Vidi, Veni: I Saw, I Came (I Shot Some Photos)

24 07 2014

If you really enjoyed Field of Dreams, you can step into the screen and play baseball with Shoeless Joe!  If you thought the epic scope and fantastical world of The Lord of the Rings was super-awesome, you can ride to Rivendell with Aragorn and Frodo Baggins!  If you miss having Tony Soprano in your living room every week, you can sit down in his!  Well…sort of.

In real life, the Field of Dreams farm and baseball diamond is an Iowa tourist attraction that once saw 65,00 visitors a year, and the impact of LOTR tourism on the New Zealand economy has been estimated at US$27 million per year since the movies were released over ten years (!) ago. And of course, On Location Tours offers a 4-hour Sopranos Sites Tour, taking you through the magical land of New Jersey. Yup, this is the world of Film Tourism, where recreational travel and onscreen worlds combine; it seemed like an interesting topic to briefly delve into. (and yes, scholarly, it’s called “film” tourism even when related to TV shows)

Anthropologists have long been fascinated by tourism; we study it for a number of reasons: 1) it occurs in most, if not all, human societies – that is, most cultures have been touched by it in some way, by being visited if not being the visitors, 2) it has large economic impact around the world, and 3) it involves face-to-face encounters between people of different cultures; both sides get to see part of how the other people live.


I wonder how they keep the corn growing all year?

And film tourism – travel to sites people have seen on TV and in movies – is big. In one British study, 10% of people surveyed said they had gone to visit a location or destination featured in a film, 6% said they had done so specifically because of seeing the film, and 13% said they were planning to go somewhere in the future, based on seeing it in a movie. In results attributed to the movie Frozen, the official Norwegian travel website ( witnessed its traffic nearly triple since the movie came out, and Flight Tracker reported a 153% increase in searches on Norwegian flights.  A study by Riley, Baker, & Van Doren showed that after a movie is released, tourism to the sites in the film increases for four years.

TV- and film-influenced tourism has a variety of different expressions – it’s not necessarily just a visit to a waterfall seen in someone’s favorite TV show. A few examples showing the breadth of experience we’re talking about here:


Modern Family: Brought to you by Quantas. According to Rain Man, we’ve never had an accident.”

When anthropologists study tourism, they ask what motivates tourists to travel, what distinguishes tourists from other travelers, and what kinds of places and experiences tourists seek. Of these, the most interesting question for us seems to be the first: what is it about a film or TV show that makes somebody want to visit the site where it was filmed, or where it takes place?

There is surely an element of wish-fulfillment; feeling like for at least a little while you live in the medieval fantasy world of the Game of Thrones’ Westeros, or are enjoying the same lifestyle as the vacationing upper-middle-class Dunphys of Modern Family. There is surely some element of pilgrimage, as well: making a trek to a space that is, in a media-saturated world, “sacred” in some ways. And for that matter, some of this tourism is based just on the beauty or draw of the place itself, but people may not have known about the location until its’ appearance onscreen: New Zealand was gorgeous long before Lord of the Rings ever shot there, but for many people, the movies were their first glimpse of the landscape in detail.

Zeland LOTR

Lord of the Rings film locations, mapped onto the actual landscape of New Zealand: turning sight-seeing into site-seeing.


Film theorist Giuliana Bruno suggests that film spectatorship itself is a form of tourism (she calls it “site seeing” as well as “sight seeing” – cute). To some degree, what you’re doing is consuming a more constructed view of the real-world location; Middle Earth is a constructed form of New Zealand, the Field of Dreams farm (and field) a constructed form of Iowa. Think of it as having the same relation to reality that Main Street USA at Disneyland has to actual main streets.

