Media Franchising as a Collaborative Creation

This week’s reading by Derek Johnson, Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, discussed in great depth the complexities of product expansion. 

Johnson references many topics throughout his discussion of media franchising, beginning with the Andrew Tudor term “empiricist dilemma.” This is defining how a genre hopes to gain a deeper concept from a group of texts, while paradoxically these texts from which the genre hopes to be defined are already products of that given genre. Johnson references this idea to identify the fact that media franchises are not defined by the genre with which they are associated, but rather they are products of a certain discourse. With cultural impact and cross-collaborative efforts across the media industry, media franchises are created and defined from both industrial and social efforts.

Johnson continues by not defining media franchising as a long list of money-making products, but rather discussing the cultural forces that render each franchise.

Though Janet Staiger characterizes studio-era Hollywood filmmaking in terms of mass production, she stresses that “filmmaking mass production never reached the assembly-line degree of rigidity that it did in other industries. Rather it remained a manufacturing division of labor with craftsmen collectively and serially producing a commodity.” Franchised media production is no different, generating variation among different product offerings. (Johnson, 42).

This quote defining media franchising caught my eye, since I’m not as used to hearing studio-era Hollywood discussed in this manner. Johnson is giving credit where credit is due to the manufacturing elements of an industry that was booming. This creative alliance that is referenced here provides a greater understanding for me of media franchising as a artistically joint effort.

TransformersTheRide

Transformers: The Ride at Universal Orlando

This sense of collaborating artistically presents many problems, I would imagine. When I think of all of the media franchises that have existed in my lifetime – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Transformers – all of which are referenced by Johnson. I can’t help but think of the tension that must rise when so many individuals are contributing to one combined effort. Who’s vision is it really? Is credit given where it was due? This reminds me of the Cynthia Littleton’s TV on Strike reading, and how artistic credit rarely goes to the original creator.

How have worlds been designed to support the shared elaboration of franchising at the levels of story, image, and sound? (Johnson, 112).

What makes a franchise so incredible to me is that union of mass production allows for the creative input of a variety of producers. I was particularly inspired by the Sharing Worlds chapter in which Johnson discusses the generational evolution of Star Trek and Battlestar.

Instead of embracing the “hyper-real,” “larger-than-life,” futuristic sets of the original, Battlestar production designer Richard Hudolin embraced a retro look that combined “old-style telephones and maps you would see on 1940s battleships with computer screens and other elements from the 1980s and ’90s. That [familiarity] constantly reminds viewers that the Galactica is an old ship that’s out of date and dependent on old technology.”The designers embraced discontinuity with the visual history of the franchise, inviting distinction between the two Battlestars’ alternately futuristic and retro looks. (Johnson, 136).

Transformers_board_game_with_real_Transformers

Transformers Board Game

There are solutions to be found to ensure the success of these production alliances. Johnson informs us on page 148 about the “three prong” division proposed to NBC in 2007. Essentially, the “transmedia team” was built of one group that managed merchandising, another would “coordinate all narrative mobilizations” of the products, and another would be sure the talent would participate in various promotional advertising via atypical media.

These solutions are part of the success of media franchising. Especially for franchises that last decades, the generational changes occur and are even welcomed. The recreation of characters or styles within a particular series is quite common amongst the trans-media franchises.

Derek Johnson makes his final point by describing media franchising not as static, univocal or repetitive, but through the dynamic collaboration of innovators. Despitethe tensions of property rights, franchises allow for all creators to have a piece of a massive artistic invention.

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. New York University Press: New York. 2013. Print.

Images from Creative Commons.

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