While films may be studied as an art form for their expressionistic qualities and cultural value, the system in which films are made (e.g. studios, financiers, distribution models, talent pools, audiences) stands out as an exemplar of a transdisciplinary industry—the type that gathers experts from different fields in a concerted effort to collaborate and have a multi-modal, multi-layered impact.
What makes an industry transdisciplinary?
By some measures, all industries may be considered transdisciplinary, but some manifest it better or more fully than others, and filmmaking is the latter. Transdisciplinary (TD) industries require at least four key factors:
- Hybridity from key personnel: The more successful organizations have leaders (formal and informal) who understand more than one area of expertise demanded by the industry. Successful film studios, for instance, have executives who not only master management but who also understand deeply the artistic merits of filmmaking; for example, Pixar’s Ed Catmull has a background in computer science, engineering, and a life-long fascination with animated storytelling.
- Integrative collaboration: Organizations that promote close collaboration and integration of perspectives from their different experts/departments have a competitive advantage when facing the challenges of their industry. In filmmaking, each and every phase of production demands integrative collaboration, with the different creative departments having to work together in the making of a film throughout its completion, while the creative, managerial, and marketing teams have to align vision and integrate expectations to ensure the success of a film. The props department can’t show up to filming with whatever items they saw fit devoid of input from the producers, the director, or the cinematography team, just as the advertising department may ruin a film if they reveal a key plot twist in the marketing campaign because they didn’t work alongside the filmmakers.
- Shared time considerations: Successful organizations agree not only on deadlines and priorities but also in the particular investments of time, such as the ratio of a project’s length to the quality of its outcomes. In the case of films, rarely does a project succeed if it was rushed to meet a fad or to make up for a long stagnation in development; rather, the most impactful films were made at the right time and the right pace, sometimes decades after they were first imagined.
- Multi-modal outcomes: The organizations with the most impact accomplish more than one thing at time. Similarly, a film to be considered successful, it has to captivate audiences, get plenty of ROI from the box office, impress industry peers (meaning, win awards), and become part of somewhat-everlasting pop culture—or at least the film has to accomplish three out of four…