Can fiction filmmaking be research?

The majority of our submissions to Screenworks are either auto-ethnographic films, documentaries, experimental or poetic films – all of which are contributing new knowledge to the field and expanding our understanding of filmmaking. However, there is a dearth of narrative film submissions which has caused me to wonder – why we don’t we receive as many fiction films?

Is there something about narrative or drama that precludes it from being research? I am excited to find out how many submissions to the Filmmaking Research Network survey will be fiction film. It would be interesting to get a sense of whether we’re just missing these submissions for Screenworks; or whether in fact fiction films are not being made within the academy?

If the latter is the case, why not? What are the barriers to fiction films being supported both within institutions and funding bodies? What proportion of AHRC-funded practice research PhDs are fiction-based and how many Standard Research Grants for practice research relate to narrative films? At the recent MeCCSA Practice Symposium, Jimmy Hay (University of Bristol) presented on ‘Practice Research and Media Industry Collaboration Through Narrative Filmmaking,’ discussing his recent feature film High Tide and sci-fi short Zero Sum, both produced with industry support, and the ways in which they might be framed as research (given they arose out of his practice-based PhD), notwithstanding the tensions around their inclusion in the REF.

If fiction film is being made in the academy, but is just not being submitted to Screenworks, then what are the barriers to contributors submitting their work for academic peer-review? Could it be an issue with copyright?: fiction film is often made in collaboration with industry partners and funding bodies; the copyright / IP may be complex. There may also be the issue of not wanting the film to be readily available whilst on the festival circuit, and the problematics of open-access online publication if the film is aiming for cinema distribution / video on demand and other revenue streams to recoup production costs. However, there are several ways round this. For example, we have precedent for publishing an extract, with a link to the full work on another platform (VoD) (see Love in the Post), or publishing a trailer with a Vimeo URL and password (see Camrex).

Are you a fiction filmmaker? Have you had successful AHRC funding for a narrative film? Was your film submitted to REF 2014 / are you developing a submission for REF 2021? Have you considered submitting your work to Screenworks? If not, why not? I will leave comments open below, so look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Charlotte Crofts
(Editor of Screenworks)
28 Sep 2017

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