supporting an apparatus which is out of their control…” 

Brecht’s notion of the hapless creator controlled by production mechanisms outside of his/her awareness, as well as being in parallel with my own thoughts,  also  seems to have similarities with the thoughts of the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostend (to whom I dedicated my recent blog posting – see here)  in which i quoted Ostlund as saying –

“So often you have content, but then you just put it into the same production machinery as everything else, and what’s coming out of that production machinery in the end is quite similar to all the other films.”

Obviously Brecht as a revolutionary Marxist has different objectives to Ruben Ostlund but what is clear from the comments of both creators is their joint emphasis on the need for artists to be wary of the way in which various mechanisms for production – e.g. theatre or film – have built within them tendencies to distort the intentions or objectives of the artist; almost as if these various modes of production had  within them a life force of their own.

To make my point and very much for my own benefit I will now list some of my own questions related to the unquestioned tacit assumptions that surround mainstream film production:

Why must the script be written before filming? Or if all all? 

Why do actors pretend not to know what they are going to say next – or even what will happen to them later in the narrative? Why do they wait for each other to finish speaking before speaking themselves? 

Why are actors called in to the production at a later stage but are not integral to the writing and formation of the characters they will play? 

Why are actors called upon to ‘act’ – when they could ‘be’ the characters. 

Why should there be a difference between documentaries and fiction film production methodologies? 

Why must scripts contain emotional arcs? And characters have epiphanies?

Why must films entertain? 

Why should the audience expect to be entertained? 

Why should films appear to be real when they are in fact artificial?

Why should the audience expect realism? 

Why should the bottom line be financial and not philosophical or cultural? 

Why should we sit quietly through a film and feel as though we got our monies worth – Is it better to hate and never forget a film? or to like and never remember a film? 

It’s fun to ask these questions – even though it is pretty clear that the path i am treading doesn’t seem to be leading me to box office success.. 🙂 


Jameson, F. (1989). The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic act. London: Routledge.

Brecht, B. (1964). Brecht on Brecht. Columbia.

Jameson’s “The Political Unconscious” and the Cinema Field…

Jameson’s “The Political Unconscious” and the Cinema Field…

The journal article I referenced in my last blog “Shielding Idiosyncrasy From Isomorphic Pressures: Towards Optimal Distinctiveness In European Filmmaking” seems to be suggesting that all human organisations – or what the New Institutional Theory refer to as ‘fields’ – have as part of their architecture a submerged and hidden aspect made of up unconscious assumptions and biases, codes and modes of acceptable behaviour that can delimit the freedom of anyone active in that field  (referred to as ‘actor’) often without the actor ever being full aware that they were operating in such a restricting environment. These ideas I find to be particularly relevant as they reflect my own experiences working within, what Alvarez et al (2005) refer to as, the “cinema field” (see here for more on the cinema field) which, although seemingly limitless in terms of the freedoms it offers a filmmaker, is in fact highly restrictive.

With these kind of ideas in mind I have just been reading  a fascinating book by American literary critic and Marxist political theorist, Fredric Jameson, called – The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act – as a way of further exploring these notions of unconscious aspects of production; which can include cinematic production.

So, essentially Jameson’s book is a reworking of Karl Marx’s notions of the base and the superstructure. The base being all the tangible, visible parts of a society , that constitute, as Marx says, “the means of production” (, the factories, businesses, transglobal companies, the people, the raw materials, the structures and hierarchies (please excuse my short list and my vagueness) in short, the economic engine that beats at the heart of our capitalist system. While the superstructure is constituted of the intangible parts of our culture, the mysterious tree that grows out of the ground of ‘the base’ – the tree of ideology that is fed by the base and which produces an overarching system of thought in the heads of all the people who live beneath it; doing so through the various institutions –  education, politics, the media, the government, law, religion, science, art, philosophy that make up the superstructure. An important aspect of Marx’s critique, worth noting, though,  is that the IDEOLOGY being produced exists to  facilitate the whole machine’s smooth operation, performance and longevity.

And that from the perspective of the working class it is a FALSE ideology because it is the ideology of those who own the means of production, and not that of the workers, who exist within the structure as a whole, and, who are, in fact, being duped and rendered passive by it.