One of the interesting things about the evolution of film tourism is the path from organic, populist movement to constructed commercial reality.  That is to say, back when the Brady Brunch visited Hawaii in 1972, anyone who wanted to follow in their footsteps did so on their own; but by the time the Modern Family visited Australia, the tourist tie-in was planned far in advance of the air date, with an sponsorship agree between the network and Quantas. This isn’t bad, per se – if left to my own devices, I’d probably never find some of the cool places in Iceland where they film Game of Thrones. But it’s also inserted an element of the artificial and corporate into what is already a highly constructed media experience; in other words – you can go to Middle Earth these days, but you probably can’t do it with the Bradys.

(which may be good, since on vacations they seem to mess with evil idols)

 — Scott Frank

  • Aside from just the website search increases and the hotel suite in Quebec, Frozen is definitely the big winner this year, film-tourism wise. In addition to the figures noted above, Norwegian hotel bookings in the first 3 months of 2014 were up 37% from 2013, and tour operators are predicting summer business to up by 40%. In interviews, Harald Hansen, spokesperson for Visit Norway, credited the movie (as do many others).
  • If you’re wondering about the economic impact of tourism, it’s huge: per the World bank, expenditures on tourism in 2012 were US$ 1,187,138,892,127 (roughly $1.1 trillion dollars). Some estiamtes say 2013 spending reached $1.4 trillion
  • As a special bonus image, the official City of Albuquerque “Breaking Bad” visitor map:



Credits & Collaboration [or] Nobody Understands What You Do!

12 03 2012

Where I come from, when the credits of a movie started to roll, that meant it was time to leave.  So when I moved to L.A. many years ago, one of the most baffling bits of culture shock was that at the end of a movie, people would actually sit through the credits and watch them.  Asking around to try and figure out the reason for our vast cultural differences, the most common response I got was that people in L.A. stick around through the credits “To see if anyone I know is there.”  Now, I don’t know if this is actually the reason or not – it’s certainly possible, given the number of people who work in the biz and the number of other people who must know them (after all, we’re all less than six degrees away from knowing Kevin Bacon).  But to me what credits really point out is one of the primary hallmarks of the artistic creation know as movie and TV production, and a common feature of cultures around the world: they are collaborative.

In Art Worlds (a groundbreaking book on the sociology of art), Howard Becker uses filmmaking as the example of the most complex type of artistic endeavor in our society.  Becker is writing about the different ways art is created, from individual artists working alone to large workshops fueled by the talent and effort of hundreds of people.  To him, filmmaking is an artistic product that requires the specialized talents of a tremendous number of different kids of artists – writers, directors, and actors of course, and also the below-the-line work of craftspeople that pull together on set and make things work.   One of the most astonishing things about the production of a film or television show is the sheer number of talented people it takes to put one together.

anthropology of Hollywood

These guys from Ben Hur are really just working on a collaborative production.

I’ve worked in museums for many years, and one of the most interesting things about them is how little people who work in one end of a museum often know about the ones who work in the other – and how rarely anyone really seems to think about how integral everybody’s individual job is to running the whole place.  The people who take care of the artifacts don’t always think much about the financial people doing fundraising for the museum, and the financial ones don’t always seem to realize that the whole point of having a museum (okay, one of them) is to care for those artifacts.

This happens in the entertainment industry, too – as an anthropologist, many people I talk to seem to think that, whatever their role, it is eternally underappreciated by everybody else who works in the industry.  A few weeks ago a screenwriter told me that nobody seems to understand that without the writers, nothing would be created.  Grips and other below-the-line professionals feel that they’re invisible to people outside the production office, and actors complain that people don’t understand that what they do is a craft, and requires talent and skill.  And of course, there was Stanley Motts’ (Dustin Hoffman) rant in Wag the Dog about how there isn’t an Oscar for producing , because nobody knows what producers do (actually, producers usually accept the award when a film wins Best Picture).

