Screen Production Research: Where to Next?

By Associate Professor Craig Batty and Dr Bettina Frankham

Following a period of research consolidation in 2015 and 2016, 2017 saw the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association (ASPERA) ‘up the stakes’ with regard to its capacity for disciplinary research and, importantly, its future. We launched the report Screen Production Research Reporting: An ASPERA Scoping Project, which, while for some disciplines might seem obvious, for screen production sought to capture some of the long-standing discussions and issues the discipline was facing. Following this, the question of ‘what does quality look like in a screen production research artefact?’ arose, and a set of guidelines for addressing this question is currently in preparation.

While we try and catch our breath and enjoy screen production research - now that it has been variously and rigorously defined - we are being asked to consider a new dimension of it. This has ramifications not only for those of us already working in universities, but also, as the ACOLA report on the future of research training in Australia indicates, for our research degree candidates, present and future. And so, in 2018, how might we begin to address this?

No sooner had we ‘caught up’ than another research issue arose - engagement and impact. With no real time to bed down the ideas and principles highlighted above, it was time to press ahead again ... and this is one of our main tasks for 2018 ... At the end of 2017 we ran an event, ‘Engagement and Impact in Screen Production Research’, at UTS. This one-day symposium, which featured academics, research leaders and figures from the screen industry (e.g., NITV, SBS, Screen Australia), aimed to unpack people’s assumptions about what engagement and impact is or might be, and map them against how the Australian Research Council (ARC) is measuring them. With over 60 delegates, this event was thought-provoking and inspiring and also allowed everyone to get on the same page. With the assistance of keynote speaker Distinguished Professor Jen Webb, who served on the ARC’s E&I pilot project, we sought to bring the sector together around what is really going on and dispel some of the sometimes wild or misinformed ideas that can emerge in the panic of major policy change such as this.

While we try and catch our breath and enjoy screen production research - now that it has been variously and rigorously defined - we are being asked to consider a new dimension of it. This has ramifications not only for those of us already working in universities, but also, as the ACOLA report on the future of research training in Australia indicates, for our research degree candidates, present and future. And so, in 2018, how might we begin to address this?
One way is by theming our 2018 annual conference, at the VCA in Melbourne (June 27-29). We have chosen to focus our theme of ‘Screen Interventions’, in a way that might encourage debate and examples of engagement and impact already taking place. Our hope is that people will share ideas and case studies about things such as: how screen production is being used to ‘intervene’ in social, cultural, political (and other) contexts; and how aspects such as technology and policy are being used to intervene in the practice of screen production. We also expect discussions focussed on teaching and learning, which for most screen practitioners is where it all begins.

As we move through 2018, we need to keep a close watch that we are not letting Government-level policy shifts change what we do, but rather use them as leverage to ‘tell a different story’ about what we are already good at.

While ‘interventions’ might seem somewhat grand, perhaps speaking to the ARC’s discourse, we know our members will interpret it creatively and authentically. For example, some of the abstracts that have already been submitted for the conference focus on the role of filmmakers in mediating social concerns through their practice; the possibilities of practice to re-write or ‘correct’ history; and the potential for new technologies to change the way that the screen industry operates. These are all ‘interventions’, but they stay close to the discipline and try not to take screen production away from its core goals. As we move through 2018, we need to keep a close watch that we are not letting Government-level policy shifts change what we do, but rather use them as leverage to ‘tell a different story’ about what we are already good at. 

There will, of course, be new and exciting opportunities afforded by this new research agenda, such as those who seek active collaboration with disciplines such as health, law and economics. But for those screen production researchers who are passionate about their own discipline, there might be ways of re-orienting or re-framing what we already do. Might this then lead to invitations to collaborate with others?

Without disciplinary excellence, creative practice researchers are at risk of being subsumed as service providers to other research agendas. While this can be fruitful terrain for many researchers, it is also important that there is scope for screen production research to be recognised as having value in and of itself. For ASPERA, then, we need to work out what it is that we are really good at - and can offer to others - before we start jumping the gun too soon.


Craig Batty is Associate Professor of Screenwriting and Creative Practice at RMIT University, and Chair of the ASPERA Research Sub-Committee. He is author of over 60 books, chapters, journal articles and refereed conference proceedings; editor of two books and 10 journal special issues; and has worked as a writer and script editor on various film/screen projects. In 2016 he received an AAUT Citation award for his contributions to excellent HDR outcomes in creative writing, and in 2017 won the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research Supervision Excellence. Craig is also an Adjunct Professor at Central Queensland University and the University of Southern Queensland, and Visiting Research Fellow at Bournemouth University in the UK.

Bettina Frankham is a creative practice academic researching and teaching digital media arts and production in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UTS. She has a background of industry experience spanning multiple forms of media including television, radio and web production. Her moving image projects have screened at international media arts festivals and she has published scholarly journal articles and book chapters. Her research interests include art and documentary intersections, expanded documentary practice and the impact of digital culture on creative media production. She is currently the acting President of ASPERA and a member of the ASPERA Research Sub-Committee.