It’s as if Marx is positing the idea of a false mindset – as if our very ideas about ourselves and the world have been co-opted by a system which makes us operate in ways that are, at times, contrary to our own, or others, well being. Or, if you like he is suggesting – a Political Unconscious… as if there exists part of our being over which we have very little conception or control…

Coming back to Jameson’s book then, which takes this idea of a “repressed and buried reality” that exists hidden within modes of production, applying it, as the full book title suggests,  to literature and more specifically, the literary genres available to the 19 century novelist. Jameson makes the point that, within the various literary genres – romance, realism, historical, etc, there is built into them, a hidden ideological or unconscious aspect. Or as Jameson says- “Genres are like “speech acts”: they not only express, but bind the work and the reader together in a kind of interpretive contract, or set of expectations.” (p 189 Jameson, F. 1989)
He goes on – “For Marxism, indeed, only the emergence of a post-individualistic social world, only the reinvention of the collective and associative, can concretely achieve the ‘decentering’ of the individual subject called for by such diagnoses; only a new and original form of collective social life can overcome the isolation and monadic autonomy of the older bourgeois subjects in such a way that individual consciousness can be lived—and not merely theorized—as an ‘effect of structure’”
Jameson seems to me  to be suggesting, that, inherent within literature itself, (film too) there are all manner of unconscious  assumptions and biases about the primacy of individuality, individual subjectivity, personal isolation etc. which will always scupper any attempts to use “the novel” or “the film” or “the film genres” or “the classical hollywood system of film production” as a tool for change.
Anyway, not sure if I have fully understood Jameson’s oft times abstruse reasoning but these thoughts are extremely interesting. For I somehow find these concepts of hidden levels of ideological meaning buried within modes of production directly relevant to my gripes surrounding the conventions of film production AND directly relevant to my creative impasse at not being able to think of a subject or “way in” to the next film I want to make.


Alvarez, J. L., Mazza, C., Pedersen, J. S., & Svejenova, S. (2005). Shielding idiosyncrasy from isomorphic pressures: Towards optimal distinctiveness in European filmmaking. Organization12(6), 863-888.

Jameson, F. (1989). The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic act. London: Routledge.

Marx, K., & McLellan, D. (2000). Karl marx: Selected writings (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

New Institutional Theory And The Cinema Field…

Just came across an interesting article in the New Media and Society Journal entitled, “Shielding Idiosyncrasy from Isomorphic Pressures: Towards Optimal Distinctiveness in European Filmmaking”. I was initially attracted to the article by the abstract, which seemed to fall in line with my own thoughts on this subject of film production and its homogenising and stifling effect on creativity. Here’s a quote from the abstract:

This paper advances a micro theory of creative action by examining how distinctive artists shield their idiosyncratic styles from the isomorphic pressures of a field. We argue that, in a cinema field, managing artistic pressures for dis- tinctiveness versus business pressures for profits drives filmmakers’ quest for optimal distinctiveness.

Anyway, have just been reading further and the article mentions New Institutional Theory, which, again, touches upon some of the points I have been struggling to conceptualise myself  – defining institutions as “social structures that have attained a high degree of resilience. [They] are composed of cultural-cognitive, normative, and regulative elements that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life… This way of conceiving  institutions as being comprised of both material and ideological aspects is very interesting. Alvarez et al. take their analogy further “institutions are transmitted by various types of carriers, including symbolic systems, relational systems, routines, and artefacts” going on to describe institutions as being both stable and volatile “institutions by definition connote stability but are subject to change processes, both incremental and discontinuous”. 

The article then goes on to define some of the keywords used by New Institutional Theory,  such as the word ‘field’. Here’s what it says about ‘fields’. “To a large extent, it [a field]  is ‘coterminous with the application of a distinctive complex of institutional rules’ (Scott, 1995: 135), which constitute ‘coercive’, ‘normative’ and ‘mimetic’ isomorphic pressures (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991). To gain acceptance and inclusion, organizations tend to abide by those rules and conventions leading to standardization of practices and isomorphism (Strandgaard Pedersen and Dobbin, 1997).” 

The article then makes parallels with the film industry, making the point that although film projects are temporary systems “that pull together cultural, financial and material inputs” they operate in the same way as more permanent ‘fields’, such as those to be found in traditional industrial models. The journal article then goes on to describe some of the elements  of the ‘cinema field’ in this way – ”the central actors in a national cinema field would be the national Film Institute and its consultants, film schools, film producers, distributors, cinema theatre owners, film critics and so forth. A film  project is one of the most important events in the field because it brings together most of the various players in a field.” 

“A cinema field experiences a range of isomorphic forces. Film-making conventions, endorsed throughout formal schooling and/or with award giving, provide a normative ground for standardisation.” 

The books I have been reading (the article I mention at the start and all the other ones I have just downloaded about New Institutional Theory) all look very interesting and relevant. From what i can gather the ideas are based upon the writings of sociologist  Max Weber from early last century and his critiques of rationalism and the protestant work ethic. Anyway, here is a seemingly relevant quote I just liberated from google images and a suitably stern Mr Weber.


Alvarez, J. L., Mazza, C., Pedersen, J. S., & Svejenova, S. (2005). Shielding idiosyncrasy from isomorphic pressures: Towards optimal distinctiveness in European filmmaking. Organization12(6), 863-888.

