What is the Nature of Entrepreneurial Labour in Regional Film Making?


I recently presented at the New Directions in Film and Television Production Studies 2015 conference as part of a panel presenting research on the topic of Creative Labour.

My paper, entitled ‘The nature of entrepreneurial labour in regional film making’, focused on a small sample of Birmingham film makers and has drawn on my PhD thesis.

My aim was to explore the day-to-day lived experience of entrepreneurial modes of work, identifying individual endeavours and collaborative initiatives, within the context of recent UK cultural and film policies. The space in which film maker’s negotiate personal identities is framed by the local milieu: policies, institutions and individuals. In my research, I find that at a local level, entrepreneurial film makers have a pragmatic approach by contributing to policies and engaging in developing alternative support systems. Structures and relations between individuals help to shape the cultural milieu for entrepreneurial cultural work, but this is a fluid space in which individual film makers negotiate diverse priorities and values.

In this research, I use the term film maker to capture a range of activities including directing, producing and other related tasks: a portfolio worker. I focus on two elements: first, the film maker’s identity and second, the social and spatial environment in which entrepreneurial forms of work take place.

The research is a response to critical debates about creative labour, such as the poor working conditions (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011), levels of self-exploitation (McRobbie, 2011), gender inequalities (Gill, 2002) and the idea of ‘forced entrepreneurship’ (Oakley, 2014). The context for this research is the dichotomy between on the one hand, over optimistic policies which have encouraged entrepreneurship across the cultural industries, and on the other hand, a critique of these policies by scholars. Specifically, there has been a critique of neo-liberalism in cultural policy which is described as encouraging potentially ‘bad’ work, due to levels of insecurities in self-employment and short term contracts.

Film, in particular, has an uneasy position in terms of cultural policy. As John Hill discusses in his analysis of UK film Policy during New Labour’s period in office, reasons for funding film are not ‘cultural’ in the way that they might be with other art forms, but rather film policy is described as predominantly an industrial policy. Hill traces this back to the 1980’s, describing more recent rhetoric as characterised by an economic and commercial language.

In this paper, I sought to investigate the entrepreneurial film maker’s subjective, lived experience as a means of exploring the specificity and nature of entrepreneurship, to interrogate this critique and explore it further.

I propose that entrepreneurial film producers are not puppets, passively accepting dominant attitudes and behaviours associated with being a typical ‘entrepreneur’. Rather, that entrepreneurial film producers negotiate their identity and position, within the context of a city such as Birmingham, a milieu with formal and informal structures. Structures and institutions play an important role in shaping the environment, setting boundaries, opportunities and establishing dominant positions for cultural policy and cultural entrepreneurship. Individual actors negotiate this environment with a level of autonomy and agency. Within this context, ‘becoming’ a cultural entrepreneur is understood as a relational process, informed by both formal and informal structures but also by personal motivations. Informal structures, created by entrepreneurial individuals offer alternative positions and a space for experimentation, for inventing what it means to be a film maker / producer.

In setting out to explore the nature of the entrepreneurial film maker, there is no one answer to this question, rather, by exploring new narratives the mythical figure of the entrepreneur reveals the possibility of multiple identities. I have found that entrepreneurial film makers are not passive recipients of dominant ideas or structures but rather, they manoeuvre around, through or despite structures.

I interrogate the fixed version of an entrepreneur, caricatured as a commercially driven and individualistic. Instead, I find that my research resonates with William Davies’ comment, that within a capitalist neo-liberal structure, ‘Entrepreneurs might be seen as an examples of individuals who operate between or outside of existing conventions’ (2014, p.12). As Kate Oakley argues, it may be that the cultural entrepreneur has just the right attributes for contesting or providing alternative models, using their ‘values’, ‘imagination’ and ‘persistence’ (Oakley, 2014, p.157).

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Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University