The Trajectory of Success in Hollywood: The Roller Coaster Careers of Film Directors

by

Hollywood Sign[We’re pleased to welcome Babis Mainemelis of The American College of Greece. Dr. Mainemelis recently published an article in Journal of Management Inquiry, entitled “Surviving a Boundaryless Creative Career: The Case of Oscar-Nominated Film Directors, 1967-2014” with co-authors Sevasti-Melissa Nolas of University of Sussex and Stavroula Tsirogianni of Canterbury Christ Church University.]

For the general public, individuals like Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Alan Parker, Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg are among the most successful directors of Hollywood. In this paper we present the results of a biographical study which suggests that these filmmakers are not only successful, not only directors, and not only Hollywood. Despite the great variability in their stories, throughout their careers they all experienced iterative cycles of success
and failure, be it in critical acclaim and/or at the box office; they all enacted various roles other than of the director; and they all worked in contexts and media other than Hollywood and feature films.

We found that many of those transitions were JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointrecursive, rather than linear, which suggests that directorial careers are not fixed in any single organization, short-term project, professional role, or medium. We also found that mobility to other professional roles or/and media is linked to and has implications for maintaining career alternatives; acquiring insider domain knowledge; calibrating social networks; renewing one’s creative energy; and protecting one’s creative freedom; without any of these drivers alone reliably increasing chances of success.

While past research has focused sharply on success as a career outcome, our paper offers a more balanced perspective and conceptualizes success and failure not as endings but as beginnings, as critical moments that influence the unfolding of boundaryless careers. An Oscar-winning blockbuster or a financial flop denigrated by the critics can exert such a great influence on careers that we may as well conceptualize success and failure as boundaries that mark the evolution of careers. While in the extant literature the dominant metaphors of boundaryless careers are those of “paths,” “ladders,” “trajectories,” and “plateaus,” our findings suggest a new metaphor: the roller coaster.

We believe that the findings of our study and the questions that we discuss above would potentially be interesting for researchers working in the fields of boundaryless careers and creative industries, but also for film students as well as industry practitioners struggling to make their way to film industry.

The abstract:

Previous research has examined how mobility and career competencies influence success in boundaryless careers. In this study, we flip the direction of those relationships and we explore how the interplay between success and failure relates to subsequent mobility, career competencies, and career evolution through the life span. Using a biographical design, we conceptualize success and failure as critical moments that influence the unfolding of the boundaryless careers of Oscar-nominated film directors. While the dominant metaphors of boundaryless careers are those of “paths,” “ladders,” “trajectories,” and “plateaus,” our findings suggest a new metaphor: the roller coaster.

You can read “Surviving a Boundaryless Creative Career: The Case of Oscar-Nominated Film Directors, 1967-2014” from Journal of Management Inquiry free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Journal of Management Inquiry? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

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