Filmmaking as Creative Practice: Assessing Creative Magnitude and Scale

Susan Kerrigan
University of Newcastle


Filmmaking as a creative practice is usually researched through film and cinema studies and screen production. Sometimes these two areas are conflated because screen production can be seen as a marginal subset of the larger body of cinema and film studies scholarly knowledge. By focusing on understandings of creativity, the foundations that have led to this scholarly relationship come into question and through an examination of theoretical and conceptual positioning of the filmmaker and the spectator this paper will offer a number of plausible reasons for this conflation. When scrutinized in this way a blind spot that has obstructed approaches to filmmaking creativity is revealed. By explaining creativity as a phenomenon that entails both film as product and film as a viewed experience, this paper will theoretically examine filmmaking as a creative practice by drawing on the seven levels of filmic reality known as the filmology, a term created by Etienne Souriau in the 1950s. Through this conceptual study, creative magnitude and scale will be used to illustrate the intimate and delicate relationship between spectatorship and filmmaking. Endorsing a systems view of creative filmmaking practice will reveal the blind spot and by clarifying the creative relationship between the filmmaker and the spectator the obscured view can be better appreciated.


Creativity research generally makes a distinction between creative products and creative experiences (Stein, 1953, p. 312) and by uncoupling film production from film consumption it is possible to make a more scholarly consideration of the scale and magnitude of creative practice. These creative distinctions are seen to be necessary as they may allow for ‘a more complete consideration of and conceptualization of creativity’ (Kozbelt et al., 2010, p. 23) and how it relates to filmmaking and spectatorship. By joining the broader research areas of creativity, film studies and filmmaking, it is possible to untangle filmmaking as a creative practice from the spectator’s view, understood through the scholarly appreciation of film through cinema and film studies. The work of Etienne Souriau, a French aesthetic philosopher who devised the notion of filmology (Lowry, 1985, p. 84) will be re-framed using creative practice theories that re-categorise the seven levels of filmology including the filmic realities of the diegetic, the spectator and the creator. By unpacking this identified conflation between creative products and experiences, it is possible to clarify why spectators’ critiques of creative filmmaking choices are sometimes unwarranted. For example, general audiences may critique casting, filming locations or production choices contained in a film, and claim that because of the limitations of a particular component of the film, the whole film is flawed. Critiques like this should be seen as personal value judgments made by spectators as opposed to value judgements made about filmmakers’ creative choices. As Souriau argues, ‘errors of interpretation fall within the realm of spectatorial factors’ (Lowry 1985, p. 86) which frequently exclude a complete understanding and appreciation of filmmaking as a creative practice. This argument has implications for how filmmaking and screen production research are considered. It provides a solid theoretical and conceptual basis to separate the spectator’s creative experience from the filmmaker’s creative practice through which the creative product – a film – is produced.

Creative concepts and film

Theories of Creativity (2010) by Kozbelt, Beghetto and Runco provides a comprehensive overview of creative magnitudes by drawing on theories that explain a range of creative experiences. For example, ‘little-c creativity’ refers to everyday creativity and it is often compared to ‘Big-C’ or ‘eminent creativity’ (Kozbelt et. al. 2010, p. 23). Alfred Hitchcock, known as a filmmaking genius, could be an example of Big-C creativity. His creativity is so widely accepted that it is unquestioned; it is written about in history books and objectively accepted as fact. ‘Little-c creativity’ is a more subjective phenomenon. A student filmmaker might be considered to be ‘little-c’ creative because their experiences may never result in a tangible product, never undergo external evaluation, nor travel “beyond an individual’s own personal insights and interpretations” (Kozbelt et al., 2010, p. 23). Beginners operating at the ‘little-c’ magnitude, like someone making a film for the first time, can be seen as being individually or psychologically creative (Boden, 2004, p. 43), while those operating at the ‘Big-C’ magnitude like Hitchcock are described as being historically creativity (Boden, 2004, p. 43). Historical creativity often relates to the social and cultural value and appreciation of a product, process or idea which in turn sees a transferring of the creative label, a reputation, to the person who claims authorship of that product, process or idea. So when comparing the creative experience of watching a Hitchcock film with the experience of watching a student film, a researcher should have an appreciation of creative magnitude and the scale of the creative system, as these concepts will help make sense of such a viewing comparison.

