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"Quiet on Set!": Craft Discourse and Below-the-Line Labor in Hollywood, 1919-1985

Bird, Katie (2018) "Quiet on Set!": Craft Discourse and Below-the-Line Labor in Hollywood, 1919-1985. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the historical formation and circulation of craft discourse voiced by Hollywood’s technical workers. By exploring the tensions between manual and creative craft labor in the film industry, the dissertation interrogates how below-the-line workers’ discursive formations of their on-set embodied practices informed their aesthetic choices and political maneuvers within the studio system. Film production practitioners built on social and cultural norms of historical craftsmanship communities and instrumentalized this discourse within an industrial setting towards political and artistic aims of improving labor conditions, demanding critical and inter-guild recognition, and promoting public outreach. Craft discourse regularly moved beyond insular reporting to serve a range of practical and theoretical functions for workers: providing an opportunity for critical reflexivity, negotiating institutional and systemic modes of top-down production, and addressing and instructing public audiences in the art and craft of filmmaking technique. By emphasizing embodiment alongside artistry and technological change, technicians from the beginning of the studio system to contemporary practice have argued for a definition of Hollywood style as inherently crafted and negotiated from the ground-up by workers.

The four chapters explore the discourse of different communities of technical craft practitioners in four distinct historical periods. Chapter 1 interrogates the tension between manual and artistic discourse in the first decade of the American Society of Cinematographer’s house publication, American Cinematographer (1919 to 1929) and highlights how stunt, newsreel, and travel filmmaking practices contributed to cinematographer’s philosophical sense of “being in the world.” Chapter 2 draws upon histories of organized labor conflict in the 1930s and 40s and uncovers the diverse and silenced discourse of studio grips and electricians whose voices, labor, and techniques were represented across studio publications despite the suppression of their political agency. Chapter 3 investigates how the formation of the American Cinema Editors in the 1950s and 1960s capitalized on the growth in post-war higher education film training and educational filmmaking to promote the craft of continuity editing at the end of the studio system. Chapter 4 examines the renewed embodied discourse accompanying niche practitioners of emerging stabilizer technologies like Steadicam and Panaglide in the 1970s and 80s.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bird, Katiekeb133@pitt.edukeb133
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAnderson, Mark Lynnandersml@pitt.eduandersml0000-0001-5263-808X
Committee MemberLowenstein,
Committee MemberMajumdar,
Committee MemberHalle,
Committee MemberPolan,
Committee MemberMorgan,
Date: 26 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 May 2018
Approval Date: 26 September 2018
Submission Date: 20 July 2018
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 435
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Film Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Film History, Film Production, Hollywood, Below-the-Line, Labor, Craft, Media Industries, Classical Hollywood, Studio System
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2018 19:49
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2023 05:15


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