And I think, to some degree, everybody who thinks these things is right. Each job in the industry is specialized, and professional, and involves talent and knowledge that is often hard-won through experience.  And so sometimes we denigrate people who try to step outside their own profession – actors who try to write screenplays, writers who want to be showrunners or direct (my screenwriter dopplegänger Scott Frank is one), etc.   But I think it’s a good thing, because it teaches everybody exactly how hard the other jobs are.  That actor who is writing learns how difficult it can be to be a screenwriter.  The writer who directs finds out that the directors they’ve cursed for changing their words have reasons to do the things they do.

Obviously, the industry isn’t a happy fantasyland of smiling workers all getting along and whistling while they work.  But when you look at the sheer amount of collaboration and teamwork that’s required to produce any piece of media – from small independent webisodes to major motion pictures – from a social engineering perspective, it’s not exactly building the pyramids, but it’s still pretty damn impressive.

— Scott Frank

Welcome to Hollywood Sapien – the Anthropology of Hollywood!

7 03 2012

Hello; my name is Scott; I’m an anthropologist (that is, I have a Ph.D. in it), and I’ve been studying the entertainment industry for over ten years. 

What can an anthropologist tell you about the entertainment industry?  When most people think of anthropologists – if they think of us at all – it’s in terms of studying remote tribes: in Papua New Guinea, perhaps, or among the !Kung bushmen.  Occasionally you get an image of Indiana Jones, or for the people who remember their anthropology course back in freshman year, Margaret Mead.  When people at a party ask what I do and hear “I’m an anthropologist,” they say “oh, you dig up dinosaur bones?”  The correct answer is to say “yes,” then slowly edge your way over to the punch bowl.

Anthropology is the study of human beings, in any place and any time; modern anthropologists use their skills for understanding human behavior everywhere, from remote villages in the Amazon or Himalayas to the bustling urban streets of Shanghai or Paris.  At Hollywood Sapien, the goal is to look with an anthropologist’s eye towards the “tribe” of the entertainment industry.  Those who work in the business know: people in Hollywood are like their own remote tribe – with specialized language, complex social networks, and strange behaviors that seem bizarre to outsiders.  Over the years I’ve presented scholarly articles and papers on casting professionals, actors, scientific and technical consultants, headshots, and production design.  And with an estimated (by the MPAA) 193,200 people working in the entertainment industry, there’s plenty more to write about.  By the way, that number is low – there are about 192,000 people just working in the local Hollywood unions; if you include all the related jobs, the figure is much, much higher.

A New Yorker cover featuring Oscar "worshipers"

The anthropology of Hollywood: the entertainment industry tribe “worshiping” their Oscar idol

In 1949, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker first wrote about Hollywood from an anthro perspective.  She wanted to see how understanding the people who make movies [no significant TV then] helps to understand the final product  (in her words, “how the social system underlying the production of movies influences them”).  That was 63 years ago, and although in many ways the Hollywood of today is not the one she studied, the culture she described is familiar to any denizen of modern Los Angeles and the entertainment industry: the competition, the belief that everybody is just one “break” away from success or failure, the jealously-guarded profit figures, and the phenomenon whereby “schoolteachers, doctors, white-collar workers, and many others…spend their spare time writing movie scripts.”  That’s right, apparently that was true in 1949 as well as today.  So the fact that the guy who does your hair says he’s also writing a script is part of a long and noble tradition.

There are so many amazing, fascinating, crazy, and occasionally unbelievable things about the Industry; in the coming weeks and months (years?), there will be no shortage of subjects to write about.  I welcome discussions, responses, and suggestions for topics; this should be a conversation we all have, no a lecture.  Look forward to next time!

                                                                                 — Scott Frank

  • I shouldn’t be confused with the screenwriter Scott Frank (whose real name is Alan Scott Frank).  Pseudonyms, screen names, and naming conventions and will be covered in a future post.  For now let’s just note that nicknames and alternate names are common in cultures around the world.
  • People interested in a historical perspective on the Industry might enjoy Powdermaker’s original 1949 anthropology of Hollywood book, titled Hollywood, The Dream Factory.  Out of print for a number of years, you can find it on abebooks and Amazon.