Bridging Hollywood and Harvard

Recently, I had a Facebook thread exchange with Maree Conway and Stephen McGrail on the future of universities. The default, neoliberal future seems to be a small professoriate and senior management with defined benefit superannuation plans, and a large contract-based pool of academic and administrative contingent labour. It’s less an Ivory Tower and more like the ‘labour hire’ model of private equity firms.


My preferred future is one based in part on knowledge and skills-based talent. There’s still room in this vision for teaching excellence and for intangible asset-based revenue streams from intellectual property rights. The model is Hollywood: Entourage and Michael Clayton perhaps with a dose of Better Call Saul. I explored this world for about 8 years whilst at Australia’s Victoria University working first on academic research program development and then on managing research contracts.


Violaine Roussel’s new study Representing Talent: Hollywood Agents and the Making of Movies (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017) offers a detailed model of how talent management functions. Her book includes a study of the initiatory pathway that new agents undergo in Hollywood and when they join a creative agency. It also discusses skills cultivation and negotiation strategies. As a situated ethnography it will be helpful for research managers who want to bridge Hollywood and Harvard, and who desire to make some good deals.