Alumnus Peter Labuza '14 Wins Best Dissertation at SCMS Awards

BY Felix van Kann, March 10, 2021

Film MA alumnus Peter Labuza '14 won the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Award for Best Dissertation for his essay: “When A Handshake Meant Something: Lawyers, Deal Making, and the Emergence of New Hollywood.” Labuza took home a cash prize of $1,000 that was presented to him at the SCMS’ annual conference. The award focuses on dissertations that address any cinema, television or media topic within the disciplinary concerns and traditions of humanities-based moving image and sound studies.


“When A Handshake Meant Something: Lawyers, Deal Making, and the Emergence of New Hollywood” traces how new legal professionals and deal makers reshaped creative labor and financial management in Hollywood after World War II.


Here's a description of Labuza’s essay: 

While film and legal historians have examined how judicial decisions and regulatory measures shaped the film and television industry, “When A Handshake Meant Something” examines how a new set of legal professionals molded its organizational structure and the cultural discourse around its relationship to art during the 1950s and 1960s. As studios no longer organized around mass production and distribution, lawyers specializing in contract negotiation reshaped the dynamic between creative individuals and studios. Deal making became the lingua franca of the industry, as stars, writers, and directors positioned themselves as artists in a new production model. Lawyers also redesigned the role of studios, which forwent their formerly factory-like structures to operate instead akin to Wall Street's financial institutions. These changes reflected a broader shift in how the legal profession's expansion in the postwar redefined art and business. This dissertation uses a well-known story of the American film industry—the end of the studio system and the emergence of a “New” Hollywood run by artists—to show how lawyers and finance played an integral role in engineering a cultural revolution. More so, it examines a transformation in labor dynamics, from one between collective workers and management to one between individual artists and corporations.


Peter Labuza is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California, where he also earned his PhD in Cinema and Media Studies. His research explores the legal, financial, and political history of creative industries. Labuza has received numerous fellowships and grants supporting his research from an array of archives and disciplines, including in legal, business, and Jewish history. He has published in The Velvet Light Trap, Mediascape, Film Quarterly, Sight & Sound, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and has forthcoming articles in the Journal for Cinema and Media Studies and Film History. He has published film criticism in Variety, The Village Voice, Filmmaker Magazine, and more.


The Society for Cinema and Media Studies is the leading scholarly organization in the United States dedicated to promoting a broad understanding of film, television, and related media through research and teaching grounded in the contemporary humanities tradition. Since 1971, SCMS has annually honored the year’s best in cinema and media studies scholarship, teaching, and professional service.