Roundtable Session: "Entertainment Media Production"
Stakeholders and Collaborating Partners
This session explored the creative process of making high-quality EE products. Media professionals in the entertainment industry follow production routines. According to chair Doe Mayer (USA), understanding the dynamics of this process and its different stages is a key factor for success for EE professionals. But what exactly should the production process be like?
Living with Creativity and Production Schedule Tensions
According to panelist Diane Summers (USA), the production and creative processes are parallel, and often, financing of a project is a factor that does not help to bring the two together.
Panelist Mary Cutler (England), a writer with The Archers for 21 years, said that time was a major constraint in the production process.
Drawing on her experience working with this radio drama series about a rural English farming family, she spoke about the inflexible deadlines associated with an ongoing series and the large amount of research required for the scriptwriting process. In addition, she said, the show's creative talents are not signed to long-term contracts, and as a result, there are frequent shortages of scriptwriters or actors.
Simultaneity of Tasks Makes Coordination Difficult
A major problem cited by Cutler is the occasional disconnect between scripts written weeks in advance of their airtime and the occurrence of real-life events that might need to be integrated into the series. Coordination between scriptwriters working on successive episodes was also raised as an area requiring special attention. The production process is characterised by simultaneity of tasks, which makes coordination very difficult. Finally, Cutler noted that creative staff are essential, with the writer the most important part of the production process.
There is a need for coordination between the production and the creative processes, according to panelist Ron Hess (USA), who has worked to develop a number of TV co-productions with national television agencies, including popular serial dramas Aahat (Footsteps) and Nijaat (Deliverance) in Pakistan. Hess spoke about the importance of involving local communities in the production process, giving the example of a three-part series in Indonesia produced with assistance from JHU/ CCP entitled The Equatorial Trilogy. This series focuses on population and environmental issues. Focus groups composed of all stakeholders allowed local film producers to better understand the local culture and therefore to address problems within that local perspective.
Production Constraints Can Increase Creativity
Mayer said that she sees a positive side to the constraints of the production process. For example, the pressures of limited resources and time can boost creativity, forcing production staff to find innovative ways to work with limited time and budgets. She also noted that the differences between the production and creative elements are not always clear-cut. Drawing on her many years of experience in film, she noted that creativity is a pervasive trait that "afflicts even the production side of the process" and is borne out of an innate human desire to be creative. This point was later reinforced by Kimani Njogu (Kenya), who stressed the need for producers to understand how scriptwriters and other creators can develop strong attachment to their work.
According to Mayer, creativity is defined by authenticity and intuition. Authenticity is central to all stages of the creative process. Intuition is the less conscious component that draws on personal experiences and internal reflections.
The Importance of Formative Research
"When producers are working outside their socio-cultural milieu, how are they able to decide what is good or bad?" This particular concern, raised by Sergio Alarcon (Mexico), underscored the importance of formative research. This involves bringing stakeholders together to articulate their views and state the problem from their perspective.
Audience feedback can be important for production, as in the case of The Archers, where much of the research involves reading letters from listeners who not only provide criticisms of the show, but also offer very useful suggestions for the writers. This process of feedback forms part of the intimate relationship between producer and audience, in which implicit rules are set as to what issues the characters can address in the program.
The Production Process
Discussion then shifted to the production process and the sequence of the different stages. Participants agreed that the process begins with an idea that must be researched. According to participant Margarita Gurdian (Nicaragua), research must be guided by an understanding of the audience, and dialogue must be initiated with all stakeholders. Njogu reiterated that if this research is not done in consultation with all involved, one runs the risk of being accused of agenda setting. According to Njogu, the production process should have distinct phases where the creators can do their work, then pre-test it with stakeholders. The integration of feedback reduces the risk of the audience rejecting the final product.
The question and answer session yielded specific issues associated with the production process. Due to her lengthy experience, Cutler was called upon again to address the issue of storyline continuity in situations where new writers are brought in. According to her, a new writer would, at the least, have been a member of the show's audience. Although the transition may not be seamless, each new writer brings special talents that prove refreshing, and must therefore be given time to develop.
Esta de Fossard (Australia) stressed the importance of training for those in EE projects. "EE is a highly specialized mix of techniques and art," she said, "and there is a need to train EE practitioners to be able to share the world view of their target audience."
The Final Analysis
The panel managed to tackle the issues of centrality of conflict in the production process and offer solutions to some of the problems that arise in this process. In the final analysis, communication among all involved, collaboration in the process, and ongoing dialogue are the key elements of production. Finally, the production process is one that is heavily dependent on factors such as comprehensive audience research, constraints of time, extensive consultation with stakeholders (e. g., donors) and training personnel in EE skills.