Alongside understandings of creative magnitudes are different facets of creativity. The six P’s of creativity are process, products, personality, place, persuasion and potential (Kozbelt, 2010, p. 25). Focusing on the distinction between the first two- creative process and products- allows an argument to be mounted that distinguishes between the practice that a filmmaker engages in when making a film and the filmmaker’s reputation that is established after the film is publicly released.

Creative magnitudes are linked to the scale of the creative system. Hitchcock’s works, for example, have been assessed as being creative using the scale of the Western film industry that is embodied in the professional filmmaking codes and conventions understood by general audiences and critics. A student filmmaker might aspire to observe these codes and conventions in their own work, yet this may prove to be challenging because they may lack the necessary filmmaking skills, finances and networks. A case study has been provided that presents a film student’s own reflective assessment of their creative magnitude and scale. By teasing out the point that creative magnitude and scale are often conflated, the student’s reflections on their creative filmmaking practice provide clarity around the relationship between spectators and filmmakers and the idea that the spectator is inside the filmmaker (Kerrigan 2016a).

Screen Production Research and the Creative Process

Screen production research focuses on filmmaking as a research activity where filmmaking is the primary research method (Kerrigan et. al, 2015). The purpose of that research is to intentionally shift ‘the focus away from researching the film as a product to researching factual and fictional filmmaking processes’ (p.2). Other researchers have looked at the processes of screenwriting and the creation of the screen idea (Macdonald, 2013) and Eva Novrup Redvall has extended that concept to ‘The Screen Idea System framework’ (2016, p. 146-149) which applies the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 2003, p. 315) to emphasise ‘how things happen in a constant and dynamic interplay between different forces on several levels’ (Redvall, 2016, p. 146). By focusing on the creation of the Danish TV series The Killing, Redvall observed individual and group creative practices through the activities of the writer’s room. This research confirms that ‘[a]gency, collaborations and context matter. New screen ideas emerge and are shaped in systemic processes’ (p. 152).

Figure 1. A Systems View of Creative Practices (Kerrigan, 2015)

Figure 1. A Systems View of Creative Practices (Kerrigan, 2015)

Filmmaking research also connects the creative process that individuals engage in, and supports the notion of creativity being a systemic, staged and a collaborative process (Kerrigan 2016b). Work done by this paper’s author has seen the development of The Systems View of Creative Practices (Figure 1) which illustrates how a filmmaker is someone who:

… must internalise the rules of the domain and the opinions of the field, so that one can choose the most promising ideas to work on, and do so in a way that will be acceptable to one’s peers (Csikszentmihalyi 2003, p. 332).

The process of internalising the rules of the Domain, which includes internalising cultural attributes, allows a filmmaker to behave in a culturally appropriate way. Taking a systems view of creative practices makes it impossible for a filmmaker to ignore the role of culture and society because they are internalized and are reproduced through practice. By viewing creative filmmaking practice as a system this approach ‘is more comprehensively able to explain both creative recognitions, that of creative product and creative person’ (Kerrigan 2016b, p. 137). Appreciating these as two separate yet connected aspects of creativity requires further discussion and Hollywood and the Academy Awards provide an example.

The Motion Picture Academy’s appreciation of Creativity

Hollywood creates a unique form of cinematic creativity where filmmaking is collaborative yet individual contributions can be identified through the examination of films:

… what makes these cinematic collaborations especially intriguing is that the individual contributions are not completely submerged or blended in the final product (Simonton, 2004a, p. 163).

It is important to note that the Academy Awards operate as a peer-reviewed system where filmmaking peers vote on the work of other filmmakers. This is different from film audiences or spectators voting for their favourite film. As creativity theorists warn: ‘when studying a product, little can be directly said about the process leading to it’ (Kozbelt et. al., 2010, p. 24-25). So, assumptions about how films are made should be avoided. It is important, therefore, to understand the position of an expert judging a creative product through a filmmaking lens, which is what happens when the Academy of Motion Pictures assesses films that have been nominated for Awards. As a field of experts, they judge the films through a perception of what the process (and context) might have been, having been there themselves. This translates to the Academy assessing both creative product and creative process from both perspectives of a filmmaker and a spectator. Members of the Academy can hold both positions because they are deemed by their peers to be both filmmakers and spectators whereas a general audience may judge the same film and have a different opinion of it as their limited understanding of filmmaking will shape that opinion.

