A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I’m happy to announce the online release of my article ‘Principles for a second century of film legislation‘, as online “early view” in advance of later publication in print. It’s in the journal Legal Studies (website). Open access versions will appear in due course.

Following a century of legislation about film and the film industry in the UK, and the latest in a series of reports on ‘film policy’, this paper investigates the relationship between law, policy and film. Case studies on the definition of ‘film’ in a time of technological and cultural change consider the privileged position of the cinema in terms of censorship and tax, including the new phenomenon of ‘alternative content’; that is, live relays of theatrical performances. Institutional change is assessed and criticised, particularly the abolition of the UK Film Council and the steady move from statute to executive action. The paper sets out a case for the role of the state to be set out in legislation and the cultural consequences of legal definitions to be taken more seriously.

Normally I would just put up the link and a blurb. But given how this article developed, and how the publication process is something I’m asked about by students and colleagues a lot, I thought it was a good opportunity to say something more about how these things go. I’ve tried to be careful not to do anything that compromises the peer review process here, and to be honest about my experience of it.

I presented a first version of the paper at the Society of Legal Scholars (annual conference) in September 2010. I had been working on it during the summer, bringing together my interests in film history and in media regulation. It was fun to write, although much of that version didn’t end up in the article. Also, no-one came to hear me present it, other than a colleague from UEA. Oops. But the ‘second century’ idea came at that stage, provoked by the Cinematograph Act 1909 having had its birthday the previous year.

The next stage was a different paper at the MECCSA annual conference in Manchester, in January 2011. This also wasn’t a smooth road as I broke my arm a few weeks before the conference and ended up giving the paper from a handwritten text (and also navigating my way around the conference rather awkwardly). It was one of that I attended and I met some fantastic people who have kept in touch – but there was only so much I could do.

So in summer 2011 – having caught up on the various things that had been shifted around on account of the injury – I was able to return to the two source papers, merge them, and come up with a draft journal article. This was where the core arguments started to take shape. And I decided that I was going to aim to submit it to Legal Studies. This meant two things: writing for a ‘generalist’ audience, and adapting to the journal’s style guide. (The first was more difficult).

At this point I started to have people read it in full (at the end of the summer). Some of the comments were contradictory, but the crucial bit was having readers from different backgrounds – a terrific film historian who knows his way around technology (and who I went on to work with on other projects), a personal friend who is interested in both law and film and is a particularly good writer, and some colleagues in my then School – from different areas of law. And I rewrote the paper a few more times, start to finish, that autumn. And in November I took a section of it to a film studies workshop, where I talked about ‘alternative content’ or ‘livecasts’ alongside one of the giants of film studies, Martin Barker (this ended up as a key point in the article).

In November 2011, I submitted it to Legal Studies for the first time. The editors thought that the original arguments were stacked at the end of the paper and the earlier sections were quite textbook-like. A remark in the email telling me this (which was obviously a bit of a disappointment in some ways) turned out to be important in terms of restructuring. Anyway, I put this down for second semester (post-January) work.

Then in January 2012, the Government intervened by publishing the report of a new review of film policy. Oops. This, and the need to rethink the focus of the piece, meant a full rewrite, letting go of some whole sections in particular. This was painful as they had been sections that took a long time to assemble – but the new question was how each paragraph or section contributed to the overall arguments, which had crystallised as being about coherence. But as is often the way, I had already planned out what I was going to write and it took a while longer to get to something I was happy with. I framed it as a discussion of the relationship between law and policy using the film sector as an illustration. Most of this research and writing was done in April/May.

In August 2012, having finished working on it while also changing job and moving north of the border, I crossed my fingers and submitted the article to Legal Studies. On this occasion, the editors accepted it for review and sent it out to three (!) peer reviewers. Legal Studies operates a three-month review period and, as expected, I got the decision in December 2012…days before going on honeymoon. The reports were mixed. Two reviewers liked it, one giving minor comments and another giving positive comments which would mean a bit of new work. A third thought that the piece didn’t work as it was and that there was, in essence, too much going on (and various other criticisms). The editors decided to classify it as ‘revise and resubmit’.

So come January 2013, I picked it up again and tried to put some manners on it. I abandoned the law/policy point of entry and tried to find a way of justifying the focus on film in its own terms. I came up with a better way of thinking about ‘definitions’ and wrote a few new sections; as I was already at the limits of the word count, other things had to go. I wrote a whole new conclusion (I always struggle with conclusions) and I had another go at trying to explain the technological dimension (which was the most fun bit of the rewrite). At the start of March I crossed my fingers again and resubmitted. Back out it went to reviewers. Come June, the decision came, and this time it was positive, accepted without further changes required. A few rounds with a lovely copy-editor (who also explained the history of the distinction between first- and third-person writing in academic journals) and here we are.

My point in explaining all this is, in particular for those who have articles knocked back, is that it takes time. I certainly thought of abandoning it more than once. And the paper can end up as a different thing. And rewriting to address an audience is really tricky. And things happen, like broken arms and honeymoons. And the Legal Studies editors were very supportive – which made a big difference.

Anyway, between all of these steps it took me about three years to write (which is about as long as it took me to do my PhD, although obviously I have been doing other things in this period), so I hope you enjoy the result.

One single comment

  1. […] for a Second Century of Film Legislation‘ (2013) 33(4) Legal Studies, 10.1111/lest.12032 (previously discussed here without full […]

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