Assumptions about Hierarchy and Hegemony in Film Production…

Assumptions about Hierarchy and Hegemony in Film Production…

Ok, so have been doing lots of thinking about my overlapping areas of interest surrounding film making practice, especially regarding the many assumptions and habits embedded into cinema’s highly controlled production process. So, what are these assumptions? Well, an interesting one is the idea that film production is always hierarchical. There seems to be a relatively easy-to-follow pecking order downwards (as I write this I am already disagreeing with myself – of course it is not this straight forward but I am going with this line of reasoning anyway to see where it takes me)  from the producer and the financiers, to those involved in writing and  directing, then i guess we have the acting talent (with its own inherent hierarchies of fame and audience-pulling potency), set-designers/art directors, directors of photography and cinematographers, sparks, focus pullers, grips, extras, not to mention post production specialists etc… ending i suppose with the ones at the bottom of this hegemonic chain, the runners etc..

Of course this a really contestable and questionable list but I am sure that most would agree with me when I say that the director, the actors and the runners involved in a film’s making aren’t really existing within the same areas of influence – or power. I would even dare to argue that notions of hegemonic organisation are built into the filmmaking process. Especially in light of theories such as the “Auteur” theory with its elevation of film directors to almost demiurgical  status. Here’s something I just downloaded from the google image which might make my (rather obvious) point for me.

And here’s another one, this time including ‘the writer’.

Ok, so why am i stating the obvious? Mmmmm – good question (scratching my head and thinking). I suppose there’s something about the unquestioning acceptance of the above hierarchies which bothers me. It seems so unchallengeable and obvious that films are made in the above manner and that the roles of film production are demarcated with all their inherent power relations built into them. Yet, there is something about the architecture of film  production that smacks of the ‘industrial revolution’ and the factory system. As if this structure had been brought into existence, not to produce the best ‘art’, but for maximum efficiency and production of capital, and that like a factory, this ‘machine’ seeks nothing greater than to make a profit from the standardised product it churns out.


For in absolute honesty I do find a lot of films have literally been “churned out” – spewed forth from these automatic industrial structures into culture. To go further than this I would also say that there is something automatic and involuntary about this habitual production that is culturally destructive, for it seems (to me) that with each film created, a hidden ideology of what filmmaking IS and MUST BE becomes reenforced. A hidden code that every wanna-be writer, director, film-school-graduate, actor, composer etc. carries in their head – that limits their choices – over process, subject matter, what to expect from creative relationships (and a bunch other stuff), how much a film costs etc…

Why am i saying all this? MMMmm (scratches head again and wonders whether to spill the beans). I suppose it’s because at the moment i feel creatively unable to write, and that somehow ‘having-a-pop’ at cinema history is better than blaming my own creative aridity and lack of inspiration. I suppose…  I am frustrated and pulled in different ways – between writing commercial genre driven horror films or action movies and making something more satisfying.  It’s as if in my head there is a notion of what a “well made film” (“parallels with Brecht’s “well made play”) should be, and yet at the same time I know instinctively that to make a “well made film” would somehow not be enough.

Anyway, I think I am talking myself up a cul-de-sac, so, for the sake of a crude demonstration I will use a musical analogy to explain how unquestioned assumptions regarding how art is created can be limiting.


Imagine an alien floating in space.  An alien who has traveled a gazillion miles to earth because She wants to create spontaneous music and because she has heard that the earth is the place to do it. Anyway, imagine she lands in Europe in the late nineteenth century and starts to discover western classical music with all its inherent 200 year old conventions and hierarchical structures – its conductors and separate composers, with its principal soloists and first and second violinists – with its concertmasters and  pecking order of huge collectives of instrumentalists and vocalists,   all of whom are contributing to the production of an awe inspiring and dramatic music played for a public who have paid money to hear exactly that.

Let’s imagine, though, that our Alien Sister really wants to create music that is something altogether different – and that maybe what she really wants is to learn how to improvise, how to create a melody out of  nothing and to explore a musical idea for as long as she likes whilst performing to an audience who have other notions about what music IS and SHOULD BE. So, deciding to leave, she flies back into space angry as hell at being given bad information –   but –  just as she is about to press warp drive, she hears floating on a breeze from far beneath her, another kind of music altogether – an enchanting trill of a flute,  a strange drone, and the rhythms of the tabla rising up somewhere from the Indian subcontinent. For what stops her from leaving is the fact that  this music isn’t grand and of the colossal, industrial scale  she grew tired with in the west (that is always played the same way, and that enslaves the musicians who produce it in eternal deference to the composer) to her, this music is alive – as if it were writing itself and unfolding in the moment and could do so, if it wanted to, for ever. And she realises that this is the music she wants to create!!! So she flies to India and is happy at last.

Apologies for the long analogy, I guess what I was trying to do when I started this blog was try to understand what exactly I find so bothersome about the standard filmmaking  practice.