Souriau examined the formation of opinions by a film audience, which he argues are independent of ‘the real artistic value of the film, or more exactly, the quality of art put into the work’ (in Lowry, 1985, p. 82). Souriau arrived at this understanding by examining the relationship between aesthetics and sociology. His work is useful here as it provides insights into why there can be such extreme differences of opinion between the Academy and a general film audience. The general audience may lack an understanding and appreciation of the domains of filmmaking knowledge and field opinions that are in used by the Academy. Through filmology, Souriau (1951, p. 234-240) asserts that ‘the level of filmic signification ‘occurs only in conjunction with an audience’ (Lowry, 1985, p. 85). He refers to the audience position as spectatorial factors, which is one of the seven levels of the filmology and is described as ‘all subjective phenomena brought into play by the psychic personality of the viewer’ (Lowry, 1985, p. 85). So should a spectator have limited knowledge of the domain and field of filmmaking then their ability to judge filmmaking creativity will differ from that of the Academy. Souriau argues that the ‘errors of interpretation fall within the realm of spectatorial factors’ (Lowry, 1985, p. 86). A general audience therefore is made up of film spectators who assess creative novelty through their experiences of watching and film and thus by referencing a different body of domain knowledge than that used by the Academy.

This goes some way to explain how differences of opinion may arise between the Academy and a spectator; a spectator is more likely to judge the film as cultural product, while the Academy’s domain knowledge allows it to make a judgement based on the quality of the filmmaking. This explains the power of the field that is the Academy of Motion Pictures. Csikszentmihalyi asserts that ‘fields are made up of individuals who practice in a given domain and have the power to change it’ (1999, p. 321). When a film is endorsed by winning an Academy Award, that means the film has been selected by the field of experts as an example of creative novelty. Further, it brings peer recognition to the filmmaker, which eventually translates to an appreciation of a filmmaker’s creative magnitude.

Creative Filmmaking Practice and Creative Magnitudes

It is useful to consider Alfred Hitchcock again, to explain the workings of the Systems View of Creative Practice (Figure 1). Hitchcock had immersed himself in the domain of filmmaking. This probably started gradually but over time he developed key skills which he used to become a feature film director, and he surrounded himself with other key studio stakeholders or field experts. Hitchcock was part of a social network of field experts that included members of the cast, actors and actresses and technical crew. He worked as a conditioned agent – his career started in silent films and over decades his idiosyncratic style as a film director developed, because of his continual engagement in creative practice. Hitchcock surrounded himself with a social network that created films that could ‘stimulate’ novelty. When working on-set, for example, Hitchcock would record many shots, and some shots would be recorded multiple times as takes. As a director, Hitchcock had to select which takes were acceptable to go forward to the edit. If the take was unacceptable, the film crew and cast had to reset and record another take. The setting up of a shot and the recording and selection of the best takes is a simple enough process. Filmmaking is essentially that activity repeated multiple times throughout the day, across many days and weeks. This becomes an iterative and recursive process. The best of these selected takes are then handed over to the editor and another simple process of selection or rejection occurs again with the best performances and technical execution being scrutinized once more by the editor, director and producers in the edit suite. Therefore, creativity can be seen as ‘an activity where some process or product, one that is considered to be unique and valuable, comes about from a set of antecedent conditions through the conditioned agency of someone’ (McIntyre, 2006, p. 2).

Drawing on his skills as a master storyteller, Hitchcock creates meaning from these individually filmed takes, working with his collaborative team of experts who assemble these materials into a completed film. Think, Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Rope (1948). Eventually Hitchcock offers a finished film to the studio executives for their selection. When selected, the film is placed in the domain and can be transmitted to the general public for their approval. This is where the film as a product is culturally assessed. In line with Wolff’s (1981) argument, it is from that time on that all future viewers are permitted to redefine the meaning of the film against their own internalized understandings of their individual, social and cultural positioning.

