Murphy’s Law in Action: The Formation of the Film Production Network of Paul Lazarus’ Barbarosa (1982)- An Actor-Network-Theory Case Study

Murphy’s Law in Action: The Formation of the Film Production Network of Paul Lazarus’ Barbarosa (1982)- An Actor-Network-Theory Case Study

Markus Spöhrer (Department of Literature, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2013010102
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This paper explores the possibilities of Actor-Network-Theory as a methodological approach to Production Studies. On the basis of a detailed production log written by producer Paul Lazarus III, the coming-into-being of the film Barbarosa (1982) is described. By using Bruno Latour’s and Michel Callon’s approach, the assemblies of the film production, the hybrid networks and interconnections which are established by human as well non-human actors, are dealt with. Thus film production is not a one sided process of inscriptions by human actors on non-human actors. Rather it is thought as a reciprocal process of inscribing and acting. Consequently the “effects” are discussed which are produced by approaching the production of Barbarosa with ANT and conclusions are drawn as to how the theoretical scope of Production Studies needs to be modified: Films can be understood as “quasi-objects” or “epistemic things” which are produced and produce themselves in reciprocal processes. They translate themselves into other networks after postproduction and are thus constantly subject to translational processes and not endlessly stable, but should rather be considered metastable.
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Nowhere is Murphy’s Law – If something can go wrong, it will – more constant than in the shooting of a film1 (Paul Lazarus III, film producer)

A film production2 is generally considered an ephemeral project, a network consisting of different entities (studios, directors, film actors, producers, camera-teams etc.), which is limited to a fixed time span. Such temporary forms of organization aim at performing complex tasks, which are oftentimes only vaguely defined (cf. Apitzsch, 2010, p.1). In contrast to repeating (or repeatable) procedures, a film project can be defined as “an operational production of goods, which is executed only once in a distinct manner” (Niemeyer, 2008, p.12, MS)3. For this reason certain operational procedures of film productions as well as particular skills, which are required of the actors of such networks, are hardly predictable. This circumstance impedes pre-planning, especially since certain unpredicted problems may arise during production – a fact which is clearly reflected in the pessimistic undertone of the initial quotation by Paul Lazarus III. More than in the production of “regular goods”, a film project is confronted with a great many of risk factors, which appear to be almost incalculable (cf. Rimscha, 2010, p.125). Consequently this mode of production implies a certain kind of instability and unpredictability of the work process. In case of complications such as delay of shooting, exceeding of budget or cancellation of a leading role, production companies may cancel the production at an early stage. Thus suddenly arising problems require a high level of flexibility from the actors enrolled in a film production network. Success or failure depends on a variety of factors, but especially on how stable the various entities of such a network are related to each other throughout the collaboration4.

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