Dear SRN2021 Delegates, SRN Members, colleagues and friends

First and foremost I hope this finds you all well and safe.

I am afraid the dreaded moment has finally come to make the announcement that for the last 14 months I have been hoping to never have to make.

After much deliberation and assessing, yesterday I presented a memo to the SRN Executive Council who agreed unanimously that the conditions to run the SRN 2021 Annual Conference in Oxford safely are simply not there; therefore, the decision was made to cancel this year’s conference and to replace it with an alternative online event of some form (more on this below).

While in some countries the pandemic seems to be slowly subsiding and restrictions are gradually being lifted, the reality is that facts, data and predictions currently available point to several more months before some kind of normality can return on a global scale. The decision has been made after consulting the Events Team at the conference venue and my Line Managers at Oxford Brookes University, following a thorough assessment of the situation and regulations in the UK as well as in most countries our shortlisted delegates come from; and based on the viability of international travel to reach/leave England.

You can find the full memo for your reference on the SRN website but here’s the abridged version.

On the “optimistic” plate of the scale we find that indoor events will probably be “legally” allowed once again from next June-July and that in some countries the rollout of vaccines is finally picking up. On the “harsh reality” plate though, we have that, assuming we ran the conference IRL, there will still be mandatory face covering, safe distancing rules will limit room capacity which, in turn, will mean a cap to a maximum of 55 delegates (and therefore higher registration fees), no guarantee of catering, no social and/or networking activities outside of panel sessions. In addition to that, for delegates coming from abroad a traffic light system will be in place (a similar one has already been introduced last February): at the moment and for the foreseeable future, up to 15 delegates come from countries on the “red list” and are banned from entering the UK; most other come from countries on the “amber list” which involves a costly test-and-quarantine protocol (including up to ten days in self-isolation on arrival); and only a handful of delegates on the “green list” (from the US and Portugal) will be given free entry subject to negative testing. Finally, as many of you pointed out in the past few months, almost all universities (including mine) have enforced international travel bans for the remainder of the academic year (which in the Southern Hemisphere tends to coincide with the calendar year) and have frozen all travel funds.

This means that the next SRN Annual Conference will be in Vienna in September-October 2022. I spoke with the organizer (Claus Tieber) who will issue the Call for Papers in late Summer/early Autumn this year. So, will there ever be a conference in Oxford after all? The Executive Council kindly suggested to tentatively tag it to the end of the current cycle (which includes Missouri in 2023 and Rio de Janeiro in 2024). It’s too early to say whether that will be possible but I promise to review the chances of submitting a new bid to host it in 2025 by the time of the Vienna conference.

What about this year, then?

Clearly, the overwhelming feeling amongst delegates and members is to have “something” that allows us to come together and share our research and ideas. The viable alternative is of course to follow the example of several other organizations and move our efforts online for the time being.

It’s not going to be possible to simply replace the conference with an online live equivalent tout court, first of all because of the time differences: we have delegates coming from 19 (nineteen!) different time zones! I ran a quick simulation to get an idea of how and whether it would be possible to schedule all the papers/sessions in one continuum and it turns out we would have to be online non-stop for at least eight full days in a row. So my suggestion is to turn this issue into potential for something a little different but much more engaging and stimulating. I will be working on a possible format in the next few weeks but the core idea is to host a number of online events (let’s call them the SRN 2021 Research Seminars Series Online for now) consisting of both live sessions and pre-recorded content that could be clustered into one/two days every two or three weeks throughout the late Summer/early Autumn months. The live parts will be organized based on geographic outreach.

I will be happy to still coordinate all this but I will need some serious help here. A few of you have already volunteered in reply to my previous email: I will liaise with you in the coming weeks. But I will need to find even more good souls out there willing to either simply host one or more session, or give me a hand (or two) in setting up portions of the programme as a whole, for example by coordinating panels in a geographic region that will be live when it’s the middle of the night over here in the UK, or by helping out with the ECR event (see below), etc. etc.

Here’s a quick menu of what the SRN 2021 Research Seminars Series Online will/may include:

  • Presentations of all shortlisted papers by all delegates that still wish to do so (the survey of the past few months showed about 80% do).
  • Presentations will be pre-recorded, made available online, and followed by live Q&A panels.
  • Furthermore, all live sessions will be recorded and subsequently made available so everyone can catch up with whatever they might have missed or review those sessions that interested them the most. We plan to keep all recorded content online for at least the next two years.
  • The two keynote speakers (Elizabeth Kilgarriff and Prof. Murray Smith) have confirmed their availability, regardless of the format of the event.
  • I will try and invite more high-profile guests (I’m already at work on this).
  • There will be an Early Career Researchers event within the event itself (organized by Ann Igelström) so as to give the appropriate emphasis and visibility to younger colleagues’ research as well. Further details and the related Call for Papers will be released within the next few weeks.
  • We can also organize additional non-paper sessions – e.g. round tables, interviews, working groups’ panels, networking/speed-dating activities and similar. Any suggestions are most welcome.
  • We will have the SRN Awards this year with related money prize (£300 for Best Book, £100 for Best Article/Chapter); and here is a reminder that the deadline to nominate/self-nominate is approaching (31 May) so do submit your titles and send copies to the Jury members (relevant details and instructions are available on the SRN website here).
  • Moreover, the winners of the two SRN Awards will be invited to give a short lecture on the underpinning research of their publications.
  • We will have a virtual AGM.
  • We will have virtual Executive Council elections.
  • Note: any necessary amendments to the SRN Constitution to enable the running of the AGM and EC elections will be made via online consultation with the Membership over the coming months and will be subject to formal confirmation at the next AGM in presentia at the 2022 conference in Vienna.
  • We will use Zoom for live sessions and the SRN YouTube channel for all recorded content.
  • I will turn the SRN2021 website into the main reference hub to navigate the event, find links to all sessions and materials, cross reference topics/researchers, etc. For the time being though, I will freeze most pages of the website until the new design/content is ready.
  • My department (i.e. the School of Arts of Oxford Brookes University) has kindly agreed to cover the fees for the keynote speakers and fund the money prize for the SRN Awards as well as pay for the subscription of the event website so it can remain online for at least two more years.
  • Thanks to the latter, and everything else working out smoothly, this should allow us to run the whole thing with no registration fee – i.e. free for all (without hyphens)!

In addition to the above I plan to:

  • Submit a proposal for an edited volume that includes a themed selection of papers to an international publisher.
  • Submit a proposal for a special issue of the Journal of Screenwriting that includes another selection of papers to turn into articles.
  • Draft a bid for a long-term collaborative research project to submit to an international grant schemes.

Don’t tell me I haven’t whetted your appetite!

To sum up: I will follow up with more details about the Research Seminars Series and liaise with as many as possible in the coming weeks to make sure the transition to the new events is as smooth as possible. Any further ideas, suggestions, concerns, commiserations (why not) or better ideas to name the seminar series, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.

And now I will go cry into a pillow for a minute, then watch a Monty Python sketch to recharge and get back to work.

Take care!

Contact: info@srn2020.com