Csikszentmihalyi argues that all creative people work within a creative system that requires them to produce work that is acceptable to their peers (2003, p. 332). Hitchcock received peer recognition through two Golden Globe awards, eight Laurel Awards and five lifetime achievement awards, though he never won an Academy Award. In retrospect, this seems like a fortunate career, but it is documented that Hitchcock was challenged and that there were things that he had to fight against during his career. The feature film Hitchcock (Gervasi, 2012) was made to highlight his creative conflicts and to shed some light on those who worked closest to him. In terms of creative conflict, Hitchcock had to find a way to either fight for his ideas or to modify them so his peers would select them. Hitchcock can definitely be considered an eminently creative individual because his films have stood the test of time. Thus, it is possible to deem Hitchcock to be of an historical creative magnitude, known as Historical creativity or H-creative (Boden, 2004, p. 43).

‘Historical creativity’ is a term coined by Margaret Boden who defined it as ‘ideas that are novel with respect to the whole of human history (2004, p. 43). The other term for creative magnitude coined by Boden is ‘Psychological creativity’, known as ‘P-creative’. ‘P-creative’ is an individual process that is “fundamentally novel with respect to the individual mind who had the idea” (1990, p. 32, original emphasis). Hitchcock is an example of both P-creativity and H-creativity as his films have made historical contributions to the domain of filmmaking and much of his work was novel with respect to his past works. Assessing the magnitude of creative people requires careful thought. Sometimes the creative product’s assessment is conflated with an assessment of the person and their creative process, when in fact the literature tells us that these creative concepts should be assessed differently (Kozbelt et. al., 2010, p. 24-25). Collapsing one into the other can lead to incorrect understandings of how a person comes to function well within a creative system.

Using similar approaches to Boden, other psychologists have defined four creative magnitude categories. The Four C Models of creativity (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009) encompass ‘Big-C’, ‘Pro-C’, ‘little-c’ and ‘mini-c’. ‘Big-C’ creatives are those individuals or groups who will be considered historically as making “clear-cut, eminent creative contributions” (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009, p. 2). Kaufman and Beghetto do warn that predicting eminently creative contributions across time is difficult as ‘it is often hard to distinguish fashions and fads from permanent contributions’ (2009, p. 4). They argue that this makes it difficult to evaluate individual or group contributions posthumously but ‘it is nearly impossible to conduct a study of living people in Big-C’ (2009, p. 5).

So where does that leave an eminent filmmaker like Steven Spielberg? Which creative magnitude does he fit into? If we comply with the arguments already expressed then Spielberg will have to be considered to be Pro-C creative or professionally creative, which relates to the acquisition of his expert skill. Such levels of skill can be attained over ‘10 years of preparation in a domain of expertise to reach world class, expert level status’ (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009, p. 5). This suggests that there is a positive relationship between creativity and knowledge, whereby ‘rather than breaking out of the old to produce the new, creative thinking builds on knowledge’ (Weisberg, 1993, p. 226). The key phrase ‘the 10 year rule’ (Howe 1999, p. 5) supports this connection between knowledge acquisition and mastery of discipline-specific skills. Weisberg’s conclusion is that ‘one will never find an individual who has made a significant contribution to a creative discipline without first having deep initial immersion in that discipline’ (1993, p. 242).

So most filmmakers who have won national awards like Oscars, BAFTAs and AACTAs, if they have been in their professions for more than 10 years could be deemed, using this criterion, to have acquired Pro-C status. However, Kaufmann and Beghetto warn that not all professionals working in creative fields reach Pro-C status (2009, p. 5). Similarly, amateur artists can be ‘creative at the Pro-C level, even if it is not their primary means of support’ (2009. p. 5). Pro-C allows for social recognition of creativity to occur, which is different to little-c which is about everyday creativity. Given these statements, it might be premature to consider Spielberg as being Big-C creative. As Kaufman and Beghetto caution, ‘we simply cannot be certain which works are “merely” of the day or are for all time’ (2009, p. 5) whereas we know that Hitchcock’s work has stood the test of time.

