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The Production of Spectacle / The Spectacle of Production: An Ethnographic Study of Film/TV Media Production
Unformatted Document Text:  THE PRODUCTION OF SPECTACLE / THE SPECTACLE OF PRODUCTION INTRODUCTION The shooting of a film, especially a sound film, affords a spectacle unimaginable anywhere at any time before this. It presents a process in which it is impossible to assign to a spectator a viewpoint which would exclude from the actual scene such extraneous accessories as camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants, etc-unless his eye were on a line parallel with the lens – Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (p 232-33), 1968. In this quote above, Benjamin refers to the complicated environment of filmmaking: the saturation of the representation of “reality” by technology, the scale of artifice (both physical and emotional) developed for filming, and the relationship of performance to the fractured production process. The production of commercial film and television is indeed a spectacle to behold, as I illustrate in this chapter. Based on ethnographic fieldwork (which entailed participant observation on film and TV sets in both Hollywood and Hong Kong between 2003 and 2006, which included working as an “extra” in Hollywood), I examine the visual images that are created and the on-screen and off-screen spectacle that commercial media workers in Hollywood and Hong Kong create. In particular, I focus on the audience of media workers who mediate in the immediate site of production: film and television sets. The commercial film and television set is a (sound) stage upon which frequently melodramatic themes are played out by media workers, who, I argue, form a preliminary (and heterogeneous) audience that has until recently gone largely under-conceptualized by anthropologists and film/media scholars (cf. Caldwell 2008; Mayer 2008; Dornfeld 1998; Ganti 2004). Many of these workers on the production floor of commercial film and television are not concerned with educating or enlightening audiences about how to be “modern citizens” (Abu- 1

Authors: Martin, Sylvia.
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The shooting of a film, especially a sound film, affords a spectacle unimaginable 
anywhere at any time before this. It presents a process in which it is impossible to assign 
to a spectator a viewpoint which would exclude from the actual scene such extraneous 
accessories as camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants, etc-unless his eye 
were on a line parallel with the lens  
– Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of 
Mechanical Reproduction (p 232-33), 1968.
In this quote above, Benjamin refers to the complicated environment of filmmaking: the 
saturation of the representation of “reality” by technology, the scale of artifice (both physical and 
emotional) developed for filming, and the relationship of performance to the fractured 
production process. The production of commercial film and television is indeed a spectacle to 
behold, as I illustrate in this chapter. Based on ethnographic fieldwork (which entailed 
participant observation on film and TV sets in both Hollywood and Hong Kong between 2003 
and 2006, which included working as an “extra” in Hollywood), I examine the visual images that 
are created and the on-screen and off-screen spectacle that commercial media workers in 
Hollywood and Hong Kong create. In particular, I focus on the audience of media workers who 
mediate in the immediate site of production: film and television sets. 
The commercial film and television set is a (sound) stage upon which frequently 
melodramatic themes are played out by media workers, who, I argue, form a preliminary (and 
heterogeneous) audience that has until recently gone largely under-conceptualized by 
anthropologists and film/media scholars (cf. Caldwell 2008; Mayer 2008; Dornfeld 1998; Ganti 
2004). Many of these workers on the production floor of commercial film and television are not 
concerned with educating or enlightening audiences about how to be “modern citizens” (Abu-

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