In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Creative Labor in Cinema and Media Industries

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Normative Assessments

Cinema and Media Studies Creative Labor in Cinema and Media Industries
Michael Curtin, Kevin Sanson, John Vanderhoef
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0241


The rapidly burgeoning popularity of cinema at the beginning of the 20th century favored industrialized modes of creativity organized around large production studios that could churn out a steady stream of narrative feature films. By the mid-1910s, a handful of Hollywood studios became leaders in the production, distribution, and exhibition of popular commercial movies. In order to serve incessant demand for new titles, the studios relied on a set of conventions that allowed them to regularize production and realize workplace efficiencies. This entailed a socialized mode of creativity that would later be adopted by radio and television broadcasters. It would also become a model for cinema and media production around the world, both for commercial and state-supported institutions. Even today the core tenets of industrialized creativity prevail in most large media enterprises. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, media industries began to change radically, driven by forces of neoliberalism, corporate conglomeration, globalization, and technological innovation. Today, screen media are created both by large-scale production units and by networked ensembles of talent and skilled labor. Moreover, digital media production may take place in small shops or via the collective labor of media users or fans who have attracted attention due to their hyphenated status as both producers and users of media (i.e., “prosumers”). Studies of screen media labor fall into five conceptual and methodological categories: historical studies of labor relations, ethnographically inspired investigations of workplace dynamics, critical analyses of the spatial and social organization of labor, and normative assessments of industrialized creativity.


Scholarly collections tend to be organized around methodological approaches, key issues, and/or geographical scope. Mayer, et al. 2009 showcase stellar essays from the field of “production studies”; this was followed by a companion volume, Mayer, et al. 2015. Maxwell 2015 takes a critical studies approach and extends the range of screen media labor analysis to include workers in information industries and equipment manufacturing. Scholz 2012 focuses primarily on new media and the changing characteristics of labor in the digital era. Essays in Banks, et al. 2014 examine a range of theoretical and conceptual issues, especially around normative concerns. Gray and Seeber 1996, one of the first anthologies to direct attention to the changing conditions of labor at the end of the 20th century, offers an industrial relations perspective while McKinlay and Smith 2009 is organized around a labor process approach. Dawson and Holmes 2012 expands the geography of screen labor analysis to include Africa and India, which was followed shortly thereafter by Szczepanik and Vonderau 2013, an in-depth examination of European screen workers. Curtin and Sanson 2015 foregrounds a global perspective and extends the geography of case examples even further afield.

  • Banks, Mark, Rosalind Gill, and Stephanie Taylor, eds. Theorizing Cultural Work: Labour, Continuity, and Change in the Cultural and Creative Industries. New York: Routledge, 2014.

    Contributors challenge the optimistic assumptions of “creative economy” advocates by thinking more deeply about characteristics of good and bad creative labor. Authors also address such issues as intellectual property, professional identities, creative networks, work–life balance, and hierarchies within the workforce.

  • Curtin, Michael, and Kevin Sanson, eds. Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015.

    Essays analyze the globalization of screen media labor, offering an overarching assessment of recent trends and providing case examples from around the world. Contributors emphasize the increasing precarity of media labor, critiquing various modes of exploitation engendered by the expanding influence of capitalist media practices around the world.

  • Dawson, Andrew, and Sean Holmes, eds. Working in the Global Film and Television Industries: Creativity, Systems, Space, Patronage. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012.

    A multidisciplinary collection of essays that examine film and television labor in diverse historical contexts and cultural settings (Africa, India, Europe, and North America). Focuses on systems of production, creative agency, and workplace and craft practices.

  • Gray, Lois, and Ronald Seeber, eds. Under the Stars: Essays on Labor Relations in Arts and Entertainment. Ithaca, NY: ILR, 1996.

    An industrial relations perspective on the impact of disruptive technologies (VCR, cable, and satellite), flexible production, and globalization. Authors discuss current trends and future prospects of labor-management relations in theater, music, radio, television, and feature films.

  • Maxwell, Richard, ed. Routledge Companion to Labor and Media. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Contributors analyze class and labor dynamics in media and cultural industries, as well as information communication technology and consumer electronics. Case studies range from artists and journalists to assembly-line workers and call-center representatives. Issues include health, productivity, precarity, and labor organizing.

  • Mayer, Vicki, Miranda J. Banks, and John Thornton Caldwell, eds. Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Building on traditions of institutional and ethnographic analysis, the authors shed light on the everyday lived practices and experiences of media workers while also examining the ways that workers theoretically reflect on their labor. Essays examine such issues as status, gender, and creativity.

  • Mayer, Vicki, Miranda J. Banks, and Bridget Conor, eds. Production Studies: The Sequel! New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Following up on the very successful 2009 anthology, contributors expand the scope of production studies, providing more international case studies, as well as a broader range of media production contexts, such as music, social media, and digital games.

  • McKinlay, Alan, and Chris Smith, eds. Creative Labour: Working in the Creative Industries. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    Using a labor process perspective, the contributors assess structural and managerial issues, as well as workers’ concerns, such as skills acquisition, networking, and freelancing. The third and final section focuses on distinctive attributes of new media labor.

  • Scholz, Trebor, ed. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Examines enduring forms of labor exploitation in the context of new media in the digital era, focusing especially on corporate monetization of free labor, playbor (play/labor), and crowdsourcing. Also considers ways for Internet users to politicize their labor and seek out sustainable alternatives.

  • Szczepanik, Petr, and Patrick Vonderau, eds. Behind the Screen: Inside European Production Cultures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137282187

    Explores the complex plays of power and imagination that influence the production of European film and television, both historically and in contemporary contexts. Examines case examples and debates about creative labor and cultural authority in modern societies.

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