It is clear that the relationship between these creative magnitudes of ‘Big-C’ through to ‘little-c’ is not direct. ‘Big-C’ or ‘eminent creativity’ refers to ‘unambiguous examples of creative expression’ (Kozbelt et. al, 2010, p. 23) while ‘personal creativity is presumably useful in order to achieve cultural creativity, but it may not be necessary’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1995 online). ‘Little-c creative’ ‘helps underscore the important (and, at times, essential) role that creativity plays in everyday life’ (Richards, 2007; Kaufman & Beghetto 2009, p. 3). ‘Little-c creative’ is the thing that we nurture in classrooms, in the workplace, in the home and in our social settings (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009, p.3). The ‘mini-c’ category was ‘designed to encompass the creativity inherent in the learning process’ (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009, p. 3), and as such it is defined as the ‘novel and personally meaningful interpretation of experiences, actions, and events’ (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009, p. 3). Other theorists also support the position that learning skills in order to acquire knowledge to a point where the knowledge is embodied and can be reproduced spontaneously without conscious thought, is fundamental to creative practice (Bailin, 1988, p. 97; Bastick, 1982, p. 4). These four creative magnitudes provide one way to measure the creative capacity and process of a creative agent and it is necessary to understand them in order to appreciate the scalability of creativity as a system.

The Scale of a Creative System

Creative magnitudes use scalable criteria, situated as part of a system of creativity that relates specifically to the different sets of codes and conventions, skills and rules that a creative practitioner works to. Systems theories ‘take the view that creativity is best conceptualized not as a single entity, but as emerging from complex systems with interacting subcomponents’ (Kozbelt et al, 2010, p. 38). Each sub-component is scalable and the identification of the scale gives meaning to the domain being used to measure a creative product or creative process because the practitioner ‘must internalise the rules of the domain and the opinions of the field” (Csikszentmihalyi 2003, p. 332). The systems view of creativity “emphasizes the ubiquitous role of place (or environment) among the P’s, especially for Big-C achievements’ (Kozbelt et. al., 2010, p. 39). So filmmaking values of the domain and the field will vary according to the scale they are defined by and that will also depend on the position and situation of the filmmaker. Assessing creativity in a completed film, for example, can be done from the point of view of a spectator who is judging the film against their experience of the diegesis and their general or expert knowledge of the film world. This means audience members can assume a range of variable positions in a field: they can be cultural intermediaries who are experts in their areas or they can be members of the general public. This connects back to Wolff’s (1981) point that all future readers of a work have the cultural awareness to redefine the meaning of a work in any way they see fit.

Similarly, the different positionings of the audience members as general public or experts in a field can be nested to illustrate various levels of expertise (Sawyer, 2006, p. 127) that are drawn on to judge a work. Identifying different domain criteria and field opinions used by audiences when judging the creative value of a film will determine the film’s social and cultural worth as judged against that system’s scalable criteria. A film’s creativity is frequently judged by domain criteria and how that film as a creative product is valued inside the creative symbolic system where the value comes through the opinions of the field that endorse the domain. So when a filmmaker becomes a spectator and judges a film they are drawing on both their expert domain knowledge of filmmaking and spectatorship. They may be judging the narrative, the diegesis, the lighting, the performances or the beautifully written dialogue based on their understandings and experiences. The domain from which criteria are drawn to judge a work can vary greatly and is dependent on the level of immersion that expert has as a practitioner in the Domain and the Field. A practitioner’s personal archive of domain knowledge affects creative assessment. The case study that follows is an exegetical account of a student filmmaker who presents a realistic self-reflective assessment of themselves and the student crew.

Case Study: Filmmaking as little-c, mini-c creative

This account demonstrates an undergraduate student’s transition from film spectator to filmmaker. Brad Aldridge was the director of a student crew who created Aquabike Man (2008). His tacit appreciation of filmmaking developed through his spectatorship of contemporary Western cinema. Aldridge uses this domain knowledge in an exegetical, auto-ethnographic account of his filmmaking experience framed by the Systems Model (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). This example perfectly illustrates the scalability of domains and how a filmmaker can realistically frame and make sense of their creative practice.

Aldridge assessed his filmmaking practice through three creative scales: first the contemporary Western film industry, second the media production class and third the film crew. Aldridge’s analysis begins with his argument that his quest:

subjecting the production of Aquabike Man to the scale of the contemporary Western film industry – and proving it to be radically creative – was a folly from the start (2008, p. 9).

This is an acknowledgement of the unlikely prospect that a student film could produce novelty that would be recognized by an international and industrial domain like the contemporary Western film industry. A filmmaker would have to be working at the Pro-C level for this to be a likely outcome. Aldridge concedes ‘a low budget, student produced, short film will rarely revolutionise contemporary Western cinema’ (2008, p. 10). Aldridge points out why this is the case:

Established directors have years of experience and education in cinematography, narrative structure, lighting and performance, while I am comparatively in my filmmaking infancy. The same applies for the other members of the Aquabike Man crew, the writer, producer, and director of photography (DOP)/editor, we are all minnows in such a large ocean (2008, p. 10).

