Derek Long

#Film
#Media
#DigitalHumanities

Research Program: Media History, at Scale

I approach media history using a method that combines traditional archival document work with the analysis of large-scale digital datasets. The collective data the media industries have produced about themselves for over a century is now becoming widely available on various digital platforms, from the millions of pages of trade and fan magazines indexed by the Media History Digital Library and Arclight to the 35,000 titles' worth of filmographic information at Early Cinema History Online.

My work seeks to harness that scaled data in a scaled way - that is, both as evidence in historical arguments about the media industries and as a new way of thinking, analyzing, and writing about them as scaled enterprises.

Arclight Chart tracing relative mentions of various booking methods in the 1910s and 1920s

Current Project: Distribution Planning and Macro-scale Production Control

My current project, (Re)programming the Movies: Distribution Planning and Production Control in the Early Studio System, employs just such an approach to examine the shifting relationship between feature distribution and production planning in the American film industry from 1915 to 1924. Using scaled primary evidence from corporate production and distribution records, correspondence, and the trade press, I argue that over the course of the late teens and early twenties, the major distributors developed precise mechanisms of macro-scale production control that operated in tandem with distribution planning to control inputs, schedule and differentiate releases through tiering, and maximize profits.

In each chapter of the project, I make use of a scaled dataset of primary documents. Central to my analysis of early cost control strategies is a scaled database of cost ledgers I created from the records of some 500 films produced at Mutual and Triangle from 1915-1917, which allowed for detailed breakdowns of negative costs according to various types of expenditure. This allowed me to trace the precise effect that the transition to features had on studio production strategies in the mid-teens, and actually revealed surprising continuities that were only evident because of the scaled nature of the data.

Lobby Card for My Outlaw Brother (1951), filmed in Mexico and illegally sold to TV stations by producer Benedict Bogeaus

Media Distribution Practices, in Context

This project, and the approach I employ, is part of one strand of my larger research program in which I examine the historical context of media distribution across multiple platforms. I define distribution not merely as the physical circulation of media forms, but also in terms of the concrete historical practices that define that circulation—practices like booking, packaging, legal contracts, and piracy. My research therefore seeks to develop our understanding of the history of the media industries by contextualizing these practices as part of mutually-determined relationships between distribution, production, and consumption.

In an article published by the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, I offer a study of one such set of relationships in two cases of low-budget independent feature producers selling their films to television stations - in direct violation of their theatrical distribution contracts. These two cases demonstrate the wider importance of legal contracts, unclear definitions of "distribution," and producer-sanctioned piracy in the early years of Hollywood's relationship to television.

Still from Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart (1936)

Data and Formal Analysis

In addition to my work in industry history, I have applied scaled data to formal analysis. In an article I published with the New Review of Film and Television Studies, I used computational methods to reconstruct the editing principles of the avant-garde filmmaker Joseph Cornell as he re-cut a Hollywood melodrama to create his collage film Rose Hobart. I am currently in the early stages of a videographic essay illustrating and critically evaluating this scaled approach to formal analysis.

My other research interests include early cinema, avant-garde and cult cinema, B-films, and animation.

In the broadest sense, the various aspects of my research program are linked by my interest in using digital tools to accomplish two goals: reframe and revise received histories of the media industries, and reveal the marginal, overlooked, and forgotten in media history. Neither of these goals would be possible without a grounding in the actual building, programming, and curation of digital tools. I discuss my digital practice in detail here.


Publications

Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Book Chapters

Co-Authored Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Other Publications