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Film and Media Studies Program

  • James Gilmore

Alumni Spotlight: James Gilmore

Class of 2011

After graduating from USC, James Gilmore earned an M.A. in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture at Indiana University, where he also teaches classes on media and culture. His current research emphasizes the “everydayness” of media circulation and experience, and how individuals and institutions value media objects and technologies in contemporary American popular culture. His first book, a co-edited anthology entitled Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital, was published in 2014 through Rowman & Littlefield. He has presented work at a number of national conferences, including the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. His work has been published in Mediascape, as well as in collected anthologies, and he currently has multiple articles under review at top-ranked journals in the field.


Why did you major in Film and Media Studies?

Simple answer: I love movies, and I can't make them. I realized early on I was simply not a craftsman, but I had an eye for understanding film analysis. I was incredibly interested in film history, and I loved writing. I came to South Carolina specifically for this major, as the program's youth and energy (as well as the campus at large) really excited me. I had no idea when I entered the program what I wanted to do with the degree, but I knew it was the right place to channel my passion for film.

I stayed in Film and Media Studies because the faculty's skills inside and outside the classroom are unparalleled. Both as teachers and as mentors, they really guided me through class term papers, through difficult film theory readings, through preparing for conference presentations, and through larger research projects.


What was your first film and media job after graduation, and how did that experience set you on a path to your current career or position?

Right after graduation I moved to Los Angeles and began graduate work in UCLA’s Cinema and Media Studies program. I earned my M.A. at UCLA in 2013, and moved to Indiana University to complete my Ph.D. I am still a Ph.D. student and also an Associate Instructor at IU—which means I teach one or two sections of a course each semester while also completing my coursework, exams, and ultimately, my dissertation project.

The rigor of many upper-level Film and Media Studies prepared me for graduate school in a humanities field. The transition from being undergraduate to graduate student was nearly seamless for me (apart from the increased coursework demands!), in large part because I had learned how to critically engage scholarly writing, how to research, how to do in-depth visual analysis, and how to write. For me, those tools are invaluable, and they enabled me to jump right in to my graduate work.

My current job is both as a student and a teacher. I have several more years to go before completing my Ph.D., but I have also enjoyed the opportunity to teach a number of classes to undergraduate students at Indiana University. While the demands of being a teacher of media analysis are certainly much different from the demands of being a student of media analysis, the wonderful professors I encountered and worked with at USC remain jumping-off points for how I think about my own strategies of teaching, and how to most effectively reach my students.


Tell us about your current work.

There are currently two research projects that preoccupy my time.

The first, which is developing towards my dissertation project, focuses on mobile, digital media technologies—smartphones, tablets, wearable technology, and even objects like Roku players—that seem to unsettle how we traditionally conceptualize media circulation in everyday life. I am currently attempting to understand the relationship between this emergence of mobile technology and streaming services, and the massive rearticulation and representation of “the home” in American life in the wake of the 2007-08 global economic recession and the widening class divides it has engendered.

The second, which has been ongoing for almost the past two years, concerns the representations and uses of technology in the media of the director David Fincher. Surprisingly little work has been done on this director—whose credits include Fight Club, House of Cards, The Social Network and, recently, Gone Girl—and I find his work incredibly generative for looking at how digital technologies enable certain kinds of representations, experiences, and understandings of 21st century media production. David Fincher has made music videos, movies, and television programs, and he has constantly foregrounded a focus on the possibilities of technology—both in the processes of making the media he directs, but also in the stories and worlds of these media texts.


Do you have any advice for Film and Media Studies major?

Number one with a bullet: Take advantage of the faculty. Even if it's just going to office hours to ask about your term paper, the faculty in Film and Media Studies are so caring and so helpful. The only way to open yourself up to their mentorship is to ask, which can be scary, but it can open doors you never knew existed.

For example, I worked very closely with Mark Cooper to develop a research proposal for a USC Magellan Research Grant in my junior year, about this fascinating pseudo-documentary, Ingagi. Dr. Cooper and his colleagues in the Moving Image Research Collections had found three reels of this 1930 movie, which is “about” a group of explorers who stumble on a tribe that sacrifices virgins to a monstrous gorilla named Ingagi (naturally, they hunt and kill the beast). More fascinating, however, is that they sold the film as “true,” when the whole thing was faked. The discourse around the movie generates lots of interesting debate about issues of censorship, culture, and what movies can and should do.

Thankfully, the project received a Magellan Research Grant, and I was able to work on the project with Dr. Cooper and my colleague Sarah Allen as an independent study. Research for this project involved lots of archival work, not only at SC but also in Los Angeles. Dr. Cooper helped me at every step of the process -- navigating archives, organizing trips, and teaching me how to work with primary material. Most importantly, he taught me how to write about a historical moment in film history in a way that tries to contribute knowledge to the field. Dr. Cooper's help not only made this a successful project, but also taught me valuable research skills I still use (and teach my own students when I ask them to use archival material!). If you take the risk to get involved in a project, you will likely get more reward than you imagined.

And on that note: Use the archives! Go to the Moving Image Research Collections! Write exciting papers about all the cool stuff you have access to! You have no idea how wonderful an archive can be until you start exploring it, and how lucky USC is to house these collections.


What was your favorite film and media studies course at USC?

The excited alumnus in me wants to say, “all of them,” but I’ll resist that cop-out answer.

I think Dr. Courtney’s “Cowboy Nation” class on the Western was a big revelation for me. It helped me think about how genres and media articulate ideas of national and cultural identities, which paved the way for my Honors Thesis, “America Behind a Mask,” which was about superhero movies in post-9/11 America, which paved the way for my first book chapter, my first Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference presentation, my first anthology, and so it goes. In a lot of ways, it was a genesis class for me, and I think it is a strong testament to how the material taught in a Film and Media Studies course can have a rich afterlife and take you in unanticipated, amazing directions.


What is your current favorite film, tv show, and/or interactive game?

Picking favorites is becoming increasingly hard for me. My impulse is to love everything I encounter.

The more I watch Mad Men—which is probably too much—the more I think it might be The Great American TV Show. I once had someone tell me to never tell a first date that my favorite movie is Psycho, lest they get the wrong idea about me. Hopefully that doesn’t color your impression! 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.