This conforms with Csikszentmihalyi’s argument that ‘before a person can introduce a creative variation, he or she must have access to a domain, and must want to learn to perform according to its rules’ (2003, p. 327). As Aldridge states, this quote was enlightening as he realized that:

… an individual does not necessarily have to produce a validated creative product as such to be engaged in the creative process … Not every creative process has to result in a new form of groundbreaking art (2008, p. 10-11).

This points to the fact that Aldridge and his crew were, more than likely, working at the little-c level.

Hence the next scale Aldridge used to assess the magnitude of Aquabike Man –the Media Production Class. Aldridge argues that:

… the socio-cultural arena of my media production class at the University of Newcastle, is the most straightforward scale to apply to the systems model (2008, p. 11).

In this ‘little-c’ analysis, the media production class consists of a domain ‘compromised of works completely within the media production course up to that point’ (2008, p. 11). The field was made up of the panel that assessed the quality of the project’s pitch, script, production and work-in-progress presentations and rough versions of the edit. The panel comprised the lecturers, tutors and other class peers as well as the other crew members and cast of Aquabike Man who were present at or involved in those filmmaking events. Aldridge argues that ‘feedback from the field was accessible and reciprocal’ (2008, p. 12) and that through the production of Aquabike Man, the students used a ‘software called Comic Life to integrate rendered still imagery, introduction of a superhero/comic book comedy genre’ (2008, p. 11). Using this software as part of the filmmaking process was key to confirming that Aquabike Man contributed to the archive. Thus it is possible to select Aquabike Man ‘in the domain of the media production class, which is a prerequisite of creativity under the systems model’ (2008, p. 11).

The final scale used to demonstrate Aldridge’s experience is the production crew. The domain is consistent with that described in the two previous scales though here the field consists of the four-member film crew who were all enrolled in the media production class. By situating himself within his peer group, Aldridge is assessing ‘mini-c’ creativity. Aldridge argues ‘we have worked on several projects together and have assumed the same crew roles we adopted for Aquabike Man’ (2008, p. 13), which helps Aldridge to understand that the ‘director is no more or less creative than the other members of the crew’ (2008, p. 13). Kaufman and Beghetto argued that ‘central to the definition of mini-c creativity is the dynamic, interpretive process of constructing personal knowledge and understanding within a particular sociocultural context’ (2009, p. 3).

In the conclusion to the exegesis, Aldridge asserts that the reflective analysis highlighted the fact that he was deficient in technical aspects of film production and post-production, and that the study of his creative process helped him to identify this learning deficiency. This is consistent with the ‘mini-c’ category as it relates to identifying creativity that is inherent in the learning process. Aldridge’s conclusion was that

Aquabike Man can indeed be justified as a cultural artifact, despite my initial reservations … The creative process occurs at various levels and should not be measured purely by its output but rather by the entire procedure … A director cannot create a culturally recognized film in isolation from collaborators or society (2008, p. 15).

Aldridge’s exegetical account indirectly illustrates creative magnitude and directly illustrates the scale of the creative system relative to the domain of film, which contained three nested domains. Nested domains are like sub-domains: they all fit neatly inside one umbrella. In Aldridge’s case, the domain of film is firstly described as the contemporary Western film industry, inside which was a media production class and inside that was the creative environment of a four-person student crew. Corresponding to each of these three nested domains were three nested fields which contained the opinions relative to the rules of each of the domain. Finally, working as a conditioned agent, Aldridge was able to objectively view his work, firstly as a folly if judged relative to the domain of contemporary Western film industry: he realized his spectator aspirations exceeded his skill. The next two scales were more realistic as Aldridge realized that ‘creativity is a systemic and iterative process which can be internalised by an agent who is conditioned through creative practices’ (Kerrigan, 2013, p. 124). Aldridge’s creative practice research led him to discover that being a film creator provides quite a different perspective to that of a spectator, as filmmakers draw on different domain knowledge, field opinions and practices. A closer examination of the relationship between filmmakers and spectators deserves attention and this can be achieved through Souriau’s filmology.

Etienne Souriau’s Filmology

Souriau notes the audience’s appreciation of the projected film is where ‘the great majority of filmological study is focused’ (in Lowry, 1985, p. 85). Indeed, it is difficult to argue against this stagement as cinema and film studies have been built on explanations of how spectators interpret films. This approach has allowed the ‘general valorization of the spectator at the expense of the film-maker/author’ (Petrie, 1991, p. 13) and the consequent ‘abandonment of the creative principles and the neglect of film-making practices’ (1991, p. 14). As such spectatorship provides limited insights into filmmaking creativity and by returning to Souriau’s work it is possible to fathom how this occurred (Kerrigan 2016a).

A number of scholars have written about Souriau’s filmology, notably, Christian Metz (1984) who singled out the ‘diegesis’ and describes it as “a small stroke of genius” (1984 p. 8). Lowry’s book The Filmology Movement and Film Study in France (1985) describes the diegesis in Souriau’s words as ‘the imaginary world created by the film, encompassing “everything which concerns the film to the extent that it represents something”’(sic) (1985, 85). Souriau’s filmology (in Lowry 1984, p. 84-86) is made up of seven levels of reality:

  • afilmic reality is the real world;
  • profilmic reality is a film-set where filmmakers record images and sounds;
  • filmographic reality is the medium, celluloid or digital and the mechanism and techniques used to construct and finalise the film, ie: film camera and editing;
  • screenic or filmophanic reality is the distributed film;
  • digetic reality is the supposed signification of the film;
  • spectatorial facts are the audience’s subjective experience of the distributed film;
  • creatorial reality is the filmmaker’s considerations embedded in the distributed film.

Souriau’s filmology identifies two human perspectives, a spectator and a creator who both experience the diegesis through contextual structures (Kerrigan, 2016a). The creatorial reality is a site where a creative product is produced and the spectatorial reality is a site where creative experience is produced. Souriau points out the filmmaker’s intentions are subjective ‘and strictly speaking [occur] outside the filmic universe’ (in Lowry, 1985, p. 86). He does, however, refer to the creatorial level as being ‘everything which might be in the mind of the film’s creator, which was not achieved, which did not succeed, which is not available in the objective givens of the film, nor in the spectatorial subjectivity’ (in Lowry, 1985, p. 86). Souriau’s description of the spectatorial and creational realities as being relative to one another, presents an intricate relationship between these agencies, the medium and the finalized film and this makes it possible to argue that these agencies can be equalised, when considering the perspective of a filmmaker.

Accepting this equalisation provides a refreshingly contemporary view of a filmmaker, where the filmology can then be re-framed to align in a more sophisticated way with current understanding of creative practice (Kerrigan, 2016a; 2016b). Through the merging of some levels of the filmology the intricate relationships between spectator and creator become visible. Identifying the spectator’s experiences of watching films, and arguing that has been internalised by the filmmaker allows for such a conceptual re-framing to occur. To see these two positions as co-exiting ‘enables while simultaneously constrains creative filmmaking practice’ (Kerrigan, 2016a, p. 11). This allows for the filmmaking processes to be described through the work conducted by an agent who is both spectator and creator as both perspectives are necessary and sufficient to enable the creative construction and finalization of a film. From this stance, it is possible to collapse other elements of the filmology into three. Firstly, spectatorial and creational realities become filmic agents who internalize and operate inside filmic structures that are filmographic, screenic and diegetic realities. The creative filmmaking practice is then shaped by the filmic contexts that draw in the remaining two components of afilmic and profilmic (Kerrigan, 2016a, p. 10).

The re-categorised filmology fits more neatly within the systems view of creative practice (Kerrigan, 2013; 2015; 2016a; 2016b) that applies to filmmaking where agency, structures and contexts are identified. These three elements align with current understanding of creative practice because the agent has been conditioned through their spectatorial and creational knowledge of film production which allows them to practice – engage in procedural processes as they are exposed to film production structures and contexts. A filmmaker’s creative practice occurs at the level of embodiment, through the internalization of skills, knowledge and socio-cultural positioning. Looking at creative filmmaking practice in this way aligns with Petrie’s criticism that

The general thrust in film studies has been to move away from the notion of the filmmaker as an author standing behind the film, and toward the idea of cinema as a process of spectating in which the film maker becomes merely one element. The original conception of conscious creativity has been gradually shed along the way (1991, p. 13).

These conceptual understandings permit the filmmaker’s creative agency to be clearly seen so that the blind spot comes into view because its previous absence, influenced by the rise of audiences and their interpretative capacity, permitted film studies and film theory to obscure filmmaking research agendas. Through recasting filmology, it can be acknowledged that spectatorial and creational creativity are relative to one another and are thus deeply connected. Embodying both positions means the filmic agent can be engaged in a creative practice that is dynamic and agile and can accommodate contextual, social and cultural positions whilst negotiating internal and external structures. Inside every filmmaker is a spectator, though the reverse does not apply. Filmmakers benefit from their embodied spectatorial knowledge because they consciously draw on it during creative practice and this makes a difference to the quality of the film produced.

Death of the Spectator

The concept ‘Death of the Author’ (Barthes, 1977) emphasizes how the reader interprets the work as opposed to how the creator makes the work. This perspective disregards the position of the author, as the reader’s position and interpretation of the creative product dominates. Following on from this perspective has been a focus on the cultural analysis of meaning embedded in a product as a way to gain insights into the creator of the product. Here the blind spot is again identified, as the creativity literature suggests it is prudent to recognize the differences between creative product and creative experiences. Others like sociologist Janet Wolff (1981) argue that the author’s social positioning deeply influences the artwork being created. Wolff agrees with Barthes that the author is dead but she points out the occurrence of two distinct activities. One is the creation of an artwork, the other is the audience receiving and understanding the artwork and fixing their own meaning to the product. In explaining this she goes beyond Barthes’ notion when she asserts that:

The author as fixed, uniform and unconstituted creative source has indeed died […] But the author, now understood as constituted in language, ideology, and social relations, retains a central relevance, both in relation to the meaning of the text [the author being the first person to fix meaning, which will of course subsequently be subject to redefinition and fixing by all future readers] (Wolff, 1981, p. 136).

In line with Souriau’s work, Wolff’s explanation emphasizes the activities of film spectators who have come to dominate film research where “every aspect of film figures in the oppression or emancipation of the film viewer” (Carroll in Bordwell & Carroll, 1996, p. 41). The re-categorisation of Souriau’s work more neatly aligns it with contemporary understanding of creativity and filmmaking as creative practice and this brings with it deeper insights into assessing creative magnitudes and scalable systems of filmmaking practice.


Revealing the differences between creative products and experiences leads to more sophisticated understandings of creative novelty, its stimulation, selection or transmission which in turn demonstrates the scalable system of creative domains, fields of experts and conditioned agents. Judging creativity in filmmaking depends on the definitions of the domain and the field and the applied scale that is used to assess novelty. These scalable components in turn reveal creative magnitudes – ‘Big-C’, ‘Pro-C’, ‘little-c’ or ‘mini-c’ – while also bringing into view the facet of creativity that is being assessed, product or experience. With these identifications on board it becomes easier to understand the complex delicate and relative relationship between the spectator and the filmmaker and how creativity is judged. Understanding creative magnitudes and scales makes it easier to understand where and how creative value judgments occur and why sometimes those value judgements may be nonsensical, unequitable or invalid. The application of a systems approach to filmmaking as a creative practice clarifies creative magnitude and scale, filmmaker or spectator and product or experience, which means that the creative principles used by filmmakers can be better appreciated and understood when using this as a framework for filmmaking research.


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This work was supported by the Australian Research Council’s ‘Creativity and Cultural Production in the Hunter: an applied ethnographic study of new entrepreneurial systems in the creative industries’ grant [LP130100348].

About the author

Dr. Susan Kerrigan is a qualitative and practice-led researcher in film and television. As a practitioner, her research has focuses on applying creativity theories to filmmaking practices. This has included the application of numerous creativity theories, creative systems approaches, group creativity, creative labour and creative industries. These theories provide frameworks to look at the creative practices of film and television practitioners. Her research is informed by her past professional practice at Australian Broadcasting Corporation where she worked across all television genres and forms of production fiction (e.g. drama, children’s) and factual (e.g. science, documentary) as well as digital media. Susan teacher media and screen production in the Bachelor of Communication and has successfully supervised 1st class Honours candidates and Ph.Ds.


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